MILWAUKEE – The Bucks have hit the pivotal and final year of their GM John Hammond and head coach Scott Skiles respective contracts. Senator Kohl brought those two in to turn around a dismal franchise in one of the NBA’s most underwhelming markets, and the jury is still out with a lot riding on the upcoming season.
Hammond helped orchestrate the Pistons into a eastern conference powerhouse with savvy moves that created an amazing starting five that had tremendous success, but didn’t have a “superstar.” Skiles raised the bar for the Bulls organization by three consecutive playoff berths after a six year drought. Kohl brought them in to right the ship, to give the cold Milwaukee winters some sunshine, and it seems pretty clear that this season’s success will indicate the future of the high-brass.
Looking back on the last four years I never got the impression Skiles gave up on the team, or Hammond sat on his hands in his office. They showed me that they are hard working,committed, married to the game-basketball junkies who I would want in charge of my organization. Unfortunately injuries to Redd and Bogut crippled the team to mediocrity, in doing so never allowed Skiles and Hammond a full roster. It was the all to familiar site of seeing millions of dollars sitting on the bench in NBA dress code.
Some may argue that bad personnel moves or poor coaching have come into play as far as why the team hasn’t steadily improved, and there’s criticism to be spread around from ownership/high-brass down to the players as far as dealing with not having a full roster, but lets be realistic. If the magic lost Dwight, or if Oklahoma lost Durant, no one is expecting them to fill those voids with ease, especially midway through the season. The Bucks were built to have Bogut on the floor anchoring the D and providing some low post offense, Redd contributing with consistent scoring, while Brandon applys pressure and production with his game. We all wanted to see that scenario manifest in front of our eyes but we never scratched the surface because of injuries. We ended up watching a movie with a different ending. A Mr. Monta Ellis was brought in to help make a push for the 8th seed to salvage the season. With great effort the Bucks came up short, but in the process now have one of the more dynamic guard duos in the league who will have a full training camp and preseason to develop a feel for each other and the rest of the guys.
Hammond executes personnel moves that generally make sense but by no means is he perfect with Joe Alexander and Stack Jack (Steven Jackson) being two of the most obvious misfires. Pulling the trigger on the Bogut/Monta trade was a ballsy move departing with the one of the only true centers in the league. But Hammond won a championship with a dominant defender in Ben Wallace but a offensive liability on the other end. Knowing the Bucks can score the ball but sorely need to improve the defense around the rim, John got busy on the phones this past off-season and aquired some shot blocking support to the undersized Bucks.
Hammond acquired three legit shot blockers; two of which are 7ft and a long 6ft 10in rookie who already has shown he’s all about firing up the grill for a block party. Samuel Dalembert, Joel Pryzabilla, Larry Sanders and John Henson are all going to replace Bogut’s defense by committee, with Dalembert most likely getting most of the minutes. Henson being a rookie has some things to prove, but I think we’ll be satisfied with the tar-heel who was the two time ACC defensive player of the year and swatted quite a few in the per-season with four in one game . Pryzabilla isn’t going to blow anyone away with his play, but he should be a solid back-up densive minded center to Dalembert. The Bucks are built better to protect the rim, get easy put backs, and clean the glass; all of which were weaknesses but Hammond played his hand he he’s got a much improved defensive team on paper.
Skiles didn’t have the personnel to play the defensive style that translates to offensive production that has served him success as a coach in this league, instead hoisting more shots than the opponent became the game plan and we all know how that worked out. Only teams that are built like the Bucks of 2001, or the the Nash led Mavs or Suns in prior years can chalk up bunches wins in the NBA (with no championships to show for it), and we were nothing close to those teams with all due respect to Skiles. So Hammond put all his chips on Defense in the upcoming season and in doing so giving his head coach no excuses as far as not having the right personnel to have a balanced team with good offensive production from Brandon, Monta, Erson, Dunleavy, Harris and the rest of the cast, with a concerted team effort on the defensive side of the floor.
We have a great mix of veterans and young guys, with some younger players who have some seasoning under their belt. Brandon, Earson, Monta, and Sanders have all been in the league now for multiple years, so I don’t expect there to be any more growing pains with them, especially Brandon, Earson, and Monta. In fact, they’re poised to have quite an offensive season if the basketball gods allow it. An interesting wild card that could tip the team into the successful direction rather quickly is Tobias Harris. This second year player makes scoring look as natural as walking in a park. Apparently he needs to improve on his defensive assignments and Skiles will give him the minutes, we’ll see.
Preseason has been underway but we don’t get a true feel for the team until about fifteen twenty games into the season. I’m looking forward to seeing if Hammond and Skiles can prove themselves, justify their philosophies, and smile at all the haters while upsetting a high seed in the playoffs. Brandon and Monta have a lot to prove as players as well, they haven’t won anything in their short albeit substantial careers. That’s no knock on them, they have been on unsuccessful team with no fault of their own but they share a sense of urgency to get in the post season and make some noise and prove to the NBA community that they mean business and intend to be a migraine for opposing defenses. The Buck’s front office did their job, now it time for the players to execute.