John Hammond talks to Brew Hoop, Part III

Here's the third part of our interview with Bucks GM John Hammond. Check out Part I and Part II here.  Thanks again to John for so generously providing his time last Friday.

Viewed individually, it was easy to like the three players John Hammond acquired on draft day. Richard Jefferson provided the Bucks an athletic, high-scoring forward. Joe Alexander brought athleticism and upside in spades, as well as the attitude and coachability to reach that potential.  And in the second round, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute gave the Bucks another athletic forward who prided his game on defense--a novel concept for pro basketball in Wisconsin.

Taken together however, the acquisition of three small forwards in one day begs the question of whether the Bucks would have been better off giving more weight to positional need, especially given the power forward shortage created by Yi's departure.  Not surprisingly, Hammond is unapologetic over acquiring the guys he felt were the best players available and sees his forwards' flexibility as key attributes going forward.

"Our goal is to have the best players you can possibly have.  Someone told me years ago that you are what you guard, and I think Richard Jefferson can guard multiple positions.  I think Joe can and I think Luc can.  So I think those guys are all multiple position players."

With Charlie Villanueva as the only true power forward on the roster--and his long-term future still a major question--that means Alexander would see a fair amount of minutes at power forward. And though most view Alexander's long-term position at the 3, Hammond sees his versatility as consistent with the NBA game today. 

"There's a big trend in the NBA right now to go with a smaller, more athletic lineup.  We know in reality that you can't go with a steady diet of Joe Alexander at four, but we think that can be a position where he can be put in and be a game-changer."

Even so, it's no secret that the Bucks will continue to explore their trade and free agency options going forward. But if you've followed the Bucks closely since Hammond's hiring, you know that Hammond isn't a big fan of publicly selling out players, especially those currently on his roster.  Whereas Larry Harris may have painted himself into a corner somewhat two years ago by publicly acknowledging his readiness to deal Jamaal Magloire, Hammond appears to take a more opportunistic, principled approach to transactions. For instance, he spoke glowingly of Yi after he was hired, leading many to assume that his combination of talent and marketability would make him a safe bet to stick around. 

When asked about his intentions, Hammond generally keeps a good poker face. He frequently has used variants of the phrase "as we stand here today" to convey that while things may change, he also won't make any guarantees.  And while the general assumption has been for much of the summer that one member of his starting backcourt would be headed out of town, Hammond doesn't seem particularly interested in dealing any of his players for less than their perceived value.

"Acquiring a piece like Richard does not mean that we're more likely to move Mo or Michael.  We don't pick up the phone and ask 'you want Michael Redd?'  We're not doing that.  Discussions go in different directions and you never know what could be discussed or what option could present itself.  And I don't think it's a matter of adding one piece and then needing another guy to adjust his game."

And come November, Hammond clearly has faith in Scott Skiles' ability to maximize whatever roster the Bucks have. "Scott Skiles is a very, very good coach and he's going to take everyone's strengths and use them accordingly."

In keeping with that, Hammond also isn't seeking to radically alter a player's game for the purpose of making it all fit together. 

"I know a lot of people say you've now got Michael on one wing and Richard on the other and therefore you need a pass-first point guard, and Mo's not a pass-first point guard.  I don't believe in that. 

"To be an NBA effective player, you have to be able to make shots.   If you don't have a guy that can shoot the ball like Mo or make plays like Mo, then guys like Jefferson or Michael aren't going to get open as easily.  So anytime you have a scorer on the floor I think he can complement other people.  Everyone's looking for the consummate point guard, but there are just so few of those."

Bucks fans might hear those words and be reminded of Larry Harris, who was often accused (fairly or unfairly) of acquiring talented players without much regard for whether or not they complemented each other. But Hammond is also clear that he's not just looking for anyone with talent.  Just as he drafted Alexander and Mbah a Moute in part because of their makeup and willingness to sacrifice for the good of the team, he's similarly hoping to build the Bucks around those very basic principles.

"We're just looking for guys who can play, but who hopefully have the same mindset, that at the end of the day it's about this team, it's not about me.  And whatever it takes to help us win a game, I'll do that."

Bucks fans have been spending much of the offseason speculating which players seemed to fit his and Skiles' personalities, but Hammond maintains that he's not going to limit his options. "I don't think we ever get into the position where we're only going to draft or sign only 'Scott Skiles-type' personalities, or for that matter players that fit my personality."

While the Jefferson trade was widely praised for providing an immediate talent upgrade, Hammond also is well aware of the limited avenues he has for improving his team over the next couple years. Especially with the possibility of an Andrew Bogut extension and a new deal for Ramon Sessions in 09/10, Hammond, like most GMs, considers the economics of his business "constantly, every moment."

Given the acquisition of Jefferson and the numerous suggestions recently that Hammond is unlikely to deal Redd, a cap-clearing deal for expiring contracts and draft picks seems far less likely than it did a week ago. Nevertheless, Hammond knows that cap space provides unique opportunities.

"There are so few teams that actually get under the cap, and there so many teams teetering at the tax.  You have teams calling you up and offering you very good players for nothing back but second round picks.  It's more important to them to move the salary than to have the player.  And there are some good players that that happens to much of the time. "

For Bucks fans, the promise of cap space has been largely left unfulfilled, as the Bucks had more than the MLE in both 2005 and 2007. But 2005 brought only the inflated contract for Bobby Simmons (five years, $47 million) while last summer's space netted just the uninspiring combination of Desmond Mason (two years, $10.4 million) and Jake Voskuhl (one year, $3 million). Still, Hammond argues that cap space isn't merely about free agency.

"Because it happens so infrequently, I think it even has more value today than it has in the past.  I'm not one to say 'we're going to get $10 million under the cap and expect to sign some mega free agent player.'  Those days are few and far between. 

"But the ability to get $8-10 million under the cap, not only do you have the option of just taking guys on, where players can just be handed to you, but now you have the chance to sign a mid-level player or a couple mid-level players.  Those can be huge difference-makers."

For now the team appears focused on signing Bogut to a long-term extension, with their free agency ambitions limited to role players such as Eduardo Najera and Tyronn Lue. And while those names might not sell many season tickets, Bucks fans know that getting the franchise back on track was never going to be a six-month project. Fortunately, having added a proven coach and a star forward in addition to reshaping the organization in more subtle ways, John Hammond looks to be on the right track.

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