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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014

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In Sports Commentary

Larry Sanders is one of several young players the Bucks are counting on to improve.

Hammond has given Bucks a chance at greatness


Remember way back when Jeff Teague was going to be the Milwaukee Bucks' point guard of the future? How he was going to continue to grow off his 14-point, 7-assist season last year in Atlanta under the direction of his former-but-now-current coach, Larry Drew?

Shortly after Teague signed the four-year, $32 million offer sheet presented to him by Bucks general manager John Hammond I opined that Hammond had played the market "beautifully."

At the time, I said even if the Hawks matched the modest offer (which they eventually did), it would only depress the market for the Bucks' own restricted point guard in postulant franchise frontman Brandon Jennings.

That's proven to be true, too.

Here we are, on July 19, and Jennings sits without an offer from another team, or a long-term extension from the Bucks. He's staring at a qualifying offer of just over $4 million to play this season. If he willingly, or grudgingly, accepts it, he'll be an unrestricted free agent in a loaded 2014 free agent class that would likely see him waiting until late in the summer yet again.

But my tweet was also a comment on Hammond's offseason as well.

Many Bucks fans/observers consistently wonder "what's the plan?" when it comes to the Bucks and what Hammond is doing.

First, he has no reason to tell you.

The only time a club general manager/president/owner owes that to a fan base is when they decide to do something like what the Chicago Cubs did and basically say, hey, we're going to lose 100 games the next four years and here's why.

Second, the plan is clear from owner Herb Kohl – be competitive; make the playoffs.

I'm not so sure why this is hard for Bucks fans to just grab on to and accept. The man is not going to allow his franchise to win 10 games for four straight years in the hopes of landing a couple of No. 1 picks. (To that end, I understand why it's equally frustrating that there is no frequent organizational talk of winning championships, but you have walk before you can run).

Frankly, that's what Hammond is doing.

Let's just say Jennings is back and playing for the qualifying offer in 2013-14. As currently constructed, the Bucks' 13-man roster would haven an Opening Day average age of 25.5. That's incredibly young.

The total guaranteed salaries to those players would be under $48 million. That's incredibly cheap. (It does not include the money being paid out to the amnestied Drew Gooden, whose contract still counts toward the Bucks' salary floor but not the available salary cap. Don't ask).

This team could flirt with .500 and the eighth playoff seed in the East, fulfilling the owner's mandate while also keeping open the possibility of a lottery pick in a stacked 2013 NBA Draft class.

Then, in 2014, Jennings will likely walk away. If Luke Ridnour wants to come back, he'll be 33 and would surely have to take a pay cut from his modest $4.3 million salary. If Larry Sanders improves upon his breakout season last year he'll be in line for a more lucrative extension, but Ekpe Udoh would likely be shown the door with a nearly $6 million team option for 2014-15.

As it stands now, the Bucks are committed to just six players for 2015 and only three for 2016.

There are no awful contracts to manage as O.J. Mayo is the highest paid player at just $8 million a year, and it's just a three-year deal. There are some second round picks up in the cupboard that, while it may seem they have no value, are excellent trade-padders.

From my vantage point, Hammond has set the team up beautifully for a blockbuster move that could send the fortunes of the franchise soaring.

I can hear the snickers.

But in this new NBA, what the Bucks have now is necessary to win. They have young players with upside. They have draft picks. They have cap space.

They have what's needed to trade for an emerging star off a team who won't be able to afford him, a la James Harden, and then the resources to lock him up long term. People like to say free agents or stars won't come to Milwaukee, but they will if they're traded here. And money still talks, especially for those guys who were under-appreciated and underpaid at their previous stop. And, depending who that new star is, he might convince a buddy or two to come along. And guess what – the Bucks have the cap space to accommodate that, too.

Houston is the model here, no question. From 2009-12 the Rockets went 119-111 and seemed destined for NBA hell – competitive, but not good enough to win a title and not bad enough to get a No. 1 pick. Then, they manipulated the restricted free agent system to land a young starting point guard (Jeremy Lin) and center (Omer Asik) and then traded for an superstar-in-waiting in Harden.

Can that be duplicated? Honestly, I don't know. Some good luck will need to fall the Bucks way, but all you can do is set yourself up for success, and Hammond has done that.


Talkbacks

mbradleyc | July 26, 2013 at 9:58 a.m. (report)

Good article. I see it too. Hammond took out the last of Larry Harris' trash he had to keep moving around until it would all fit in the truck. Now they have money and space. It's too bad they couldn't get Teague, but not that too bad. Trading Tobias Harris might have been a mistake, but they were trying to set up a trade for Josh Smith. Now that would have been a mistake. Maybe Antetokounmpo will be better than T. Harris down the road. It will be fun to watch. Only Jennings remains to be settled. The young and restless one life to live as the world turns. October here we come. At least this team will be a pleasure to watch.

