MILWAUKEE — Unlike in years past, the Milwaukee Bucks are rolling with youth. With an average age of 24 and playing in a division loaded with talent, Milwaukee may not be picked to win many games next season, but the franchise seems to have a direction.
As he helped introduce 21-year-old point guard Brandon Knight and small forward Khris Middleton on Tuesday, general manager John Hammond wanted to make one thing clear: The Bucks are not giving up on the 2013-14 season.
“Some people use these words like ‘tanking,’ so to speak,” Hammond said. “We’re in no means in that mode whatsoever. We are trying to remain competitive…
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“But we also really want to start focusing on the youth of this team and start thinking about things like a championship caliber team and building around the young players we have on this team. Can they develop into a core like that? I think they can. We are going to have to have the right kind of people. People that say ‘You know what? I want to be a part of that and I’m going to work hard enough to become that.'”
The Bucks believe Knight is a big piece to the puzzle. Not only does he intrigue the franchise with his natural talent, but Knight also fits into the character aspect the Bucks were looking for when rebuilding their roster.
“At the very beginning of the process we wanted a certain caliber of player, a certain type of player and a certain kind of young man,” Bucks coach Larry Drew said. “Sitting up here are two guys I feel are going to be a big part of our future, a big part of the equation when we talk about building something special here. We talk about playing the right way, we talk about building a culture, and I think both of these young men fit the bill.”
Chemistry within Milwaukee’s locker room was an issue last season, especially as the season wore down. Players became focused more on playing for themselves and future contracts rather than playing for the team.
Hammond’s plan to fix those issues included adding veterans Zaza Pachulia, Carlos Delfino and Luke Ridnour. All three are positive influences in the locker room and are expected to help mentor the youth.
“It was important,” Hammond said of factoring in locker room chemistry when making decisions this offseason. “As the season wound down, we had a little dysfunction at times within our roster. I think we’ve rectified that. I’m hoping to have a team that’s going to play hard and compete and will enjoy playing with each other.”
With financial flexibility now and in the coming years, the Bucks have left themselves in good shape to be able add players in the future. Hammond admitted his team currently lacks the All-Star caliber player to contend right now, but he’s hopeful at least one of the young players on the roster could develop into an All-Star.
At one point during the press conference Tuesday, Hammond looked Knight in the eye while saying he has no doubts the point guard wants to become an All-Star. Without hesitation, Knight turned to his microphone and said “Absolutely.”
“We really want to start talking about the youth on this team and what we have as far as the young pieces,” Hammond said. “Brandon Knight is the point guard, O.J. Mayo is 25 years old, Larry (Sanders) is 24 today, John Henson is 22, Giannis (Antetokounmpo) is 18, and we have this old veteran guy in Ersan Ilyasova who just turned 26. That’s a good place for us to be in the organization.
“We have great flexibility today and we are going to be very prudent as we move forward to make sure we make the right decisions in dealing with that.”
Hammond also understands there’s a chance none of the players on the current roster ever become the go-to player or the All-Star a team needs to compete in the playoffs.
“If we don’t, we’ll try to acquire that difference maker more than likely through the draft or through a trade,” Hammond said.
From the day he was introduced as head coach, Larry Drew has made his intentions to develop a culture of winning with a roster filled with players who buy into the system clear. Not only does he have the challenge of coming in as a new head coach, but Drew now must get a roster with 10 new players to mesh on the court.
Drew feels everyone is on the same page and committed right now, but those type of things don’t matter until the team steps between the lines for the first time.
“That’s a tough situation to be in but I feel totally confident that I can get the guys on the same page,” Drew said. “In looking at the guys we have on our roster right now, I’m really excited. I think we’ve done a good job in piecing this thing together in acquiring a certain kind of player. If you look at our roster, we have speed, we have quickness, we have guys who make shots, we have length. We have a pretty good team right now.”
While Milwaukee may not be ready to compete for a division title or make a deep run into the playoffs, the young Bucks won’t be laying down this season. It’s certainly apparent where the Bucks are headed, a path some have been longing to take for some time.
“Our guys are planning on winning this season,” Hammond said. “The plan is to be competitive and try to win games. As we move forward and start talking about some kind of long-term plan and start talking about a championship caliber team, I don’t know. I don’t know when that’s going to be.”
After feeling like he was given up on after just two seasons in Detroit, Knight is excited to play a major role in Milwaukee’s youth movement.
“The type of guys that you have here are the type of guys that you want to play with because wins or losses, you are going to have fun,” Knight said. “You are going to start to mesh together, and I think that’s the most important thing because over time that will result in wins.”