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Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2008

Bucking the Past?

The Fairly Detached Observers

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In 2001 the Milwaukee Bucks fell one game short of reaching the NBA Finals. Since then, they’ve had one winning record and three single-round playoff appearances in seven seasons. The last two seasons they finished 28-54 and 26-56.

In April, John Hammond replaced Larry Harris as general manager and Scott Skiles replaced Larry Krystkowiak as coach—the Bucks’ fourth coaching change in seven years. Hammond acquired forward Richard Jefferson from New Jersey, point guard Luke Ridnour from Seattle and shooting guard Damon Jones from Cleveland; shipped off point guard Mo Williams, forward Yi Jianlian and guard/forward Desmond Mason; and drafted forwards Joe Alexander and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. Michael Redd remains the Bucks’ top scoring threat and center Andrew Bogut has a new longterm contract.

Will the changes bring success? The Observers weigh in.

Frank: Another season, another revamped version of the Bucks.
Artie: New coach, new players, new slogan: “Ready to Rise.” But most pundits don’t expect much rising this season. On FoxSports.com, out of 30 NBA teams, the Bucks were ranked at No. 22. ESPN.com had 10 experts forecast the season and the majority had the Bucks at 11th or 12th in the East. Sporting News has them at 10.
Frank: They need to be No. 8 to make the playoffs.
Artie: One guy on ESPN.com had the Bucks at seventh, “the sleeper of the bunch.” Or maybe the fans will be the sleepers, when they’re 30 points down at halftime.
Frank:
Going 1-7 in exhibition games isn’t promising.
Artie: Hey, cut ‘em some slack. Lots of new faces, a new system and a long trip to China.
Frank: I guess. But their early schedule is a killer.
Artie: So true! In the 19 games from the opener through November, 12 are on the road, including four straight from Nov. 22-28.
Frank: Even worse, in that span they have eight sets of games on consecutive nights—eight!
Artie: The schedule maker has done Scott Skiles no favors.
Frank: But Skiles has a plan. Last week he talked about five points...
Artie: That China trip rubbed off. The five precepts of Chairman Skiles!
Frank: Well, some points blended into each other, so it’s more like three. No. 1: Don’t be selfish.
Artie: Is this for the Bucks or secondgraders?
Frank: Skiles means don’t care who gets the credit for a win. Two: Don’t ever get outworked. And three…
Artie: Leave concealed weapons at home when they go on the road?
Frank: Nope. What’s the thing you hear every coach emphasize?
Artie: Could it begin with a “D”?
Frank: Good guess.
Artie: Not…defense!
Frank: Chairman Skiles is obviously delusional.
Artie: Well, when he coached Phoenix and Chicago he stressed defense and was able, at least by the second year, to get the team in contention. But eventually the team turned on him—a peasant uprising against Chairman Skiles.
Frank: The Bucks can hardly do anything but improve. But even getting to .500 would mean a 15-game jump.
Artie: In the East, the 76ers and Hawks made the playoffs last season with losing records. But that may not happen this time; lots of teams look improved.
Frank: Boston, Detroit and Cleveland lead the East, of course.
Artie: I’d add Orlando, with Dwight Howard. And the 76ers, who now have Elton Brand.
Frank: Atlanta took the Celtics to seven games and has loads of young talent.
Artie: And don’t count out Miami, with a fully healthy Dwyane Wade, plus Shawn Marion and that big-time rookie, Michael Beasley.
Frank: Chicago could certainly bounce back, and several teams might be at the same level: Washington, Toronto, Indiana, even Charlotte with that perpetual rookie coach, Larry Brown.
Artie: Talent-wise, the Bucks seem middle of the pack. Consistency will be the key.
Frank: Jefferson is an OK scorer, Ridnour seems like a good distributor, Alexander and Mbah a Moute are solid rookies. You know Redd will score and Bogut will be good all-around at center. But they don’t have a “monster” presence like a Howard or Wade.
Artie: I have questions about Jefferson. As a Net he had one of the all-time great point guards in Jason Kidd. Without him, can Jefferson create his own shots?
Frank: One thing the Bucks have going for them: modest expectations. I think they’ll improve, but not enough to make the playoffs.
Artie: Nope. In baseball terms, they’re not the Pittsburgh Pirates, but they’ll probably wind up one rung higher, like the Cincinnati Reds.