John Hammond’s difficult reality

John Hammond accepting Executive of the Year in 2010.

It’s not like John Hammond doesn’t get it.

In light of last week’s news that Hammond received a three-year extension, that’s something Milwaukee Bucks fans can take solace in. He genuinely seems to understand what it’s going to take for a team like the Bucks to have prolonged dominance.

“Oklahoma City was built with the second pick, the third pick, the fourth pick and the fifth pick,” Hammond said. “The projection for our team going into the season is, if they don’t have us as a playoff team, they have us right at the cusp of being in the playoffs. So we’re still trying to serve two masters, to be honest with you. We’re trying to win now, we’re trying to do it with young talent, we’re trying to do it with a fair salary structure.”

“A top-five pick has a 42 percent chance of being an All-Star,” added Hammond, referring to a 20-year study of NBA drafts. “In the last few years, we haven’t been drafting in the top five. We’ve been in the 10-through-15 range the last four years, and it’s difficult to do it that way.

He’s been saying this sort of thing for quite a while. He knows where stars come from, he knows what needs to happen for a team to find significant long term success in the NBA. He’s said it time and again since arriving in 2008.

“We’ve always said our greatest opportunity to get a star player is through the draft,” Bucks general manager John Hammond said. “Could it be through a trade? Possibly. Or it could be through free agency, getting a young player off a rookie contract.”

But Hammond’s reality is a bit different than most in the NBA. Regardless of what he knows, he has a very different sort of situation facing him.

He doesn’t have the luxury of time, the way Ernie Grunfeld in Washington does. The Wizards aren’t leaving DC any time soon. If it takes them two or three more years to figure out their situation, they will survive. The Bucks? The NBA’s least valuable team is sure to be the one that’s referenced most when relocation talks go on in the future now that the Kings appear on the way out of Sacramento.

The pressure to win has been on for some time, even if the results haven’t been there.

Hammond’s been tasked with getting the Milwaukee Bucks into the playoffs to keep fans interested, keeping a payroll thin enough to allow for flexibility and trying to find a way out of the dreaded middle of the NBA.

Nothing is enviable about his situation and he has a record with Milwaukee that speaks to the difficulties he deals with. Milwaukee is  169-185 over the past five seasons under Hammond. He’s had some hits, some misses, some bad luck and some good.

If he’s working under a mandate to succeed now, it’s difficult to find fault with the majority of what he’s done. Sure, the Drew Gooden signing was probably too much money for too many years and even more curious was the absence of any other backup center on the roster in the 2010-11 season, but Milwaukee was also hit with some bad injury luck too. Had they remained healthy, maybe they wouldn’t have had the dramatic fall off they had from the season before.

Aside from a miss on Joe Alexander, Hammond’s draft record has been pretty immaculate. Brandon Jennings, Larry Sanders, Tobias Harris and John Henson are very difficult picks to criticize. You could maybe make a case that Jennings has been surpassed by Ty Lawson or Jrue Holiday, but he’s basically on par or better than every player picked after him. Likewise with Sanders, Harris and Henson.

So he’s been fine as a talent evaluator and quick to fix any missteps with veterans (John Salmons, Stephen Jackson and Corey Maggette come to mind).

But, as he has noted in the past, it’s pretty difficult to find an All-Star picking between 10 and 20 every season and without an All-Star the Bucks are pretty much in the same position they’ve been in forever. As Hammond has succeeded in the draft, he’s struggled to find the piece or pieces to move the Bucks from fringe playoff team to something more. Of course, there aren’t a ton of those pieces floating around on the trade market.

So what’s he supposed to do? What are the Bucks supposed to do?

That’s been the tough question facing the team for quite some time. It seems like Hammond and the Bucks will stay the course. This season has been an encouraging one, as Sanders has developed and Henson has flashed some serious potential. Milwaukee has some young pieces. If they get enough of those, it’s possible that they can swing a big deal and find a James Harden of their own.

Until then, the Bucks will keep moving forward, trying to win games and make the playoffs. It’s not necessarily the perfect reality, but it’s the one we’re stuck with. Whether it’s John Hammond or someone else in the GM role, this franchise isn’t going to change. Given that reality, Milwaukee could do worse than having Hammond in the drivers seat for another three years.

He gets it. Now Bucks fans just have to have faith that he can be that rare GM that can win now and win later.

Categories: Ownership



  1. You’re wrong Jeremy. The succeed now card should not be used. We’ve been doing the succeed now theory and it ends up in a first round loss or a low lottery pick, which doesnt end up in All Stars or even All Star considerations. If we’re going to try succeed now, make some more trades, take gambles on guys not named Gooden or Ersan or Salmons, make some headlines! Those arent succeed now guys. Those are guys that will help Hammond keep his job. Succeed now doesnt always mean sign middling players, succeed now could mean shuffling the deck and getting into the top 5 of the draft. Hammond is trying to kill two birds with one stone and his current philosophy will never change, for better or worse. Get him outta here.

    • You mention in order to win now you have to make gambles on guys not named Gooden/Ersan/Salmons. Who would you like them to go after? Big name free agents do NOT want to come to Milwaukee for two reasons: 1. it is not a popular city. Its cold and boring (compared to other cities) 2. It is not a winning program. FAs will ignore a city’s unpopularity if it means they can win (see George Hill and David West in Indiana).

      The Bucks DO need to make the playoffs in order to attract the free agent talent. In the meantime regarding trades, Hammonds in 3 years turned Salmons>Maggette>Jackson> Ellis. A pretty solid progression. Is tanking an option? No because the bottom 1/3 of the league is positively atrocious.

