Wednesday, July 7, 2010

New (sort of) 2010-11 Milwaukee Bucks

Milwaukee Bucks general manager John Hammond made his own minor free agent splash despite all the hoopla surrounding LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh by agreeing "in principle" to contracts with Drew Gooden and John Salmons. The Bucks didn't waste any time offering long-term contracts despite the fact that they can't actually sign players until the end of the week-long negotiating period on July 8th (also Cheesehead Sports Nut's 29th Birthday). The Milwaukee Bucks agreed in principle to a five-year, $40 million contract with shooting guard John Salmons and used their mid-level exception to sign power forward Drew Gooden to a five-year, $32 million contract.

The salary cap is projected at $56.1 million for the 2010-11 season. NBA teams are allowed to exceed the salary cap thanks to the "Larry Bird Exception" and the "Mid-Level Exception". The Bucks are going to use the "Larry Bird Exception" to sign Salmons and the "Mid-Level Exception" to sign Gooden. Depending on how the aforementioned contract are structured, the Bucks would be over the salary cap but under the luxury tax for the 2010-11 season.

John Salmons:
At 6'6" and 207 pounds, Salmons is a very unique shooting guard. Salmons joined the Bucks via trade from the Chicago Bulls last year and averaged 19.9 points in 30 regular season games. Salmons helped the Bucks go 22-8 to finish out the regular season and grab the 6th playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

The Bucks drew the Atlanta Hawks in round one. Unfortunately Salmons' scoring averaged declined to 17 points per game in the playoffs but that was off-set by his quality defense on Atlanta's Joe Johnson. Despite building a 3-2 lead in the series over the Hawks, the Bucks' lost the series in seven games.

Salmons, 30, is getting a little long in the tooth by NBA standards, especially because of his slashing style of play where he tries to get to the rim at all cost. The first few years of this contract are palatable, it is years four and five when Salmons is approaching his mid-30's that John Hammond is going to regret giving Salmons a five-year extension instead of a three-year extension.

Drew Gooden:
Gooden was taken 4th overall in the 2002 NBA Draft by the Memphis Grizzlies. Despite being a high draft pick, the Bucks will be the 10th team (Memphis Grizzlies, Orlando Magic, Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls, Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks, Washington Wizards, and Los Angles Clippers) Gooden has played for over his eight-year NBA career. Fortunately Gooden is only 28-years-old so he should be entering his prime.

Despite the fact that the Bucks have a ton of young quality depth at power forward, John Hammond offered Drew Gooden the full mid-level exception. After what John Hammond has done since taking over as general manager of the Milwaukee Bucks, he deserves a little leeway but I am even more skeptical of Gooden's contract than Salmons' contract.

On the positive side, Gooden gives the Bucks a quality rebounder and free throw shooter. Furthermore, Gooden excelled when paired with a quality center (Zydrunas Ilgauskas) in Cleveland.

Although Gooden played for peanuts last year by NBA standards, Gooden previously signed a three-year contract worth $23 million, so five-years for $32 million might not be that bad. Add in that Amir Johnson, who briefly was on the Bucks roster last year, agreed in principle to a five-year, $34 million contract with the Toronto Raptor and the Gooden deal looks like a steal.

Updated depth chart for the 2010-11 Milwaukee Bucks:
PG: Brandon Jennings
SG: John Salmons, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Darington Hobson, and Michael Redd
SF: Corey Maggette, Carlos Delfino, and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute
PF: Drew Gooden, Ersan Ilyasova, Larry Sanders, Keith Gallon, and Darnell Jackson
C: Andrew Bogut

Where to go from here:
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see the Bucks need to add a back-up point guard and back-up center. Unfortunately with the money the Bucks committed to Salmons and Gooden, they will most likely not be able to sign Luke Ridnour. That means the Bucks will have to identify quality, cheap talent at two of the trickier positions (point guard and center) to fill in the NBA. There are slim pickings for cheap, unrestricted free agents at point guard and center:

PG: Travis Diener, Royal Ivey, Acie Law, Flip Murray, Kevin Ollie, Jennaro Pargo, Nate Robinson, C.J. Watson, and Earl Watson.

C: Primoz Brezec, Kwame Brown, Jarron Collins, Jason Collins, Francisco Elson, Jamaal Magloire, Randolph Morris, Johan Petro, Theo Ratliff, Brian Skinner, Etan Thomas, and Kurt Thomas.

Undoubtedly the 2010-11 Milwaukee Bucks look better on paper than the 2009-10 Milwaukee Bucks. Will that translate into another playoff run? Check back throughout the off-season to see what further moves John Hammond makes because the last few pieces John Hammond adds this off-season could be make or break for whether the 2010-11 Milwaukee Bucks can make a serious playoff run.

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