How John Hammond has made the Bucks better

Bill Simmons did a running diary of the Hawks/Bucks and Thunder/Spurs games last night. Here’s what he had to say about Bucks GM John Hammond…

9:30: Johnson posts up Salmons for two, followed by Carlos Delfino (21 points) draining a 3. Bucks GM John Hammond made three great moves in the past year: The Salmons trade; gambling on Brandon Jennings at No. 10; and signing Delfino for nothing last summer. (Not only does Delfino fill up the stat sheet, play both swing spots and give you solid D, but he has a giant tattoo of a lizard on his left shoulder that looks cool in HD. There’s a lot to like.) Meanwhile, Joe Dumars ran the Pistons into the ground in the 18 months after Hammond bolted Detroit for Milwaukee. Were the two events related? Hmmmmmm.

Hammond also signed Ersan Ilyasova, who first played for the Bucks during a rough 2006-07 season when he was just 19. After a couple of years in Spain, Hammond brought him back and he has played well, averaging 10-6, 44% FG%, 35% 3PT, and playing hard-nosed defense. The signing made Richard Jefferson expendable, so Hammond traded him to the Spurs and ended up with Amir Johnson (from Detroit), whom he shipped to Toronto for Delfino, who is averaging 11-5-3 and is shooting 37% from long range, while playing tough defense on opposing wings.

I criticized the Jefferson trade at the time because I didn’t think that the Bucks got enough for him, but it turns out that with Ilyasova and Delfino, they did. Plus they’ll have significant cap space in the summer of 2011 with Jefferson and Michael Redd off the books. At that point, they’ll have six players under contract — Andrew Bogut, Brandon Jennings, Ilyasova, Delfino, Luc Mbah a Moute and Charlie Bell — and $25 million or more to spend. That’s a nice little nucleus, especially if they can keep Salmons at a reasonable price.

I also thought Hammond should have retained Ramon Sessions, but with Ridnour playing pretty well, he was expendable.

Hammond got off to a rough start in his first draft where he took Joe Alexander at #8, passing on Brook Lopez, Anthony Randolph, D.J. Augustin, Jerryd Bayless and Marreese Speights in the process. Passing on Lopez is somewhat understandable if you’re drafting for need (with Bogut already on the roster), but the team’s future would be even brighter if they had a forward like Randolph or Speights on the roster.

Regardless, Hammond bounced back with the Jennings pick and has made a number of savvy moves to get the Bucks to where they are now. Is Milwaukee a threat to make a Finals appearance? No, but the Bradley Center is hosting some good basketball now and to fans in Milwaukee, that’s all that matters. Hammond seems to understand how to manage a small-market team and has put the franchise in a good position for years to come. That’s all you can ask for out of your general manager.

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Bucks to exercise “financial discipline”

I’m not sure that this is what I wanted to hear, but Bucks GM John Hammond says he’s going to be careful with the payroll this summer.

The team’s financial discipline will affect the future and, more specifically, restricted free agents Charlie Villanueva and Ramon Sessions, and possibly European player Ersan Ilyasova. It will affect whom the Bucks select in the draft and whether they will be able to sign a free agent this summer, which right now appears highly unlikely.

The upside, though, is that if the Bucks are able to maintain that discipline now, as difficult as it might be, it will afford them the flexibility in a year or two to make some major moves and deal from a position of power rather than with their backs against the wall.

“We need to have discipline moving forward,” said Hammond. “That means that we need to have discipline from the financial side of our decisions. We are a team that is teetering at the (luxury) tax and for us to change our roster and to move the organization in a direction which we feel that we would want to go, we’re going to need some financial flexibility. And in order to get to that position, we have to have discipline here initially.”

In order to maintain the rights to Villanueva, the Bucks will have to present him with a qualifying offer (determined by a formula based on the player’s previous salary and where he was drafted) of $4.5 million. Unless the luxury tax turns out to be higher than anticipated, paying Villanueva that kind of money would take the Bucks into tax territory, which means the Bucks would not make him a qualifying offer. Villanueva would then become an unrestricted free agent and would be able to go to any team with no compensation to the Bucks.

That is where the financial discipline would enter in.

Last season, Villanueva was an asset at the $3.4 million that he was paid. But would he remain an asset at a $4.5 million salary – or even higher, if another team gave him an offer sheet that exceeded that figure – especially if it meant the Bucks would be paying the tax?

The same can be said for Sessions, who was an asset last season at a $712,000 salary. But would he remain an asset if another team offered him a multi-million dollar offer sheet that the Bucks would have to match to keep him?

I have no problem if the Bucks decide to let Villanueva walk. It would be nice to get something in return, but I understand if financial constraints force the team to pass on making him the qualifying offer to retain his rights.

Sessions is another matter. He averaged 12.4 points and 5.7 assists in 27.5 minutes of playing time this season. In 38 games as a starter, he averaged 15.2 points and 7.5 assists in 33.8 minutes of PT. His PER (17.65) is #13 amongst point guards and the fifth-best amongst point guards under the age of 26. His +/- numbers are the best on the team for anyone who played more than 1200 minutes. He has a knack for getting to the rim, which is a skill that has become more and more important since rule changes have reduced the amount of contact defenders can deliver on the perimeter. Since Michael Redd is more of a spot up shooter, Sessions is a good complement.

In short, the Bucks would be nuts to let him go. He’s still flying under the radar, so Milwaukee could probably lock him up for 4-5 years at $3-$4 million per season. If he continues on his current career trajectory, the Bucks could have a top 10 point guard in the next season or two at a very reasonable price.

2008 NBA Preview: #18 Milwaukee Bucks

Offseason Movement: New GM John Hammond was busy this summer wheeling and dealing. Two starters from last season are gone. The Bucks traded Mo Williams to Cleveland in a three-way deal that brought Luke Ridnour from Seattle/OKC. Williams was more of a scorer, while Ridnour is definitely a pass-first point guard. The team also traded Yi Jianlian (and Bobby Simmons) to the Nets for Richard Jefferson. This move implies that the team is in “win now” mode, which makes sense given the roster.
Keep Your Eye On: Charlie Villanueva
Everyone thought that Charlie V would be one of the first Bucks to go once Hammond took over, but the team dealt Yi instead and they’re expecting V to take over at power forward. In the 31 games he started last season, he averaged 15/8, so if he can play enough defense to make new coach Scott Skiles happy, he could be in for a big year. The Bucks sure need him to break out, and there’s a good bet that he will, especially if he takes the ball to the hole more.
The Big Question: Can Scott Skiles whip this team into shape?
For the last several years, the Bucks have lacked a defensive mindset and toughness. There’s definitely enough talent to compete; a starting five of Ridnour, Michael Redd, Jefferson, Villanueva and Bogut makes for a good young core of skilled offensive players. If Skiles can get them to increase their effort on defense, the team should make a jump in the standings. It’s no sure thing that all the players will buy in; it’s just as likely that the Bucks will be looking at a losing record two months in and Skiles will have a revolt on his hands.
Outlook: Encouraging. The addition of Jefferson is a huge upgrade at small forward, which has been a weak spot for the last two seasons. The loss of Yi is a loss of potential only, as Villanueva should be able to produce better numbers from that position. Assuming good play from Redd and continued growth from Bogut, the Bucks are one of the darkhorses in the East. If Ridnour helps the team meld into a single cohesive unit offensively and Skiles can get them into the middle of the pack defensively, then the Bucks will be in business.

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