Bucks build with free agents Salmons, Gooden

Far removed from the free-agent frenzy and prime-time television

specials, the Milwaukee Bucks quietly believe they’re getting

better.

The Bucks formally introduced free agents John Salmons and Drew

Gooden on Thursday after agreeing to deals with both players last

week.

And while small-market Milwaukee wasn’t anything more than an

interested bystander in the sweepstakes for LeBron James and other

marquee free agents, general manager John Hammond believes the

Bucks are beginning to be seen as a desirable destination for good

players.

“I can guarantee you, John Salmons had options, and I can

guarantee you, Drew Gooden had options,” Hammond said. “And the

fact that they want to be here I think is very, very important to

us.”

Hammond and the rest of the Bucks’ front office was busy last

week, agreeing to a five-year, $32 million deal with Gooden last

Thursday and a $40 million, five-year deal with Salmons a day

later. The moves came a few weeks after the Bucks added Corey

Maggette in a trade with Golden State.

The Bucks believe they’re now in position to build on last

season, when they made a surprise run to the playoffs without

injured center Andrew Bogut and then pushed the Atlanta Hawks to

seven games before bowing out in the first round.

“With the moves we made, I think we’re competing with

anybody,” Salmons said. “With all the shuffling that’s going on

now, I think that people have still got to put us in the mix with

the best teams. I think that was our goal before we made the moves,

and it’s definitely our goal after.”

Coach Scott Skiles knows the team will be facing increased

expectations.

“Now the thing that’s going to happen is, the script is going

to flip and we’re going to be expected to do something, as opposed

to being picked last or second-to-last in the East,” Skiles said.

“And that’s good. That’s what we want.”

Salmons played a critical role in the Bucks’ playoff push after

arriving in a trade with Chicago in February.

He opted out of his contract and explored his options but

ultimately decided to return, citing the team’s stability and

chemistry as factors in his decision.

“I’ve been in some chaotic locker rooms,” Salmons said. “It

takes a toll on you after a while.”

Skiles, who isn’t known for heaping undue praise upon his

players, said it was “almost unbelievable” how well Salmons fit

in right away last season. Then he caught himself gushing.

“I’m afraid he’s going to get a big head,” Skiles said,

playfully slapping Salmons on the shoulder.

Stability also was a primary concern for Gooden, who said he

“wanted a home” after bouncing around the league. The No. 4

overall pick in the 2002 draft has played for eight teams in eight

seasons.

“What team is actually going to commit to me and see a future,

instead of renting me for a couple months or a year and seeing what

they can do with me?” Gooden said. “That was really intriguing

for me, and caught my interest.”

After keeping Salmons, finding a power forward to play alongside

Bogut was the Bucks’ biggest offseason priority.

Skiles said it would be “shocking” for Gooden not to become a

starter right away, but acknowledged that he expects increased

competition for playing time up and down the roster.

“When you continue to bring in quality guys, obviously the

competition among the players raises up,” Skiles said. “That can

be a very, very healthy thing if handled properly by the players

and the coaches and the organization, or it can go the other way.

We don’t sense in any way that we have the type of people that

aren’t going to thrive in that type of environment.”

Hammond said the team was likely done making major moves this

offseason. The soft-spoken Salmons seemed relieved he wasn’t in the

spotlight like James.

“I’m glad I don’t have a nine o’clock press conference,” he

joked.