The Milwaukee Bucks burst onto the scene unexpectedly last year, featuring a talented rookie point guard, a legitimate NBA center (sorry Shaq), some intense defense and the in-season pick-up of a solid scoring shooting guard.
Some are looking for similar types of improvements this year for the Bucks. The thought here is that, for several reasons, the Bucks will plateau this year before making an even bigger splash a year from now.
I'm thinking the Bucks are a year away from making a serious run deep in the playoffs. Some reasons why it may not happen this year (although it's possible):
1. The Celtics have one more year in their window of opportunity; they will be in a rebuilding mode next offseason and will by default move the Bucks up a spot in the pecking order.
2. Center Andrew Bogut isn't healthy enough yet for the Bucks to get a good enough start to get homecourt advantage beyond Round 1 this year. It will take a little time for him to get into complete basketball shape, trust that his arm won't fall off and go back to being the defensive intimidator underneath that he was before the injury.
3. New key cogs Corey Maggette and Drew Gooden need more time to gel with John Salmons, Brandon Jennings, Bogut and others before the Bucks can really scare some people.
4. Michael Redd, who may not even play this year at all (if he does, he'll be a Steve Kerr-type outside shooter come playoff time), has his huge salary come off the books after this year, giving the Bucks that much more flexibility in shaping next year's roster. They've got a lot of pieces that other teams may find desirable after the year, plus plenty of cap room.
5. Larry Sanders will get called for a lot of fouls this year. The rookie center, Bogut's backup, is talented. But rookies, especially centers and PFs, get called for lots of fouls. He'll be more effective next year just because of the way the NBA refs its games.
That having been said, the Bucks are pretty deep with a roster full of solid players. They won't drop off the side of a cliff when they go to the back-ups, but neither do they have elite players who can basically take a team on their backs and will them to victory. They have players who can fill specific roles, but are also multi-dimensional enough that they won't have to sacrifice too much on one end of the floor to gain at the other.
When you can't get people like LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Kobe Bryant, you go after as many of the second- and third-tier guys you can at prices that won't break your bank and go about it that way.
Nice job by GM John Hammond thus far retooling this team from the graveyard and into a legitimate playoff club. Another year, and the Bucks may be able to really do some damage come playoff time.