By Jim Owczarski Sports Editor Published Jul 01, 2013 at 1:04 PM Photography: David Bernacchi

Remember way back in April when the Milwaukee Bucks were a playoff team?

It seems like forever ago, what with a new head coach and first round draft pick on board. While the Bucks were relatively inactive on NBA draft night last week, the rest of the Eastern Conference has been considerably shaken up.

The team that finished immediately in front of the Bucks in the playoff standings, Boston, completely tore it down in trades that sent Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry to Brooklyn and coach Doc Rivers to the Los Angeles Clippers.

The team that finished immediately behind the Bucks, Philadelphia, also tore it down on draft night – trading recently extended point guard Jrue Holiday to the New Orleans Pelicans for the rights to No. 6 overall pick, Kentucky center Nerlens Noel.

Brooklyn appears to be stronger, but Garnett turned 38 in May, Terry will be 36 in September and Pierce will be 36 in October. They’re teaming up with 32-year-old Joe Johnson under first-year head coach Jason Kidd. That could be a disaster as easily as it could lead the Nets to maybe the second or third seed.

Another playoff team, Atlanta, may lose forward Josh Smith and restricted free agent point guard Jeff Teague.

The New York Knicks and Toronto Raptors have also reportedly shuffled their rosters with a trade involving former No. 1 pick Andrea Bargnani and Marquette University alumnus Steve Novak.

Then there are the Bucks, the eighth seed last season, who were talented enough to be the fourth or fifth seed.

Monta Ellis and J.J. Redick are likely gone as unrestricted free agents, but the team is unlikely to regress to the point they don’t make the playoffs for the second straight year. In fact, the team is one of the few in the league that have the ability to make either a series of free agent moves or a huge splash with one or two big name acquisitions.

I won’t get into all of the salary cap details – the good folks over at have already done that for you here – but the key thing to know is the team has to add around $20 million to the payroll to meet the minimum requirements laid out in the collective bargaining agreement.

The first shoe to drop for the Bucks will have to be point guard Brandon Jennings.

If he is unhappy with his restricted free agent offer sheets, he could refuse them all and play for the one-year qualifying offer of just $4.5 million. Or, the Bucks could match a long-term contract, shooting Jennings’ yearly income up around $7 to $12 million per year (using the contracts of Ty Lawson and Jrue Holiday as high-end comparisons).

In a few weeks the Bucks will be able to amnesty Drew Gooden, the only player on the roster signed under the old CBA. Gooden has two years and over $13 million left on his contract, and if general manager John Hammond can convince Bucks owner Sen. Herb Kohl that it’s the right move to just eat that money (it is the right move) the Bucks will have even more cap room to work with.

It would also absolve Hammond of the last of his ill-fated free agent signings since taking over for Larry Harris in 2008.

Hammond has done a good job of shedding bad contracts – even ones he’s agreed to, like John Salmons – and having Kohl do this would give the team maximum cap flexibility.

That said, the 2014 free agent class (restricted and unrestricted) is far stronger than this one – so keeping Gooden on the payroll and just rendering him inactive might make more financial sense going forward, chemistry implications be damned.

I have to think Hammond learned his lesson from his last spending spree following a playoff appearance. It’s not worth it to toss five-year deals and $30 to $40 million at players who really won’t help you advance up the playoff standings and restrict your movement in the future.

The good news is that the Bucks have to spend some money. The big question is whether or not it’s spent the right way.

Bucks recent free-agent signings:

Ersan Ilyasova (5 years, $45 million)
Joel Przybilla (1 year, $1.3)
Marquis Daniels (1 year, $1.2)

Mike Dunleavy (2 years, $7.5)

John Salmons (5 years, $39)
Drew Gooden (5 years, $32)
Keyon Dooling (2 years, $4.2)
Earl Boykins (1 year, $1.3)

Carlos Delfino (3 years, $10.5)*
Hakeem Warrick (1 year, $3)

Tyronn Lue (2 years, $3.9)
Francisco Elson (2 years, $3)
Malik Allen (2 years, $2.6)

* Acquired via sign-and-trade for 2 years, $7 million. Picked up team option for third year.

Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.

A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.

To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.

Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining

In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.

Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.