The Bucks Re-Sign John Hammond, Who Must Get The Bucks Off The Treadmill

Credit: csnbayarea.com

The Bucks agreed to a contract extension with GM John Hammond for the next 3 years, arriving at a solution for one of their many questions that the team had for its immediate future.

Milwaukee entered the season with a deep, eclectic roster with not enough playing time for all its capable players. The coach and GM each had one year remaining on their contracts with no promise of an extension. As such, the range of on-court possibilities ranged from “sneaky good mid-tier playoff team” to “convoluted train wreck” with seemingly equal probabilities in the area between. They also had no known plan for sustained success – they had young players and old players and new players and familiar players and no one had any idea what was going on. They were stuck on the proverbial treadmill of mediocrity, and no one knew whether or not they’d make changes to escape that bloody area.

In spite of Scott Skiles’ best efforts to get a roster that he hated to hate him back, with rotations that resembled Russian Roulette and with death stares that would make Kobe jealous, the team leaned to the good side of the range of possibilities before he and the team decided the time came to part ways. But now that the team has committed to Hammond as its GM long-term, it allows Hammond to make moves during the season that could impact either this year or his next three. The roster he built has some promise, but it also appears directionless, something he needs to remedy.

So to see what options Hammond has, I decided to break down the players on the roster into arbitrary groups (based upon the roles they play now and the roles they may occupy going forward) and evaluate their futures with the Bucks.

The “Core”: Brandon Jennings, Ersan Ilyasova, Larry Sanders (aka LARRY SANDERS!)

While Jennings is a free agent to be, he’s restricted, and Hammond apparently is unwilling to let him go. While he could stand to be a more efficient shooter, his shot distribution is good enough that he doesn’t hurt the offense overall, unlike his backcourt complement. However, he doesn’t create shots for teammates well enough on his own to carry an offense, and Monta Ellis averages about as many assists as Jennings does for the Bucks.

Ilyasova, when he’s right, gives Milwaukee the same production that more heralded power forwards give their teams on a regular basis. But he doesn’t play well enough on a consistent basis to be included with the likes of LaMarcus Aldridge, Zach Randolph, David Lee, and David West (and maybe a few others). But his contract isn’t onerous, and he’s the one player on the roster whose production is irreplaceable.

Meanwhile, Sanders has emerged from the bog of cloned bigs as a long-term starter, which his known shot-blocking abilities enabled on a large scale by a reduced foul rate and a competent offensive skill set. He might be nothing more than a complementary offensive player, but as someone like Tyson Chandler can show you, a complementary offensive player can be devastatingly effective. And that defense is something else. I was completely wrong about Sanders – I thought him to be someone whose temper and fouling tendencies reduced him to being a backup, one that would have gotten lost in the bog. Instead he’s the one big who clearly got out of it.

However – and this is a big caveat – this does not mean any of these players should be unmovable. For instance: what if someone were to offer a “star” wing, but Ilyasova or Sanders had to be in a deal? The Bucks, in major need of a wing, could still swing that deal. This is not an impenetrable core by any stretch, and should be handled accordingly. But the Bucks presumably intend to build with these three players as major pieces.

The Free Agents To Be: Monta-Ellis-have-it-all-including-an-ETO, Beno Udrih, Mike Dunleavy, Samuel Dalembert

The Jennings-Ellis experiment certainly could have gone worse. For instance, the duo could have fought over who gets to control the offense and/or launch the majority of the team’s shots. They also could have collectively decided to not play defense together. But Ellis tried on defense sometimes and shed some of his ball-hogging tendencies. However, his raw numbers have dropped, as has his efficiency, and considering what little else he brings to a team despite his having it all I would not find it surprising if the Bucks either trade Monta by the deadline or wish that he would exercise his early termination option (ETO for short). They may want to move him before he walks for nothing; his walking would open a lot of cap space for this summer’s free agent class, but the class is fairly weak (especially for possible Milwaukee targets).

Udrih and Dunleavy put the Bucks in a bit of a catch-22. They anchor what’s currently Milwaukee’s greatest competitive advantage: a second unit which outclasses most others and gives them maybe their best chance of scoring an upset once the postseason comes around. But they also combine for nearly $11 million in expiring contracts, which would be useful in trying to acquire a core piece, especially one from a team that intends to contend despite trading a potential core member. And neither seems likely to sign in Milwaukee long-term, especially if they find better deals elsewhere. If either end up in other cities, it’ll likely be because the team made a move for the future.

Meanwhile, Dalembert has burnt down half of the bridges in the league, and he’ll likely be traded/bought out at some point regardless of the team’s direction.

The Competent Role Players: Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (henceforth referred to as LRMAM), Ekpe Udoh

LRMAM and Udoh each play a significant defensive role, but neither should be considered unmovable now or later for any purpose. Both are also on reasonable multi-year deals, so they can also be moved in deals over the summer.

The Young Players Without A Cause: John Henson, Tobias Harris, Doron Lamb

The team’s three most recent draft picks all have some NBA skills, but also have real weaknesses. I was tempted to include Henson as a part of the core, but his inconsistent playing time and his repetitive skill set with Udoh and Sanders caused me to include him in this group. Henson is tall and skilled, but he’s lighter than air and weaker than Popeye without his spinach. Tobias Harris has about as good of a post game as you’ll find from a perimeter player, but the value of a post up game for a complimentary perimeter player is, well, hard to gauge. And Doron Lamb could shoot in college, but can he do that in the NBA and defend bigger wings? All could be available in deals intended to make the Bucks better now, though if that’s not the plan Hammond would do well to hold onto all three, even if they stick to the bench for long stretches.

The Last Arenas?: Drew Gooden

Drew Gooden is one of the remaining few players eligible for the amnesty provision for whom it may actually be used. He mostly toils away on the Milwaukee bench, despite still being capable of providing decent offense for nearly any NBA team. The young bigs that all need playing time essentially ended the Drew Gooden Point Center era. Which is a rotten shame. Anyway, his contract seems onerous enough (with two years remaining after this at nearly $6 million a piece) that no one will trade for him. He would come in handy, however, if Milwaukee made a move for this year which involved one or two of its young bigs, as he could still productively fill in. He might as well if he’s there. The Bucks can amnesty him over the summer to create more cap room. If Hammond plays his cards right he could find enough cap room to re-sign Jennings to a huge contract and fit another max deal. If there’s no targets Hammond can always keep Gooden around.

The Blergh: Marquis Daniels, Joel Przybilla

Let’s just move on from here.

Anyway, as you can see, the roster situation is fluid. Now armed with the power to make roster changes, Hammond must do something to either build for tomorrow (which seems like the obvious course of action) or to give them a better chance today and for the rest of the season (which seems to be the owner’s wishes). Regardless of which he direction he decides to take the team, one thing seems evident: he must do something, or otherwise today and tomorrow are both in jeopardy, as they have yet to commit to either winning or rebuilding.

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