      Hammonds was brought here to build around Bogut. With Boguts injury forcing his hand, he has now had to rebuild a completely new kind of team. I think he has done a pretty good job of that.

      • I think he has done a pretty good job as well, but to answer your question – Rather than Gooden/Maggette/Salmons/Jefferson/Jackson/Ellis I would like the bucks to go after any player that has a short term contract that gives the team flexibility going forward. It is inarguably better to be bad than to lock yourself into mediocrity via bad long-term deals.

        Also, maybe Dwight Howard is not coming here, but MKE can lure in meaningful talent in FA if they have the cap-space.

    • I think the funny thing is that the there is so much insistence that the Bucks must make the playoffs to keep the fans intrigued. Well this team we have here in 2013 is going to make the playoffs and attendance and interest in the Bucks is still abysmal.

      The excitement generated by getting a top 5 draft pick will do much more to draw interest into this team than a first round playoff exit. Like I said, attendance is already abysmal so why not roll the dice and trade some of the core parts of this roster for draft picks and short term baggage necessary to balance salaries.

      There’s no simple solution here but I question whether being the 7/8 seed will really help the teams chances of staying in Milwaukee or hurt their chances.

  2. People forget that Hammond works for Herb Kohl, Herb Kohl thinks that putting together 2 or 3 seasons of a playoff calibur team is the best thing for them to try and keep the Bucks in Milwaukee. Maybe it is, maybe it isnt? The arena thing is often over looked when people talk about “blowing up the Bucks” maybe they get really lucky and end up like the Thunder. Or maybe they end up like the Wizards and Kings who are filled with lottery “talent” yet are still sub par teams. I think John Hammond is perfect for what Herb Kohl wants right now and one thing you know you are going to get from John Hammond is that he’s going to try to do as much as he can to put a winning team on the court.

    • The Thunder aren’t better than the Kings and Wizards because of luck. Thats straight up talent evaluation there.

      Ticket sales suck right now, but who knows maybe the Bucks can get into an exciting first round series or even pull out a win and draw sufficient fan interest. Not so sure about that though.

      • I meant more so that the ping pong balls bounced in their favor but you are right they do excel at evaluating talent

  3. it’s as simple as this to me.. nobody knows more than Hammond what an uphill battle he’s facing, yet he signed on for another 3 years.. that’s enough for me

  4. hey everyone who thinks we should tank for draft picks….how are the bobcats doing? how about washington, sacramento, or new orleans. all of these teams have been getting high picks for at least a year some 2 or 3 years some even more and look where they are at. look at what our team is doing this year with the small amount of talent, i would rather take the win now strategy while also building a team good enough to make trades or just succeed with young talent compared to teams holding the #1 draft pick searching for once every 20 years kevin durant type guys.

    • This is a great point!!! By rights, Charlotte should be the #3 team in the East by now, year after year with all their top 5 picks. Poor Jordan…legendary player, (so far) terrible owner.

    • This strategy limits the Bucks to hoping to make the playoffs and possibly winning 1 series. Those other franchise have set themselves up with young talent to go after championships. The Bucks will never win anything significant while operating like this.

      The Bobcats, Wizards, Hornets/Pelicans are choosing to go for a long view, while there is no guarantee that their plans will succeed, it at least opens up the possibilities for bigger things than the Bucks can hope to achieve.

      A top 5 draft pick is much more interesting to me than watching Jennings struggle to hit 40% and the Bucks getting swept by the Heat or Bulls in the playoffs.

  5. Ya its no guarantee that a high pick will amount to anything but at the same time, look at what Hammond has done with picks in the 10-15 range. Im pretty sure he would be just fine getting the right guy with a top five pick

  6. Speaking of our #1 pick in 2005….Andrew Bogut played 23 minutes last night in Toronto. He will not be playing back to back in Cleveland tonight though.

    He had a nice game. All the best to you #6!

    • Yeah Bogut looked good in limited action. He and David Lee are going to be a very scary High/Low post duo. Very Scary.

  7. Let’s look at the last time the Bucks were relevant in the NBA: 2000-2001. How was that team built? Around a #1 overall pick and a #5 overall pick, plus a trade acquisition and a great coach. Top talent is what wins in the NBA, whether you get insanely luck (Kobe, Dirk) or draft in high positions. It’s been proven time and time again. And with advanced analytics and new forms of measurement, the Dirks and Kobes are going to be less and less common in the future.

    I haven’t been a proponent of tanking before, but i think i may have just talked myself into it. :)

    • Except that #1 pick was drafted in 1994 and that 5th pick was in 1996. That #1 pick was in the middle of a 7 year stretch when they didn’t even make round one of the playoffs. It took from 1994 to 2001 to make it to the East Conf final and loose. They made the first round of playoffs only twice during that time. Then in 2002 they did not qualify again.

      You may want to go through the next decade hoping for one Eastern Conference Final loss, but I would prefer to see a team with a 50/50 chance of winning a game and making the playoffs, even if it is only the first round.

      It’s all a matter of personal preference and nobody is right or wrong. I just think Herb’s strategy has merit too.

    • advanced analytics and new forms of measurement dont mean jack. No team has won through this way. Its all based on talent.

  8. The Bucks are basically waiting on a lucky draw in the lottery or an unexpected surprise from a lottery pick to become championship contenders. Until then us Bucks fans need to be happy with the fantastic job that Hammond has done making the #32 value franchise a top-50% team.