Bucks building with free agents Salmons, Gooden
The Bucks formally introduced free agents John Salmons and Drew Gooden on Thursday after agreeing to deals with both players last week.
And while small-market Milwaukee wasn’t anything more than an interested bystander in the sweepstakes for LeBron James and other marquee free agents, general manager John Hammond believes the Bucks are beginning to be seen as a desirable destination for good players.
“I can guarantee you, John Salmons had options, and I can guarantee you, Drew Gooden had options,” Hammond said. “And the fact that they want to be here, I think is very, very important to us.”
The Bucks also took another major step forward Thursday in announcing the signing of first-round draft choice Larry Sanders to a standard rookie scale contract that guarantees him $3.59 million for the next two years.
Sanders will make $1.73 million next season and $1.86 million in 2011-12. The Bucks hold options for the third and fourth seasons that are worth $1.99 million in 2012-13 and $3.06 million in 2013-14.
The Bucks took Sanders with the 15th overall pick in the NBA draft.
Sanders is a 6-11 power forward who played three seasons for Virginia Commonwealth. He averaged 10.3 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.7 blocked shots per game while shooting 52 percent from the field at VCU.
Before reaching this point, Hammond and the rest of the Bucks’ front office were busy last week, agreeing to a five-year, $32 million deal with Gooden and a $40 million, five-year deal with Salmons a day later. The moves came a few weeks after the Bucks added Corey Maggette in a trade with Golden State.
The Bucks believe they’re now in position to build on last season, when they made a surprise run to the playoffs without injured center Andrew Bogut and then pushed the Atlanta Hawks to seven games before bowing out in the first round.
“With the moves we made, I think we’re competing with anybody,” Salmons said. “With all the shuffling that’s going on now, I think that people have still got to put us in the mix with the best teams. I think that was our goal before we made the moves, and it’s definitely our goal after.”
Milwaukee coach Scott Skiles knows his team will be facing increased expectations.
“Now the thing that’s going to happen is, the script is going to flip, and we’re going to be expected to do something, as opposed to being picked last or second-to-last in the East,” Skiles said. “And that’s good. That’s what we want.”
Salmons played a critical role in the Bucks’ playoff push after arriving in a trade with Chicago in February.
He opted out of his contract and explored his options but ultimately decided to return, citing the team’s stability and chemistry as factors in his decision.
Skiles, who isn’t known for heaping undue praise upon his players, said it was “almost unbelievable” how well Salmons fit in right away last season. Then he caught himself gushing.
“I’m afraid he’s going to get a big head,” Skiles said, playfully slapping Salmons on the shoulder.
Stability also was a primary concern for Gooden, who said he “wanted a home” after bouncing around the league. The No. 4 overall pick in the 2002 draft has played for eight teams in eight seasons.
“What team is actually going to commit to me and see a future, instead of renting me for a couple months or a year and seeing what they can do with me?” Gooden said. “That was really intriguing for me, and caught my interest.”
Skiles said it would be “shocking” for Gooden not to become a starter right away, but acknowledged that he expects increased competition for playing time up and down the roster.
Hammond said the team was likely done making major moves this offseason. However, the team also announced Thursday that it has traded the draft rights to 2010 second-round pick Jerome Jordan to the New York Knicks for cash considerations.
The 7-1, 253-pound Jordan averaged 15.4 points and 9.4 rebounds in his senior season at Tulsa.
Jordan was the No. 44 overall pick and one of three second-round draft picks made by the Bucks.
Milwaukee also took guard Darington Hobson and forward Tiny Gallon.