By Doug Russell Special to Published Dec 27, 2011 at 11:00 AM Photography: David Bernacchi

The 2010-11 Milwaukee Bucks, by everyone's measure, were a failure. There was a failure to live up to their own lofty expectations, there was a failure to stay healthy, and there was a failure to produce. Many of the new faces failed to ever gel with their new teammates, and the malaise surrounding the Bradley Center was beaten into your head every night by the vast sea of empty blue seats as spring approached.

Yes, this is a new season. Thank goodness for that. As has been talked about time and time again, the Bucks franchise is in a tenuous place right now. The financial reality of the NBA dictates that Milwaukee needs a new arena, but there is simply no desire among any political leaders to stick their necks out and lead on the issue. Public funding for sports arenas has always been a hot-button issue because both owners and players are wealthy beyond our collective imagination.

Of course, no one wants to ponder the question of what happens when a team leaves, both sides of the issue instead choosing to point fingers at the other. But just remember, Miller Park's construction was a powder keg of bitter debate in 1996; yet no one could imagine Milwaukee in 2011 without it.

The reality in 1996 was that without Miller Park, there would today be no Milwaukee Brewers.

The reality in 2011 is that without a new arena, in a few years there will be no Milwaukee Bucks.

The only way to have a forward-thinking political leader throw his or her weight behind such a project is to demonstrate both a need and a desire for it. The first step is the team has to be playing well.

The notion that Milwaukee can't ever be a basketball town is nonsense. We were all captivated in the spring of 2010 by the "Fear the Deer" campaign. Games were selling out, Bucks merchandise was seen being worn all over the city, and there was the feeling that if you were not on board with the movement, you were really missing out on something special.

So the question then becomes, can the Bucks set last season aside and get back to where they were in the second half of the 2009-10 campaign? That is the single most important question leading into the 2011-12 season.

Guards: Brandon Jennings, Beno Udrih, Shaun Livingston, and Stephen Jackson.

Last season, Jennings, 22, missed 19 games in the middle of the season with a broken foot. Upon his return, Jennings production declined from the pace he set prior to the injury. There was a perception that his sophomore season was not as good as his rookie campaign, even though the numbers do not support that hypothesis. Jennings is the engine that makes the Bucks go. Entering his third season, he will be counted on even more heavily than in his first two seasons.

Udrih, 29, came to Milwaukee in the trade that sent Corey Maggette to Charlotte, John Salmons to Sacramento, and Stephen Jackson to the Bucks. Udrih spent the last four seasons with the Kings and the three years before that with the Spurs, so playing in the Eastern Conference will be something new for him. Last season, the Bucks were the worst team in the NBA in scoring; Udrih is expected to pick up some of that slack. When he and Jennings are on the floor together, Milwaukee will have all-lefty backcourt. Unfortunately, when he and Jennings are on the floor together, the Bucks will also have one of the worse defensive backcourts in the league.

Livingston, 26, could be a star in the NBA is he could just stay healthy. He has a fluid outside jumper and defends well on the perimeter; however, since his rookie season on 2004-05, he has missed fewer than 20 games due to injury just once. Granted, that was just last season, but his health has to be concerning to a team that never was able to field a full squad once a year ago. After all, there is a reason he has been on now six teams in seven years.

Speaking of journeymen, Jackson, 33, continues his tour of the NBA after stops in New Jersey, San Antonio, Atlanta, Indiana, Golden State, and Charlotte. He has also had professional stops in LaCrosse and Fort Wayne of the CBA, San Carlos and Pueblo Nuevo of the Dominican League, Sydney of the Australian League, and Marinos de Oriente of the Venezuelan League. He also is one of the most enigmatic players the Bucks have had in some time. While it is true that he has had numerous run-ins with the law, he has also been described as a generous and thoughtful teammate; he has been honored with "Steven Jackson Day" in San Francisco and has been lauded by the league for his charity work. Yet he has also been described as a petulant hothead prone to technical fouls by others. The Bucks just hope that the good Stephen Jackson emerges this season – both on and off the court.

Forwards: Carlos Delfino (G-F), Mike Dunleavy (G-F), Tobias Harris, Jon Leuer, Jon Brockman, Drew Gooden, Ersan Ilyasova, Luc Mbah a Moute, and Darrington Hobson.

Delfino, 29, is back after missing much of last season with post-concussion syndrome. His sprained right wrist is something to keep your eyes on, because if he is healthy and can play at 100 percent, the Bucks are just a much better team. Delfino also has a penchant for the dramatic, with the icewater ability to hit from beyond the arc; he can also play multiple positions and defends well. His ability to remain a constant in the Bucks lineup is one of the team's biggest under-the-radar keys in 2011-12.

Dunleavy, 31, returns to Milwaukee for the fourth time in his life, but his first time as a Bucks player. Dunleavy, of course, is the son of the only man to serve the organization as a player, assistant coach, head coach, and general manager. The younger Dunleavy has been described as a guard in a forward's body; he will likely see time at both shooting positions. Defensively he has struggled, but should provide some of the offensive punch off the bench the Bucks desperately lacked last year.

