Samuel Dalembert. John Henson. Doron Lamb.
Some defense and shot-blocking, more defense and shot-blocking and a shooter to balance out the Milwaukee Bucks haul around this year’s NBA Draft week. The Bucks were fast and more athletic than they had been in quite some time by the end of last season, but they were not as effective defensively as they were over the first three seasons Scott Skiles coached the team. With Dalembert and Henson, the organization feels like they’ve taken steps to move in the direction of a stronger defense to compliment their improved offense.
So that’s all well and good. Today, the Bucks are probably a little bit better than they were a week ago. They didn’t transform their defense the way some have said, not unless Brandon Jennings or Monta Ellis can stop someone from getting in the paint, but they’ve strengthened the back line. Shot-blocking wasn’t the cause of Milwaukee’s woes last season. Strength, size and rotation seemed to be larger problems defensively for the Bucks and Dalembert helps the latter while providing a lot of the former.
He’s unquestionably an upgrade.
With Dalembert taking a good chunk of the center minutes and Henson probably taking away some of Larry Sanders’ minutes at the four and backup fiev, the Bucks probably just gained another couple wins next season. But Ersan Ilyasova looks like he could be on the way out. Free agents have been cashing in early and often through the first couple days of free agency and Ilyasova is one of the top power forwards available. That probably costs the Bucks a couple of wins.
Not that resigning Ilyasova should really be a priority. Last year may have been a fluke – he shot 3-pointers at a clip that far exceeded his previous career best numbers and the Bucks are loaded with competent power forwards. In fact, I’d say the Bucks are very competent across the board right now, with the exception of the small forward position. Tobias Harris is probably another year away and both Skiles and Mike Dunleavy seem most comfortable with the veteran coming off the bench. The Bucks will likely target a veteran swingman either via trade or in free agency over the next couple of weeks.
It’s shaping up to be a very Bucks off-season. This team isn’t going to get worse. It also isn’t going to get that much better. The Bucks biggest off-season acquisition, unless something crazy happens, will probably be a full training camp. The lack of camp last season played a big role in Milwaukee’s defensive struggles. The mid-season trade probably didn’t help either. Having Ekpe Udoh, Ellis and whoever else is new go through a full camp with Skiles should be a great help.
But barring an incredibly unforeseen leap from Jennings or Ellis reverting back to his 2007-08 form or a young player going from fairly unproductive to serious contributor, the Bucks will probably be very similar to the version we saw at the end of last season. It would be amazing to see the Bucks take a stab at a Dwight Howard or a Pau Gasol – give up all their assets and tie their wagon to a big man for a season with the hopes of something incredible happening and preparing for a rebuild if the one year shot didn’t work out – but that’s probably just a crazy dream.
And it’s a dream I dream because it seems to me that John Hammond would be very good at building a roster if he had a superstar to build around. The problem with the Bucks is that he’s always grabbed everything but the star. As far as role players go, the Bucks have gobbled them up by the bunch over the past two seasons. But without a player to build around, they’ve pretty much been wasting their effort. With one star, things could look a lot more like 2009 than 2010 or 2011 for this team.
This off-season doesn’t look like it will provide that star though.
Instead, the Bucks will gear up for a run at sixth through eight yet again. If they hit it, I’m sure it will be fun. If they miss it, we’ll at least get a brand new selling job from a new front office who will be handicapped by ownership in all of the exact same ways the current one is.