By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published May 02, 2010 at 4:32 PM
Just like that, it's all over.

The energy surrounding the Bucks was sucked out of the Bradley Center Friday night thanks in large part to a 3-for-17 third quarter. More shooting woes and a lack of inside presence led to a Game 7 blowout and an end to an amazing ride.

It's been said so much that it's almost cliché, but it's worth saying again: nobody in their wildest dreams could have imagined the Bucks would still be playing on May 2.

Picked to finish last in the East, lacking an All-Star, losing two key players to season-ending injuries ... and yet, the Bucks forced a seventh game against a team that was bigger, stronger, more athletic ... and just plain better.

But it's over, leaving fans to wonder "what if?"

What if Andrew Bogut was healthy and available? What if the shots had fallen? What if ... what if ... what if...

"We can't think about all the ifs," Carlos Delfino said after the 95-74 loss Sunday.

Instead, the Bucks can only look forward. You can bet that John Hammond and Scott Skiles will be sitting down soon to discuss what worked, what didn't, what they have and what they need going forward.

Hammond, its been reported, has already approached John Salmons' agent about working out a deal. Salmons, acquired in a shrewd deadline deal, took the scoring load on his back down the stretch and has a $5.8 million option for next season, but it's hard to believe he wouldn't want to test his luck on the free agent market.

Luke Ridnour is a free agent. So is Kurt Thomas. Jerry Stackhouse proved he's still got some game left, too. Will any of those three return?

Once Hammond takes care of the players he's got, he's then got to find some help. The Bucks sorely need some size in the frontcourt, especially at the power forward spot, to take some pressure off Bogut.

If Salmons doesn't return, a shooting guard will be on the list and, depending on what happens with Ridnour or possibly, Royal Ivey; a backup for Brandon Jennings is on the shopping list, too.

Unfortunately, Hammond is still financially hamstrung by bad deals signed by his predecessor, Larry Harris. Dan Gadzuric is on the books for $7.2 million next season. Charlie Bell will draw $3.8 million in the third year of a five-year deal.

Then, of course, is the uncertain future of Michael Redd who holds a player option for $18.3 million.

The stark financial reality means Hammond may very well have to add more youth to the team in the next draft. Milwaukee will get the 15th pick (assuming it exercises the option to switch with Chicago) and also has two second round picks (either 36/37 and 47).

Unlike previous years, though, there is cause for optimism. The days of the franchise wandering aimlessly through the NBA lottery wasteland appear to be over. Hammond, the NBA Executive of the Year, built a winner in Detroit and has shown all signs of doing so again, here in Milwaukee.

The Bucks posted the league's third-best win-total improvement, finishing above .500 for the first time since 2001 and even with the loss of two key players (including Redd), managed to take the sixth spot in the East.

"We did the best we could," said Jennings. "We showed a lot of people that the Milwaukee Bucks can actually hang in this league."

It's OK to be upset with the way the season ended - that's called progress, and the Bucks have done a lot of it this season.