Seeing some Piston in Bucks Title Plan

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.

Categories: The Off Season

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  1. For the first time in what seems like forever, Milwaukee has:

    A legitimate head coach that wasn’t a lame duck the moment he was hired
    A commitment to defense. No really, a team that plays good D
    A solid big man that anchors the D and produces offensively
    Depth at every position (assuming we can get decent backup PG; c’mon Ridnour!)
    A good look at a playoff run next year and beyond
    Quality free agent signings
    A clear, solid direction in place

    Can I finally be optimistic as a Bucks fan? Is it safe now?

  2. I actually can’t help but be optimistic now. It’s driving me crazy knowing how long it’s going to be before the season starts. Unless by some great evil the “big 3” free agents end up together, I don’t see many teams out there with anywhere near the depth the Bucks have right now. That’s not to say we’re going 82-0, but I can’t see them not being a good team. Just doesn’t seem possible. And I just jinxed it…

  3. This probably isn’t going to be a championship team, but what it is going to be is an exciting regular season team that wins close to 50 games a year. That is plenty good enough for me, at least for a couple seasons in a row. Outside of the very brief George Karl run, being a Bucks fan has been a net negative transaction. Lots of misery, very little joy. Major kudos to Hammond for making the Bucks a relevant basketball team and in such a short period of time.
    Now please, please, please: Bogut: Stay healthy. Jennings: Work on your mid-range jumper.

  4. Ah, qualified optimism, in true Wisconsin style… :-) I hear you all singing, I know just what you mean. I have my doubts about how this team fits together, but they obviously added talent, so I’m excited to see if it can gel. The East could be wide open, he only teams we know what to expect from will be Orlando and Atlanta. So a top-4 finish isn’t a crazy notion.

  5. Interesting analysis on the whole, though I would slightly dispute a few particulars. First, to my mind at least, Ron Artest isn’t a star; he may have been one five years ago, but he hasn’t been one in a while. I don’t see Rajon Rondo as a star either, though admittedly, he may become one. (At this point, his “stardom” is a function of the East Coast hype-machine that surrounds the Celtics.)

    Second, the Bucks already do have a top 20 player. Andrew Bogut was third team All NBA; he’s top 15 in other words. If Brandon Jennings becomes the second, Michael Redd’s salary slot could be the third, conceivably.

    That said, after the run the Big Three put together 10 years ago, I’m not at all convinced three stars are the way to go, unless the “stars” align perfectly. (Ten years ago, Ray Allen would have had to have been a few years older and Sam Cassell a few years younger for it too have worked perfectly for the Bucks.) So the Piston model is more likely to work specifically, given Milwaukee’s situation, but it’s also more likely to work generally.

    • Jeremy Schmidt

      I would argue that Rondo was the C’s best player by the time the finals rolled around, but we could go back and forth on that all day. Same with the Bucks Big Three. They were ohsoclose to a finals appearance where they could have really challenged LA. Thanks for the thoughts though, good stuff.