Many happy returns
Pachulia, Ridnour, Delfino begin to make Milwaukee homecomings
The Milwaukee Bucks went into the summer of 2013 looking for a few good men.
They can take great confidence in the fact that they have found at least three of them.
Zaza Pachulia, Luke Ridnour and Carlos Delfino, who played a combined six seasons and 401 games during prior tours of duty with Milwaukee, have returned to the team since July 11.
Though the three players were born and raised in entirely different parts of the world, they are making their Milwaukee homecomings from the common ground of being consummate professionals and team players.
Pachulia, 29, whose signing with the Bucks as a free agent was announced by General Manager John Hammond on July 17, spent the 2004-05 season – his second in the National Basketball Association – with Milwaukee. The 6-foot, 11-inch, 275-pound center came off the bench in 70 of the 74 games he played for the Bucks that season, averaging 6.2 points and 5.2 rebounds per outing.
Pachulia has spent the past eight seasons with the Atlanta Hawks, including the last three playing for new Bucks Head Coach Larry Drew, building NBA career averages of 6.8 points and 5.5 rebounds and reaching the NBA Playoffs six times.
Pachulia, a native of Tbilisi in the Republic of Georgia, broke into the NBA as the 42nd overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft by Orlando and played 59 games for the Magic in his rookie season. He was selected by the Charlotte Bobcats in the 2004 Expansion Draft before coming to the Bucks in exchange for a future second-round pick.
Ridnour, 32, returned to the Bucks in a three-team deal involving the Minnesota Timberwolves and Oklahoma City Thunder on July 11. The Bucks also received a 2014 second -round draft pick from Minnesota (via the Los Angeles Lakers) and cash considerations from Oklahoma City as part of the trade, while the Thunder signed Kevin Martin to a contract and traded him to the Timberwolves along with cash considerations. Milwaukee sent the draft rights to 2003 second-round pick Szymon Szewczyk to Oklahoma City to complete the deal.
The 6-2, 175 guard was originally acquired by Milwaukee on Aug. 13, 2008, along with Adrian Griffin and Damon Jones in a three-team trade that sent Mo Williams to Cleveland and Desmond Mason and Joe Smith to Oklahoma City. He played the following two seasons with the Bucks, averaging 10 points and 4.5 assists per game and shooting career bests of 47.8 percent from the floor and 90.7 percent from the line in 2009-10.
Ridnour signed a multi-year contract with the Timberwolves in 2010 and spent the past three seasons in Minnesota. He carries career averages of 10 points, 4.8 assists, 2.4 rebounds and 1.1 steals in 722 regular- season games.
The return of Delfino, 30, was also announced by the Bucks on July 17. The 6-6, 230 forward/guard was originally acquired by Milwaukee from the Toronto Raptors along with Roko Ukic in exchange for Amir Johnson and Sonny Weems on Aug. 18, 2009. Delfino averaged 10.6 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists while shooting 36.6 percent from 3-point territory through 178 games with Milwaukee spanning 2009-12.
Delfino was selected by Detroit with the 25th overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft when Hammond was the assistant general manager there. He played three seasons for the Pistons and one for the Raptors before playing a short-lived 2008-09 season with Khimky Moscow in the Russian Professional League. He has been one of the linchpins of his native Argentina’s national team for over a decade and became an Olympic gold medalist in 2004 in Athens, Greece.
Delfino has reached the NBA Playoffs with Detroit, Toronto, Milwaukee and most recently the Houston Rockets, with whom he spent the 2012-13 campaign, averaging 10.6 points and shooting 37.5 percent from beyond the arc.
During Pachulia’s first stint with the Bucks, the then 20-year-old provided them with a needed physicality in the paint. He made his mission clear and accomplished it.
“The most important thing for me, I think, is to be an energy guy,” Pachulia said back then. “I hustle every day. I think that’s what fans like.
“But I’m not only trying to make the fans happy. That’s now why I came. I want to do whatever I can to help this team win games.”
The young Zaza quickly found a comfort zone in Milwaukee. One of his earliest impressions was of how the architecture of some of the city’s buildings resembled that of buildings he remembered from Europe.
“I don’t have a problem getting used to a new place, or changes,” Pachulia said shortly after his first arrival in Milwaukee. “I have to say I feel really good here. My mom is happy here also, and that’s important to me.”
Ridnour was hampered during the first season of his original Bucks tenure (2008-09) by injuries. Beset by back spasms and a fractured thumb on his right (shooting) hand, he missed 10 games and played at far less than 100-percent capacity in many others. He still managed to average 9.6 points, 5.1 assists and 3 rebounds per game in 72 contests, starting 50 of those.
Ridnour did not start one game in his second year with the Bucks, but enjoyed one of the best and most efficient seasons of his now 10-year pro career. Free of injuries, he played in all 82 regular-season games in 2009-10, averaged 10.4 points, 4 assists and shot career bests of 47.8 percent from the floor and 90.7 percent from the free-throw line.
At one point late in the season, then Bucks teammate Andrew Bogut pointed out that Ridnour was in line to become one of a select few NBA players to achieve a 180 season (determined by adding the player’s field-goal percentage, 3-point percentage and free-throw percentage). Rounding off Ridnour’s numbers, he finished at 177.
Ridnour rarely spoke of his statistical accomplishments, but expressed his priorities and his gratitude for being healthy numerous times during his second season with the Bucks.
“It feels so good to be healthy,” he said at the time. “I just thank God for the opportunity to be out here and for keeping my body healthy. I know that’s why I’m here, so I give him the credit and the glory for it.
“My whole approach is just to come in and try to bring energy and try to help the team win games. That’s what we’re here to do. Whatever I can do to come in -- not just me, but anybody else who comes off the bench -- we try to bring as much energy as we can.”
Ridnour carved out a niche as both an effective backup to Brandon Jennings and a productive running mate to the then rookie point guard.
“We can run a lot of pick-and-rolls,” Ridnour said at the time. “We have multiple guys who can handle the ball. We try to push the tempo a little bit and make plays with it. We really just try to keep the tempo going and try to make things happen.”
Delfino had to deal with several transitions during the first season of his initial go-round with Milwaukee (2009-10).
He first had to cope with an early-season illness and needed time to build back his strength. At the same time, he was still learning a new system and attempting to find a comfort zone with a cast of new teammates.
Another transition Delfino had to make involved his role. In 262 previous NBA appearances, he had started only six games. During his first 44 games with the Bucks, he started 35.
Fortunately, the team-first approach Delfino developed with the Argentina National Team and during his prior professional stops served him well with the Bucks once he regained his physical strength and stamina.
“Knowing your teammates makes a big difference,” Delfino said at that juncture. “The first month or so on a new team in a different league can be tough. For me, that’s meant going from Euro teams to NBA teams and the different systems, the different playing styles. You need time to learn a system and develop confidence in yourself and the players around you.”
Delfino averaged a then NBA career high of 11 points per game in his first season with Milwaukee (he bettered that in year two, averaging 11.5). As he developed consistency, so did the Bucks, who qualified for the Playoffs for the first time in four seasons in 2010.
“When you feel like you're helping, you’re fitting into the system, you’re creating open shots for your teammates and you’re taking advantage of opportunities that are created by your teammates, everybody feels more comfortable with each other,” Delfino said. “You're not as up-and-down.”
Zaza Pachulia, Luke Ridnour and Carlos Delfino have learned all about the ups and downs NBA teams and players encounter.
And when the Milwaukee Bucks open training camp this fall, they’ll be there to provide the type of steadying influence every successful team needs.