Janesville53.7°

Time for the Bucks to escape mediocrity

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March 18, 2009
— Before speaking for publication, Scott Skiles wanted to preface his thought.

“The people in this city have been very supportive and kind to me,” he said Tuesday.


Uh-oh. With a setup like that, what usually follows isn’t good.


But this was.


All the Milwaukee Bucks coach wanted to say was that he appreciated the compliments he gets at the gas stations and in the stores when fans come up to say thanks for the strong effort, thanks for hanging in there with what you’ve got, just thanks.


But then Skiles thinks to himself:


We’re 31-38.


“The bar can’t be that low,” he said. “I’m proud that these guys have been winning with the injuries, but it has to be kept in perspective.”


It doesn’t matter to Skiles that the Bucks have been playing without two starters for the longest time. Doesn’t matter that their record would qualify them for the playoffs if the season ended today. All he sees are the games that got away and the mandate to win, no matter the circumstances.


Nor is it particularly relevant that the NBA gives out playoff slots like participation ribbons at a peewee swim meet. In a vacuum, quality is quality.


All that said, do these guys ever need to make the playoffs.


Of course, the reality of making that first step back toward respectability runs counter to the usual blather. Such as:


Why bother when a lottery pick is available?


Like that’s helped the Bucks lately.


You could see the proof up close and personal at the Cousins Center. At one end of the floor, Joe Alexander was working overtime. Maybe one day he’ll help the Bucks or some other team, but right now, when the team is down on bodies and really could use him, he’s not contributing. At the other end, Andrew Bogut couldn’t work at all.


Right there, Bogut and Alexander, is all the Bucks have to show for the first round in the last 10 years.


“I know in the fans’ mind that the NBA has made the lottery into an exiting thing,” Skiles said. “But having a lottery pick is no guarantee of success.”


The idea is to get out and stay out of the lottery. Or, as Richard Jefferson rightly said, “You can’t sit there and say you don’t want to make the playoffs just so you can get the No. 10 or 12 pick.”


But if the Bucks make the playoffs and get swept in the first round, what’s the point?


Maybe you remember most of the ’90s. Or not, because the Bucks sat out the playoffs for most of the decade.


But then came 1999, when the Bucks just squeezed in. Indiana swept them. The next year, they pushed the Pacers to the max in the first round. With all that postseason experience behind them, the Bucks came within 48 minutes of the Finals the following season.


“There’s no substitute for going through the process,” Skiles said.


There is no better way, then, for the Bucks to expunge these last few miserable seasons than by exposing their long-term players to it right now. That first step gets you that much closer to changing the culture. You do it right now because deferring anything to an uncertain future by means of the lottery or any other rationale is a defeatist approach for a franchise that cannot afford to put off anything approaching progress.


“For us, the urgency of (the last 13 games) are like the playoffs,” Skiles said. “The next logical step is getting in.”



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