The Milwaukee Bucks have been trapped in basketball purgatory for most of the past 20 years. After a quick start for the young franchise, winning an NBA championship in only its third year of existence, the Bucks have struggled to string together playoff quality campaigns.
Of the team's 13 division titles, they've only earned one since 1986, after running off seven straight from 1980 to 1986.
The last time Milwaukee saw the playoffs was in 2001, when Ray Allen, Sam Cassell, and Glenn Robinson all started for the great George Karl. That team lost Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Finals to Allen Iverson's Philadelphia 76ers.
Since then, the Bucks have been a middling team at their best points, and a team full of guys who just didn't care and didn't respect their coach at their worst points.
Last season was one of those low points.
Milwaukee struggled mightily, winning 26 games overall and only seven on the road.
Their road winning percentage was an embarrassing .170. The only time the Bucks saw any national exposure was when Andrew Bogut, after a free throw, cynically acted like he was getting hand slaps from teammates when there were none to be had.
After such an abysmal season, expectations were low for the 2008 edition of the Milwaukee Bucks. A change on the sideline to experienced disciplinarian Scott Skiles and in the front office to somebody not named Larry Harris had to help, and so far, these changes have.
John Hammond, the new general manager, brought in experience at the three with former New Jersey Net Richard Jefferson. He also acquired a true point guard from Kevin Durant's future-former-franchise (thank you, Sports Guy), Luke Ridnour. He struck gold in last summer's draft, picking prince Luc Richard Mbah a Moute in the second round.
The question now is, can the Bucks get into the postseason after just one year under this new regime?
It's true that the Bucks would be the last team into the playoffs if the season ended today, but a lot can happen between now and April 15. Milwaukee has the talent, but they still haven't put everything together to be a successful postseason squad.
A tendency to squander healthy leads has plagued the Bucks in their recent losses, especially to Minnesota and Philadelphia. It's a common problem for young teams such as the Bucks, as they are still trying to learn how to be a successful basketball team. This is something I expect Skiles will be able to correct at some point in the future, but it might not happen in time to affect this season.
Even if the Bucks narrowly miss the playoffs, the season will still be seen as a success for Hammond, Skiles, and company. As I said before, I expect that Skiles will nurture the growth of the young talent on his team (Ramon Sessions, Mbah a Moute, Andrew Bogut) with the help of his veterans (Michael Redd, Jefferson).
Fans of Wisconsin sports may not see the benefit of this hard work by the end of this season, but for the first time in many years, the future of the Milwaukee Bucks is something people can look forward to.