Congrats everyone, we made it through the season! Let's get all the audible groans out of the way, because now is when things actually get, uh, interesting.
Hunt: Bucks' search begins for coach, roster tweaks
And so with the Bucksseason done, the house-cleaning begins. Michael Hunt writes that it will begin with coach Jim Boylan, whose on-going employment--or at least, non-firing--is itself somewhat surprising (as is Hunt's assertion that the Bucks will just be "tweaking" their roster). Not that anyone expects Boylan back in the fall, but even waiting a few days to officially announce that the Bucks are looking for a new coach seems kind of long. Never too early to start ripping off the band-aids, right?
Boylan's job wasn't one to be envied, but it can be debated whether his situation was really as "impossible" as Hunt suggests. To be certain, there's nothing easy about being an interim coach, but that doesn't mean the wheels were destined to come off no matter what--after all, plenty of interim guys have kept shaky situations from going into utter freefall (P.J. Carlesimo comes to mind). And other interim coaches (Frank Vogel for one) have used the opportunity to springboard to much bigger and better things.
So maybe Boylan's 8-3 start was more of the old "dead cat bounce" than anything, because even a tougher schedule and injuries in March/April fail to fully explain the Bucks' bumbling, defense-less 14-25 finish to the season. On Monday, Ersan Ilyasova hinted at the team's spate of expiring contracts as playing a role in Milwaukee's disjointed finish, while Luc Mbah a Moute sounded desperate for something other than the Skiles system he's known since arriving in the NBA in 2008. Charles Gardner reports:
"Even having Jim, it was still kind of like the Skiles era," Mbah a Moute said. "It was the same plays, same everything pretty much.
"Definitely, we're looking for something different. I've been in the system for five years and seeing where it's going, it would be good to be looking for something else.
"It needs to be something fresh."
The natural follow-up question: who comes next? Former Bucks assistant and current Rockets lead assistant Kelvin Sampson might be the most palatable combination of freshness and familiarity for Bucks fans, though it's not yet clear if the Bucks are after an up-and-coming assistant (ie Sampson or someone like Brian Shaw) or a more established name. The latter strategy might be most consistent with the old "compete now!" edict coming from Herb Kohl's office, but you'll forgive me for yawning at a name like Byron Scott. I'd rather see a fresh face with up-and-coming potential, but there are certainly some veteran names that would be intriguing. Nate McMillan might be the most realistic, while guys like Jeff Van Gundy and Jerry Sloan would seem intriguing but far-fetched at this point.
FS Wisconsin: Questions abound
And while finding a new coach will be the team's immediate challenge, the more intriguing questions are of course about the roster itself. Those questions naturally begin in the backcourt, where perennial lightning rod Brandon Jennings saw his future in Milwaukee clouded further with a memorably forgettable 1/7 shooting night in Sunday's series-clinching loss to the Heat. After scoring 26 in game one, Jennings was a complete non-factor in games two and four, with a fourth quarter benching on Sunday capping off a season that saw Jennings regress for the first time as a pro.
Boylan suggested matchups were the reason for playing Jennings just 22 minutes, but it's not as though the Ellis/Redick combination favored early in the fourth quarter had prevented the Bucks from going down double-digits. Jennings played poorly and didn't particularly deserve to go back in the game, but you couldn't help but wonder if Boylan might have been sticking it to his problem child point guard one last time. And so it goes.
Whether Jennings has a future in Milwaukee will be the most interesting storyline of the summer, though for his part Jennings opted not to pursue a scorched earth policy...yet. Andrew Gruman has more on Jennings, including this line that pretty much encapsulates everything:
"Do I want to be here? I don't know. I can't really answer that right now. You'll know July 1."
The feeling is largely mutual, Brandon.
To his credit, Jennings sounded a bit more reflective and appreciative of his opportunity in Milwaukee in Scoop Jackson's piece for ESPN on Sunday. Which is probably for the best: his market value has perhaps never been lower, and there's no guarantee another team will offer him anything close to the eight figure annual salary he seemed in line for at the beginning of the season.
