Talent? Check. Chemistry? To be determined.
Regardless of who is discussing the moves the Bucks have made this past off-season, one thing they are sure to mention is the depth Milwaukee has added. At the conclusion of last season, the end of the Bucks bench featured an offensively challenged Royal Ivey, a coordinately challenged Primoz Brezec and Charlie Bell, who couldn’t even find a working alarm clock. While they were a group with some experience in the ways of the league, they certainly weren’t anyone’s idea of a great backup plan.
Now? The Bucks can look down to the end of the bench and see a mix of emerging talents and veterans. Keyon Dooling and Earl Boykins are steady, scoring point guards while Jon Brockman, Larry Sanders and Chris Douglas-Roberts are all looking to establish themselves in the league. And instead of one-year-contract retreads like Ivey and Brezec, Dooling and Brockman are sitting on multi-year deals with the Bucks. Even if they aren’t logging big minutes this season, they’re sure to at least collect a paycheck and have a home in the next couple years. At first glance, the backup situation is looking good in Milwaukee.
First glances have a way of deceiving though. They don’t quite tell the whole story.
I can’t help but envision an ugly picture of January where the Bucks are struggling and a mutiny is brewing on the end of the bench, no matter how hard I try not to. While the Bucks bench was devoid of talent near the end of the season, none of their guys were delusional. They knew where they stood and they recognized their place in the league. More importantly, they were veterans who had little to gain from more playing time. None of them were going to boost their stock any higher and guys like Jerry Stackhouse and Bell, had seen their paydays come long before.
But what about a Chris Douglas-Roberts. While it’s difficult to question his acquisition from a talent standpoint, he’s a potential risk to the mental health of the team. CD-R is on a one-year deal and is still looking to establish himself in the league. That’s probably not an issue if the Bucks are winning and the ship is sailing along steady, but what if the Bucks hit a bump? We saw how quickly the situation with Douglas-Roberts deteriorated in New Jersey last year, who’s to say problems won’t creep up again.
That’s the problem with depth. When CD-R was acquired, he was looking like a sixth or a seventh man, something he seemed to hint at when he tweeted about “getting his Jason Terry on” earlier in the off-season. But now he’ll be competing with Drew Gooden, Brockman and Sanders for minutes. We saw last season how unpredictable Coach Scott Skiles minute allotments could be, who’s to say who’ll be coming off the bench first or last. Last season, Skiles brought 10 different players off the bench first.
I don’t mean to pick on CD-R. It’s possible he’ll take to a bench role with aplomb and grace as long as he’s winning. One can only imagine how difficult everything about last season in New Jersey was, regardless of who you were and what role you were playing. And he’s not the only one who may end up with some beef.
What about Carlos Delfino? He’s currently looking like the best player on the Argentinian national team and turned in a hell of a second half for Milwaukee last year. But his starting spot could be in jeopardy. Corey Maggette is making a lot of money and scores a lot of points, those kind of players often end up in starting lineups. Delfino on the other hand, is a much quieter kind of effective. He makes the little plays, hits corner threes, plays defense and handles the ball. He’s a guy who helps get things done on the court. And he had a lot to do with the Bucks success near the end of the season. Delfino has yet to get a big pay day in the league at age 28 and has options in each of the next two years on his contract. If you were him, how would you take it if you went from 30-minutes-per-game to 20?
Well that’s easy enough, just bring Maggette off the bench, right? Not necessarily. While not all situations are alike, Maggette scoffed at coming off the bench for the Clippers a few years back. He talked with Clippers announcer Ralph Lawlor about his bench role with the Warriors in March of 2009.
So, why was it an issue for the Clippers?
“The situation was totally different,” Maggette said. “The approach was… I was injured. And I talked to (Clippers coach Mike) Dunleavy a little bit and it was ‘I want to get you back in, blah, blah, blah.’ Then, after that, he kept me on the bench. Never had anything to say about it.”
And with the Warriors?
“At least he (Nelson) came to me,” Maggette said. “Nellie asked me. It wasn’t that he told me this is what you’re about to do. I really respect that. I know he doesn’t have to do that. But just to do that. I said: “OK, fine.”
As is often the case in the league, it comes down to respect. Respect players and they will respect the team. At least, that’s the best case scenario.
Chemistry was talked about often with last year’s Bucks. Guys were said to be unselfish, quiet and focused. While the team may not have had hilarious Youtube videos and group outings like the Suns, they seemed to generally get along and not cause trouble. A year without distractions off the court and with harmony on the court was something Milwaukee hadn’t experienced in a while. The selfish attitudes that had plagued the team in the years prior to the Hammond/Skiles partnership seem to have finally been exorcised.
But without your typical end of the bench good soldiers on this year’s team, how long will it last? We may not have to deal with much negativity so long as the Bucks are winning. Rarely do you players gripes as long as their team is winning games. But if the Bucks underachieve early this season, there’s going to be a lot of people upset and that often leads to finger pointing, selfishness and problems.
So now the Bucks merely must hope the talent they’ve added this off-season can find a way to get along and win games with much higher expectations. Otherwise, like so many chemistry experiments in the past, this one could blow.
Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com