Harris, 19, came to the Bucks in a draft day trade and is the youngest member of the team. Harris played just one season at Tennessee under Bruce Pearl, who had him run a variation of the "point forward" position former Bucks coach Don Nelson had Paul Pressey run in the 1980's. Harris is considered a very good shooter and ball handler, but doesn't like to mix it up underneath. No player that lacks toughness will play very much or for very long under Scott Skiles. How much of an impact Harris has will be up to him in practice.

Leuer, 22, is no mystery to Bucks fans. During his four years at Wisconsin, Leuer was known for his leadership, maturity, passing, jump shot, and inability to play underneath. Frankly, not much is expected out of the Bucks second round draft choice this season. If he can provide an offensive spark off the bench here and there, that would be enough to consider his rookie season a success.

Brockman, 24, is the anti-Leuer. He doesn't shoot well. He doesn't run well. He would never be described as "fluid." Yet, he is a battler. A scrapper. Scott Skiles in a forward's body. Probably won something called the "Hustle Award" once or twice in his career. What he does isn't pretty, but it is critically important. He'll mix it up in a hiccup if you have the audacity to go after his rebound. At 6-7, Brockman is much too small to play the post, yet don't be surprised to see him in the middle when Andrew Bogut needs a rest and the Bucks need to replace his defense.

Gooden, 30, was limited to just 35 games last year because of injury. As the Bucks starting power forward, he will be counted on heavily to be the Bucks' main offensive weapon underneath. At times, Gooden is his own worst enemy, settling for jump shot when he should just drive the ball to the rack strong and draw a foul. He is an excellent free-throw shooter and a very good rebounder. He was at his best when he was paired with a true center – Žydrūnas Ilgauskas – in Cleveland. While Gooden can play the post, it isn't his best position.

Ilyasova, 24, has been dogged with the P word – potential – for several seasons now. His physical gifts are plentiful: he is long, runs well, is smooth, and has good range. Yet last year he regressed offensively at a time when scoring was at a premium. He may never have the bulk necessary to play inside like Gooden has, but can be effective as a change-of-pace player at power forward, or provide length offensively on the wing. He reminds some of what Bucks coaches hope Jon Leuer can develop into. Ilyasova will see extensive playing time this season, even if it means coming off the bench.

Mbah a Moute, 25, was retained by the Bucks after he signed a 4-year, $18.7 million offer sheet with the Denver Nuggets. Retaining Mbah a Moute was critical for Skiles' philosophy of having players that are tenacious on defense. Simply put, Mbah a Moute is one of the best defenders in basketball. Offensively he has never given the Bucks a whole lot, but for this one-trick pony, it really doesn't matter. He'll still see plenty of action during the season if his sore knee improves.

Hobson, 24, is back with the Bucks after getting cut a year ago without having ever played an NBA game. His impact is expected to be minimal.

Centers: Andrew Bogut and Larry Sanders (F-C).

It is possible that Bogut, 27, is the most important player the Bucks have. He sets the tone defensively and is the unquestioned leader among the players. Last year his shattered right arm was not yet healed from his April 2010 injury that required multiple surgeries and extensive rehab. Bogut was limited offensively last season but was one of the best defensive centers in the game, leading the NBA in blocked shots. If his arm is as healthy as he says it is, Bogut could finally be named to an All-Star team. While he isn't the Bucks first offensive weapon, if he can provide 15 points per game, the Bucks could make believers again out of Milwaukee.

Sanders, 23, is still quite raw but has all of the physical gifts you could possibly want in a player. He is quick for his size, has an incredible wingspan, is athletic, defends and rebounds well, and has shown a mid-range jumper that with a little work could be an effective weapon. In his second season, it is really up to him as to how much playing time he sees, as he can play both center and power forward.

The bottom line for the Bucks in 2011-12 is that there is potential to make another playoff run. The team's offensive shortcomings have been addressed, and if they can stay healthy and motivated, another "Fear the Deer" campaign could be in the offing.

Doug Russell Special to

Doug Russell has been covering Milwaukee and Wisconsin sports for over 20 years on radio, television, magazines, and now at

Over the course of his career, the Edward R. Murrow Award winner and Emmy nominee has covered the Packers in Super Bowls XXXI, XXXII and XLV, traveled to Pasadena with the Badgers for Rose Bowls, been to the Final Four with Marquette, and saw first-hand the entire Brewers playoff runs in 2008 and 2011. Doug has also covered The Masters, several PGA Championships, MLB All-Star Games, and Kentucky Derbys; the Davis Cup, the U.S. Open, and the Sugar Bowl, along with NCAA football and basketball conference championships, and for that matter just about anything else that involves a field (or court, or rink) of play.

Doug was a sports reporter and host at WTMJ-AM radio from 1996-2000, before taking his radio skills to national syndication at Sporting News Radio from 2000-2007. From 2007-2011, he hosted his own morning radio sports show back here in Milwaukee, before returning to the national scene at Yahoo! Sports Radio last July. Doug's written work has also been featured in The Sporting News, Milwaukee Magazine, Inside Wisconsin Sports, and Brewers GameDay.

Doug and his wife, Erika, split their time between their residences in Pewaukee and Houston, TX.