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What the Bucks should do when the lockout ends

Oct 24, 2011, 9:00 AM EDT

Brandon Jennings

This is the final installment of PBT’s series of “What your team should do when the lockout ends.” Our final team is the Milwaukee Bucks. You can also check out our thoughts on other NBA teams here as we work our way through all 30 squads.

Last season: I, and the other eighteen to twenty bloggers who recommended the Bucks as a league-pass must last season would like to apologize for subjecting any readers who followed that advice and were subsequently forced to watch the Bucks’ offense.

The Bucks plummeted in 2010-2011. Not so much in record, they only lost eleven more games. But there was a phenomenal drop in performance. Andrew Bogut never really recovered from “the injury which shall not be mentioned,” Brandon Jennings fought injuries and regressed, all of the free agents the Bucks brought in that people were worried they overpaid for somehow managed to underperform low expectations. It was bad, all over. The “has Skiles lost this team?” meme is already taking shape, ready for an explosion if the Bucks don’t get things right next year.

The defense held, though. The Bucks were fourth in defensive rating in 2010, they were fourth in defensive rating in 2011. But nothing else developed for them, they didn’t get the contributions they needed, they didn’t make the playoffs.

Since we last saw the Bucks: The biggest change for the Bucks was their draft day trade. They moved down to pick up Tobias Harris, traded their higher pick in the three-way deal with Sacramento and Charlotte, and moved Corey Maggette for Stephen Jackson. Jackson for Maggette isn’t much of a switch outside of Jackson’s superior defense and leadership. They also added Beno Udrih. Still, it might have been nice to see the Bucks make a more substantial move forward. Michael Redd‘s finally off the books so they may have cap room under the new system, except for owing Drew Gooden a ton more money over nearly a half decade. Ersan Ilyasoava returned to Turkey with no opt-out, which is just depressing. (Update: Frank Madden of BrewHoop informed me he has an NBA opt-out but is hoping the Bucks won’t make him return. Which is almost more depressing.)

When the lockout ends, the Bucks need to: Stay aggressive in improving. The Bucks have questions to answer and elements to improve.

Brandon Jennings holds the key to their future. Jennings has illustrated a significant commitment to improvement this summer, both in his personal branding and on the floor. The former may seem immaterial, but if it translates to confidence and maturity, that will help Jennings. Of course, what would be more helpful would be lower turnover rates and a higher field goal percentage. Jennings has to become more than a highlight reel; he has to learn the value of efficiency.

From there, the Bucks have to hope Bogut gets his health back. Bogut’s immovable if not, and he’s their guy. When right, Bogut is a defensive player of the year candidate with some great offensive skills. The Bucks can’t do much if he never recovers from the elbow thing we’re not going to talk about because I get queasy just thinking about it.

Moving Gooden and Jackson would be in their best interest, but given Skiles’ need for veterans and the size of the money left on their contracts, it’s unlikely (though one will probably be used on the amnesty). There doesn’t seem to be a plan in Milwaukee given the step backwards last season. Perhaps the team simply feels that if injuries had been different, they would have made the playoffs. But if the Bucks want to really build towards a championship, they need to get a core of players that can stick and not fill-in veterans.

The Bucks could move substantially forward in free agency and through trades. Or they could simply stay in the middle of the pack and hope for lightning in a bottle. So many ifs for Milwaukee at this point.

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