The Milwaukee Bucks have had an underwhelming off-season. After a 2008-2009 campaign where important coach Scott Skiles improved this team’s defense and toughness the same way he did in Chicago, Bucks fans have watched as three of their four most talented players have been let go.
First, Richard Jefferson was moved to San Antonio for cap relief, Kurt Thomas, and Amir Johnson (who was later traded to Toronto along with Sonny Weems for Carlos Delfino and Roko Ukic). Then, Charlie Villanueva was allowed to walk, choosing to sign with Detroit. Finally, the team declined to match Minnesota’s below-market-value offer sheet to Ramon Sessions. This is all kind of understandable in the scheme of things, as the Bucks are cash-strapped, in a small market, and nowhere close to being a serious contender. If you’re a Milwaukee fan, though, it had to hurt, epecially considering the Jefferson trade represented the colossal failures of the previous two summers, where they had 1) drafted Yi Jianlian 6th overall and 2) traded Jianlian and Bobby Simmons to New Jersey in exchange for RJ.
As I said, the off-season’s been underwhelming in light of what they’ve lost this summer, but let’s examine the guys the Bucks have added to the roster:
1. Brandon Jennings: Milwaukee fans can be legitimately excited about this rookie. You know the story: played in Italy last season instead of becoming another slave to the NCAA, sick handles, great court vision, tons of potential, but needs time to develop. He may have come under fire a bit earlier this summer, but he seems like a great kid. Anyway, he will probably make tons of mistakes, turn the ball over too much, and miss jumpers this season. That’s fine, he’s only 19. Be patient with him.
2. Jodie Meeks: He can score. He really can. He gave up the chance to be on an absolutely stacked Kentucky team this year in order to be picked 41st by Milwaukee. For his sanity’s sake, I hope he gets some burn this season and contributes. You know he’s going to be watching John Wall and company tear it up next year.
3. Hakim Warrick: This is the Bucks’ only real free agent signing. I guess he will replace Charlie Villanueva. He’s a different kind of player than Charlie V., but still an effective one. He can score, he can guard, and he can play both forward positions (although he is most suited to the 4). Good one-year signing, but is he part of the Bucks’ long-term plans?
4. Kurt Thomas: He’s exactly the type of player Scott Skiles likes – not flashy, but smart and tough. He’ll play excellent post defense, grab boards, and hit open jumpers from the wing. He’s way past his prime, but he’s still effective. If I’m Skiles, I’m happy to have him, but if I’m the GM I’m already looking to trade him to a better team for young talent.
5. Carlos Delfino: He has a chance to start at the 3 for Milwaukee. He’s got handles, he can shoot, and he rebounds at an excellent rate for a wing player. Watching him in Toronto, I appreciated his toughness and his ability to space the floor on offense, but I grew tired of his inconsistency. Let’s hope this is the year he avoids those 3-12 shooting nights.
6. Roko Ukic: We’re all infatuated by his potential – he’s a 6’5 point guard who can get to the basket and make very nice passes. However, his shooting and decision-making leave a lot to be desired. He’ll be 25 in December, so his deficiencies in these areas are worrying to even the most ardent Ukic supporters.
7. Ersan Ilyasova: He was below average in his first NBA go-round, but has been productive overseas. If you haven’t noticed, he’s absolutely killing it in Eurobasket right now, so Bucks fans have reason to be excited about him. You’ve gotta wonder if there will be minutes for him in the rotation, though – he’ll be competing against Luc Richard Mbah A Moute, Kurt Thomas, Hakim Warrick, and Joe Alexander.
8. Walter Sharpe: Um, Sharpe has played 20 minutes in his NBA career. I’m not going to pretend I have anything to tell you about him.
With these guys joining a healthy Michael Redd, along with Andrew Bogut, Charlie Bell, and Luke Ridnour, these Bucks could challenge for the 8th seed in the East. I see that as the ceiling for this season, given that Scott Skiles hasn’t worn out his welcome yet. He’s capable of making teams achieve more than they should on paper and is excellent at disguising individuals’ defensive flaws. This is what makes him a good coach.
I would be very worried about this if I was a Bucks fan, though. The last thing this team needs is a mediocre season where they finish with a record just good enough to keep them from getting a high draft pick. What I advocate is the same as what PG of All Things Hoops has called for: Play small-ball, trade guys like Kurt Thomas and Charlie Bell, and listen very seriously to trade offers for Michael Redd. The losses of Villanueva, Sessions, and Jefferson are only excusable if this franchise commits to a rebuilding plan. I know Skiles would hate to hear this, but this club doesn’t need a decent record in 2009-2010. At this point, Milwaukee fans just need a team that has a chance to compete a few years down the road.