If you want to have an enlightening conversation about the Bucks, you can't do much better than Jim Paschke. The television voice of the Bucks since 1986, Jim has seen almost a quarter century of Bucks games from his courtside seat--which in case you're counting, means he's been calling games longer than Brandon Jennings, Ersan Ilyasova and Luc Mbah a Moute have even been alive.
And thankfully for us Bucks fans, the end of a season doesn't mean Jim's on vacation. As the Bucks' engine room for all things television and video, he continues to provide constant video updates at Bucks.com with his Paschketball video blog and he's a regular on Twitter as well. Then again, you probably already knew that given how frequently we post Jim's work around these parts (I should probably list him on the editorial masthead at this point).
As we've done a couple times before, I caught up with Jim late last week via email, when he was generous enough to answer a bunch of my burning Bucks-related questions. Read on after the jump for (among other things) Jim's take on what made the 09/10 team click, Michael Redd's rehab, the draft process, and the lessons learned from the Joe Alexander experience. Thanks for your time, Jim!1) Was there a specific game or a moment during this past season where you realized this team was for real?
JP: The Bucks were for real the day John Hammond hired Scott Skiles and they became a very effective management team. This team was doing the little things ever day, so I knew they were for real but I didn't quite know when everything would "click" for them. You'd have to say that Brandon Jennings' 55-point game put this team on the map. I have felt that adding the tough leadership of Jerry Stackhouse was an under-appreciated move and of course, the addition of John Salmons was the obvious turning point ingredient to the season. What this team did after Andrew Bogut's injury further proved the heart they had collectively. Just before the All-Star break, it didn't appear they had enough games remaining to win enough to reach the playoffs given their winning percentage at the time. In total, this was a very impressive season.
2) The Bucks became one of the best defensive teams in the league last year, yet when you look at the names on the roster they don't seem like they should be THAT much better than the pre-Skiles Bucks. How much of the Bucks' improvement do you see as good Xs & Os and how much of it is simply a change in mindset and effort?
JP: I think Scott Skiles has a very effective defensive system. His track record with the system is something that allows him to confidently hold players to high expectations, which of course, he does. I also believe that John Hammond and Scott understand that they must find players that fit the system and those expectations. Many of the Bucks' current players already held themselves to that standard. You won't buy into anything that you don't understand and believe in. I think Scott and his staff constantly and expertly tweak the defensive system. When you watch them in shoot-arounds, you quickly see attention to detail both in basic execution and in specific opponent related nuances.
3) One of the recurring themes from the post-playoff interviews was the great chemistry that existed both on the court and in the locker room. Given you're around these guys every day, what do you think made this group work so well together? Did it remind you of any previous teams you've seen in Milwaukee?
JP: I have been around quite a few "good guy" teams here, but they weren't nearly as successful as this group. This plays back to my last point, that the Bucks are now finding players that have "Skiles-like" drive and passion for the game. When a team's collective focus is in the right place and is consistent, good things will usually happen. The "feel" this coaching staff has for players, games, and the entire NBA existence is as good if not better than any I have witnessed in Milwaukee. It truly runs top to bottom. To me, it would be a great place to play if you are serious about your business.
4) You did an interview with Andrew a couple weeks ago after he got his cast off, and it sounded like things were progressing fine thus far. That said, do you have a sense for what the biggest risks are with his recovery going forward? There was some talk that the finger might be more prone to re-injury, though it initially seemed as though the elbow and wrist would be the bigger concerns.
JP: He didn't seem to be concerned about any of that. I think after his back problem last summer and the rehab that entailed, he isn't as concerned about his current injuries. This summer he can stay in shape with cardio work, etc. until he can regain range of motion in the elbow, wrist and finger. It is my understanding that everyone involved expects all of that to come back in time. There appears to be far less concern about his physical status this summer as compared to last.