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stikwitem | July 23, 2013 at 8:39 a.m. (report)

What a slap in the face of all Bucks fans. Did Kohl and Hammond brain wash you in your sleep? Houston had twice as many assets before they traded for James Harden. Milwaukee is nowhere near that. Milwaukee has no chance of acquiring an all-star player other than the draft. And don't tell me we can trade for all-stars like Rudy Gay. He is no all-star. This team needs ONE direction. Not two. Maybe if the front office spent time and resources on just one direction, they would be a lot better than they are. The draft is the best way to get this franchise up and running again. You can't tell me otherwise. This team is built backwards. Moves like signing Pachulia and Delfino are things teams do when they have legitimate starters in place. These players do not help your team if you don't have a starting PG and starting SF. The only thing Hammond has done well is drafting (minus Joe Alexander) Why not have your Gm build a team the way he is best suited for? He clearly has shown the inability to sign free agents and make trades. Bucks fans aren't blind. We want change and we want it now! We want this team to succeed and we know the way it currently runs will not succeed.

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Slone | July 22, 2013 at 9:50 p.m. (report)

"This team could flirt with .500 and the eighth playoff seed in the East, fulfilling the owner's mandate while also keeping open the possibility of a lottery pick in a stacked 2013 NBA Draft class." That is unquestionably the worst spot for an NBA team. A team cannot try to have playoff success while also trying to keep open the possibility of being a lottery team, the two goals are polar opposites. With this plan, the Bucks are assured to not have any playoff success while also not getting a very high lottery pick. Finishing 6 games under .500 and making the playoffs to be obviously swept in the first round is pointless. Last season was not a success by any metric. You say "The man is not going to allow his franchise to win 10 games for four straight years in the hopes of landing a couple of No. 1 picks." That is complete hyperbole - no one is suggesting to win 10 games for 4 straight years. You yourself admitted the 2014 draft looks to be one of the best in recent history, it is the perfect time to take one season to reload with one of the 7-8 prospects thought of as All-Star talents. Pushing for the 8th seed and winning around 38 games again likely puts us outside of that range at around the 13th pick or worse. Why should anyone believe that Hammond has the moxie to pull off a trade like the one that delivered Harden? The two most lopsided deals last season were OKC getting rid of Harden and the Bucks getting rid of Tobias Harris. Hammond traded away possibly our most promising young player in Tobias Harris (who absolutely blossomed in Orlando) and the end result is two insignificant 2nd round draft picks. "But in this new NBA, what the Bucks have now is necessary to win. They have young players with upside. They have draft picks. They have cap space." What is necessary to win in the NBA is a STAR. With Harris gone, the Bucks now ONLY have 3 young players with upside (Sanders, Henson, Giannis). We have not made a single trade to bring in an additional young talent. We have not made a single trade to add another 1st round draft pick. We have not made a single trade to move up in a draft. Do not argue about the value of second round draft picks, they are afterthoughts and hold very little value, which is why teams happily threw them in to meaningless trades. When it comes to acquiring assets, Hammond has done essentially nothing other than drafting players with our own picks. "At the time, I said even if the Hawks matched the modest offer, it would only depress the market for the Bucks' own restricted point guard in postulant franchise frontman Brandon Jennings." There is no market to depress for Jennings, he is a volume shooter who shoots under 40% and is a below average defender. No team will even offer him the MLE. Now we are probably stuck with him and his bad attitude again as he will come back on the QO and walk- another asset squandered for nothing. The biggest problem the Bucks face is Herb Kohl's 8th seed or bust mentality. That outlook hamstrings our options since we trade away our assets like Tobias Harris for a JJ Redick rental and bring in inefficient, cancerous older players like Corey Maggette, Stephen Jackson, and Monta Ellis. No FAs will come to the Bucks, and we don't have enough assets to capitalize on a once in a decade trade opportunity like the James Harden trade (we are way below where Houston was in terms of total assets when they made that trade- we couldn't even trade for Eric Bledsoe). That leaves acquiring a superstar through the draft as our only way to acquire one, and Herb won't let us lose enough, even for one year, to make that happen. I firmly believe you wrote this article with the intent to deceive Bucks fans. I doubt you actually believe what you wrote here about John Hammond and the future of the Bucks. Bucks fans deserve better journalism than this, and we deserve a better run franchise than what Kohl and Hammond have given us. "Hey Sacramento Kings fans - can you mail the "Most Depressed NBA Fan Base" championship belt to Milwaukee? Thanks in advance." -Bill Simmons Bucks fans are getting peed on, don't try to tell us it is raining. Anyone who legitimately understands the NBA knows this.

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spongecris | July 22, 2013 at 4:55 p.m. (report)

WOW! Did you get the Kool Aid with your free tickets. Keep writing great articles like this and the Journal Sentinel will snatch you right up! The seats with your free tickets will surely improve then. Herb Kohl approves!

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TheyThink | July 22, 2013 at 2:09 p.m. (report)

I don't buy this whole "players don't want to come to Milwaukee." Any NBA player will go to ANY team...as long as the price is right. Money talks, not geography. Very few players can dictate a massive contract while also dictating their location (LeBron, Kobe, etc). You're telling me that players want to actually live and play in Houston? Have you been there? No thanks. Same could be said about Detroit who very recently has won an NBA title. The author is correct, Hammond has this team poised for good things to come...it won't happen this season and possibly the next but he's doing everything he needs to give the Bucks the best chance possible. In Hammond We Trust!

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