Thinned herd: Tough to get read on depleted Bucks

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Michael Hunt, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Monday, October 14, 2013

Bucks radio announcer Ted Davis mentioned Saturday night that he had never seen an NBA team with 11 new players and an entirely turned-over coaching staff.

That's something, considering that Davis has been calling league games for more than a quarter-century.

This is also new territory for a lot of Bucks fans anxious to see what the franchise's first solid plan in years will eventually look like.

I've got no clue how this thing will shake out. Anybody who claims otherwise will also give you a can't-refuse deal on the Hoan Bridge. But I certainly applaud Herb Kohl, nervous as he is about securing an arena deal, for allowing John Hammond the chance to tear down last year's toxic team to the foundation while maintaining an air of competitiveness.

If they pull this off, they will have walked the fine line of getting a good pick in a great draft without the politically distasteful tank job that will be put on display by more than a few desperate franchises this season. The Bucks cannot afford to completely bottom out, but at least they are trying to go about small-market rebuilding the right way after years of dwelling in a place that puts neither fans in the seats nor an abundance of quality rookies on the roster.

Problem is, it may be several months before anyone gets a feel for this team's personality and potential. The new coach, Larry Drew, is a pragmatic, earnest man who is still trying to sort out what he has been given to work with. At present, all the training-camp injuries have placed an opaque veneer on his vision.

“Looking at what we have, it's every coach's dream to have all of his guys,” Drew said. “But when you don't, you march forward. Once we get everybody back, I like what I see.”

The logistics of coordinating 11 new bodies cannot be done in a brief NBA training camp. The injuries make it more challenging. At last check, Drew had no sympathy cards from Chicago and Indiana in his mailbox.

“From a learning standpoint and all the things we're putting in, I'm pleased,” he said. “It's just a matter of how soon we can get everybody back to full strength. Right now it doesn't look like it's going to happen anytime soon. If we had our full squad, I'd be anxious to see how we'd play.”

These completely retooled Bucks were not built to compete with Miami. The plan was to get bad acts out of the locker room and replace them with willing, hungry souls who might have the chance to entertain and maybe punch just a little bit above their weight class.

They've mended the scorched chemistry by bringing back character guys such as Carlos Delfino, Zaza Pachulia and Luke Ridnour. They somewhat overpaid O.J. Mayo to score. They kept the right guys in John Henson and Larry Sanders to build around. Let's not get too excited, but Giannis Antetokounmpo has a chance to be really good.

Best-case scenario, they hang around the bottom of the playoff order. But by no means should the burned-down house that precipitated wholesale change be visited upon the Bucks again this year.

“When we assembled this team we looked at a lot of the areas we had to address,” Drew said. “I thought those areas were certainly addressed. But the biggest challenge is having 11 new faces and trying to get everybody on the same page. I'm waiting for the day when we can get everybody back.”

Michael Hunt is a columnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Email him at mhunt@journalsentinel.com

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