Could Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Take Milwaukee Bucks to Next Level as Head Coach?
According to Dave Begel of OnMilwaukee.com, the NBA's all-time leading scorer is interested in coaching the Bucks after this season:
One name I didn't hear, and one that I think should move to the very head of the line is a man I talked with last week who said he'd jump at the chance to coach the Bucks.
I asked him flat out if he would be willing to be the head coach of the Bucks.
"Of course," he replied.
Before we go customizing a clipboard that is proportionate to the hands of the 7'2" legend, let's not discount the job Jim Boylan has done since replacing Scott Skiles. Milwaukee is 14-12 since parting ways with Skiles and Boylan has the Bucks poised to clinch their first playoff berth since 2006.
Still, while Boylan will be up for the permanent position this summer, the prospect of Abdul-Jabbar ambling up and down the sidelines is beyond intriguing.
Intrigue, however, doesn't guarantee adequacy.
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Abdul-Jabbar has never been a head coach before and it's somewhat difficult to imagine the Bucks handing control of a postseason-caliber faction over to a neophyte.
Not that Abdul-Jabbar doesn't have experience in player development. Many players have attempted to replicate his sky-hook shot and he has an influence on the way athletes play (and act) today. Dwight Howard will attest to that. And so will Andrew Bynum.
And as Abdul-Jabbar himself notes, the respect he has garnered is something you just can't teach:
I know how to prepare for a season as an individual and I know what that means in terms of team commitment. I can get all the right people together that have some chemistry and care about each other and they love the game. That's where teams are made or not made successful.
That's very hard for GM's to figure out. They know talent when they see it. But that ability to connect with your teammates, that personal chemistry is a hard thing to see in people. I can help players learn how to develop that chemistry. We had Pete Newell out here (in Los Angeles) and he was a master at understanding the personal fire within each player. I'd be a coach who can provide respect and keep the guys on the same page for a whole season.
As a coach, Abdul-Jabbar would hold an advantage that few present head honchos currently have—automatic respect. The way we fall silent and nod whenever Phil Jackson's name is mentioned in a coaching search, Abdul-Jabbar has that; he is the Jackson (coaching version) of players.
Let's not underestimate the importance of said clout either. Think of all the deteriorating relationships that have existed between players and coaches only just recently. Carmelo Anthony and Mike D'Antoni. Deron Williams and Avery Johnson. Nate McMillan and most of the 2011-12 Portland Trail Blazers.
Mutual respect and adoration is an unequivocal necessity when guiding a convocation, and it's especially difficult to obtain as a new face. That is, unless you're Abdul-Jabar.
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Much of the same could arguably said when constructing a rotation. As a former player (and superstar), identifying the potential pitfalls of on-court rapport isn't a foreign concept for Abdul-Jabbar.
Players know when it's just not jiving. It's just one of those inherent senses. A former 20-year man himself, Abdul-Jabbar understands what it takes to establish team chemistry. That comprehension can't just be cast aside.
Intangibles under one arm, Abdul-Jabbar's ability to parlay these qualities into actual, into measurable results remains unknown.
We assume that his experience as an interior scorer would do wonders for a guy like Larry Sanders, but what about the Brandon Jennings' and Monta Ellis' of the team? Will his knowledge and universally known and respected workout regime resonate with them as well?
Those are a fair series of questions, and queries that must be posed if we're the Bucks. If they don't believe his unrelenting work ethic complements the fragile psyches of Ellis and Jennings, they either have to tailor the roster to meet Abdul-Jabbar's needs or take their coaching search elsewhere.
Of course, Abdul-Jabbar's potential candidacy is all hearsay. Milwaukee's coaching search (or lack thereof) will be predicated upon how the team finishes the season.
Should the Bucks make the playoffs (likely) and rattle off a series victory (or two), owner Herb Kohl and general manager John Hammond will be hesitant to disrupt a formula that yielded results the franchise hasn't seen in nearly a decade.
Failing to make the postseason or being ousted without much of a fight, though, will change things.
J.J. Redick, Ellis and Jennings—among others—will all (likely) explore free agency in some regard. Milwaukee could decide to retain every one of them, it could keep just a few or it could lose all of them. Depending on how many adjustments the Bucks feel they need to make, hiring a new head coach may or may not be one of them.
Any instability on the organization's behalf actually bodes well for Abdul-Jabbar. His first six seasons as a pro were spent in Milwaukee and should the team find itself immersed in turmoil (and looking for a clean slate) turning to a former player, a former friend could help restore any lost order.
Okay, so former friend is going a bit far. After six seasons of otherwise dedicated service, he requested a trade to a "winner" following Oscar Robertson's retirement.
Abdul-Jabbar also led the Bucks to a championship before departing. He never quit on them, he just sought out greener pastures. Knowing that he went onto win five more championships with the Lakers, it's implausible that the franchise would hold the past against him. His exit was not in vain.
And if I'm the Bucks, brow-beaten departure or not, hiring Abdul-Jabbar is a move I'm not just exploring, but executing. Barring an unforeseen Cinderella-esque run this postseason, there's clearly a need for change, a need to escape the shackles of a disenchanted stature.
Abdul-Jabbar's lack of head coaching experience presents some ambivalence, but his diligence as both a player and mentor would prove invaluable as a sideline-meandering instructor.
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Would Kareem-Abdul Jabbar be a good fit as coach of the Milwaukee Bucks?
Milwaukee has embodied average for far too long. Save for a Conference Finals loss to the Philadelphia 76ers in 2001, the Bucks haven't made it out of the first-round of the playoffs in more than two decades.
It doesn't get much more mundane than that.
So why not take a chance on Abdul-Jabbar? Why not gamble on a living legend who actually wants the job? Why not risk the mediocre for the opportunity to become exceptional?
If Abdul-Jabbar is half as skilled a coach as he was player, and if he can do even half of what he says he can, the Bucks stand to go from "only okay," to "genuinely relevant." And maybe even great.
Now that's a risk worth taking.
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