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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Aug. 29, 2014

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In Sports Commentary

In order to compete for championships and beat teams like Miami, the Bucks need to go "all in" this summer. (PHOTO: David Bernacchi )

Bucks should go "all in" this offseason


Coming off the first playoff appearance in three seasons, the time is now for the Milwaukee Bucks to make a statement, to shake things up, and to take a huge step forward in community relations and increased relevance in the NBA.

It's time for the Bucks to go all in, to go the way of many franchises and totally reshape the roster with free agents and a new coach in an effort to spark the fan base and push the gas on the plans to build a new downtown arena.

Remember – this is not a teardown or a rebuild. This is a playoff team that with just over a month left in the season had a shot at a top four seed. The right pieces can be had to make this team a legitimate Easter Conference contender.

The coach
The Bucks are continuing their search as reports say Los Angeles Lakers assistant Steve Clifford is heading into town for an interview. And, since interviews with Nate McMillan and Kelvin Sampson are already in the bag, the team may be close to announcing a hire.

But before a decision is made between those three men, or perhaps another mystery candidate, Bucks owner Sen. Herb Kohl needs give general manager John Hammond the freedom to make a few more calls. One of the first he should make is to Jerry Sloan.

The veteran coach has been linked to the vacant Brooklyn job and it's clear he would return to the sidelines, even at the age of 71.

Yes, Sloan is old for a head coach. He's definitely old-school. But he's only been out of the league for two seasons and he's a big a name, one fans and players can attach themselves to and respect. This isn't the place for Phil Jackson, but it would be for the Illinois native who knows all about operating in the NBA's middle markets.

Call Sloan up, ask him what he requires for his own contract and for whatever assistants he wants to bring with him. If you like Sampson enough, bring him in too with the promise he'll succeed Sloan in three years. Coaching salaries don't count against the cap – spend the money.

This isn't about Sloan coaching until he's 80. This is about bringing in a proven coach for three years to improve on a playoff team. He can do this.

Update: USA Today reported shortly after post time on May 13 that the Bucks have indeed met with Sloan about the vacant coaching position.

The roster
Hammond has to wait until the end of June to hear if Monta Ellis is going to exercise his $11 million player option, and then Brandon Jennings could receive a large contract offer on the restricted market once free agency opens on July 1.

Those are huge question marks and the biggest decisions the team has to make. Does it offer Ellis a long-term extension and let Jennings walk? Or vice versa? Or do neither come back?

But let's look at the roster outside of those two. To make the math easy, we're going to round up the salaries and work off the $58 million cap number from 2012-13.

The only players under contract are Ish Smith ($1 million), John Henson ($1.9), Larry Sanders ($3.1) Ekpe Udoh ($4.5), Luc Richard Mbah a Moute ($4.6), Drew Gooden ($6.7) and Ersan Ilyasova ($7.9). Gustavo Ayon has a team option for $1.5 million.

Now is the time for Sen. Kohl to tell Hammond to amnesty Gooden, the only player on the roster who was signed under the last collective bargaining agreement. The 31-year-old, 11-year veteran played just 151 minutes in 16 games and is no longer needed. The roster spot isn't what's important – it's the remaining $13.4 million that will be opened up over the next two seasons and not count against the cap.

Spend the money.

Ayon is an energetic player, but he didn't seem too happy about his situation in Milwaukee. Don't exercise that option. The veteran minimum for a player with 10 years of experience in 2013-14 is $1.4 million. You can find a cheaper option for a backup big man in free agency.

Without those two players, that means the Bucks have about $23 million committed to six players. Under the rules of the new CBA, they must spend 90 percent of the cap – or about $52 million – next season.

That's a lot of room to work with.

Of course, if Ellis exercises his option and the Bucks choose to match an offer sheet to Jennings that pays him about $10-11 million per year, that allows just about $9 million in cap space. I doubt that will happen, but let's leave it open as a possibility.

Here's the thing: the Bucks have never been a luxury tax team, and the NBA is bent on punishing repeat tax offenders. To do it for the first (or second or third) time there isn't really a penalty.

It's time for Sen. Kohl to let Hammond work the numbers and let the Bucks operate in previously unoccupied air space.

The free agent class of 2013 isn't as strong as 2014 could be (we'll all be waiting to see if LeBron James exercises his early termination option) but playoff teams like Brooklyn, Miami, Chicago, New York, Golden State, Memphis and Denver are all over the luxury tax for next year. They may have to amnesty players, or look to deal good players with big contracts for pennies on the dollar on the trade market.

Hammond needs the go-ahead to spend money, or take on money. He needs to be able to move Udoh or Mbah a Moute to make a trade work.

Does this all seam unrealistic? Perhaps. But all of this could happen. It should happen.

It's about getting the people in and around Milwaukee energized about helping to pay for a new arena. It's about making the franchise attractive to a billionaire new sole owner or wealthy partners to help Sen. Kohl shoulder the load.

The only way to do this in the current NBA is to spend the money. Do it on the coaching staff, do it on the players. It's time to go all in.


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