ST. FRANCIS, Wis. — A trip to the playoffs wasn’t enough to save Jim Boylan’s job as coach of the Milwaukee Bucks.
The NBA team announced Wednesday that Boylan won’t be offered a new contract. Though Milwaukee made the playoffs for the first time in three years under Boylan, the decision was expected after the Bucks lost 12 of their last 16 games, finishing with their third straight losing season and eighth in nine years. The Bucks were then swept by the Miami Heat, losing all four games by double digits.
“At this time we feel it’s in the best interest of the organization to seek a new coach to lead our team,” general manager John Hammond said in a statement.
A search for a new coach will begin “immediately,” Hammond said.
Boylan, a longtime assistant of Scott Skiles, took over after Skiles and the Bucks parted ways Jan. 8. The Bucks won their first two games under Boylan and eight of his first 11, reaching a season-best five games above .500 on Jan. 29.
But Milwaukee couldn’t sustain that success, dropping six of its next seven. Even a trade that brought J.J. Redick to Milwaukee couldn’t stabilize the Bucks. After winning six of eight immediately following the trade, Milwaukee would win only six more games the rest of the season.
“It was just funky,” Mike Dunleavy said earlier this week. “A lot of times, after you make a change, you get off to a hot start. Guys are more engaged for a few weeks and you win some games and go on a nice little streak. And then, after a little bit of time, reality sets in and unless you’re going to come and work and get better every day, what we just did was fool’s gold. It just didn’t stick.
“I’ve got no issue about getting swept by the Heat, they’re a great team. The issue is having to face the Heat,” Dunleavy added. “We basically dog-trotted down the stretch from March and April. We should have just never been in the position to have to play the No. 1 seed. Shame on us. That’s the disappointing part to the whole season.”
Boylan finishes 22-32, including the playoffs.
Boylan, the starting guard on Marquette’s 1977 championship team, faced a tough situation from the start. A longtime Skiles’ assistant, his philosophy wasn’t that different from that of the hard-nosed former coach. And while he made some changes to the lineup, major makeovers to the playbook are impossible midway through the season.
“There just needs to be something fresh,” Luc Mbah a Moute said.
On top of that, the Feb. 21 trade that brought Redick, Gustavo Ayon and Ish Smith in gave Milwaukee four guards with the potential to be starters.
“You look at our roster, we don’t have any bad guys,” Dunleavy said. “(But) guys want to play and have a certain role and do certain things, and there’s only so many minutes and only so many roles. You’ve got to balance that or you’re going to have problems.”
The tensions were obvious at times.
Redick told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel after Game 3 that he hadn’t spoken to Boylan during the playoffs. Boylan also had occasional clashes with Brandon Jennings, including benching the former lottery pick during the fourth quarter of Game 4.
“Do I want to be here? I don’t know,” Jennings, a restricted free agent this summer, said after Game 4. “I can’t really answer that right now. We’ll know July 1st.”
Jennings’ status — and that of Redick, Dunleavy and Monta Ellis — make (general manager John) Hammond’s choice of a new coach even more critical. Redick and Dunleavy are unrestricted free agents; Dunleavy, who grew up in Milwaukee, has said he’d like to return.
Ellis has an $11 million player option. While that kind of money would be hard to pass up, he could be swayed if another team offers him a multi-year deal.
Jennings and Ellis combined for almost 37 points and 13 assists per game.
“I love my teammates, I love the situation we was in,” Ellis said. “We’ve just got to get better. That’s the biggest thing.”
The Bucks do have promising young players in Larry Sanders and rookie John Henson. Sanders made huge strides in his third season, more than doubling his scoring average (9.8 points) and grabbing more rebounds (672) than he had in his first two years combined. Henson showed his potential with a monster game April 10 in Orlando, flirting with a triple-double with 25 rebounds, 17 points and seven blocks.
Ilyasova averaged a career-best 13.2 points and seven rebounds last season, while Mbah a Moute has emerged as a standout defender.
“They’ve got some young guys that have very, very bright futures,” Dunleavy said. “You have these assets, you have these guys that can get better, and that’s something you can build off of.”