By Dave Roloff Published Nov 05, 2005 at 5:22 AM

{image1}The Milwaukee Bucks enter the 2005 season with a completely revamped roster, the 10th highest payroll in the NBA, a new coach we've seen before, the franchise's fourth no. 1 overall pick, and renewed energy and expectations from their faithful.

There are still a few questions hanging over the Bucks as their expectations become loftier. The answers will either lead them back into the playoffs after a one year hiatus or into the world of overpaid disappointment.

1. Is Terry Stotts an improvement over Terry Porter?

There isn't much question that Terry Porter got a raw deal. No coach should have to lose their job when his team loses it point guard/playmaker and is replaced by a second-year guard with no experience. Last year's team was terrible, but that had more to do with the talent level that coaching.

Regardless of the reasons for Porter's firing, Stotts will be graded purely on wins and losses. With the recent acquisitions of Bobby Simmons and Jamaal Magloire this team is expected to make the playoffs, something that Porter accomplished in 2003. Not making the playoffs -- and maybe even not making noise in the playoffs -- would be Stotts' undoing. Porter dealt with lack of talent. Stotts' job will be to manage talent.

2. Is Michael Redd worth a max contract?

Michael Redd is a very good NBA shooting guard. He is an all star. He is not (yet) a max player in the NBA. Senator Kohl, however, made the right move by maxing out Redd. He is the face of the franchise and his signing was more of a symbol of commitment to winning than anything else.

Redd needs to take the next step in order to become worthy of his max deal. Many players in the NBA can fill it for 20-plus points a night. Only the truly special players make the players around them better.

Some will say that Redd had something to do with Desmond Mason's breakout season last year, but that was on a dead team. This year he needs to take Simmons, Andrew Bogut and T.J. Ford and tell them it his team and that he will carry it when necessary.

Redd also needs to develop into the go-to guy that every playoff team needs to rely in crunch time. This will require Redd to demand the ball and not just settle for jump shots. Players that can create shots out of nothing deserve max money. Redd should have plenty of chances to prove himself worthy.

3. Was trading Desmond Mason a good idea?

Ladies and gentlemen, if the NBA was a fantasy league the trade may have been vetoed by the other teams. Getting an all-star NBA center (Jamaal Magloire) for a shooting guard/forward who struggled shooting is flat out theft. Professional basketball teams never trade bigs for smalls and that is exactly what New Orleans did.

Yes, the Bucks also gave up a first round pick in the deal, but if the questions I am posing are answered favorably, that pick will become meaningless -- especially with the exorbitant amount of players that the Bucks currently have under contract for next year. A first round pick in the 20s is nothing but guaranteed salary on the books.

Desmond Mason was an extremely exciting player to watch and he was a stalwart in the community, but this trade was about basketball. This trade solidifies the Bucks as a playoff contender and may make Larry Harris the GM of the year.

4. This team is deep. Is it almost too deep?

Having a bench that is extremely deep is a good problem to have but may take Stotts some time to figure out his rotations. The Bucks have 13 legitimate players on their roster. Normal rotations rarely go 10 deep -- even less in the playoffs.

They do have a few insurance policies in case of injury. Charlie Bell is a solid player that can play either guard spot and will defend. Mo Williams proved last year to be a capable player. Toni Kukoc, Ervin Johnson, Joe Smith and Jiri Welsch are all NBA veterans.

There are not enough minutes or basketballs in a game to go around on this team. In order for the Bucks to succeed they will need to be without ego (unlike past Bucks teams) and Stotts will have to figure out what his rotations are going to be, how to keep everyone happy and who will be his finishing five.

5. Who will be the surprise player this year?

Much has been made of the arrivals of Simmons, Magloire and Bogut, but the surprise player of the year is going to be a guy that has already showed us a glimpse of his talent.

When healthy, T. J. Ford is one of the best point guards in the NBA. Guess what? He's healthy. The Bucks were a completely different team in 2004 after his injury and they were non-existent without him last year. There isn't a guard in the league that covers the court quicker than Ford and he creates easy shots for his teammates. He will make Bogut's transition into the NBA a very smooth one.

Also, in his time away from the game, he was forced to work on his suspect jump shot. He put in hours of hard work with former Bucks player John Lucas and his newfound range will surprise some this year. If Ford is able to knock down the mid-range jump shots, he will be un-guardable. With Ford's presence in the lineup the Bucks will be a force.

The current structure of the East works against the Bucks. They are playing in the league's toughest division. On paper a case can be made that the Bucks are the fourth best team in the East. The problem is that two of the teams above them (Detroit and Indiana) are in the same division.

The Bucks could win 50 games this year and finish third in the Central. Finishing third in your own division means the best case scenario is being the No. 5 seed in the East. This is because each division winner gets one of the top three seeds regardless of record. If all plays out as expected, this means they would open the playoffs in Detroit or Indiana -- not the places you want to go.

All in all this team should make some noise and will definitely be fun to watch. With some luck, no key injuries and a coach pushing the right buttons, 50 wins isn't a pipe dream. Getting out of the first round may be.

My prediction: 49-33 (lose 4-2 in the first round to Detroit).

Dave was born and raised on the south side of Milwaukee. He is a graduate of UW-Oshkosh where he graduated in Business while playing four years of football. He is a sports junkie who, instead of therapy, just watches the Bucks and the Brewers. Dave is a season ticket holder for the Brewers, Bucks and Packers, as well as a football coach at Greendale High School. Dave still likes to think he still can play baseball but has moved on to the more pedestrian sports of bowling and golf. Dave is a Pisces and it depends on whom he is walking with to determine whether he likes long walks on the beach. Dave writes with an encyclopedic knowledge and a sarcastic flare. Mainly to insure his sanity.