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A Perfect Landing Place For One Unemployed Coach

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For myriad reasons delineated in this space in December, it was both an inevitable and an unhappy ending in Chicago for Scott Skiles.

Without question, the former point guard wore out his welcome and did more than his share to earn his pink slip from John Paxson.

But as Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News reports, a possible vacancy in the Southeast this summer could leave the option of a perfect match open for Skiles:

The Hawks could clean house, even if they make the playoffs for the first time since 1999. If they fire GM Billy Knight and coach Mike Woodson, they're looking at bringing in Scott Skiles as head coach. Skiles is the guy Donnie Walsh is looking for to take over the Knicks, but he could be presented with the chance to take over a team that has Joe Johnson, Mike Bibby and rookie sensation Al Horford. That's a better lineup than the one Walsh can offer.

Granted, one would have to assume that Woodson's fate will be partially contingent on how the Hawks perform in the playoffs, but if (as we Celtics fans certainly hope) nothing to write home about comes about on Woodson's behalf, and he ends up departing, this is a move that the Hawks will need to make happen as quickly as possible once the off-season comes.

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If there is one team in the Association that has Scott Skiles' name all over it, it is the Atlanta Hawks.  Even more significantly, the timing is exactly right.

What Skiles showed in Chicago was that he specializes in getting through to young players.  This is a man who preaches discipline and defense, and he has shown the ability to get teams to execute, particularly in uptempo situations.

In fact, this is exactly what happened in Chicago.  In Skiles' first full season in Hicag, the Bulls went from 16th in defensive efficiency the previous year to second overall.  In the following two seasons, they finished seventh and first in that area, all the while upping the pace from eleventh in the league in 2004-05 to fifth in 2005-06 and sixth in 2006-07.  Skiles spent three years being lauded for doing a fantastic job with a young team.  He got a team with a back-court of Kirk Hinrich and the undersized Ben Gordon to be the most effective defensive team in basketball, and he helped youthful Luol Deng and thought-to-be-too-old P.J. Brown get on the right page with this group as well.  Worth remembering is that Deng and Gordon made their NBA debuts in Skiles' first season, and he still had the wherewithal to mold a cohesive top-level defense.

The opportunity in Atlanta would be quite similar to what it was in Chicago for Skiles.  This is a very young Hawks unit, with Josh Smith, Marvin Williams, Al Horford, Josh Childress and Acie Law forming the super-athletic core of players all with 24 years or less of age and four years or less of pro experience.  Zaza Pachulia is in his fifth year at age 24, and enigmatic Salim Stoudamire is in his third year at 25.  Even Joe Johnson, one of the team's veteran leaders, is only 26.  There is a lot of youth and a very high ceiling for this team once it adds some discipline.

Once it adds some discipline.   That would be the operative phrase with this group.  Smith is a player with all the athletic tools imaginable, but he has had some conduct issues and has been known for taking too many gambles on the defensive end.  Williams is a specimen who has improved but still has yet to live up to his immense potential -- or the fact that he was picked ahead of Chris Paul and Deron Williams.  Horford is going to be a force in the paint in this league for years to come, but like all of these neophytes, he is still raw.  Law will need plenty of seasoning before he can take over the point guard spot from Mike Bibby in the years to come.

Beyond the individuals, the team numbers back up the discipline questions.  Though they have improved greatly in recent years, the Hawks sit at 18th in defensive efficiency, and they are 24th in turnover ratio, giving the ball away on 14 percent of their possessions.  If the Hawks are going to make the jump from talent-filled mediocrity to becoming a legitimate contender in the Eastern Conference, those numbers above all others are the ones that simply must improve.

In fairness to Woodson, the defensive efficiency has improved somewhat over the last couple of years, and sure, it's possible that it could continue to do so.  But we know that Skiles can work his own form of magic, particularly with young players.  Furthermore, one would have to imagine that if given the Atlanta job, Skiles would make a much-needed change in pace.  For some reason, the Hawks only play the league's 18th-quickest pace, and at no point in Woodson's tenure have they ranked above 13th in that category.  This is particularly odd given the make-up of the roster.  Smith, Wiliams and Childress are all hybrid athletes whose dials should be set on go-go-go from tip to buzzer every night.  Horford has the ability to get up and down the floor, and though not what he once was, Bibby can still push the rock.  This is a team that needs to be looking to use its youth and energy to run opponents into oblivion on a nightly basis.  Even in a slower-paced game than the Hawks should be playing, they still turn the ball over more than 14 times per game (they are 21st in the league in turnovers per).  Scott Skiles is the type of coach who can fix these problems.

Skiles can fix these problems partially because of the fact that he is a rigid taskmaster who takes guff from no one and demands a certain level of his performance of his players at all time.   Of course, as we saw in Chicago, that style tends to grate on people, and sooner or later, it stops getting through to the professional athletes whom he is paid to teach.  But that took more than three years in Chicago, and those first three years saw incredible progress for the team he coached.  And just as players develop, so do coaches.  It isn't out of the question that Skiles could have learned something from the Chicago experience and that he could possibly be ready to find ways to maintain his coaching effectiveness as his tenure draws on at his next stop.  He wouldn't be the first coach to do a better job at his second or third try, and he likely wouldn't be the last.

Whether or not Mike Woodson will be done in Atlanta by summer remains to be seen, and this certainly isn't meant to unilaterally push for the man's departure.  But if he does leave, there will most definitely be a great option waiting in the wings.

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