Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Allure and Sadness of Opening Day

Early April in Milwaukee is a wonderfully awful time.

The beloved Brewers retake the field and the sun begins to peak out from behind the clouds with an idea about how to eradicate snow from the ground. Thermometers begin to creep up over the 50 degree landmark and coats turn into hooded sweatshirts. Friends come back from spring break in much warmer places and complain about how much nicer it was there than here; at least until they have four beers in the parking lot at Miller Park and forget those problems.

And the Bucks, who teeter on the edge of importance in the minds of many all fall and winter, fall out of favor with local fans.

But in step one of a destroy and rebuild type plan that can be expected. The idea behind this season was the change the culture surrounding the team. Yes, the playoffs would have been nice but ultimately this has been a season of analysis. The Bucks now have an idea of who will work within the Scott Skiles defensive-minded system and who does not fit the plan going forward. The players in turn know what is expected from them every night regardless if they are Damon Jones or Richard Jefferson. Everyone will be held to the same standard.

A season wrought with injury may actually have been a blessing in the clever guise of heartache. Without the injuries to Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut it's possible that Charlie Villanueva is not rewarded with heavy minutes. He may still be floundering in a sixth man role, leaving his true potential and abilities a mystery. Now we know that he can fill it up on a fairly consistent basis, even if he isn't going to be a dominant defender and rebounder. Given his position next to a pretty good threat on the boards and defensive end the Bucks may opt to try harder to bring him back now. Combining him with Bogut would give them a potent offensive combo on the front line. Or they may have seene enough to know that they'll be better off with a Paul Millsap/Dejuan Blair type big man who will do all the dirty work to keep Bogut focused on the larger picture.

Redd going down opened up some time on the wings for Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. He forced his way into the lineup earlier with his defense, but he looked even better on the wings than he did playing power forward. If he can learn how to hit a corner three he would be exciting on the court with Redd and Ramon Sessions.

Sessions himself benefited from injuries. Luke Ridnour going down at the start of March opened up the starting point guard spot that everyone was pining for him to take from the break of camp in October. Sessions proved he was a deft assist man and capable of putting up big points if the refs would allow him to get to the free throw line.

The question now lies with what to do with Villanueva, Richard Jefferson and Ridnour. Each man's fit and/or talent level has made them expendable to a degree. They all have value and with a draft pick could allow the Bucks some significant financial savings. Villanueva is the most likely to stay and most likely to leave given that he is a free agent. Teams will be awfully stingy with their cash this year and he may be better off signing a one year tender with the Bucks in hopes of a rebounding economy next year. Jefferson and Ridnour will be interesting to watch this off-season. The financial future of the Bucks lies squarely on the shoulder of those two, as they are productive and expensive. They have the most appeal of players the Bucks are likely to try and shop and very well could be gone on draft day.

Regardless of what happens, the Bucks will be doing everything this off-season with the idea of being relevant next April.

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