Bucking the trend: Milwaukee makes changes
In today's NBA, just about all of the teams that have fantastic one-season turnarounds do it with major aid from a new point guard. The New Jersey Nets went from out of the playoffs to the NBA Finals in 2002 because of Jason Kidd, the Phoenix Suns from nowhere to the West Finals in 05 much thanks to Steve Nash, and last year, the Los Angeles Clippers won their first playoff series in 30 years because of great play by Sam Cassell.
So when the Milwaukee Bucks moved TJ Ford, the potential-filled, but injury plagued third year point man to Toronto for power forward Charlie Villanueva, it came as a surprise to many because of what point men have meant to teams that had average, or below average years previously.
Instead, the Bucks and general manager Larry Harris followed the age-old basketball logic of going big. Milwaukee could have selected Hornets Rookie of the Year Chris Paul with the first overall pick in 2005, but instead spent it on Andrew Bogut out of Utah, who is progressing nicely but not nearly as well as Paul, but progressing into a good NBA player nonetheless.
And now the Ford deal, sending a prodigy of a point guard, with some back issues, to Toronto for the 6-11 Villanueva, a second year player with a ton of upside.
And the Bucks did this without any kind of star point guard waiting in the wings, as role players Steve Blake, Mo Williams and Charlie Bell will be handling point man duties this season.
The Bucks already have a fairly deep team, with Ruben Patterson coming off the bench, and the middle of their starting lineup is as solid as anyone in the league. All-Star sniper Michael Redd starts at the two, and Bobby Simmons, a superb role player, is the small forward. And now with the addition of Villanueva to a frontcourt that boasts Bogut, along with solid reserves Dan Gadzuric and Brian Skinner, the Bucks are set to be a deep team that can play with almost everybody in the league.
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But are they good enough to join the Big Four (Miami, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago) in the Eastern Conference? With the size and the strength up front, and the all-star talents of Redd on the perimeter, it seems the answer would be yes, but that point guard situation troubles me. This team may have the same issue the Pacers had last year and the year before: no leader at the point guard position, and a constant, season-long battle for the starting spot. That must be the main objective starting on the first minute of training camp for the Bucks, as the other four starting spots and most of the rotation is fairly set already.
I will go as far as to say that the Bucks' entire season depends on how quickly coach Terry Stotts and his staff can determine who is the starting point guard, and how quickly the entire team gets behind whichever of the three similar players that Stotts selects. A 50-win season is possible, as is missing the playoffs.
Larry Harris took some risks in drafting a project center from Australia and passing on Paul. He took another chance this offseason by moving TJ Ford for Villanueva, and putting the point guard spot up for grabs. With some good decision making by his coach and acceptance from his players, those risks could pan out to be a huge reward for Harris. If not, it's going to be another long season in Milwaukee.
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