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Q&A with Bucks GM John Hammond

Posted Nov 2 2008 2:04PM

John Hammond had quite the past six months. In April, he was named general manager of the Milwaukee Bucks. Not six days later, he dismissed Larry Krystkowiak and brought in Scott Skiles. Then, at the 2008 Draft he selected Joe Alexander with the No. 8 overall pick and Luc Mbah a Moute in the second round. But his shrewdest move may have come earlier that day when he acquired Richard Jefferson from the New Jersey Nets for Yi Jianlian and Bobby Simmons.

Still, Hammond has his work cut out for him as the Bucks have a new coach, eight new players to incorporate into the new coach's schemes and a brutal early schedule.

Hammond took time out Friday to speak with's Rob Peterson about a variety of topics from his early assessment of Skiles and the team, his two rookies and even the evolution of blogs in an NBA team's daily world. The Bucks have gone through training camp, have traveled halfway around the world and will have played four games in six nights in the season's first week. What is your assessment of how things have gone so far?

Thus far, I've been fairly pleased. We've had a good training camp. The exhibition season went fairly well. We never really had a complete team on the floor. The trip to China was another part of our training camp that we had to deal with, but we survived the trip and came back healthy.

We understand there will be a learning curve that we will go through, that we are going through and will continue to go through. But so far, fairly pleased. How steep is that learning curve?

Hammond: It's yet to be determined and time will tell. I think our players have been very receptive to what Scott Skiles is trying to teach and I think Scott has been pleased with the players and their effort. You combine those two things and you have a chance to shorten that learning curve. The most recent editions of the Bucks haven't really been in-your-face defensive squads. Have you seen improvement in that area?

Hammond: Enough has been said and written about the past couple of years, and the inability to win over the last couple of years, and it was talked about so much that the fact that maybe the team didn't defend and rebound as well as they needed to that the returning guys realize that coming into the season that we have eight new players. Scott has talked about it a lot and I think they have heard about it enough that the players have the realization that in order to win we are going to have to be a better team defensively and we're going to have to rebound the ball better than in the past. And you've seen that intensity in practice in the first few games so far?

Hammond: I have 100 percent seen it in practice and in training camp. I think the guys have put forth the proper effort to become a better defensive team. I think for the most part in both games I think that we have been better defensively and have played with more energy and more effort. As you noted earlier, you have eight new players on the roster. Not only are these players getting accustomed to a new coach, but also each other. How has the team meshed so far?

Hammond: I think it's worked well and the proof in that is how they've tried to play together. If anything, we've made mistakes about being too unselfish at times. And if there's any mistake you can live with it's that mistake of someone saying: 'I have a good shot, but I'm going make the extra pass because I think the other person has an even better shot.' In reality, maybe they should have taken that shot.

Once again, if there is a mistake you can live with it's the mistake of being too unselfish. Every team, of course, wants to make the playoffs and win a title. Are your goals tempered at all or do you have certain benchmarks you want to see during the course of the season?

Hammond: I'm sure that Scott does from a coaching standpoint. I'm sure he could say we'd like to give up X amount of points per game or we'd like our defensive field goal percentage to be this or to be that. From a front office standpoint, I think we could all say the same thing and that the benchmark we'll have during the season will be the fan reaction -- did they accept this team? Did they respect this team for the type of effort put forth and that was needed to give ourselves a chance to win games?

I don't know how many wins that would translate into, a playoff team, a non-playoff team, but I do think that it's important that when our fans leave the Bradley Center they see the effort night in and night out. The early-season schedule is rugged for you. Does it help the development of the team to play in game situations or would the team be better served with more practice time?

Hammond: That's a part of the NBA season, and that's the difference between a college season and a pro season. People wonder what can happen to a team that can be playing so well and all of a sudden they lose four or five games in a row or they go on to lose nine out of 10. Sometimes, you don't have practice time to fix what's wrong.

It's not as if the coaches can't identify it, they can identify it. It's not as if they don't talk to the team about it or even show tape about the issues on the floor to really fix something you need practice time. And so often in the NBA season you don't have that practice time. At a certain point you're going to get it back and every team deals with it.

For us, we have a very difficult first month of the season. We play eight back-to-backs but I think Richard Jefferson said it best, that if we could just keep our head above water. If we can do that early on, especially during the months of November and December and into early January, we get the chance to have a favorable schedule the rest of the season.

On the road, you need to keep your turnovers down, play smart basketball and be mentally tough. You mentioned Richard Jefferson, whom you acquired in the offseason. What has he brought to the team?

Hammond: He is a proven player, and I want to say this again about the Jefferson trade: We acquired a very good player, we think one of the better small forwards in the NBA. To get talent you have to give up talent and we gave up a very talented piece in Yi [Jianlian], who potentially has a great career ahead of him.

But at this time, we felt Richard was a valuable asset for us if we could acquire him. And what he brings? He brings winning. First and foremost. He's played in two NBA Finals. He knows what it takes to win. He knows how to win.

And of course what he can do on the floor. He can defend three spots on the floor and score 20 points when needed. You also have two rookies from your first draft as Bucks GM on the team: Joe Alexander and Luc Mbah a Moute on the roster. What is your take on them so far?

Hammond: It's interesting. They're different. With Luc, with his background -- he's from Cameroon, went to prep school, went to UCLA -- he has a very good feel and understanding for the game, which is unusual for a player of his background who didn't grow up around the game, per se. He has a very good understanding on the defensive end of the floor in particular. People always say if you want to get an opportunity to get on the floor, be effective defensively. That's where Luc is and that's what he's able to do with us.

Joe Alexander, to be honest with you, has kind of a raw game. We looked at Joe as one of the guys who was one of the best athletes in this Draft, and still feel that way about him. We're going to need to be a little more patient with him.

And some people think it should be the opposite, that you should be more patient with your second-round pick than your first-round pick, Joe does have ... and I hate to use the terminology ... but Joe does have a tremendous upside. We still think he could be a very special player in this league someday. It just might take a little time with him. We have the patience and will be willing to take the time to wait for the player we think he will be. Now, you've done interviews with basketball blogs, including Brew Hoop. What do you make of the increased scrutiny, that not only comes from the press in your area but blogs as well?

Hammond: You have to look at it and accept it as a part of our society today. This is the world we're living in. To think less of blogs or not pay attention to them or to not give them respect, I don't think that should be the case. These are people who have a real love and passion for the game. Some of these guys are the ultimate fans and they really love the game that they talk about and write about.

So, I give them credit for who and what they are. We never look down on them in any way. It's their passion. Why would you do it if it wasn't one of your passions or if you didn't have a desire for that team to be really good?

At the end of the day, I don't think they're much different than those of us in the business. They want to win almost as badly as we do, but our stakes are just a little bit higher at times. You've evaluated everyone else. How do you think you've done so far?

Hammond: It's waaaaaaay too early to give myself any kind of grade. We're early into this process. I would say the same thing I said earlier: Time will tell.

I look at myself as a lucky person to have this opportunity. As I've said before, I'm one that was chosen. There are many other people who are as good or qualified to do the job as I am, I was just given the opportunity. So now, it's my responsibility to make the best of this opportunity.

And I assure you I'm going to do that.

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