When the excitement of the 2013 NBA Draft Lottery ended on Tuesday night, Milwaukee Bucks fans were once again left to ponder their team's placement in the middle of the NBA pack. General manager John Hammond has somehow managed to pull off a rare triple play for his team heading into the draft: no lottery pick, no playoff wins and no head coach. Now the only one of those things that Hammond will address this summer is irritating me.
John Hammond works really hard. He is a good man. That's what he wants us to say, and he told us so in his introductory press conference (around the 8:37 mark). He's a nice guy who doesn't mind being known as a nice guy, and I think it shows. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but at a critical juncture where the perception of serious culture change is so important to a broken down fan base on the brink of a revolt, his steady approach has left me feeling like the Milwaukee Bucks are still squarely in the middle of the pack, even on something as basic as a coaching search.
It's not just the fact that the top two candidates -- Jerry Sloan and Stan Van Gundy -- turned Hammond and the Bucks down without even making a formal interview. And it's not that Milwaukee's GM said he was "honored" that an out-of-work head coach known to be interested in returning to the NBA (Sloan) was gracious enough to welcome him to a farm to chat casually about a legitimate NBA job opening. That stuff was bound to happen. Hammond hasn't made Milwaukee a prime destination for the cream of any NBA crop. Instead, it's the timing of the recent failures that really bothers me.
When the Bucks were quietly eliminated from the postseason by LeBron James and Miami Heat, Hammond moved quickly to wipe Jim Boylan out of the picture for 2013-14 and beyond. I would have asked our GM to give himself a round of applause for making that move, but I assumed at the time that he was still sitting on his hands.
Recall that he was too nice to call Boylan an interim coach, despite the obvious reality of the situation. I truly believe that he wanted to give Boylan a full vote of confidence. Hammond probably thought there was a universe where things could work out just right and everybody could stay. It's the same optimistic impulse that led him to give big second chances to failed team leaders like Corey Maggette, John Salmons, Drew Gooden, Stephen Jackson and Monta Ellis. It's why the Bucks are still feel like they're fighting for scraps that other teams discard.
I don't think he ever even considered starting the real coaching search in January, like he should have, because that's a bit more cutthroat than most nice guys are willing to be. The moment Skiles walked away from the team on Jan. 8 -- or at least by the time Hammond received a three-year extension on Jan. 24 -- the Bucks' GM should have been finalizing his list together and working the back channels with NBA agents to gauge the interest of various coaching candidates.
The largely unfortunate informal conversations with unemployed coaches like Stan Van Gundy, Jerry Sloan and Nate McMillan should have taken place months ago. The so-called "top targets" should have been crossed off the list long before the Heat swept the Bucks out of the playoffs. It would have saved the team a bit of public embarrassment, and it could have helped the front office focus on finding the best young assistant (from current candidates Kelvin Sampson, J.B. Bickerstaff and Steve Clifford) to target with an offer they would not be able to refuse. Instead, it feels like the process has stalled and the franchise is scrambling to react to bad news. They're now cobbling together a longer list of secondary candidates that other teams don't want (Larry Drew and perhaps Lionel Hollins). It's become yet another layer of frustrating inertia for fans to deal with.
At a moment in Bucks history where perception feels like reality, Hammond and Milwaukee are stuck in the middle without a clear plan to communicate to the masses. This isn't the first time things have played out this way, either.
In the introductory press conference I linked to above, literally seconds before he asked us to remember him as someone who worked hard and was a good man, John Hammond declared that he was going to take the coaching search at his own pace (no set dates!) and that he was looking for a coach with "the kind of qualities that Larry Krystkowiak has."
Yes, he did indeed utter those words. Even after a 26-56 season that prompted Hammond to fire Krystkowiak in one of his first moves on the job, he not only couldn't bring himself to say a bad word about Larry K, but he couldn't even manage to avoid praising a guy who was clearly in over his head. Larry freaking Krystkowiak, for goodness' sake!
Maybe I'm overthinking things at the outset of a slow offseason. Maybe the perfect plan is already in place. Maybe the Bucks have their man in their sights, and the rest of this coaching search noise is just part of a GM's due diligence. We may find out when the dominoes start to fall, because eventually some of the candidates on Milwaukee's list will starting taking other jobs. Maybe John Hammond likes all of his options so much that he can't decide on one. That would certainly be the nicest way to conduct his search.
It's been said that nice guys finish last, but John Hammond has proven to me that in the NBA nice guys can easily get you stuck somewhere in the middle. That's probably the nicest thing I can say at the moment, because unfortunately he has yet to prove that he get the Bucks where we actually want them to be. I don't know what John Hammond is searching for, but I sure hopes he finds it soon.