By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com
Posted Sep 9 2009 9:53AM
It was one thing to be stuck in the Central Division cellar for a fifth straight season. It was entirely something else to have the door bolted shut.
So the Milwaukee Bucks did the only thing they could that made sense, shedding expenses in hope of unlocking a path to a brighter future.
Off went the athletic Richard Jefferson to San Antonio in a deal for spare parts. Out the door went free agent Charlie Villanueva to Detroit. And now it looks like restricted free agent Ramon Sessions is all-but-gone, too, after signing a four-year, $16 million offer sheet last week with Minnesota.
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"The thing that most people assumed is that the Jefferson deal was done as a salary dump and it was," Bucks general manager John Hammond told NBA.com. "But that was not the sole purpose for the move. With the situation we were in and the money we had tied up in the team, we had to create some flexibility in order to move forward and open some doors."
In other words, when you have missed the Playoffs four consecutive years and haven't had a winning record in the regular season since 2002-03, it makes no sense to stand pat with a roster that virtually salary-capped out. If the Bucks hadn't dealt Jefferson, they were looking at having a 12-man roster that was just $1.9 million under the luxury tax this season and, with league revenues expected to fall again, Milwaukee would have been over the luxury tax with just nine players next summer.
"The way the league is right now, there are clearly the 'haves' and the 'have-nots.' " Hammond said. "I'm not knocking any of the 'haves.' Some teams are spending for a good reason. If you are of championship caliber, you pay the tax.
"That wasn't us. We were boxed in. We felt like we needed to acquire some future assets -- draft picks -- to make us better in the future and in general we needed to go in a different direction. This season is about taking steps in that new direction."
Those steps will be far less shaky if the Bucks can keep their two biggest guns, Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut on the court. After collecting his Olympic gold medal in the summer of 2008, Redd missed 14 games early last season with an ankle injury and then went down for good on Jan. 24 with a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee. In total, he mised 49 games last season.
Bogut posted career-best numbers of 10.3 rebounds a game and 58 percent shooting from the field before he was put on the shelf for the final 46 games with a stress fracture in his lower back.
"I remember sitting on the back row at the draft lottery in May and looking around the room," Hammond said. "Of the 14 teams that were there, 10 of them probably could have pointed to injuries as being the main reason and we were certainly one.
"Things definitely change if we have Michael and Andrew on the floor for at least 70 games. But having said that, I don't think any of us were convinced that that would have solved all our problems. We needed another jolt."
That jolt would be point guard Brandon Jennings, the 10th overall pick in the draft. As long as the rookie can handle coach Scott Skiles' hard-driving ways, his presence and ability mean he'll run the show as the Bucks increase the tempo in their game.
Hakim Warrick, who has had his moments in Memphis, signed a one-year deal as a free agent. After getting Amir Johnson from the Pistons in a trade, Milwaukee turned right around and traded him to Toronto for another shooter -- Carlos Delfino. He's coming off an unpleasant one-year experience playing in Russia. Another returning overseas, 6-foot-10 forward Ersan Ilyasova, spent the past two seasons playing for FC Barcelona and returns with experience and a stronger body.
Last year's top draft pick, Joe Alexander, will look to bounce back from a disappointing rookie season where he was foul-prone, lost most games and ineffective even though Skiles gave him opportunities to play.
"We've made a lot of changes, some not by choice, namely Villanueva," Hammond said. "But we did some things that enabled us to clean up our roster and clean up our payroll, much of it with an eye on the future.
"Look, if we can keep Redd and Bogut on the floor for the full season, it should jump us up from 34 wins a year ago. The question is whether it can jump us high enough to contend for one of the playoff positions."
Getting out of the Central Division cellar would be a first step for the Bucks and likely challenge enough.
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