ST. FRANCIS, Wis. — As the Milwaukee Bucks slowly but steadily arrived at the Cousins Center on Monday for exit interviews with general manager John Hammond, the mood was certainly not one of a team that had just accomplished one of its major goals for the 2012-13 season.
Sure, the Bucks made the playoffs, an experience that can only benefit players down the road, but the feeling Monday was they should have done a whole lot more before being swept aside by the defending champion Miami Heat in four games.
As the longest-tenured member of the Bucks, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute didn’t hesitate when asked whether his team’s 38-44 regular-season record was a sign of underachievement given the quality of the roster. He even went so far as to say this was the most talented of the five teams he’s been on in Milwaukee.
“By far (it was),” Mbah a Moute said. “This team just has so many weapons. You could see at times when we really were playing good, but we could never stay consistent with it. I think it was definitely better than all the teams I played with here. But the way we finished doesn’t indicate all the talent we had in the room.
“It’s unfortunate, but hopefully it’s something we address next year so it doesn’t happen again.”
It was a strange but eventful season for the Bucks. Pressure was on Hammond, coach Scott Skiles and the guard duo of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis to make the playoffs because of their uncertain futures.
The Bucks started the season 6-2 and were 16-12 after a 19-point rout of Miami on Dec. 29. As it turns out, the blowout of the Heat was the last game Skiles would win as Milwaukee’s coach. The Bucks lost four straight, and the team parted ways with Skiles, handing the reins to assistant coach Jim Boylan for the final 50 games of the season.
Showing signs of life after the coaching change, the Bucks won eight of their first 11 under Boylan to jump to 24-19 on Jan. 29. But, once again, they couldn’t sustain the momentum.
“Guys are more engaged and all of the sudden, and you win some games and you go on a streak,” Bucks forward Mike Dunleavy said of what happened after the coaching change. “Then all of the sudden reality sets in. Unless you are going to come and work and get better every day, what you just did was fool’s gold. It just didn’t stick. That’s too bad.”
There was a similar uptick after the Bucks swung a trade deadline deal to acquire guard J.J. Redick from Orlando, but Dunleavy credits that to a similar type of added focus, this time with guys not wanting to lose minutes to a new player.
A win in Sacramento on March 10 put the Bucks at 32-29, but they ended the regular season losing 15 of their last 21 games when a chance of moving up in the standings and avoiding a matchup with Miami was a real possibility.
“I have no issue about being swept by the Heat,” Dunleavy said. “The issue was having to face the Heat. We basically dogtrotted down the stretch in March and April. We should have never been in the position to play the one seed. That’s kind of shame on us. That’s the disappointing part of this season.
“To add somebody like J.J. to your team, how could it not help? Here we are in a situation where our record dropped off. That’s certainly not any indication of the type of player he is. It just doesn’t add up. Just doesn’t add up.”
Bucks power forward Ersan Ilyasova said Monday he had countless games running through his head that the Bucks let slip away late, games they could have won to avoid having to play Miami in the first round. He attributed a lot of those losses to a lack of focus late in the season, something Dunleavy agreed with.
“We struggled with some discipline stuff down the stretch, the small things, things that probably were a result of not being engaged and on top of things in practice and in shootarounds,” Dunleavy said. “It just carried over. You do that and you are lackadaisical about stuff and it will catch up to you.
“There were a lot of days where we just didn’t get better. We weren’t really focused. You have to get better from January 1 to in our case (Sunday). I don’t think it happened.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, Hammond has yet to make a decision on Boylan’s future, though it is likely he won’t return next season. Assuming there is going to be a new face coaching the team, Mbah a Moute is excited about a fresh start after being in the same system for five years.
“Even having Jim, it was still kind of like the Skiles era,” Mbah a Moute said. “Same plays, same everything pretty much. It didn’t change that much, definitely looking for something different. I’ve been in the system five years, and I’ve seen where it’s going. It’s good to be looking for something else.”
With that being said, Mbah a Moute is also a believer in the notion the returners can learn from this experience, especially the postseason series against the defending champions. Though he knows the roster is likely going to look quite a bit different next season given that so many players have uncertain contract situations, he hopes the team learned from when it tried to change things after Milwaukee’s last trip to the postseason in 2010.
“Last time we went to the playoffs the team got blown up and we didn’t make the playoffs the next three years after that,” Mbah a Moute said. “Management is in a tough position. You really want to build on this. Even though we limped our way into the playoffs, we still are a good enough team to make the playoffs.
“If we had a more consistent team we could have been a much higher seed. You really want to use that and build on it, but you have to respect that there’s a lot of moves that’s going to be made. It’s a tough balance.”