Sunday, January 4, 2009

How the Bucks Came to Be Irrelevant...A Two Part Series

Part 1
The Inexact Science of the NBA Draft

Oldest Teams in the NBA (As of Opening Day)
1. Spurs
2. New Orleans
3. Denver
4. Dallas
5. Houston
6. Milwaukee

This is a very telling statistic. With the exception of Dallas, who traded Devin Harris I remind you, every team ahead of Milwaukee will make noise in the playoffs this year. They have been building their teams for years, using wise draft decisions and smart free agent pickups to bolster their respective lineups. The Bucks are out of place in this group. They are a team rebuilding and trying to change their style. While they have made great strides this year on both sides of the ball, they have another year or two of smart decision making before they will be ready to reenter the atmosphere of playoff success. With no success achieved in the past 6 years, how have the Bucks become one of the oldest teams in the league?

Answer: Dismal draft picks. And it is those picks, not their ill advised free agent spending sprees that have left the Bucks on the outside looking in over the past 6 years. First round draft mistakes, by both Ernie Grunfeld and Larry Harris, have proven to be difficult for a team that will never be a major player for free agents to overcome. Since 2003, the Bucks have not been a better than average basketball team, ideally leaving them with a plethora of draft picks to increase their depth and re-energize the franchise. Let’s take a look at what exactly the Bucks have done with their draft picks since 2003.

2003 Draft
8. TJ Ford
Sadly, TJ Ford was probably the best selection that the Bucks have made in the past 10 years. I rank him higher than Bogut only because they showed courage and home run capability with this pick. Ford had a huge upside coming out of college after being named Naismith Player of the Year. The knock on Ford was that his slight stature would lead to injuries and word of a possible spinal cord problem...which all came to fruition on February 25th of his rookie year when he bruised his spinal cord. Ford continued to struggle with health problems, and he now appears to have a severe mental problem; he thinks he is a man with a jump shot. Reggie Miller he is not.

2004 Draft
No Picks
Surely the Bucks gave up 2 picks in this draft with good reason right? Right??? Not so much. Shortly before the 2001-2002 season, also known as The Anthony Mason Debacle, to make room for everyone’s favorite point forward, the Bucks shipped off lovable forward Scott Williams and a conditional first round pick which ended up being this one. In return, the Bucks got legendary Ohio State center Aleksander Radojevic and a 2002 second round pick which resulted in Dan Gadzuric. This obviously could not have worked out any worse as Anthony Mason proved to be a more destructive force than 90% of the natural disasters I have ever heard of. To make things a little bit worse, this pick was used on Josh Smith. Whoops. They were able to pry away promising big man Zaza Pachulia with their second round pick via the Bobcats. But he was allowed to walk during the legendary week in August of 2005 when the Larry Harris did everything he could to ruin their future cap flexibility...and then was given an extention and raise. Yikes.

2005 Draft
1. Andrew Bogut
Bogut was the safe choice. For everything Chris Paul and to a lesser extent Deron Williams have gone on to do since this draft, the choice was really between Andrew Bogut and Marvin Williams. TJ Ford was still seen as the point guard of the future and Mo Williams had proven to be a more than capable backup. Marvin Williams had tantalizing potential, but it seemed that he was a few years away from being the player they needed. The theory at the time (and maybe still??) Is that a player as talented as Bogut with that much size cannot be passed on. Bogut has gone on to a solid and still promising career. As a pick at the time it did not have the ceiling of the other players although would provide much quicker results, and with the ship sinking a little more each year, that was what appealed to the Bucks in the end.

2006 Draft
No First Round Pick
This pick was dumped along with Desmond Mason for Jamal Magloire so the Bucks could clear up the logjam they had mysteriously created at small forward. Of course this came weeks after Larry Harris had assured Mason he was not being shopped and months after telling coach Terry Porter, "We’re going to sink or swim together on this." Porter was of course fired less than a month later. But hey, when a Terry Stotts becomes available, moves need to be made. This pick can be chalked up as another casualty of the Summer of 2005.

2007 Draft
6. Yi Jianlian
Can we just forget this whole thing happened? The Bucks left at least 3 future all stars on the board to take a guy who did not want to play here, whose agents did not want him here, whose family did not want him here, whose WHOLE COUNTRY DID NOT WANT HIM HERE!! This was an act of complete arrogance. Picking Yi was like throwing a middle finger up at all Bucks fans, and that is before even discussing that he was 3 years older than he claimed to be. Sorry Bucks fans, no Brandon Wright, no Thaddeus Young, no Rodney Stuckey, just Easy Yi. The only thing Yi will be remembered for, aside from making the whole Bucks delegation fly to China to beg him to show up and not embarrass them, will be that he was the vehicle which took away the awfulness known as Bobby Simmons.

2008 Draft
8. Joe Alexander
"Joey" doesn’t look so promising as of yet, but judgment must be withheld on him. It takes at least a season to see what a team really has with someone they drafted, although it does appear that Luc Richard Mbah ah Moute has kept alive the Bucks tradition of finding gems in round 2, as he has already become the Bucks primary defensive stopper. I do realize that the Bucks have had unusual success in the second round of many of these drafts, appearing to target players who have the work ethic to succeed in unlikely scenarios. Michael Redd, Dan Gadzuric, Flip Murray, and now Ramon Sessions, all were great finds in round 2. But for a team to truly pull themselves out of the depths of the league, they have to hit home runs in round 1. Portland landed Brandon Roy, Lamarcus Aldridge, Martell Webster, Travis Outlaw and famously Greg Oden in either draft day deals or smart early round choices. These are the kinds of guys the Bucks have not been securing.

John Hammond has a very strong track record going back to strong drafts when he worked with the Clippers of the early 2000s. The Bucks have a track record just as strong against drafting anyone with superstar potential, so something will have to give.Part Two will focus largely on the Summer of 2005, why the Bucks are where they are now, and what they can do to regain credibility in the NBA again.

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