ST. FRANCIS - While growing up in Zion, Ill., John Hammond periodically would make a trek to Milwaukee to watch the Bucks play in the Arena.
Today, Milwaukee is Hammond's home.
Four weeks ago, Hammond left his job as the Detroit Pistons' vice president of basketball operations to sign a five-year contract, $8 million contract to become the Bucks' general manager.
In an interview with Journal Times sports reporter Gery Woelfel, the 53-year-old Hammond talked about a myriad of topics, including his decision to hire Scott Skiles as the Bucks' new head coach, what needs to be done to transform the Bucks from a lottery participant into a playoff team and what prompted him to accept Bucks owner Herb Kohl's offer to be GM.
You've been the Bucks general manager for several weeks now. What are your initial impressions of the organization?
"My initial impressions have been the same as when I accepted the job. I think this is a place where we have an owner that is committed to winning. He wants to win. I think we can put ourselves in a position to do so with some of the assets we have."
You've already hired a new coach in Scott Skiles and you've hired an assistant general manager in Jeff Weltman. What is your next major undertaking?
"We have to hire a new trainer and I may add another person yet, maybe a director of scouting type position. We got the draft looming, and roster issues looming.
"I've coached in the NBA and been in the front office in the NBA and there's no doubt that the offseason in the NBA is as busy or busier than the season if you're in the front office.
"Ideally, you want to get into a position where you're fortunate to be playing in June, or at least into May. Then you flow right into the draft. The month of June is all encompassing with the draft and then you have a very short window after that, a few days beyond that, and you jump right into free agency. And then we have the summer league (in Las Vegas) in July.
"This summer there are also the Olympics. Scott and I are going to the Olympics to see Yi (Jianlian) and Andrew (Bogut) and maybe Michael.
"We are going essentially for support purposes, especially for Yi and the Olympics being in China. But it's also important for us to be there for Andrew and maybe for Michael."
The Bucks had one of their worst seasons in franchise history. From your perspective, what was the biggest reason for their failures?
"I try to look forward as much as possible. What happened is done and over with and our concentration is about right now. We can't change what has happened. We're going to move forward and try to improve what we can.
"Now, that being said, there is a little bit of an evaluation process. I think what I would say about this team is probably what any coach here last year or any player that was here last year would say and that is they underachieved.
"Why they underachieved? I don't think it was because of a lack of ability or a lack of talent. Maybe it was a lack of overall structure. And you know what? That isn't pointing a finger at (ex-coach) Larry Krystkowiak. Something like this happens.
"(Pistons president of basketball operations) Joe (Dumars) always says, 'John, if we win, everybody is going to reap the benefits.' And it's true. And it should be.
"All of a sudden, if you have the best record in the NBA, you have the best coach, you have the best general manager, you have the best players, you have the best scouts, you have the best of everything.
"And when you have what happened here, then all of a sudden you don't just blame the coach and I don't think the players do. It's on them, too. It's on everybody."
Considering how this team foundered so miserably this season, are there any Bucks who are considered "untouchables?"
Hammond: "I don't think it would be fair to say that, that there are untouchables on this team. You look at the obvious: we have two, very good young pieces in Bogut and Yi that you can build around. Bigs are so hard to find. The Boguts and the Yis … it would be awfully hard to move guys like that.
"Does that mean Michael Redd can be moved? Or anybody else on this roster? No. But I don't think it's fair to use the term untouchables when you are a team that won 26 games this year."
I think it's fair to assume that this summer you'll be making some trades. What areas would you like to shore up on this team?
Hammond: "If you look at our team, in your backcourt, it is Mo Williams and Michael Redd. Up front, we have Bogut and Yi. Desmond (Mason) is at the small forward position and that might be something you maybe address. You appreciate Desmond for the player he is and the man he is. And you got Bobby (Simmons), so it's not like the cupboard is bare at that position.
"But if you say there's maybe one spot that maybe could be addressed, that would be the small forward position."
You and Donnie Walsh of the New York Knicks both became general managers at about the same time. While you moved swiftly and decisively in hiring Skiles, Walsh has taken a more deliberate approach and has yet to hire a head coach. What went into your decision-making process?
