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.