2013, according to the Chinese Zodiac, is the year of the Water Snake. It may as well be the year of the Deer.
With the contracts of head coach Scott Skiles and general manager John Hammond expiring at the end of the season, along with almost half of the roster coming off of the books, 2013 is bound to be a monstrous year for the Milwaukee Bucks franchise. The moves owner Herb Kohl makes in 2013 are going to play a big part in the level of success the franchise has in the future.
On this New Year’s, I’ll tell you the ten things the Milwaukee Bucks need to do in the 2013 calendar year to move towards to direction of becoming a winning franchise in the NBA.
#1: Make the Playoffs
The Bucks had entered the past two seasons with just one goal: get to the postseason. Each year, they’ve fallen just short, claiming the ninth seed in the Eastern Conference. Doing the same thing this year would be absolutely devastating to the team and the basketball fans in Milwaukee. The Bucks have lost a lot of support since their “Fear the Deer” year three years ago, and need to bring that excitement back to Milwaukee.
Making the playoffs brings a few glorious things to a franchise: ticket sales, merchandise sales, TV exposure, happy players, and most importantly, happy fans. Getting in to the 2013 Playoffs and at least playing in a competitive series would do wonders to energize the organization.
#2: Win the Central Division
The last time Milwaukee won the Central Division was the 2000-2001 season. The Bucks enter 2013 just 1.0 game back of the division lead, behind a Pacer team they’ve beaten twice this season. With Indiana’s Danny Granger and Chicago’s Derrick Rose set to miss extended time, the Bucks need to capitalize on their opportunity of having the two top teams in the division impaired. Whether it means sitting young talent or being a buyer at the trade deadline, the Bucks need to win the division now, because they most likely will not have the chance in the next few years.
#3: Let Scott Skiles Go
I am certainly not one of the many fans on the Fire Skiles bandwagon that was founded in the bust that was the 2010-2011 season, but I do believe it’s time to move on from Skiles in 2013. I love his defensive mindset and overall basketball knowledge and experience, but lets face it; his deficient rotations and overall demeanor will not bring talent to Milwaukee and will not win championships. The NBA is turning in to a league where you need to be a “player’s coach” to corral good players towards your organization. A “players coach” would help bring some respectable talent into Milwaukee, and also could help keep the talent already in Milwaukee happy. Herb Kohl needs to find a coach who is more likable among players and one that can rally those players to do well in Milwaukee.
#4: Retain John Hammond
When Herb Kohl named John Hammond the GM of the Bucks in 2008, he handed him the tough task of constructing a team that would win games immediately. This had to be achieved in the unattractive market that is Milwaukee, with limited assets and a boatload of bad contracts. Yikes.
Though the Bucks have not had a ton of success, Hammond has done a hell of a job cleaning up a franchise that was flat on its face when he took over. He has drafted fairly well, dumped off a few horrible contracts, and made a theft of a deal when he swapped Andrew Bogut (who is set to miss extended time as he still recovers from an ankle injury) for Monta Ellis and Ekpe Udoh – while also dumping the bad contract and attitude of Stephen Jackson. In my opinion, he deserves an extension of a few years to continue the job he’s started.
#5: Amnesty Drew Gooden
With a plethora of big men on the Bucks’ roster already, Drew Gooden is hardly needed. He is set to be paid $6,687,400 a year over the next two seasons, which is a lot of money for a guy who isn’t even in the rotation frequently. The Bucks need to amnesty Gooden to give themselves even more financial flexibility for the next few off seasons.
#6: Re-sign Brandon Jennings
This topic deserves an article of its own, so I’ll be brief. During his time in Milwaukee, Brandon Jennings has slowly become the face of the franchise. He was cursed with high expectations after his 55 point performance just nine games in to his rookie year, and though he hasn’t played at an All-Star level yet, his numbers are consistently getting better each season.
At just 23 years old, it’s highly unlikely Jennings has hit his peak as an NBA player. For that reason, I believe it would be a worthwhile investment to match any offer Jennings receives and bring him back to Milwaukee. Plus, being in a small, unattractive market, the Bucks need to hold on to what ever talent they have, because in their current condition as a franchise they are not going to bring in any big time talent to replace a guy like Jennings.
#7: Find the Shooting Guard of the Future
If the Bucks are going bring back Brandon Jennings for a number of years, they have to find running mate for him. Jennings will not be happy in Milwaukee if each year he is uncertain who will be in the backcourt with him. Whether it’s through a draft pick, a trade, or keeping Monta Ellis around, the Bucks need to solidify their backcourt for the future in 2013.
#8: Sign a Reputable 2013 Free Agent Class
With 7/15 of the Bucks’ current roster coming off the books at the end of the season, it’s not to anybody’s surprise they’ll have a lot of cap room to play with in free agency in the offseason. If the Bucks amnesty Drew Gooden, they are approximately 23 million dollars under the salary cap heading in to the 2013 offseason.
With that kind of financial flexibility, Milwaukee should be able to resign Brandon Jennings, bring back a few familiar faces like Mike Dunleavy and Beno Udrih, and heck, maybe even get a respectable free agent signee or two. If the Bucks are going to continue their quest to be successful with a “win now” attitude, their 2013 free agent class is going to have to be pretty darn good.
#9: Re-sign Larry Sanders
At the start of the 2013-2014 season, the Bucks will have a chance to lock up both Larry Sanders and Ekpe Udoh before they become restricted free agents in the summer of 2014. In the past two months, Larry Sanders has captivated the excitement of Bucks fans with his electrifying play, and his sudden accession towards becoming a really good basketball player has been by far the most pleasantly surprising aspect of the Bucks’ young season. Sanders has become a different player, showing a newfound awareness on the offensive side of the ball while only improving his defensive performances. I may be over optimistic, but in the past two months Larry Sanders has shown signs of becoming a Kevin Garnett-type of player.
Sanders is slowly becoming a fan favorite in Milwaukee, and he seems to like playing in this town. It’s not often you see that from a player in the Bucks organization. Whoever is GM of the Milwaukee Bucks at the beginning of the 2013-2014 season needs to extend the contract of Larry Sanders and keep him in Milwaukee.
#10: Make Progress on a New Arena Deal
Herb Kohl needs to do one thing to solidify the Bucks’ future in Milwaukee; build a new arena. The Bradley Center is slowly becoming outdated and doesn’t fit David Stern’s idea of how NBA venues should be. Inability to get a new arena deal done could lead the Bucks to the same fate the Sonics faced: relocation. You obviously can’t be a winning franchise if you no longer have a franchise! Kohl is getting up there at age 77 and may not have many more years left as owner of the Bucks, so getting an arena deal done sooner rather then later is crucial to the future of the franchise.