If you weren’t sure, you can now be certain: the Milwaukee Bucks think very highly of Brandon Jennings and Andrew Bogut. Oh, and it certainly doesn’t seem like John Hammond has forgotten where he’s come from.
At least that’s what the last two days seem to indicate.
In the last two days, the Bucks have reportedly come to long term deals with Drew Gooden (five years/$32 million) and John Salmons (five years/$39-44 million). Two players who certainly are good, but are few people’s idea of a third wheel on a championship winning team. I toss the lofty goal of winning a title out there because Hammond has been adamant since arriving in Milwaukee that his goal is to win a title here and nothing else. Milwaukee’s front office doesn’t have dreams of second round playoff exits dancing in their heads. They aren’t looking to max out as very good losers.
But they could be heading down that road if Jennings and Bogut don’t blossom into the stars they expect.
Scott Skiles noted the incredible length that the NBA title winning Lakers had this past season. Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom played together at times, three player 6-10 and up sharing the court at the same time, rebounding and blocking shots with reckless abandon. The Bucks noted that a goal of theirs this off season was to get longer and more athletic, specifically referring to the Lakers and Celtics as examples of the importance of length in this league. But surely they noted something else about the Lakers and Celtics. Stars. Kobe Bryant, Gasol, Odom and Ron Artest led the Lakers, while Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo had the Celtics in the finals as the East representative. That’s a lot of star power on each team and that probably had more to do with where these teams ended up than did their collective wingspans.
Stars win in the NBA. The teams with the most talent are always around in the end, that’s how the league is set up. That’s why the Celtics picked up Ray Allen when they traded for Kevin Garnett. Two stars wouldn’t necessarily have been enough to get them a title. So that leaves Milwaukee in an odd position. Right now, the Bucks have a grand total of … zero all stars. But that’s a bit misleading. Bogut could have made the all star team last season and Jennings was just a rookie last year. A rookie that wowed the league in his first month and developed into a good defender by his last. He could very well join Bogut on a few all star teams when things are all said and done. But are those two enough? Won’t Milwaukee need a third star to emerge?
The folks in the front office are betting on no. Milwaukee is taking an alternate path to the top. The John Hammond/Joe Dumars Pistons of years past weren’t packed with all stars to begin with, only once they won a title did the individuals that made up his Pistons team earn all star bids. Detroit plugged in pieces around Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton and Ben Wallace. They picked up Rasheed Wallace along the way. Tayshaun Prince emerged as a youngster. The Pistons never went out and wined and dined maximum salary free agents. It was castoffs and specific skill players that the Pistons focused on. Detroit had many role players surrounding a few scorers and an entire roster focused on defending. And this is beginning to sound a little familiar.
Milwaukee’s now looking at a roster flush with role players willing to either defend, score or rebound. They can match-up well with most teams in the league and still have their defensive minded coach in Skiles along with defensive anchor in Bogut. Maybe Milwaukee doesn’t have a top 20 player in the league, but they may own an entire roster that fits in the top half of the league in terms of talent (rookies not included). Think of Milwaukee as the anti-Miami Heat. Is that going to win a title? We won’t know until this thing shakes out. If Brandon Jennings regresses or Andrew Bogut continues to face injury problems, the Bucks face a significant risk. The rest of this team is essentially being brought in around those two as cornerstones. It’s a risky model, building around two guys. But not every team in the league is lucky enough to land a star triumvirate the way the Celtics, Lakers or Spurs have over the years. Everyone has to take a chance eventually to be great.
Milwaukee is trying to take a different path to the top the way Hammond’s Pistons did years ago. Given the years of directionless forest wandering that has been the last two decades of Bucks basketball, the fact that a plan does appear to be in place offers some solace itself.