The Milwaukee Bucks weren't supposed to have a season like this.
Sure, we knew the team would struggle to score, and win with defense above all else, but most also thought that this would lead to 45-50 wins in 2010-11. I had them pegged for 48 after winning 46 last year, because I assumed things would continue apace with this group, while the additions of scorers like Drew Gooden and Corey Maggette would help out at the free-throw line, and on the scoreboard.
Instead, an injured Gooden has barely played. Maggette suddenly looks his age (31) as his free-throw attempts per minute have dropped off. The team is 30th in offense, below even a Cleveland Cavaliers team that was dragged kicking and screaming into a rebuilding process, and stuck with a 31-45 record. Milwaukee is about to miss the playoffs, but without much hope in next month's draft lottery. They're capped-out, but not great or even good. They're in that dreaded sub-middle.
And second-year guard Brandon Jennings is not happy about it.
After the Bucks were virtually eliminated from the Eastern Conference playoffs in a loss Friday to the Indiana Pacers, Bucks starting point guard Brandon Jennings publicly expressed what many of his teammates had privately felt for months.
"Some guys have the mind-set of winning on the team and some guys just don't,'' Jennings said.
Jennings then indirectly took a shot at Bucks general manager John Hammond, assistant general manager Jeff Weltman and coach Scott Skiles, the three biggest personnel decision-makers in the organization next to owner Herb Kohl.
"We traded a lot of pieces I feel like we should have kept,'' Jennings said. "But that's part of the business and you've got to roll with it.''
Yeah, man. You can't mess with success. There was a reason they feared that deer, and the reason was … Luke Ridnour?
Because last year's roster and rotation is really only missing Ridnour, and 15-minutes-per-game big man Kurt Thomas. Hakim Warrick is gone, too, but he was traded to Chicago for the badly needed (then, at least) John Salmons during the 2010 trade deadline. Otherwise, it's the same group with a few additions, Brandon.
(Unless you mean "traded for bad influences," in which case I'll just have to back off.)
The Bucks probably do miss Ridnour, but Minnesota offered him a deal he couldn't refuse and you can't blame the Bucks for backin' off. And Thomas did shoot Chicago's way to a win over Milwaukee a couple of months ago, but the real deal that sealed Milwaukee's dodgy appeal was the one that traded the Andrew Bogut from last season for the one this season.
Bogut has been as brave as they come in working through a devastating right elbow injury, but he's not the same player, and he'll need yet another summer of rehab to get back to the all-around beast we saw in 2009-10. Toss in Jennings' slow development (he still shoots well under 40 percent, takes too many 3-pointers, and doesn't get to the line all that much as a result), and you have a middling team. Scott Skiles' jumper-heavy offense doesn't help things, nor do the relative failures of the additions from last summer.
What has to be frustrating is the idea of moving forward. If Bogut returns to the form we saw last season, the Bucks have their franchise guy, because defense is half the game, and he's almost as good as they come on that end. Jennings needs to be a fourth option, though, and not a leading light, and trading options are few and far between. Same with the ability to move things in free agency or in the draft. The Bucks are kind of stuck.
And one has to wonder if the clearing house should have taken place a few months ago, before the trade deadline.
The Bucks can still try to dump players like Gooden and Maggette at the draft, but though their trade value has never been lower, that doesn't mean it won't drop from here. Especially if the impending lockout has these guys suiting up again some eight months from now. GM John Hammond took a chance on some undervalued offensive talent and we applauded him for that, and the best-case scenario could have meant an attempt at the second round of the playoffs. These results, in his defense, are not typical.
But they are what to expect next season, whenever that rolls around. Tough spot, Milwaukee.