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News » Bucks bank on change New-look team eyes success

Bucks bank on change New-look team eyes success

Bucks bank on change  New-look team eyes success By CHARLES F. GARDNER

John Hammond has a message for all who think the Milwaukee Bucks are the worst team in the National Basketball Association, or nearly the worst.

Think again.

The Bucks' general manager spent the summer revising his roster and trying to gain some salary flexibility for the future. That meant saying goodbye to Richard Jefferson (via trade), and Charlie Villanueva and Ramon Sessions (free agency).

But the Bucks did pick up seven new players, including No. 10 overall draft pick and point guard Brandon Jennings; small forward Carlos Delfino; and power forwards Kurt Thomas, Hakim Warrick and Ersan Ilyasova.

"Let me clarify the point again," Hammond said after the Bucks' annual tip-off luncheon Monday at the Hyatt Regency. "This is about players and about winning and losing games. I do not have a mandate from an owner (Herb Kohl) to cut salary.

"My mandate is to win games. The decisions I have made are decisions I feel were right for the organization."

Hammond opted to acquire talented young players on short-term contracts, avoiding any long-term commitments that could hinder the Bucks' makeover.

"We were able to bring in at least five new players (from other NBA teams)," Hammond said, "and out of those five, a lot of those are going to be contributors.

"We've been able to add some players we think are going to help us win games."

Delfino is the likely starter at small forward, after he serves a one-game suspension in the regular-season opener Friday at Philadelphia. Thomas or Warrick could start at power forward and the 6-foot-9 Ilyasova has improved throughout the preseason.

"Ersan is a different player," Hammond said of the Turkish national team forward, who was a 2005 second-round pick for the Bucks and spent two seasons here before heading to Europe. "He chose to make a move and play in Barcelona, and I think it was a good decision for him.

"He had a chance to improve, to get bigger and stronger, and he came back a more ready NBA player."

National observers are predicting the Bucks to finish at the bottom of the Eastern Conference and near the final rungs of the 30-team league, and one oddsmaker has the Bucks winning 26 games, or eight less than a year ago.

Several players disputed that notion at the luncheon, and Hammond said team cohesiveness and overall depth could help the Bucks during the marathon 82-game schedule.

Bucks coach Scott Skiles said NBA teams generally must take steps along the way to success, and returning to the playoffs after a three-year absence is an important stride for the franchise to take.

"We have a very difficult task," Skiles said. "We want to have something sustainable, and not be last in the division and become a playoff team."

Hammond said he has been encouraged with the steady comebacks from injury by starters Andrew Bogut and Michael Redd, and with the general attitude during training camp and the preseason.

"I see the same sort of things Scott has seen," Hammond said, "a team that is working hard. If we can catch a break this season, if we can stay healthy. . . .

"I echo what was said today by the coaches and the players. I think we can surprise some people and be a lot better than people expect us to be."

The Bucks will face a tough battle within their own Central Division, which includes the Cleveland Cavaliers featuring LeBron James and Shaquille O'Neal.

Copyright 2009, Journal Sentinel Inc. All rights reserved. (Note: This notice does not apply to those news items already copyrighted and received through wire services or other media.)

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