MILWAUKEE - Once again, an NBA team has parted ways with head coach Scott Skiles. Once again, veteran assistant Jim Boylan is being asked to pick up the pieces.
One day after Milwaukee and Skiles agreed it was time for a change, the Bucks said Tuesday that Boylan will coach the team for the rest of the season. General manager John Hammond downplayed the notion that Skiles had lost control of the locker room or otherwise felt friction with management.
"Scott and I did not have a frosty relationship. Scott did not hate this team," said Hammond, who noted that more than half the season remains. "We're not a team in dire straits ... we're expecting good things to happen."
Boylan met with reporters before Tuesday night's home game against Phoenix.
"We'll do what we've been doing as far as being professional, getting ourselves ready for every game and getting out there and competing," Boylan said. "That's my job right now, to get us back on the right track, move us in the right direction and I think the guys we have on the team right now are quality people and committed to that task. That'll be our ultimate goal."
If this change sounds familiar, it should: Skiles was fired as head coach in Chicago on Christmas Eve in 2007 after the Bulls started 9-16. Boylan, an assistant in Chicago, took over and went 24-32. He was fired at the end of the season.
In an interview Tuesday with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Skiles disputed the notion that he didn't like his team.
"There's always the normal coach-player friction that goes on," Skiles said in the Journal Sentinel interview. "Guys at this level are great players. This is, as NBA teams go, this is a good group of guys."
Hammond said he and Skiles had been having a number of conversations recently about the future of the team. He said there was no single factor in Skiles' departure, and that no other assistant coaches were leaving.
"It was a mutual decision. We both agreed to make this decision," he said.
Skiles had a 162-182 record in four-plus seasons with Milwaukee, with one playoff appearance — a first-round loss to Atlanta in seven games during the 2009-10 season. He was a hard-nosed, defensive-minded coach who sometimes seemed to have difficulty meshing with a roster built around volume shooters Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis.
Jennings said he heard about the change in a phone call Monday night from Skiles and not from anyone within the organization.
"I think that's why I was a little bit frustrated at first," he said. "Just the fact that I had to hear it from my own coach and not the team. If I'm supposed to be their franchise player, why don't I hear the news first?"
Jennings said he was shocked but not upset about the change. He said he spoke with Skiles for about 20 minutes.
"We had our ups and downs, we had great times here," he said. "I have nothing but respect for him because as a rookie he did put the ball in my hands first."
Luc Mbah a Moute said he was shocked and had a great experience playing for Skiles, but coaching changes simply were part of the business of the NBA.
"I kind of had an idea of hearing that the team wasn't really happy with the way everything was going, and not just this year, you know the last couple of years with Skiles," he said. "This year we were kind of like started a good start and then went through a patch where we didn't play so great."
Boylan said the initial change he would make was to insert forward Ersan Ilyasova into the starting lineup for Ekpe Udoh.
Ilyasova re-signed with the Bucks during the summer, but saw his minutes decrease to 22 per game this year after playing 27 in the 2011-12 season. He said he was looking forward to playing for Boylan.
"For me, it's not a big deal you know, if you start or not, my concern has been about the minutes," Ilyasova said. "When you come from the season I had last year, I didn't expect to play less than last year."
Skiles' agent, Keith Glass, said it was hard to pinpoint when Skiles began thinking of stepping aside, but all parties agreed the timing was right.
"There was no blowup. There was no animosity going on. I think everybody made the right decision for their own respective sides," he said.
Two other coaches, the Lakers' Mike Brown and Brooklyn's Avery Johnson, are also out of work in this young season. Brown was fired after five games and Johnson late last month, about three weeks after being named Eastern Conference coach of the month.
The 57-year-old Boylan has been the lead assistant for the Bucks the past four seasons. In a 20-year NBA coaching career, he has also been an assistant in Cleveland, Vancouver, Phoenix, Atlanta and Chicago.
Boylan said he was too worried about keeping the job when he succeeded Skiles in Chicago.
"Last time, from a personal standpoint, I was too worried about trying to keep the job and it kind of restricted me as time went on," he said. "I made the determination when this happened last night, that I was going to try and enjoy this and just do what I like to do which is coach these guys, being around these guys and the coaching staff and the organization and just enjoy it.
"Have a good time with it and get the guys to play hard and compete and let the chips fall where they may at the end," he said.
Milwaukee, losers of four straight when the coaching change was announced, started out a surprising 6-2, only to lose seven of its next nine. The Bucks followed that with a four-game winning streak, the kind of wild swings that didn't sit well with a coach who values consistency — both in play and preparation.
"Considering like a week ago we were 16-12 and beat Miami, you probably wouldn't have guessed this would have happened a week later," forward Mike Dunleavy said.
Skiles did help coax a breakout season out of Larry Sanders, who has emerged as a rebounding and shot-blocking monster over the last few weeks. The demanding coach pushed Sanders to be more consistent, and the lanky forward/centre has responded. He grabbed 20 rebounds against Boston on Dec. 21 to start a string of double-digit rebound nights in five of his last eight games and leads the league with 3.07 blocks per game.
Skiles' focus on defence was always going to be tested by a roster revolving around Jennings and Ellis, two flashy scorers who prefer to get up and down the court and lure opposing teams into shootouts.
Jennings and Ellis have been giving plenty of effort, but the Bucks were in the middle of the pack in points allowed per game (15th) and field goal percentage defence (18th), below Skiles' lofty expectations.
Still, the Bucks are only a few games behind Indiana in the Central Division, despite injuries to Beno Udrih and top defender Mbah a Moute, and in seventh place in the Eastern Conference playoff chase.
Skiles' departure could be the first in a series of big shake-ups for the Bucks. Hammond is in the final year of his deal, while Jennings and Ellis can both become restricted free agents after this season.
Hammond said he and team owner Herb Kohl are in discussions about an extension, but he declined to elaborate on the progress of their conversations.
As for Skiles, he is now 443-433 as an NBA head coach in 12-plus seasons, which also includes stints with Chicago and Phoenix. He started this season with a host of new players, though the biggest trade during his tenure was the deal that sent former No. 1 draft pick Andrew Bogut to Golden State for Ellis.
"I never heard Scott say a negative thing to me about that trade or anything else," Glass said. "Everybody has their own opinions on the way things are done, but Scott was always on board with — in terms of support — whatever move was made. ... And I think he liked Monta. I never heard him say a word about that at all in a negative sense."
Glass said it was too early to say whether Skiles was looking to stay in coaching.
"Today is not the day for that ... but I'm sure we will discuss that in the next month or so," he said. "But he's not burning right now."
AP Sports Writers Jon Krawczynski in Minneapolis and Andrew Seligman in Chicago and AP Freelancer DiGiovanni in Milwaukee contributed to this report.
Dinesh Ramde can be reached at dramde(at)ap.org.