Hammond: "During my time with Joe Dumars, we always said we're going to be decisive with our decisions and react quickly. We have always done that. We did that with coaches. We did that with roster issues. So coming here, I had that same sort of mentality.
"I identified Scott as the person to coach this team and moved forward with him and came to an agreement. We are very pleased to be able to get him. If you wait and wait, the market changes.
"Could we have hired Scott Skiles today? Maybe we could. Maybe we couldn't. But I feel the way we approached it (the coaching search) was the right approach for us as an organization."
When you hired Skiles, did you hire him because he was the best coach available? Or because he would be the best fit for this team?
Hammond: "I hope both. I do think he's the right coach. There's no doubt in my mind about that. And I do think he was the best coach available in the market at that time and, if as you go through this summer and whatever happens with this coaching carousel the next couple of weeks, I still think Scott Skiles is one of the best coaches in the league today."
You've seen Skiles coach over the years when he was in Phoenix and in Chicago. What do you consider his strongest asset as a coach?
Hammond: "In observing him, I always thought his teams were solid defensively, I thought they played with discipline on the offensive end of the floor. Yet, I still felt that with the guards he had, he'd let them shoot.
"I always felt that even though his teams played with discipline, I thought he gave the guards the freedom to shoot the basketball. He wasn't one of those guys who said, 'Hey, don't shoot this 3 or don't shoot that shot.
"And I really admired how he handled himself on the sidelines. I thought he was always under control on the sidelines. I liked how he handled the officials on the sidelines. He wasn't in their ear all the time and I think referees respect that. So when you have something to say to them, they are more willing to listen. I just liked his overall demeanor on the sidelines."
Whether the perception is accurate or not, Skiles has a reputation of being a highly-demanding coach, someone who has rubbed some players the wrong way. Is that perception a concern to you?
Hammond: "No. It doesn't concern me because, where we sit today as an organization, I think we need a demanding coach. There's perception and there's reality. I think the perception out there about how Scott is and how he handles himself on the sidelines or how he handles the team isn't reality. I think it's just perception.
"Scott is an extremely bright guy. The most successful people I've been around, the Larry Browns of the world, the Doug Collins of the worlds, the Joe Dumars of the worlds, the Charlie Spoonhours of the world, are extremely bright people.
"And Scott is an extremely bright guy. I think a bright person like him can evaluate himself and learn from his mistakes, if he feels like he made mistakes along the way. I believe he'll make himself a better coach this time around."
Besides hiring a new head coach and assistant general manager, you have fired several other people in the organization, including the trainers Andre Daniel and John Anderson. Was this done as an attempt to create a different culture throughout the entire organization?
Hammond: "This is no fun to make the decisions we're making. You are talking about affecting people's lives, people who have families and responsibilities. … I don't get emotional about it, but when I go home by myself and start thinking about what's been done with people, that's no fun.
"It's not an easy thing. It's not just like, 'All right, yeah, we got to change the culture and change these positions.' It's not like it's a whimsical decision.
"These are things you have to live with after you make them. But that's the process we're going through and the process is change. And change is happening."
How much of a difference is it being an assistant general manager than a general manager?
Hammond: "I was involved in absolutely every decision with Joe. Every single decision. But, at the end of the day, he had to live with those decisions. I lived with them through him.
"I would say to Joe, 'I know how you are feeling because I feel it through you.' But I knew it was different. Now I am feeling it."
It was pretty apparent the Bucks had some significant chemistry issues this season. Is it necessary to weed out some of the malcontents on this team or can Skiles come in and alter the attitude?
Hammond: "When you start talking about chemistry issues or evaluating what went wrong with this team … we're going to evaluate the situation and, if we can do something to improve our team, we're going to do that.
"Does that mean we're going to make wholesale changes? No. We will not do that. That's not our thinking going in.
"Chemistry issues, weeding people out, that kind of terminology … it's going to come down to opportunities. We are going to explore the opportunities that are presented by other teams and go from there."
