Oct. 1, 2012; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks general manager John Hammond responds to a question during Milwaukee Bucks media day at the Bucks Training Center in Milwaukee. Mandatory Credit: Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

Is Keeping John Hammond a Good Move?

Yes, I think so. Is that good enough?

It may not be the easiest decision in the world to make, but keeping general manager John Hammond for three more years is probably the right move.

The Bucks came into 2012-13 facing basketball’s version of the Fiscal Cliff.  The head coach was in the last year of his contract.  The two ‘big-name ‘ players could leave Milwaukee after the season. Hammond, the triggerman for all these judgment calls, was a short-timer as well.

For better or worse, the potential existed for the 2013-14 Bucks to start over from scratch.  I tend to side with ‘for worse’.

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For every Hammond mistake, there have been at least as many gems.  Sure, he whiffed badly on Joe Alexander a couple of months after he arrived in April 2008.  But he nabbed Brandon Jennings and Larry Sanders with his first-rounders in the next two drafts.  The players picked in the two draft spots in front and behind Jennings were Jordan Hill, DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Williams and Gerald Henderson.  For Sanders, the foursome is Ed Davis, Patrick Patterson, Luke Babbitt and Kevin Seraphin.  Want to swap Jennings or Sanders for any of that?  I know I don’t.

Try the same exercise with John Henson.  Jeremy Lamb and Kendall Marshall were taken before him, Mo Harkless and Royce White went after him.  It’s still too soon to tell, but all signs on that move point to ‘win’.

Hammond signed Mike Dunleavy to a two-year, $7.5 million contract after the lockout. Without question, that move was a good one.

So too was signing of Ersan Ilyasova for four years at $32 million.  For a month, the ghost-faced Ilyasova wilted under the weight of expectations, but he has hit nearly 50% of his three-pointers in December and January. Other teams covet his rare combo of rebounding and floor spacing.

The three-team deal with Sacramento Kings and Charlotte Bobcats which rotated castoffs (John Salmons, Stephen Jackson, Corey Maggette, and Shaun Livingston) and middling draft picks (Jimmer Fredette, Tobias Harris, Bismack Biyombo) is tougher to judge.  As big a disaster as Jackson was, the Bucks probably landed the most useful player from that deal — Beno Udrih — while shedding the unsightly deals of Maggette and Salmons.

One might counter putting those two on the payroll — plus the disaster of a contract given to Drew Gooden — are Hammond’s three biggest mistakes.  But he hasn’t given out big money to any thirty-ysomethings in a while, and he probably won’t anytime soon.  He has learned from those mistakes and it shows in the current Bucks’ roster — a roster built around youth, reasonably-salaried veterans, and patience.  (Is Monta reasonably salaried? I tend to think so, at least when he deal is set to expire in the near future.)

Hammond has the experience of building a winner without a super-duper-star.  He did it as vice-president of basketball operations with Pistons in the 2000s.  People with that type of experience are rare; the Pistons are the only team to win without a big-name mega-talent in a generation.

That style of experience may be exactly what the Bucks need. Even if they land a miracle perennial All-Star in the draft (since that type of player isn’t arriving as a free agent, and probably isn’t coming via trade either), could they keep him long enough to win a title? Or would they get Decision-ed a la LeBron and turned into an immediate lottery dweller once again?

Do you know last time a team drafted a player in the top-3 picks and then later won a title with that player?  1997, when the Spurs picked Tim Duncan.  Lots of others have gotten close, but titles aren’t handed out to NBA’s lottery winners annually.

Here’s another way to put it: On the day Hammond was re-signed, Forbes magazine put out their annual NBA franchise valuation list.  The Bucks, as is an annual tradition, finished 30th out of 30 teams.  The #1 Knicks increased in value in one year by an increment more than the entire worth of the Bucks.  Milwaukee’s situation with their arena/small market/owner/fanbase is less than ideal in a lot of ways.  The options available to build a winner in Los Angeles or New York aren’t available in Milwaukee.  They simply aren’t.

Hammond could easily strip the team bare and start over.  His critics often fault him for failing to do so.  But if he did it, he would be five times more likely to end up as the next Charlotte or Toronto than as the next Oklahoma City.  Given the aforementioned factors of market size and franchise value/stability, he and Herb Kohl can’t afford that risk.  For now, a team that plays .500 basketball and quietly stockpiles young, talented role players suffices. It sure trumps a team that moves somewhere else, as the Seattle Supersonics once did.

Hammond deserves time to see his longer-term plan through.  If fishing for pricy, older role players is wrong, then leaving a general manager in place to foster a young developing roster is right — and it takes the Bucks a few steps further from the cliff.

The Bucks have made one easy move (removing Skiles) and one tougher one (keeping Hammond).  Two more questions loom, and both involve the Bucks’ starting backcourt.  John Hammond will be the one making the decisions in the next year or two, and given recent history, that’s probably a good thing.

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