Bucks Players Give Props to NBA Exec of the Year
Attest to Hammond's dedication, quest for excellence
By Truman Reed
A friend who had become a stranger to the Bradley Center was swept up by the frenzy generated by the Milwaukee Bucks during their drive into the 2010 National Basketball Association playoffs.
He climbed on board the bandwagon late in the regular season, attended a few games and witnessed two of the team's home playoff games. He likened the buzz to the one created by the 2001 Bucks, who turned the BC into "The Fortress on Fourth Street." Back then, it was rated the loudest building in the NBA by one national media outlet.
The friend, who admittedly had followed the Bucks only casually for the past few years until having his interest piqued by their success this year, told me about an observation he made at several of the games he attended this year.
He saw a man in business attire whom he believed to be a Bucks employee pacing around intensely in one of the entryways to the Bradley Center's lower bowl.
Bucks GM John Hammond watches Game 3 from the concourse.
If the tide happened to turn against the Bucks, the man would stride briskly out into the concourse, then reappear in the entryway moments later.
A bit of investigative reporting yielded the identity of the mystery man. Turns out he was John Hammond, the Bucks general manager and the 2009-10 NBA Executive of the Year.
Since Hammond took over the franchise's GM chair on April 11 of 2008 and brought Scott Skiles on board as head coach, the Bucks have climbed from 23rd in the NBA defensive rankings to seventh.
The team's 46 victories during the 2009-10 regular season represented a 12-game improvement over the previous campaign.
When the Bucks returned to the NBA playoffs last month for the first time since 2006, their roster included seven key cogs -- Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Kurt Thomas, Carlos Delfino, Brandon Jennings, Ersan Ilyasova, Jerry Stackhouse and John Salmons -- whom Hammond acquired via trades, draft choices or free-agent signings.
Unlike some of his contemporaries, Hammond has taken the low road in going about his business, never looking to steal headlines, get on camera or otherwise promote himself.
Even after winning his Executive of the Year award, Hammond deflected the credit elsewhere.
"Obviously, it was a very enjoyable season," he said. "Anytime you have a season where you overachieve, those are the most fun. I think Scott Skiles, his staff, and the players deserve so much credit for what they accomplished."
Several of those players deflected the credit right back at their boss. It is clear that they have gained a great deal of respect and appreciation for the work he has done.
One of them has even noticed Hammond's observation and pacing at home games.
"He's always watching," Charlie Bell said. "I see him sometimes sitting in the crowd. Sometimes at halftime when we're walking into the locker room, he's walking with us.
"He's always watching practice, on the team plane, at shootarounds. He's always sitting or standing around watching, observing, figuring out his next move, I guess. He's always thinking."
Luke Ridnour believes there's a purpose to it all. He has enjoyed playing under the Hammond administration
"I think he's had a plan and he's executed it perfectly - what kind of guys he wants, who he wants. You've got to give him a lot of credit for what he's been able to do here, and the coaching staff as well. They're all on the same page, which seems to be pretty crucial."
Ridnour has played under several different GMs, so he can classify Hammond's approach to his job.
"I think all GMs are different in their own way," he said. "John's an encourager. He's always telling us, `You're doing good,' and stuff like that. You can tell he believes in you, and I think that's huge. It starts at the top with that belief, and then it trickles down. To know somebody believes in you, that's huge."
Mbah a Moute has seen Hammond's encouragement, too.
"He'll come by and say, `Good game,' or if you struggle, he'll come by and say good things to try to make you feel better. He does whatever he can to help out. He's always looking out for his players and trying to help guys develop and get better.
"Whether a guy is doing good or bad, he always has something to say to try to help him out."
Ilyasova said he has benefitted from Hammond's words of encouragement and advice.
"Sometimes he'll do one-on-ones with the players to make some points to them," Ilyasova said. "He's coached before and he lets you know that he's an old coach. He gives us some good advice."
The players have been impressed at how Hammond has reconstructed the team as well.
"He's done a great job with the draft and free-agent signings," Bell said. "He and Scott (Skiles) want a team that's going to go out there and work hard, because Milwaukee is a blue-collar city whose people appreciate hard work. They want to see a team that goes out there and competes every night. John has done a great job of putting together a team that does that. Scott has done a great job of getting the most out of the guys on the court."
Thomas, who has played for seven NBA teams during his 15 years in the league, gained a quick appreciation for Hammond's work in his first season in Milwaukee.
"Hammond's done an excellent job," Thomas said. "he brought some guys in here with a lot of character - not just on the court, but off the court. He got guys who come in every day and compete and really enjoy playing with one another.
"I think that's the key. It's not just about having a bunch of knuckleheads. It's about bringing in the right guys, putting them in the right system with the right coaching staff."
"John has done a really good job with the Bucks organization," he said. "Bringing in Scott Skiles in his position was a really great decision by him. The trades that he made during the season really helped us a lot. We improved and played much better."
Bell wasn't surprised at all to see the Hammond plan come together.
"John is a straight shooter," Bell said. "He comes from a winning pedigree, having been at Detroit and having won there, being with Joe (Dumars) and seeing how he built that team.
"He came here and one thing he wanted to do was change the coach right away. he wanted to change everything from the coaches to the training staff. He built everything up new. I'm just glad I'm still here to be a part of it."
Mbah a Moute believes the Bucks will enjoy continued prosperity if they follow their leader.
"He's very interesting ... a very, very good guy," Mbah a Moute said. "He really knows what he's talking about. he knows a lot about his work and really gets into it. He really wants his players to develop and do well.
"With the decisions he's made and the way he's led this team, I couldn't be happier for him to win the GM award. He wants things to be done a certain way, and he's into it. He leads by example, and that's what we need.
"He has really turned this team around and hopefully we'll continue to enjoy success."