Tuesday, March 24, 2009

2008-09 Bucks Obituary

(If you don't think this is an attempt to reverse jinx the Bucks then you just don't know me very well.)

The 2008-09 Milwaukee Bucks were a plucky group that made us remember why we love basketball in Milwaukee. They took the cue from their new defensive minded leader Scott Skiles and scrapped and clawed their way through each game. When the injury bug continuously reared its ugly head they refused to make excuses, they just worked harder.

The Bucks were unable to channel a consistency to their newfound defensive prowess however, which provided us with high highs (wins over the Celtics and Spurs) and low lows (losses at home to the Knicks and T’Wolves).

Unfortunately the hard work would not be enough as the Bucks playoff hopes were laid to rest Saturday March 21st in Milwaukee. The cause of death was believed to be related to a past lack of fiscal responsibility and draft talent deficiency. The combination of the two is commonly known as LarrHarrasia.

Injuries wasted no time with the Bucks this year, claiming Michael Redd for a 14 game stretch in November and Andrew Bogut for three more at the end of the same month.

The Bucks stumbled to a 3-5 record out of the gate, but showed promise in losses to the Raptors and Cavaliers. By game 10 they would crawl up to .500 behind emerging point guard Ramon Sessions. Sessions was a mysterious DNP-CD in the Bucks first two games after a scorching finish to the season before. He wasted no time when reinserted into the rotation averaging over 17 points and eight assists in his first three games.

More surprising than the solid play of Sessions was the quickly blossoming second round pick Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. Coming out of UCLA Mbah a Moute was thought of as a pretty strong defensive player, but no one in their wildest dreams thought he would instantly be the Bucks best defender. Injuries played a role in Mbah a Moute becoming a starter in mid-November, but no matter who was healthy it was clear that he needed to be playing 25 minutes plus already.

The Bucks finished November 6-11 against a very difficult schedule. A healthy Andrew Bogut and Michael Redd tandem provided the fans with some hope in December as they rolled to an 8-6 month. Things turned frustrating beginning on December 23rd as they went through a 14 game stretch where no two games resulted in consecutive wins or losses. It’s likely that this was the result of Bogut being benched again by a bad back for the early part of the new year.

It was around this time that Milwaukee fans realized just how important the Aussie was. Seeing the team struggle so much defensively and on the boards gave us all an appreciation of just how far Andrew Bogut had come as a starting center in the NBA. Either that or it shows us just how bad things can be when your backup big men are Dan Gadzuric and Francisco Elson.

You’ll notice that I have yet to mention key off-season acquisition Richard Jefferson. Well, that is because Jefferson did not do a whole lot to earn that key before off-season acquisition for the first few months of the season. Sure he’d occasionally lead them in scoring, but it seemed like when the Bucks needed a big hoop or stop RJ was nowhere to be found. That changed in February.

With the Bucks season quickly spiraling out of control after a 2-5 stretch near the end of January RJ got it going. He averaged over 23 points a game in February and shot 50 percent from long range. Between he, Charlie Villanueva and Ramon Sessions, it seemed like the Bucks might just pull this thing out after all.

Villanueva saw a minute increase when Michael Redd went down for the season near the end of January and rewarded the Bucks with the most consistent offensive stretch of his career, averaging over 20 points in February. Sessions took the reigns as the starting point guard thanks to an injury to Luke Ridnour (even though we all know he should have been there from day one) and the three of them led the Bucks to over 106 points per game in February.

The Bucks lack of talented depth and difficult March schedule left them for dead as the cold Wisconsin winter began to defrost. After making it through most of the season in the eighth and final playoff spot the Bucks began to lose their footing starting with losses to the Nets and Bulls in the opening week of March and continued that trend through most of the month. A surprising victory over the defending champion Celtics allowed for a brief ray of hope, but subsequent losses to Orlando and Portland left them two games back against a very difficult remaining schedule.

These Bucks have little to apologize for though. They fought through injuries, rumors and inexperience to make for the most successful season in three years. They gave the fans a taste of the playoff race and provided the youngsters an experience of what the chase feels like. For guys like Sessions, Mbah a Moute and Villanueva, this was their first experience with any modicum of success.

A few days back in the Journal Sentinel, columnist Michael Hunt had this to say about these Bucks and their season:
But then came 1999, when the Bucks just squeezed in. Indiana swept them. The next year, they pushed the Pacers to the max in the first round. With all that postseason experience behind them, the Bucks came within 48 minutes of the Finals the following season.

There's no substitute for going through the process, Skiles said.

There is no better way, then, for the Bucks to expunge these last few miserable seasons than by exposing their long-term players to it right now. That first step gets you that much closer to changing the culture. You do it right now because deferring anything to an uncertain future by means of the lottery or any other rationale is a defeatist approach for a franchise that cannot afford to put off anything approaching progress.
I agree wholeheartedly with his sentiments. I can only hope that some of the lessons learned through the process of the race will be applied next year.

In addition to coach Skiles, the Bucks will be survived by Michael Redd, Andrew Bogut, Dan Gadzuric, Francisco Elson, Luke Ridnour, Charlie Bell, Joe Alexander, Malik Allen, possibly Richard Jefferson (I hear more trade rumors already) and maybe Charlie Villanueva and Ramon Sessions (it’ll be an interesting off-season).

Memorial services will be held at Fourth and State on April 1st, 4th, 8th, 11th, and 13th.

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