Janesville71.9°

For Bucks, draft lottery may best be avoided

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Michael Hunt
February 24, 2010
— Pardon the echo because, it’s true, we’ve asked this question pretty much every other February for the past eight seasons, give or take.

But because the Milwaukee Bucks are behaving like a semi-legitimate NBA team for the time being, it bears repeating:


Stuck in pro-basketball purgatory as they’ve been since making the 2001 Eastern Conference finals—just mediocre enough to get the non-lottery draft pick virtually guaranteed to not help them, or patently bad enough to make the lottery in years when there are no supernovas to lift them—what’s a team to do?


Are they better off making the playoffs, where they’d become gum on the bottom of LeBron James’ shoe during his walk to the Finals?


Or would they benefit from another trip to lotto-land in a sketchy draft year to hopefully find one more cheap piece to maybe bundle in trade for when they’ll finally have cap money to spend in two seasons?


There’s another question, as in whether a small-market team like the Bucks can ever rise again unless real changes are made to the collective-bargaining agreement that expires in 2011.


For the here and now, Scott Skiles is all for at least holding that No. 8 slot in these last 27 games. Of course, Skiles is a coach, paid to win now without the luxury of long-term planning.


But he does have a point. History favors those who get to postseason, even if a beating or two is necessary for the growth experience. The lottery, a 50-50 shot at best, guarantees little except the reasonable chance to be right back there the following season.


The Bucks’ recent past proves as much.


During the 1998-’99 season, they were coming off seven straight years out of the playoffs. Ray Allen was 23 years old. Glenn Robinson was 25. They had no sense of what it was like to win in the NBA.


In that lockout-shortened year, the Bucks made the playoffs and were swept in the first round by the Indiana Pacers.


The next year they got back to postseason and took the Pacers to the limit in what was then a best-of-five first round.


And the next year, they nearly kicked the door down. Had Robinson made an open 10-foot shot in Game 5 at Philadelphia, the Bucks almost surely would’ve made the NBA Finals.


The counterargument would be that the Bucks made the ’03 and ’04 playoffs, were beaten in the first round by New Jersey and Detroit, and where has that experience taken them?


The short answer would be to 95 games below .500 since, but they also culled Andrew Bogut and Brandon Jennings from spotty lotteries.


Bogut is 25. Jennings is 20. Not to compare them to Allen and Robinson, but they’re good young players who have no clue what it’s like to win at this level. It’s critical that they learn sooner than later, because here’s the only certainty that applies:


To win in the NBA, you need a point guard and a big man. The Bucks have both in varying degrees of development. And when the roster completely flips in two years, Bogut and Jennings are the only players guaranteed to still be here. If they learn how to win and management places talent around them with the forthcoming cap money, the Bucks just might have a chance.


If they go back into the lottery, the odds are low they’d get a shooting guard or a power forward who could help them win immediately. Those are pieces best acquired with the draft picks and inexpensive contracts they’re trying to stockpile.


Moral is: Win just a little now for the outside shot to win big later.


Michael Hunt writes for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.



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