Moreover, this may be the beginning of the end for Skiles’ time as a head coach. Even notwithstanding the fact that walking away from a job you only recently took amidst rumours that you never really wanted it is something of an insurmountable hurdle should you ever be in a job interview for an equivalent position again, Skiles’s future as an NBA head coach is a legitimate question based on what he does when in post.
Perhaps his best achievement as an NBA head coach was the way in which he and then-general manager John Paxson took the consistently moribund post-dynasty Chicago Bulls, and turned them from perennial last-place finisher to a surprising 47-win team in 2004/05, despite little in the way of talent additions and a 0-7 start to the season. Skiles did this with an intensive, defensive, extremely disciplined and regimented style that was much needed at a time when the inmates were said to be running the asylum. He was the right man for the job.
Up to a point, Skiles did the same in his most prior gig with the Milwaukee Bucks. Again playing a defensive and micro-managed style, Skiles started well, winning 46 games in his second season and going to a game seven in their first round series, the franchise’s first for four years. Skiles’ dogged persistence also saw Larry Sanders develop into a briefly brilliant player; despite it burning bridges at times, there is evidence in all his stints that Skiles as a coach can develop certain individual talents.
But the NBA has moved on from that staid, micro-managed, intensive style. Coaches known for it are losing their jobs, as almost all teams try to adapt to a quicker, deeper, freer, friendlier, shoot-ier method of team building. There is nothing to say that all teams must follow any given blueprint just because some choose to do so – not everyone has to be a Warriors clone right now, just as not everyone had to be a Triangle clone in the 1990s. But what is key is adaptability.
It is here in which Skiles falls down. His adaptability in Chicago was essentially limited to just playing more veterans and more point guards (Kirk Hinrich started multiple games at small forward during Skiles’ tenure). In Milwaukee, he continued the pattern he began in Chicago in benching younger, better but more mistake-ridden players for conservative, undynamic veterans, the victims this time often being Tobias Harris and John Henson. The offensive plays and playbook remained much the same throughout both, the talents involved mitigated by its inflexibility.
In Orlando, despite there being so much young talent on hand that it was not possible to avoid playing it, Skiles forced on a style that did not fit the pieces he was presented with, to little effect. Harris again was the victim of that infamous inflexibility – some players he can work with and improve, but some he cannot. And whichever side of that fence any given player falls, the playing style will not change to adapt to their needs.