The Bucks have two talented young power forwards - Charlie Villanueva and Yi Jianlian - and two good point guards - a veteran in Mo Williams and a rookie in Ramon Sessions - who have been starters in this league. Will you try to move one of these players at each position, or do you believe they can co-exist and be productive players for the Bucks next season?
Hammond: "In my mind, yes, they can co-exist on this team. But you know what? All of those guys you mentioned are assets, even Sessions. The way he finished the season … as we continue to work the phones (in trade talks) I guarantee you his name will come up.
"So those guys are all assets. Anytime you have assets, you look at that as positives."
Andrew Bogut has shown steady improvement during his three years with the Bucks after being the No. 1 overall selection in the 2005 NBA draft. Do you believe Bogut has the capability to become an elite player at his position?
Hammond: "You hope so. I'm sure Andrew hopes he can also. But I would assume Andrew believes that for him to get to that level he has a lot of work ahead of him. That's my assumption."
Are you confident the Bucks and Bogut can reach an agreement on a long-term contract extension in July?
Hammond: "That would be our goal to do so."
There's a good chance Michael Redd will be playing for the United States Olympic Team this summer. Yet, there are some basketball observers who contend Redd isn't a franchise player. What's your take on him?
Hammond: "I think Michael Redd is a great player. When you start using terminology like franchise player … I think if we sat down and looked at the (NBA team) board together and said which team has a franchise player, we'd see there aren't many of them in the league.
"Even if you said Michael Redd isn't a franchise player, that's not taking a shot at Michael Redd. Saying Michael Redd is a great NBA player is a great compliment to him."
Some Bucks fans believe you should blow up this team, while others believe it just needs to be tweaked. What's your view on this matter?
Hammond: "Maybe something in between. Maybe more than a tweak, but you sure as heck wouldn't want to blow up a team with some of the assets that are here."
Your old team, the Detroit Pistons, has been one of the most successful teams in the NBA for almost a decade. What has been the key to the Pistons' success?
Hammond: "I think it was a lot of hard work, a lot of preparation and a lot of luck."
Would you then say the Bucks have been unlucky to some extent?
Hammond: "I need my book of sports quotes. What is that saying? Luck is where preparation and opportunity meet. I wouldn't say the Pistons are that good because of all good luck. Look at this season: They won 57 games because of good luck and we, the Bucks, lost 56 games because of bad luck? There's a whole lot more than that that plays into it."
Amazingly, the Pistons have been relatively injury free all of these years. They really haven't had any major injury, unlike the Bucks, to their key players.
Hammond: "That's where luck enters into it. We had a guy there Arnie Kander who does a tremendous job with our players. He is the strength and conditioning coach, but he's also the guy who does all the rehab with them. He's been tremendous.
"I don't know what the number is: If it's 50 percent Arnie or 50 percent luck? Or 80 percent Arnie and 20 percent luck? Or 80 percent good luck and 20 percent Arnie?
"There are certain things that happen in a game, where people come down and twist a knee the wrong way or another player rolls into another player's knee. Things like that happen. That's bad luck. Did the Pistons avoid those kinds of things? Yeah, I think they did. But once again, give the players credit for preparing themselves and give Arnie credit for the way he handled them."
You have had some other opportunities to leave the Pistons, but you stayed. What sold you on becoming the Bucks' GM?
Hammond: "I looked at this job as being the right one in the right place at the right time for me. After I met with Senator Kohl (in Washington, D.C.), I called my wife (Marsha) and told her, 'He's a good man. And he wants to win.' Those were two big factors for me."
You have a sister, Barbara Edmonds, who lives in Genoa City. First of all, are you close, and secondly, what was her reaction to you getting the Bucks' general manager's job?
Hammond: "She was excited. I have two sisters: Barb and Sue, who lives in Seattle. Our parents are gone, and we just have each other. So we celebrate the good times and we share the bad times together, too.
"But her reaction when she found out I was the new Bucks general manager was a simple call. She said, 'I can't tell you how proud I am of you and how great it'll be to have you this close to me.
"It's kind of interesting when I think of some of the opportunities I've had the last couple of years and I end up here in Milwaukee, this close to her, to family. It makes this job a little more special."