Monday April 21st, 2008

When your car breaks down, you hire a mechanic to fix it. When you have ragged shrubs, a landscaper. Leaky pipes, a plumber.

No defense, Scott Skiles.

That was the message the Bucks sent Monday, when they hired Skiles to replace Larry Krystkowiak, who was fired last week. Milwaukee was a defensive nightmare this season, finishing 23rd in points allowed (103.9 per game) and 29th in opponents' field-goal percentage (48.0). The Bucks also were in the bottom third of the league in steals and blocked shots.

Enter Skiles. Setting aside the 2007-2008 season, when the Bulls' turmoil -- some of which could have been attributed to Skiles, who was fired in December -- sabotaged Chicago from the start, Skiles' teams have regularly been among the toughest defensively. In Skiles' three full seasons in Chicago, the Bulls ranked first in field-goal defense twice and were second once. Skiles has been credited with developing center Tyson Chandler, a defensive menace currently terrorizing opponents in New Orleans, and point guard Kirk Hinrich, who was recognized in 2006-2007 on the NBA's All-Defensive second team.

Skiles will have his hands full with the Bucks, who punctuated their horrible defensive season by surrendering 151 points to Chicago in their penultimate game. Center Andrew Bogut and power forward Yi Jianlian are considered by scouts to be below-average defenders, while shooting guard Michael Redd, who showed surprising intensity on defense while playing with USA Basketball last summer, appeared to regress during the season. Redd also developed a frosty relationship with Krystkowiak, which may have contributed to the coach's decline.

Skiles might not have a lot of new faces to help him mold the team into a better defensive unit, either. The Bucks don't have the salary-cap space (they already have $62.4 million committed to 10 players for next season) or enough marketable commodities to drastically change their team in one offseason. (Milwaukee is projected to have the seventh pick in the June 26 draft.)

It will be interesting to see how some of Milwaukee's veterans -- particularly Redd -- respond to their new coach. Skiles is a drill sergeant: He does things his way and expects everyone around him to fall in line. That attitude, while largely effective (Skiles has a career .528 winning percentage, including 2½ seasons with Phoenix before his stint in Chicago), has rubbed some of his former players the wrong way. Eddy Curry, Jamal Crawford and Ben Wallace are just a few of the players to have run-ins with Skiles. Chandler told SI.com last year that he and Skiles "never saw eye-to-eye." Said Chandler: "From the moment he came in, it was never right."

Skiles will be given plenty of latitude to rebuild the Bucks, as new general manager John Hammond is acutely aware that this is not a one- or two-year fix. Making a decision on Bogut (who is eligible for a contract extension this summer), investigating the trade market for Redd (who has three years and $51 million remaining on his contract) and securing a strong draft pick (shot-blocking LSU forward Anthony Randolph would look nice in Milwaukee) are just a few of the things on Hammond's plate this summer. Fortunately, in hiring Skiles, Hammond has addressed one of the biggest issues: defense. The Bucks will play it, or they won't play for him.

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