On just about every level of basketball, a coach’s fate is largely determined by the expectations preceding him. For proof, look no further than the Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks.
It’s been a couple of weeks since coach Mike Woodson‘s Hawks waxed Scott Skiles‘ Bucks in Games Six and Seven of their first-round playoff series, and yet today it’s Skiles whose team is considered moving in the right direction, while Woodson is unemployed and his former team faces a mini-rebuilding summer. It worked out that way because the Bucks overachieved beyond preseason expectations that they’d be one of the worst teams in the NBA, while the Hawks fell short of expectations, looking like they didn’t belong on the court with the Eastern Conference’s elite after eliminating Milwaukee.
So with Skiles’ job secure for the foreseeable future, what do the Bucks have to do this offseason to stay on the right track?
1. Re-sign John Salmons
The Bucks didn’t become a dangerous playoff team until Salmons came over in the midseason trade from Chicago and gave them a legit 20-ppg scorer on the wing and go-to player in crunch time. In the postseason, Milwaukee played its best when Salmons and Brandon Jennings were on-point; in their three playoff wins, Salmons averaged 21.0 points and 5.0 assists and hit 56% from the field. If Salmons leaves in free agency and the Bucks don’t bring in another good two-guard (Ray Allen?), best-case scenario is Michael Redd comes back healthy and replaces that point production — but even before Redd shut it down due to last year’s knee injury, he wasn’t vibing with Jennings and the new-look Bucks as well as Salmons did. The Cavs and Hawks could get weaker this summer, so the Bucks have a chance to move up in the Midwest Division power ranking and become a Top-4 team in the East. You don’t let your best scorer walk away for nothing in that situation.
2. Get Brandon Jennings an internship at the firm of Rose, Parker, Paul & Nash
If there was one routine flaw in Jennings’ rookie year (other than his defense), it was the number of times he had his shots blocked. I couldn’t find a way to look it up, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Young Money led the League in having “SPALDING” imprints on his head and shoulders. The script was common: Jennings would beat his guy off the dribble, and instead of stopping for the occasional floater or teardrop in the lane, went all the way to the rim all the time and got snuffed out. A summer of film study via Tony Parker, Chris Paul, Steve Nash and Derrick Rose in the art of creative scoring in the paint and keeping your dribble alive as long as possible would make Jennings that much more of an offensive threat.
3. Draft a big man
Milwaukee had a ready-made excuse for losing in the first round when Andrew Bogut wrecked his elbow late in the regular season, and suffered with Kurt Thomas and Dan Gadzuric as the No. 2 and No. 3 options behind their borderline All-Star center. Atlanta’s notoriously undersized front line outrebounded the Bucks throughout their series, and Al Horford speared the deer for 15.6 points on 56 percent shooting and 9.9 boards. Milwaukee has the 15th pick in this year’s NBA Draft, just outside of the Lottery, where they should be able to get a solid big man. Kentucky’s Patrick Patterson and Daniel Orton, North Carolina’s Ed Davis, Baylor’s Ekpe Udoh, Marshall’s Hassan Whiteside, VCU’s Larry Sanders, and Florida State’s Solomon Alabi should all be on their radar.
What do you think the Bucks have to do this offseason?