New Bucks coach Krystkowiak to emphasize defense

MILWAUKEE -- Bucks general manager Larry Harris praised new coach Larry Krystkowiak as a no-nonsense guy who will command respect from players and tell them exactly what he expects.

Larry Krystkowiak Krystkowiak

And, above all, get them to play some defense.

Krystkowiak, a nine-year NBA veteran who played four seasons for the Bucks, was introduced as Milwaukee's new coach Thursday. Krystkowiak was a gritty, hustling player -- and said he will expect the same from his players on defense.

"That's going to be conveyed to our team," Krystkowiak said. "And quite frankly, if guys don't play defense, then I'm in a position to where they don't have to play."

The Bucks are one of the NBA's worst defensive teams, but that's just one of several nagging problems that ultimately led Harris and Sen. Herb Kohl, the team's owner, to fire coach Terry Stotts on Wednesday.

Krystkowiak was promoted and given a multiyear deal after spending this season as an assistant under Stotts. He came to Milwaukee after a successful stint as the head coach at his alma mater, the University of Montana.

The Bucks beat the San Antonio Spurs 101-90 on Thursday night in
Krystkowiak's first game as an NBA head coach. Given Stotts'
relative inexperience at the time of his hiring, Harris knows there
will be skepticism about Krystkowiak.

"It's all going to work," Harris said. "I believe that."

Harris acknowledged that Krystkowiak's potential job offer to become the head coach at the University of Utah "accelerated" his hiring in Milwaukee, but said that wasn't the reason Stotts was fired.

"I know, maybe, in some people's minds, this has happened really fast and undeservedly, and I'm only here to stand up and tell you that it's going to work," Krystkowiak said.

It certainly didn't work under Stotts, but even Harris acknowledged that all of the team's struggles couldn't entirely be blamed on the former coach.

Harris said that given the Bucks' injury situation -- they lost leading scorer Michael Redd for 20 games earlier this season, and at one point in January played without four of their projected starting five -- he wanted to cut Stotts as much slack as possible.

But Harris said he simply saw too many close games slip away.

"You kept holding and hoping, and I kept patient as long as I could," Harris said. "Then there just came a point where I said, 'You know what? I cannot let the organization down, I cannot let the fans down, and I cannot let the team down to say that this is OK, this is acceptable.'"

Then came Monday night -- an uninspired loss at home to Toronto that was capped by an outburst from center Andrew Bogut, who made an obscene gesture to heckling fans as he left the court after getting ejected.

"That was the endgame for me," Harris said.

Krystkowiak went out of his way to praise Stotts.

"He's one of the nicest guys in the league, and I wouldn't have wished the injury situation on anybody this year," Krystkowiak said. "I think he persevered and kept the faith."

If Krystkowiak offered any mild criticism of his former boss, it was on the amount of time the team spent working on defense.

"We need to practice defense a lot more than we have," Krystkowiak said. "And in fairness to Terry, a lot of it is the schedule. A lot of it is the injuries that we dealt with."

But Krystkowiak said those days are over, asserting that playing defense is more about effort than talent.

"I don't necessarily buy into talent and defense being synonymous," Krystkowiak said.

Harris -- who worked an entry-level job with the Bucks while his father, Del Harris, was coaching them and Krystkowiak was playing for them -- said Krystkowiak was a "student of the game" as a player, much like Chicago's Scott Skiles, and that would help him make the transition from assistant to head coach.

Krystkowiak said that when he was playing, he made a "mental scrapbook" of the techniques other coaches used to motivate players.

"I didn't just play," Krystkowiak said. "I was paying attention to the Phil Jacksons and I was paying attention to the Del Harrises. I knew I was going to coach."

No Bucks player knows Krystkowiak better than Bogut, the player who worked most closely with him this season.

"We're in such a dismal season that hopefully it can give us an energy boost and wake guys up," Bogut said.

Asked a question about how the offense might change under the new coach, Redd responded by talking about defense.

"I don't think Larry is really concerned about offenses so much," Redd said. "He's really more so about the defensive end."

Krystkowiak isn't making any outlandish claims about sudden success.

"It isn't going to happen overnight," Krystkowiak said. "There's no grand promises, other than we're going to get the ship sailing in the right direction."