(A special guest post from Ross Geiger today on the work John Hammond has done in his two years with the Bucks. Ross has covered the Bucks for Marquette University.)
From day one, Bucks general manager John Hammond has had goals.
His goals seemed very unrealistic to many around the league, and rightfully so when taking a glance of the Bucks roster at the time Hammond took over the team. The Bucks signed a slew of horrid contracts in the years before he arrived and had little direction, leaving Hammond with a giant mess of puzzle pieces in front of him.
Puzzle pieces that were impossible to solve immediately, yet pieces that are beginning to come together as Hammond’s closes in on the end of his second year in Milwaukee. Undoubtedly Hammond’s tasks have had their highs and lows especially when examining his last two first round draft selections: 2008’s 8th overall pick Joe Alexander and 2009’s 10th overall pick Brandon Jennings.
Risks were taken, big trades were made, injuries occurred, and despite all the criticism Hammond remained determined to follow his game plan: to put the best possible team out on the floor each and every night. That game plan has been Hammond’s number one goal as the team progresses each year. Hammond has stressed time and time again, that fans be patient, and to trust the direction he is leading the franchise. A trust that’s beginning to flourish at the Bradley Center each night and it all started with laying a foundation.
In a preseason conference call with season ticket holders earlier this year, Hammond explained his theories on basketball by stating that the two most important parts to build a solid foundation is a point guard and a center. He went on to make a point in saying that if you look at the top teams in the league each and every one of them has those two key ingredients. Jennings and star center Andrew Bogut are the Milwaukee Bucks foundation. When both of them are on the top of their games, the Bucks are able to compete with any NBA team whether it be at home or away. Add a few young contributors around them in the near future and the Bucks future is scary.
How do the Bucks go about doing that? It’s quite simple, stick to what’s been working. Clearly the Bucks are a smaller market team and since the city of Milwaukee doesn’t strike most of the league’s top superstars as an appealing destination come free agency, it’s important to continue to improve by drafting and trading for players that remain on rookie (or at least good value) deals. Two prime examples being Bucks’ second year forwards Ersan Ilyasova (a 2006 second round pick, fresh off a tour of duty in Europe) and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (Hammond’s 2008 second round pick).
These two Bucks’ draft picks not only exemplify solid role players that have stepped up to fill main roles on the team but have found major success in doing so. They’ve been able to stabilize the foundation as well effectively demonstrate, “the Scott Skiles mentality”. A mentality that’s defined by this year’s team slogan, “Work Hard, Play Hard”, playing smart and unselfish basketball on both ends of the court. Hard work is contagious and when you’re able draft or acquire young players, they’ll either quickly adjust or learn the hard way by sitting on the bench. John Hammond, along with Skiles, has made that message clear to the team from the jump: accountability is everything especially on the defensive end of the floor.
“Generally if anybody’s guarding someone I stick with them,” Skiles said. “I usually don’t get caught up in the missed shots as long as we’re taking good ones”.
Just as Coach Skiles expects the players to take good shots, the fans should expect the organization to acquire guys that fit the team’s style. The easiest way to go about adding and being able to afford those pieces is of course to draft them. After a successful trade deadline not only was Hammond able to add an immediate impact performer in John Salmons, but he was also able to leverage the Bulls into adding future draft picks.
Currently the Bucks have a first round draft pick to go along with two second round picks in each of the next three drafts. Before you begin to underestimate the Bucks six future second rounds picks don’t forget the Buck’s luck with their second rounders. Since 2000, the Bucks have a selected a handful of notable second round picks a list that includes: Michael Redd, Ilyasova, Ramon Sessions, and Mbah a Moute.
After just two years in the Bucks front office, John Hammond has formed a team that’s able to not only compete for a playoff spot now, but has given Bucks fans a bright future to look forward too. With a healthy Bogut (who is only 25!) and an improving young nucleus of Jennings, Ilyasova, and Mbah a Moute, the possibilities are endless.
Endless possibilities that present endless opportunities, due in large part to the significant amount of money coming off the book in the next two years. At the end of this season, the Bucks have $12,597,957 coming off the payroll before accounting for draft picks, which will allow them to bargain hunt for a few solid pieces to surround their young nucleus. But the summer of 2011 will most certainly be the one to look forward too as the Bucks will have freed up a whopping $33,123,350 off the books. Extensions for both Mbah a Moute, one of the league’s best on ball defenders and Jennings, one of the league’s bright young point guards may be considered at that point. On top of those extensions, they should still have enough leftover cash to go out and bid on what most likely will be a second tier star free agent.
While it may seem far-fetched to imagine an NBA all-star signing with the Bucks, by 2011 a young and developed Bucks core (Jennings, Mbah a Moute, Ilyasova, Bogut) may say otherwise. As a star free agent on the market there’s not a better feeling than a team offering you a contract feeling you’re the missing piece to their puzzle. For the first time in what seems to be a lifetime, the Milwaukee Bucks have a future worth thinking about.
Call it crazy, continue the doubt, but it’s clear the Milwaukee Bucks under the leadership of John Hammond should continue to improve year in and year out.
Follow Ross Geiger on Twitter: @RossGeiger