Beyond the hype, a basketball decision

Salmons' 360 not done for entertainment value

By Truman Reed

Salmons says, "Fifty wins, I feel like that shouldn't even be a question for us. That should be something we know we are capable of doing."
Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty Images

There was a lot not to like during the first few days of the most hyped free-agent frenzy in National Basketball Association history last week.

Somewhere within the commotion and the shameless promotion, though, came a quote that basketball purists should have appreciated.

One of the many free agents who signed on during the first few days of the aforementioned frenzy spoke these words - and very few others, imagine that - into the microphone before him.

"It was just all about basketball and trying to win games."

These words weren't uttered in Cleveland or Miami. They originated in Milwaukee and the speaker was John Salmons, who had probably just executed the most memorable 360 of his NBA career.

Within a mere week after opting out of the final year of his contract with the Milwaukee Bucks, John Salmons signed a new multiyear deal with the team.

Granted, the grass got a bit greener on the same side of the hill Salmons had occupied before opting out, but his decision to return to Milwaukee so quickly after deciding to check out the other side of that hill was a rare one by NBA standards.

His typically soft-spoken comments not only provided the bottom line to his decision, but summarized the time the 6 foot, 7 inch, 210-pound guard spent with the Bucks from February 18 through the team's first playoff trek since 2006.

When Salmons addressed his decision to return to Milwaukee, he looked back on the 30 regular-season games and seven playoff contests he played with the Bucks and talked about how convincing they really were for him.

"I think the main thing that brought me back was how together the team actually was," Salmons said. "More than anything, that was what attracted me the most - just the atmosphere. I've been in some chaotic locker rooms, and it will take a toll on you after awhile. You just don't want to be in that environment."

Salmons came to the Bucks in a trading-deadline deal with the Chicago Bulls on February 18. At the time, Milwaukee was 24-28.

Following Salmons' arrival, he averaged 19.9 points, 3.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists in the last 30 games of the regular season.

More significantly, the Bucks reeled off a 22-8 record to finish the regular season at 46-36, marking a 12-game upgrade over the 2008-09 season and a 20-game progression over the 2007-08 campaign. The ledger was their best 2000-01, the season in which they reached the Eastern Conference Finals.

Salmons said he had no illusions when first became a Buck.

"You really don't know what to imagine," Salmons said. "You don't really know what's going to happen after you get traded in the middle of the season. I was just trying to come in, play hard and try to help the team win as much as possible."

Such a perspective probably wouldn't spur any interest in a made-for-ESPN special, but neither Salmons nor the Milwaukee Bucks seem to have that on their list of priorities.

Salmons' welcome-back press conference wasn't the first time he expressed his appreciation for the chemistry he and his 2009-10 Bucks teammates enjoyed.

"It's a great locker room," Salmons said a few months earlier. "It's good to have teammates who want you to be around. There was never a time this season where I felt tension between teammates or anything like that. It felt like everybody was always on the same page and everybody got along on and off the court."

Salmons ventured across the court and through and beyond the locker room when he looked back on his 37-game Milwaukee stint.

"It's definitely been a great couple of months, being here," he said in May. "Everybody's been great. Milwaukee as a city has been great. Fans have been great. My teammates have been great. It's good to be around the team and the coaches. It's a really good coaching staff.

"When you get traded, you really never know what to expect. So you just go in and hope everything goes well. It's a totally new situation and the grass is not always greener on the other side.

"Chicago wasn't going well, but I came here and turned my whole season around. We made a great playoff run. We had an opportunity, but just didn't pull it out. It's been a good time."

Before leaving Milwaukee and eventually taking his brief foray into free agency, Salmons, still speaking as a Milwaukee Buck, made it clear that he wasn't about to rest on any laurels of 2009-10. And he didn't believe any of his teammates were, either.

He was asked whether 50 regular-season victories would be a legitimate goal for the 2010-11 Bucks.

"Yeah, definitely," he responded. "Fifty wins, I feel like that shouldn't even be a question for us. That should be something we know we are capable of doing.

"You never know what happens with injuries and all that stuff, but that should be a realistic goal that we should reach for."

He didn't envision the Bucks becoming complacent by any means, even though they had achieved some long-awaited success.

"I think we need everybody to improve," Salmons said. "Brandon (Jennings) has a year under his belt. `Bogues' (Andrew Bogut) is coming into his own. I think if we improve individually, it will make the team better.

"The team has a lot of room to improve. We made a run in the playoffs without `Bogues' and made it to a Game 7. We made it to a Game 6 in our building with the opportunity to win the series. To have him (Bogut) back next year, we can become a real threat to teams in the East. We'll see what happens."

Yes, we will.



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