By Rob Mahoney
Bucks owner Herb Kohl has quickly extinguished any hope that this coming offseason -- in which the contracts of Milwaukee's head coach, general manager and two highest (and highest-paid) scorers are set to functionally expire -- would signal a radical change in the way the Bucks operate. According to a release from the team, GM John Hammond has been given a three-year contract extension despite a managerial track record that offers little reason for confidence or enthusiasm. Per Ken Berger of CBS Sports, Hammond is due to make $1.8 million a season over the course of his deal. From the release:
“John does a terrific job for our basketball team,” said Herb Kohl, team president. “He and his staff have assembled a roster of very talented players who are also very good people, which our fans appreciate and enjoy watching. John is highly respected by the players and among his peers and I’m happy he will continue to lead our basketball operations department.”
As is usually the case with such public statements, Kohl stretches the truth a bit there. Hammond hasn't been horrible, but he's made moves that have kept the Bucks treading water without any hope of either contending or bottoming out. It's not impossible for middling teams to rally their way into the top tier, but to do so without elite prospects or even all that many tradeable contracts is immensely difficult. Hammond can't be blamed for all of the ills that the Bucks have suffered throughout his tenure (with Andrew Bogut's string of injuries being the most unfortunate and unpredictable of the bunch), but he must be held accountable for the pattern of curious trades that have kept the Bucks from getting where they've needed to go. Milwaukee was never a Corey Maggette or Stephen Jackson away from contention, and yet Hammond has managed the Bucks with the kind of abandon that clogged up Milwaukee's cap room, destroyed the team's financial flexibility and loaded up the roster with bloated contracts.
Most of those deals have expired or been shipped out, but Hammond can only get so much credit for cleaning up his own mistakes. As it stands, he's rallied a decent team toward a big offseason, one in which Hammond and the Bucks will need to make long-term decisions regarding both Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, not to mention the fate of Jim Boylan and the head coaching quasi-vacancy. Milwaukee will have a rare chance to clear the slate, and in the process bank on the development of Jennings and Larry Sanders while forfeiting a doomed spot at the bottom of the playoff bracket. But given what we know of Hammond and the Bucks' modus operandi, it seems far more likely that any potential cap room created this summer would only be spent on more merely decent talent that will bring Milwaukee to the brink of relevance without any hope of moving beyond. Hammond has ultimately been OK; his mistakes haven't been grave, and he's made good choices to acquire talent in the draft and clear away his own messes. But is 'OK' really what the Bucks should be investing in while the next era of their franchise hangs in the balance?