5) Michael Redd suffered virtually the same serious knee injury last year as in 2009, yet it seems as though this time around there is significantly less talk about if/when he might return. Is there any sense within the organization of whether Michael might be back next season? Given the struggles he had coming back a year ago, do you see the Bucks taking a much more cautious path this time around?
JP: I think with an injury of this type, as was true last summer, Michael will decide for the most part when he is ready. If he feels that he perhaps came back a little early last year, he may be more cautious. The bigger issue is how difficult it will be to rehab the same knee after the same injury. We will just have to see what happens with that. The Bucks know Michael intends to come back and they support him in that regard.
6) The Bucks' biggest offseason challenge would seem to be balancing the need to build on 09/10 while also working to maintain long-term flexibility, particularly given the possibility of significant cap space a year from now and the threat of a new CBA altering the NBA's financial landscape. How do you see those factors impacting the Bucks strategy this summer? Do you expect a more pronounced sense of urgency because of last season's success?
JP: I think that John and Scott are realistic, and above all else, committed to their plan. John Salmons put a wrinkle in the plan with the way he played. The Bucks want him back, and while they may be willing to "overpay" slightly, staying with the mantra of "success, but not at any cost" is the prudent approach at this point for the reasons you cite. The Bucks seem to have great flexibility moving forward, even now. They have expiring contracts at big numbers that other teams will be attracted to. They have the ability to have the salary structure become stable and flexible at the same time after next season. In other words, they will be able to allocate money to the right players for the right reasons again and still have some flexibility.
I think the expectation after winning 46 games will be higher. I've been around too long to expect 50 victories just because you won 46. The goal should be to have consistency and the Bucks seem to be moving toward that. No one would want a small step back next season, but if that should happen, the Bucks are in better shape to move ahead significantly after that. There are always way too many factors to predict victories and losses as we were clearly reminded this past season.
7) You were in Chicago for the combine and have been interviewing players at the Bucks' private workouts on Bucks.com as well. Have any players stood out for you thus far? Anyone you're particularly interested to see come to town in the next couple weeks?
JP: Since I don't get to see their workouts, I can merely evaluate the first impressions players present. That in itself is fascinating. Patrick Patterson impressed me in that way. "Tiny" Gallon is a gregarious and likable guy. Gordon Hayward will likely be a fan favorite wherever he plays. John Wall and Evan Turner carried themselves, as you would expect knowing they will be at the top of the draft. Keep in mind; these players are trying to present themselves in the best way possible at this point. Some do it easily and some not so much, but it is an interesting process. As for anticipating a player coming to Milwaukee, I would say most of us in the media are looking forward to Hayward's visit next week. His humility seems to intrigue people. He seems like a kid in a candy store that he didn't know existed for himself.
8) While every NBA team watches countless hours of tape of every relevant prospect and teams will gamble for the right player (like the Yi situation), I have to think that lacking the up-close time does impact a team's comfort level with drafting a player. How important do you think it is for the Bucks to have players in town for workouts and interviews?
JP: This year I think they are brining in a lot of players because they have three picks. The Bucks have seen most of these players several if not many times. Bringing them in gives the staff a chance to put them through the kind of workout they would be subjected to every day here to see how they handle it. Some do better than others and that is an indicator. I think in seeing players all season, you eliminate some of them on the front end. The bottom of the funnel is a little bigger this season due to having three picks. The number of players you bring in depends on the situation in a particular year.
9) Do you think the Bucks learned anything specific from the Joe Alexander experience?
JP: I think it would be unfair to say what I am going to say having it be specifically related to Joe. He may respond to a different situation in a much more beneficial manner. He is a great kid and I hope he has a productive career. That having been said, it is obvious that drafting players, like hiring employees, is an inexact science. In both cases, when you question your initial decision, you give that person an opportunity to prove you wrong again. If that doesn't happen, you move on. I have always believed that the best organizations understand that mistakes will be made and that General Mangers must be given time to correct the mistakes. In time, they usually can improve the situation in some way. Does John Salmons ring a bell?