Chemistry Problem: The 2010 Bucks And 2001 Clippers Are A Strange Mix
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What did Corey Maggette, Keyon Dooling, Earl Boykins and Brian Skinner have in common entering the NBA's 2010 offseason?
They had all been teammates on the 2000-01 Los Angeles Clippers, the last team that Bucks GM John Hammond coached in the NBA before taking a front office job in Detroit as Joe Dumars' basketball operations VP.
Other than that, not much except a lot minutes on losing teams until, one-by-one last summer, Hammond brought them to Milwaukee to play for the Bucks.
Coincidence? It doesn't seem possible. Maggette in 2010 was a player the Golden State Warriors couldn't use and a $31 million salary cap burden they didn't want to bear through June 2013. The Bucks proposed trade of Dan Gadzuric's 2011 expiring contract and Charlie Bell's $4 million per year salary was well received in Oakland, to say the least. Done deal, thank you very much Mr. Hammond.
Dooling was a free agent who the Bucks targeted to back up Brandon Jennings after Hammond had committed a chunk of his available sub-luxury tax room on Drew Gooden and lost Luke Ridnour to the T-Wolves ($4 million per year offer). Boykins was also a free agent pick-up, fan friendly bench filler behind Jennings and Dooling.
Skinner was the last 2001 Clipper added, prior to training camp. He didn't make the team but early season injuries made Skinner the obvious big man roster-filler-who-had-been-in-training-camp.
The Maggette trade opened a lot of questions. "The Machette" isn't a player who comes to mind when one is looking to improve an NBA "good chemistry" team with the in-your-face defensive mentality of the Bucks. He doesn't exude "Scott Skiles player" -- quite the opposite. One of Maggette's nicknames is "Bad Porn" and he's got a well-earned reputation for getting his 20 points, damn the outcome of the game or his wide open teammates. And nobody's ever accused Corey Maggette of playing good, strong defense.
Perhaps Hammond held a different view, having coached Maggette in Maggette's second NBA season.
Hammond and Maggette both arrived in L.A. in the 2000 offeseason. Maggette was acquired -- along with rookie Dooling -- in a trade with Orlando for draft picks. Hammond arrived a couple of months later with new Clipper head coach Alvin Gentry, who the Pistons had fired during the 2000 season. Hammond and Gentry are part of a Larry Brown coaching tree that began in the late 1980s and early 1990's in San Antonio and L.A., and extended to the Pistons during the Grant Hill era.
There they were, ten years ago, assembled in Los Angeles. Maggette and Dooling, Skinner and Boykins, part of the Clippers kiddie corps, Maggette and Dooling arriving in the same trade; Hammond part of the coaching staff from Detroit assigned to develop the kiddie corps into an NBA team. Hammond would stay only that first year before returning to Detroit in 2001 to work for Dumars. The Clippers won 16 more games that year than they did the previous year. Of course, the Clippers won only 15 games in 1999-2000 but improvement is improvement.
The Maggette trade, in and of itself, might have stood on its own despite the questionable judgement of integrating Maggette with a Skiles team. But when Ridnour agreed to a 4-year, $16 million contract with the T-Wolves and the Bucks responded by offering their Bi-Annual Exception to Dooling only days later, the 2001 Clipper connection came into view.
It was a strange week (July 13th - 21st). The Bucks had no backup center for Andrew Bogut and scarcely enough payroll space to make a competitive offer to Ridnour, who didn't sign with the T-Wolves until after the Bucks confirmed that they had agreed to terms with Dooling. Both Ridnour and the Bucks would have preferred that he stay in Milwaukee, until Hammond made other plans.
The result brought Maggette and Dooling -- part of a Magic-to-the-Clippers trade ten years earlier -- together again in Milwaukee. In the very least, their old assistant coach had to find it amusing.
Combine this with the availability of free agents Boykins and Skinner and it was likely too much to resist -- a sign from the Clipper gods! The chances that mere coincidence brought four 2001 Clippers to the 2010 Bucks all in one summer is remote. Very remote.
It wouldn't matter -- and could have been fodder for a feel good 2001 Clippers reunion story -- if things were panning out for the Bucks. But the Bucks are a disappointing and frustrating 12 wins, 18 losses, and, due to injuries, have had to rely on Hammond's new acquisitions far more than planned. Chemistry questions have been raised, with Maggette the focus for the moment after grading his Milwaukee experience an "F," following a tough loss to the Bulls on Tuesday.
"Fear the Deer?" NBA.com writer Steve Aschburner asked this week after the Bucks lost to the Bulls in Chicago. "Right now, Bucks the ones ducking for cover."
"No disrespect to guys from other teams but when guys first come here and think, 'Oh this is a tough system. Am I going to buy into it fully?' And then they realize that our coaches keep it professional, and they make you keep the (same) system every day. Once you realize they're not changing the system for anybody, guys start to buy in because you have no choice. ... So it usually comes to that at this time of the season. Guys kind of realize that nothing is changing. This is what wins us games. It's a proven winner, so if we keep doing it, we'll win games."
The problem is that the players who were on the Bucks last season realize that the system is "a proven winner" but there don't seem to be very many of them around this season. In addition to Ridnour leaving for Minnesota in 2010 free agency, veteran backup center Kurt Thomas escaped to the Bulls. The Bucks have missed them both this season. Badly.
Starting small forward Carlos Delfino's been out since early November with concussive symptoms and may not return this season. Jennings will be out at least three more weeks with a left foot fracture. Right now there are just as many 2001 L.A. Clippers on the Bucks bench as there are 2010 Bucks.
Sentimentality is sometimes nice in professional sports. But considering the good chemistry the Bucks found during their playoff drive last March, the sentimentality of a 2001 Clippers assistant named John Hammond -- or the whims of the Clippers gods -- may have gotten the better of his team.
Note: There is no evidence yet that forward Drew Gooden -- also signed as a free agent last summer -- had any previous connection to the 2001 Clippers. Gooden at the time was 19-years-old and in his sophomore season at U. of Kansas.
-- Bleacher Report contributor J.D. Mo is chief perpetrator of the Milwaukee Bucks/NBA blog, The Bob Boozer Jinx.
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