In short, every question you can dream up about Jennings' future would seem to be up in the air at this point: Will any team make him a big offer during free agency? How committed are the Bucks to making him a key piece of their future? How hard might Jennings campaign for an exit from Milwaukee? And could we really see a scenario where Jennings accepts the qualifying offer rather than a longer-term deal from the Bucks?
Like many, I'm having an increasingly difficult time seeing Jennings as a piece worthy of long-term dollars, but there's certainly little to find satisfying about the prospect of simply letting Jennings walk. If there were any way to sign-and-trade him for something of value that'd be fine, but that's not an easy task at this point. His value has clearly fallen from where it was even two months ago, and if teams doubt the Bucks' resolve to match an offer they may simply go after Jennings with an offer sheet rather than approach the Bucks about a S&T. And if Jennings does sign an offer sheet (which can't be matched and immediately traded), the Bucks' options are decidedly narrow: match the deal and have him back or say no thanks and let him walk.
JS: Dunleavy open to return
Mike Dunleavy has some of the most insightful commentary on the Bucks' poor finish, so be sure to check out Gardner's piece on that. Nothing shocking per se, but definitely interesting to hear it confirmed from one of the players. Looking ahead, Dunleavy also affirmed his openness to returning, though I'd hardly say that makes it a sure bet to happen.
"My contract's up so I'm just going to have to figure out where that leaves me," Dunleavy said. "Honestly I haven't given a lot of thought to it.
"I like being here; I grew up here. I signed as a free agent here. I'm willing to come back. I've got to talk to the team and see what they want to do and go from there."
Dunleavy should have plenty of contenders calling up his agent in July, but most of them probably won't have a ton of money to throw his way--a couple years at the MLE will likely be the most he sees, which as long as he's healthy figures to be good value even for a 32-year-old sixth man. I'm an unabashed Dunleavy fan, so you won't hear me complaining about the possibility of him returning, though I'll also admit that part of me would be happy to see him sign with a team that can give him a shot at a title. It's not a good sign when you kind of hope your favorite players don't re-sign, is it?
Bright Side of the Sun: Weltman front-runner for Suns' GM gig
Bucks assistant GM Jeff Weltman nearly won the Suns' GM job a couple years ago, and he's reportedly emerged as the likely favorite following Lance Blanks' recent firing from the same job. While a) I won't claim to know all of the inner workings of the Bucks' front office and b) the current front office has failed to deliver results for the vast majority of John Hammond's five year tenure, I will say Weltman's an impressive, analytical guy and he may well be the person they can least afford to lose. Stay tuned.
JS: Henson and Sanders to work out together
Gardner reports that rookie John Henson is already looking forward to his second trip to Vegas Summer League in July, though he'll split time between Florida and Milwaukee in the meantime. Aside from returning home to Tampa, Henson will also be working out against a familiar foe at the IMG Academy in Bradenton--teammate Larry Sanders.
RealGM: Gustavo Ayon Looks Forward To Bucks Exercising Team Option For Next Season
Breathe a sigh of relief, people: despite foreign reports to the contrary, Gustavo Ayon is cool with Milwaukee! His agent tells RealGM:
“Gustavo likes Milwaukee, he just really wants to help the team and as far as we’ve been indicated he will be with the Bucks next season,” Duran said. “He wants to keep getting better there and help out.”
The Bucks have a $1.5 million player option on Ayon next season, and given his size and relative productivity it would seem like an obvious deal to pick up. Declining it would open up a modest $1 million in additional cap space due to a roster hold that would take his place, so not a big gain given all the other options the Bucks have for creating cap space. Serviceable big men don't always come cheap, and with Sam Dalembert, Joel Przybilla and possibly Drew Gooden on the way out, there might actually be room for Ayon to get some minutes next year. Well, maybe...