Where are the Milwaukee Bucks headed?
Are they going to continue to wallow in mediocrity?
Are they going to descend to the depth of despair?
Or are they finally going to ascend to the ranks of a certifiable quality team?
We are probably going to have the answer to that question by next Wednesday. That’s when NBA teams are allowed to sign free agents. That’s when we’ll know if the Bucks, who have a ton of Benjamins at their disposal, will pull off a coup and sign a big-time free agent like Josh Smith and whether they’ll be able to find some nice complementary pieces to go along with Ersan Ilyasova, Larry Sanders and John Henson.
Suffice to say, Bucks general manager John Hammond has never been, or perhaps ever will be, under more intense pressure to restructure his roster in such a positive manner.
While Hammond and his cronies have been hush on their free-agent plans, here are some juicy tidbits I’ve culled from various NBA sources:
* When Larry Drew was hired as the Bucks head coach earlier this month, I asked a person close to Drew and Smith if Smith, an enormously talented forward, could possibly re-join his coach in Milwaukee. The person smiled and said it was indeed within the realm of possibilities.
Then, shortly after NBA teams started contacting free agents late Sunday night, I spoke with Brian Dyke, Smith’s agent. Dyke was extremely guarded in discussing any interest his client might have in signing with the Bucks. Dyke didn’t say Smith would sign with the Bucks — which is understandable considering Dallas, Detroit and several others are also pursuing his client — but he didn’t rule it out, either.
* The Bucks definitely have J.R. Smith (New York) in their cross hairs. Smith, an explosive scoring shooting guard, would replace Monta Ellis, who is shopping his wares and is a cinch to sign with another team.
Smith would prefer to remain with the Knicks, but will likely receive a more lucrative offer from another team like Milwaukee, Dallas or Phoenix, to name a few.
- Bucks backup shooting guard J.J. Redick, an unrestricted free agent, is headed for another zip code and could be a part of a sign-and-trade deal, perhaps with the L.A. Clippers for Eric Bledsoe. Chicago and Minnesota are among a host of teams that like Redick.
* Could the Bucks be bringing back center Zaza Pachulia?
Milwaukee has reached out to Pachulia, an unrestricted free agent who would be a perfect backup for Sanders. I’ve been told Pachulia has being courted by a handful of teams but the Bucks may be the frontrunner for his services.
Pachulia isn’t the only ex-Buck on the Bucks’ radar. Luke Ridnour, who played two seasons for Milwaukee starting in 2008, could be traded by the Minnesota Timberwolves to the Bucks.
* With supersub Mike Dunleavy bound for the Chicago Bulls, the Bucks will need to fill his shoes at small forward.
Chase Budinger, who also played last season with Minnesota, has the Bucks on his short list of teams. Minnesota, Dallas, Indiana and Phoenix are also courting Budinger, a lethal perimeter shooter.
* Dunleavy, one of the league’s best sixth men, was a hot free-agent commodity before confirming to me Monday afternoon that he had verbally agreed to sign with the Bulls. Dunleavy, a pro's pro, should fit in perfectly with the Bulls with his lethal perimeter shooting.
* Two other free agents to keep an eye on regarding the Bucks: former University of Wisconsin and Wauwatosa East High School standout guard Devin Harris (Atlanta) and Carl Landry, the former Milwaukee Vincent High School and Purdue star (Golden State). Both unrestricted free agents told me in recent weeks they would be receptive to signing with Milwaukee.
* While Josh Smith’s status bears watching, here’s another potential development that could profoundly alter the Bucks’ landscape: They may make a major push to sign point guard Jeff Teague.
Teague was also a teammate of Smith, Harris and Pachulia in Atlanta but, unlike the latter trio, is a restricted free agent. That means whatever offer he receives, the Hawks can match it and retain his services.
If the Bucks were to land Teague, it would undoubtedly trigger yet another major move: jettisoning Brandon Jennings. Hammond recently said it was his “intention” to keep Jennings, a restricted free agent. But the word in NBA circles is the Bucks are amenable to a sign-and-trade involving Jennings, whose four-year career with the Bucks has been marred by immaturity on and off the court.
Gery Woelfel is a sports reporter for The Journal Times. Gery can be reached by calling (262) 631-1713 or by email at email@example.com