Monday, January 5, 2009

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

Part 2
The Summer of 2005

When I was younger one of my favorite cartoons was Scooby Doo. The music wasn’t bad, the characters were funny, and Daphne was kind of hot. I remind you these are the thoughts of a 7 year old. What may have been most appealing about the show was how the guy who would end up being the villain in the end was going to show up pretty early in the show, so there was always the opportunity to figure it all out right away. When I was able to pick out that creepy janitor, or owner of the company trying to drive the price down by being a ghost, I always felt pretty smart. It was set up to be the last person you expected. Last year the Bucks finally took the mask off the ghost, and it was the person you’d least expect...Larry Harris. Granted Likable Larry did not have a mask on, or pretend to be a ghost, but when his reign began, he was the last person I’d thought would set the Bucks back years. He had grown up with the franchise, his dad assuming coaching duties in 1987 after time as an assistant. Larry himself came on as scout and video coordinator in 1990 before working his way up to GM in 2003. This is a guy who truly was a Milwaukee Buck. And it all came crashing down with the Summer of 2005.

Harris made some shrewd moves early in his tenure, signing Mo Williams, trading a useless pick for Zaza Pachulia. Mike James and Damon Jones put in serviceable time in Milwaukee. Dumping Tim Thomas for Keith Van Horn...who pretty much was Tim Thomas also. All minor moves but nothing damaging, and in the cases of Williams and Pachulia he acquired 2 young guys who were up and coming. In 2005 the Bucks one year removed from a playoff appearance where they were destroyed in round 1 by Detroit. With their point guard out all year and a rash of other injuries the Bucks fell to 30-52. This 2005 was a crucial summer for them. After landing the #1 pick in the draft the Bucks had to make decisions on their own free agents. Michael Redd was coming off a career high 23 points per game, Dan Gadzuric and Zaza Pachulia were both restricted free agents, and the Bucks had enough cap room to make plays at multiple other free agents. Every move they made would have to follow the philosophy that they were good enough to compete and just needed to add pieces, or this team wasn’t built to contend and they needed to make significant changes.

With a team that hadn’t been over .500 in either of the previous two seasons and finished last the season before, Larry Harris believed they just needed a piece or two and would be a factor. What caused him to think this no one will ever know. There was no evidence to suggest the Bucks were any good at all, but Harris had cap room to play with and made the assumption that he had a good team on his hands.

August 6th Bucks decline to match Hawks offer sheet for Zaza Pachulia.
August 12th Bucks resign Dan Gadzuric 6 years 36 million.
Pachulia was 20 years old at the time, and coming off a decent season for the Bucks. He had served as the backup to Gadz in the 2004-2005 season and appeared to have some serious potential, not to mention he was 6 years younger than Gadz. The Hawks offered him 16 million over 4 seasons running through this year. The Bucks declined to match and then signed Gadzuric for 2 more years and 20 more be their backup. They knew they had drafted Bogut, they knew he’d be their starter, so why in the world would anyone throw that much more money at a guy who was too undersized to be an NBA center and was 6 years older than a guy they could have had for 20 million less!! This is the shining moment of awful in the Larry Harris era. When it comes down to it, Gadz was a crowd favorite at the time and this was probably one of those "Hey maybe we’ll sell more tickets because people like this guy" moves. The only real way to sell tickets is to win, not waste money on crappy players. Ironically Gadz ended up be the most hated player on the Bucks because of this contract. This contract pays Gadz until he is 32. Pachulia will be a free agent this off season, at age 24. Sigh.

August 8th Bucks sign Bobby Simmons to 5 years 47 million.
Any time Milwaukee gets a free agent they have to overpay, I know this. Milwaukee is cold as hell, snowy, the nightlife is lame, and the women are big. I know all of this I’ve lived here my whole life. But why overpay a guy with no track record when you have someone who already plays his position as well as him. The Bucks had Desmond Mason, who by all means is not a solution to any problems, but is as good a player as Bobby Simmons. He was then, he is now. All along this was clear, but the Bucks insisted on spending their money just because they had it. Simmons was a flashy signing who had just come off a Most Improved Player year, and made the Bucks name show up in a lot of places. To this day I still don’t know what Bobby Simmons does well, if anyone else does, please fill me in.

August 13th Bucks sign Michael Redd 6 years 91 million.
It’s easy to look at this signing today and say what were they thinking. Everyone gripes about how Redd doesn’t pass or play defense. These are logical concerns and hindsight is 20/20. The problem is that if you’re giving Michael Redd a maximum deal to lead your team, then you probably aren’t getting what a superstar is. Redd is a great scorer and a great guy, but he had appeared to have maxed out his potential before this signing. Granted he did improve even further as a scorer in the years coming, but did little to get better at everything else. This falls right in line with the thinking that Larry Harris demonstrated through this whole summer, that the Bucks were about to explode. They imploded starting the next season, and are only now cleaning up the rubbish.

October 26th Bucks trade Desmond Mason and 2006 first round pick for Jamal Magloire
With Bogut and Gadz already manning the center position the Bucks felt like they needed to address it further by acquiring a "former all star" in Magloire. They had overbought at the wing positions with Simmons, Mason, Bell, Redd and Kukoc and knew they wouldn’t have enough playing time to go around. So to solve the bumblefuck they created a new one at the center position...and gave away a pick for good measure. Magloire sulked through the season and was later traded for more crap.

That summer led to three long hard years of suffering for Bucks fans, with probably 2 more on the horizon. Harris never wanted to blow it all up and start over. Few general managers ever do. Fans don’t always have the patience to sit through something like that. People get antsy and complain how the team sucks. Larry Harris attempted to put together a team that would, at best, be a first round exit playoff team. Playoffs are suppose to make cities happy. To win a championship sometimes bold steps are required, like a destruction of a team that sucks. Larry Harris could not push that button and he paid for it with his job last summer. And he could have gotten away with it too, if it wasn’t for us pesky fans. Hopefully John Hammond was paying attention.

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