Report: John Hammond agrees to three year extension to remain Bucks GM

Mary Langenfeld-US PRESSWIRE

John Hammond's future had been a question mark coming into the season, but he revealed earlier this month that he was working on a new deal with owner Herb Kohl.

Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski reports that Bucks GM John Hammond has signed a three-year extension to remain as general manager through the 2015/16 season.

Like departed head coach Scott Skiles, Hammond had been working in the last year of his contract, which had originally been extended in the fall of 2010. But Hammond revealed he was working on an extension earlier this month--ironically at the press conference to announce Skiles' departure.

Hammond earned Executive of the Year honors in 2010 following the Bucks' surprising 46-win season, but the team has fallen short of the playoffs each of the past two seasons and Bucks owner Herb Kohl didn't feel compelled to offer Hammond or Skiles an extension coming into this season. That raised obvious questions as to whether Kohl was planning to make wholesale changes to the front office this coming summer, but the current roster has done about as well as could be expected through the first half of the season (22-18), including 6-2 since assistant Jim Boylan replaced Skiles as coach.

While Boylan's long term future remains unclear, Hammond's extension at least gives the Bucks some certainty about their front office heading into a crucial offseason. With Monta Ellis able to opt out of the final year of his contract, Brandon Jennings due to hit restricted free agency, and five other players hitting unrestricted free agency, Milwaukee faces the possibility of a major roster overhaul this summer. Hammond has been adamant that the Bucks will keep Jennings, whom Hammond drafted 10th overall in 2009 and has emerged (for better or worse) as the face of the franchise. Unfortunately, Jennings won't come cheap: fellow class of 2009 point guards Stephen Curry, Ty Lawson and Jrue Holiday all signed four year deals worth in excess of $11 million per season last October, and those deals will likely be a starting point for negotiations.

Hammond's track record

As you'd expect of a GM with one playoff trip in four seasons, Hammond's record has been something of a mixed bag thus far. Aside from whiffing on Joe Alexander shortly after taking over as GM in April 2008, Hammond has drafted quite well despite never picking better than eighth in any draft. Jennings and Larry Sanders have developed into quality starters in line for huge raises, John Henson looks capable of starting within the next year or two and Tobias Harris has shown flashes of serious potential despite struggling for consistent playing time in his first two seasons. That's damn good value when you consider where the Bucks have been selecting, and it's also worth noting that plucking Luc Mbah a Moute from the second round in 2008 helped offset the mistake of selecting Alexander in the lottery. Otherwise Hammond found bargains in Ersan Ilyasova (the first time at least) and Mike Dunleavy, and in general Hammond has put the Bucks in a rather enviable cap position going into 2013.

Not that it's been all roses and sunshine. In the span of two weeks during the summer of 2010, Hammond traded for Corey Maggette and gave big new contracts to John Salmons and Drew Gooden, with the hope that the trio of so-so veterans could help the Bucks improve on the 46-win Fear the Deer season. Alas, it didn't happen. Andrew Bogut never fully recovered from his nightmarish arm injuries sustained the previous spring, while Salmons and Maggette both suffered major performance drop-offs as the Bucks slumped to a 35-win season and the first of two consecutive ninth place finishes in the East.

An ineffective and pouty Maggette was later recycled into the even more disruptive and ineffective Stephen Jackson, while the Bucks have been unable to shed Gooden's $32 million deal. Hammond deserves major credit for somehow conning the Kings into taking Salmons' contract in exchange for Beno Udrih, but that deal has been somewhat emblematic of Hammond's tenure in Milwaukee: many of his excellent deals have simply been clean-up jobs, ushering out bad contracts incurred by either Hammond or his predecessor Larry Harris.

And what about the blockbuster that sent Bogut and Jackson to Golden State in exchange for Ellis and Ekpe Udoh? The biggest move of Hammond's tenure didn't pay immediate dividends for Milwaukee, as Ellis couldn't propel the Bucks into the playoff picture last spring, but it's not as if Milwaukee has been missing much without Bogut. The former first overall pick has only played a handful of games due to the serious ankle injury he suffered a year ago, while Sanders has blossomed into a defensive monster in the paint, filling Bogut's massive shoes about as well as anyone might have hoped.

Looking forward...and the Herb Kohl question

All told Hammond's tenure has mostly seen the Bucks treading water in the standings, though there's reason for optimism at the moment. Gooden is the only unattractive contract left on the Bucks' books and they stand to have significant flexibility this summer, especially if Ellis opts out of his contract. And while much of the Bucks' cap space will likely be used to re-sign Jennings to a hefty new deal, on balance Hammond has made the Bucks younger, cheaper and more athletic while once again returning them to a competitive position on the court.

That's a good thing, particularly in the context of the operating constraints imposed by Kohl: put a competitive product on the court while maintaining a rational salary structure. As long as the now-former-Senator Kohl owns the Bucks, questions of front office sovereignty and ownership meddling will likely abound--especially given the Bucks' recent propensity to end up in the no-man's land of the late lottery. Anyone who has spoken to Hammond over the last year knows that he doesn't pull punches about the challenges the Bucks face in balancing Kohl's mandate for competitiveness with building a long-term winner. Ask Hammond what the most valuable assets are to a GM and he'll tell you it's two things: top five picks and cap space. Unfortunately the Bucks have rarely had the latter and never had the former during his tenure, which leads to the obvious question of whether Hammond wanted to blow up his roster at various points but couldn't because of the organization's preference for a low playoff seed. We know he could have blown up the team somewhat early in his tenure by shipping Michael Redd to Cleveland for expiring contracts and draft picks, but he (or Kohl, or however you want to parse decision-making) opted to double-down on veterans by keeping Redd and dealing for Richard Jefferson to complement Bogut. To me that would have been the ideal time to start over: having just taken over, Hammond had the most latitude to go in a different direction.

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