Bucks hope to build on unexpected success
They certainly weren't expected to make the playoffs or throw a serious scare into the heavily favored Atlanta Hawks in the first round, not after Bogut was lost to a gruesome arm injury near the end of the regular season.
So when the undermanned Bucks took an unlikely 3-2 series lead before losing the last two games, they reignited Milwaukee's largely latent NBA fan support and briefly took center stage in a crowded local sports scene.
``It was great,'' Bucks coach Scott Skiles said Monday as players cleared out their lockers. ``That's what was so disappointing about Game 6. You could tell, it was palpable, the disappointment after the game in the locker room.''
Skiles said he'll be ``haunted'' by those last two losses for a while, but the way the season ended doesn't detract from a team that tried hard on defense, rebounded well and didn't get derailed by individual players' agendas - not exactly the sorts of things the Bucks were known for before Skiles came to town.
``It all kind of fell into place,'' Skiles said. ``The main thing is, we didn't have what I guess I'll call the typical NBA issues that crop up on teams, the agendas and things that go on a lot that are just human nature-type things. It was a really, really good group to coach.''
Now with Bogut expected to be fully healed in time for next season's training camp and guard Brandon Jennings coming off a brilliant rookie year, the Bucks will have a good chance to build on their success and aim even higher next season - and, perhaps, make Milwaukee more of a basketball town along the way.
``It's just the beginning,'' Jennings said. ``Buckle up, because it's going to be a long ride.''
But will John Salmons be sitting shotgun?
Bucks general manager John Hammond acquired Salmons in a trade deadline deal with Chicago, landing a versatile scoring threat the team sorely needed. Salmons was in the middle of a so-so season for the Bulls but flourished after the move to Milwaukee.
``Chicago wasn't going well,'' Salmons said. ``But coming here just turned my season around.''
Bogut, Jennings and other Bucks players said it was critical for the team to bring Salmons back.
Salmons has a player option for next season, or he can opt out of his contract to become a free agent. Salmons acknowledged that opting out was ``a pretty good option'' but wasn't by any means ruling out a return, noting that the Bucks could contend with Bogut healthy.
``To have him back next year, who knows? We could become a real threat to teams in the East,'' Salmons said. ``We've got to see what happens.''
Skiles expects Salmons to test the market.
``We certainly have great interest in John,'' Skiles said. ``I mean, that goes without saying. He's been our kind of player.''
As it turns out, so was Jennings, who was seen as a risk when the Bucks took him with the No. 10 overall pick in the draft.
All he did was put up a 55-point performance just weeks into his NBA career, go on to start every game for the Bucks and prove himself to be a capable point guard on both ends of the floor.
Confidence never was a problem, either.
``I do talk a lot,'' Jennings said. ``You talk a lot, you're going to have to end up backing it up. I think I did a great job of that this year.''
Jennings will spend the offseason putting on some muscle and working on his midrange jumper.
Meanwhile, Bogut isn't quite sure when he'll be able to resume working on his game, but has vowed to be healthy in time for preseason training camp. He can't help but wonder what would have happened in the playoffs if he hadn't been hurt.
``I think we scared the daylights out of Atlanta for that series,'' Bogut said. ``Would I liked to have been there? Obviously. It's a frustrating time.''
Bogut's injury interrupted what was by far his best season since the Bucks took him with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft.
``He is the key, the centerpiece, to everything the Bucks do,'' veteran Jerry Stackhouse said.
While Bogut was highly visible during the Bucks' playoff run, fellow injured player Michael Redd wasn't around the team. Redd sustained a season-ending left knee injury for the second straight year, and Bogut acknowledged that not even Redd's teammates are sure he'll make it back.
``It's very tough to comment on a situation like that,'' Bogut said. ``He's going through rehab, (it) could possibly be a career-ending injury for him. It's a tough time for him. Obviously we still don't know whether he'll be here with us next year or what's going on.''