The Milwaukee Bucks just completed their 5th consecutive season at the bottom of the NBA’s Central Divsion; a streak of truly ‘Clipperian’ proportions. The fact that this 5 year period actually includes a playoff appearance speaks more to the lack of depth in the Eastern Conference than to the Bucks level of competance during that period of time.
Truth be told, the Bucks season was doomed the moment that All-Star guard Michael Redd and starting center Andrew Bogut went down with season ending injuries. Original starting point guard Luke Ridnour was also debilitated for much of the season with a broken thumb. The fact that the team was able to overcome those losses and still manage an 8 game improvement over the previous season is a testament to the program of head coach (gritty, gutty) Scott Skiles in his first year in Milwaukee.
General Manager John Hammond has stated that the Bucks will have to improve from within next season. The team is limited by a salary cap situation that butts it up against the NBA’s “luxury tax”. The plan for the next couple of seasons appears to be to ride out the oversized contracts of current Bucks such as Redd, Ridnour, Richard Jefferson and Dan Gadzuric in order to provide Hammond the financial flexibility to build the team he wants.
In the meantime, that precludes the Bucks from being a player in the free agent market. It also makes them unlikely to re-sign their own impending free agents Charlie Villanueva and Ramon Sessions. Neither will be a great loss. While both proved to be capable scorers in the absence of the initial starters they replaced, they don’t supply what the Bucks really need from those positions. Villanueva doesn’t provide the defense and physical presence required of a power forward and Sessions limitations as a point guard began to be exposed in the latter portion of the season.
The healthy returns of Redd and Bogut should insure that the Bucks will be more competitive next season. Last year’s first round draft pick Joe Alexander proved to be more of a project than anticipated but Milwaukee did find a diamond in the rough in second round pick Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, who became the rare Bucks player to focus on defense first. Both players should be better with a productive offseason.
The Bucks will also expect help from the NBA draft lottery. It would accelerate their progress greatly if they could luck out and secure the rights to All-Everything Oklahoma forward Blake Griffin but, barring that, look for them to take a point guard to replace Sessions.
Despite their disappointing finish, Skiles and Hammond deserve credit for beginning to change the basketball culture in Milwaukee. The Bucks made great strides this season in their defensive effort and ball movement; a promising first step in a return to NBA relevance and respectability.