The Milwaukee Bucks Begin to Show Improvement

Gary ZContributor INovember 9, 2008

Miller Lite's were being passed out amongst players, fans were in pandemonium, and the city of Milwaukee had never felt this alive since the days of the Reagan administration.

While sports in Milwaukee, Wisconsin have certainly seen championships before, it has been a long time since both the city's teams have been good at the same time.

With the Milwaukee Brewers doing their part this season, making the playoffs for the first time since 1982, it falls now upon the shoulders of center Andrew Bogut and the new-look Milwaukee Bucks under new Head Coach Scott Skiles.

The Bucks have been a backwards team in the NBA since Game Seven of the 2001 Eastern Conference Finals, in which they fell to the Philadelphia 76ers.

Team chemistry killer Anthony Mason came on board in the 2002 season and the Bucks went from fourth place in the Eastern Conference at the midway point in the season to out of playoff contention after a loss to the Detroit Pistons on the last day of the NBA regular season.

Since that point, the "Big Three" of guards Sam Cassell, Ray Allen, and forward Glenn Robinson were all disbanded.  Cassell was traded for the likes of former first round draft pick Joe Smith, Allen was pawned off to Seattle for Gary Payton and Desmond Mason, and Robinson was shipped off for Toni Kukoc and a first-round draft pick which ended up being point guard T.J. Ford.

Losses started to pile up for the new-look Bucks after the “Big Three” era, as Ford and budding star guard Michael Redd could not bring the Bucks farther than a clean sweep out of the first round of the playoffs under Head Coach Terry Porter.

The free-fall began under the next head coach, Terry Stotts, who led the team to 83 losses in less than two seasons.  The collapse was complete after general manager Larry Harris got his grubby paws all over the roster, acquiring players like Smith, Jamaal Magloire, Keith Van Horn, and Bobby Simmons.

With a fresh perspective now, the Milwaukee Bucks no longer have apocalypse written all over the franchise.  Owner Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI) wants to keep the team in Milwaukee, but a tired-out Bradley Center is not sufficient enough for the NBA brand to be maintained.

The one thing Kohl could do to energize the fans—who showed up in record-low numbers last season—was to re-energize the team.  

Firing both Head Coach Larry Krystkowiak and GM Larry Harris, Kohl replaced the pair with the right-hand man to the Pistons' GM Joe Dumars in John Hammond, who selected the defensive-minded Scott Skiles as the new head coach.

Skiles, now the third head coach in as many years for the Bucks, brings a defensive presence with him.  Characteristically a shoot-first, defend-never team, the Bucks were the poor man's equivalent of the Mark D'Antoni's Phoenix Suns—run and gun basketball.

The roster, now completely overhauled, stands with only Redd and Bogut as the remaining starters from the disappointing "rebuilding seasons" since 2004.

All-Star Richard Jefferson was acquired from the New Jersey Nets in return for Yi Jianlian and Bobby Simmons, and has thus been a welcome addition to the Bucks' lineup, giving Milwaukee a pair of scorers that can score 30 or more points a night.

However, Skiles is a defensive head coach and bringing pressure on the defensive side of the ball comes first.  While the combination of new players who are primarily offensive weapons bodes for a paltry mixture that might not be able to hold a prep team under 100 on a bad day, what the Bucks have seen from the first two weeks has been promising.

For those optimistic about the Bucks' 3-4 record in this young NBA season, remember that the very same Bucks had held the exact same record last season after a 102-99 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies.

However, box scores have proved that the Bucks' defense has improved this season, which bodes well for long-term success.

Second-round draft pick Luc Mbah a Moute and Jefferson have thrived in their new environments, while point guard Luke Ridnour will be a factor once he heals from a painful back injury.

And when the first-round draft pick Joe Alexander puts it all together and starts playing a consistent game, the Bucks will have the makings of a solid team in the Eastern Conference that can contend for much more than the lower spots in the playoffs.