Renting John Salmons

Call it a feeling, maybe even a sneaking feeling. But try as I might, I just can’t shake it.

John Salmons is a Buck now and for the rest of the season. In five games the 30-year-old, 6’7″ guard has fit in extremely well, better than expected. He’s given the Bucks a reliable scoring option beyond Andrew Bogut and the bombs-away tendencies of the Bucks perimeter players. He’s getting to the line nearly 7x a game, something the Skiles Bucks have needed more than ankle tape. The Bucks are winning (five in a row). The team’s defensive rating has even improved a few percentage points since Salmons has been a Buck. And he’s only begun to learn the plays and the nuances of his new teammates.

But there’s that feeling again, just waiting there to ambush Bucks fans — that feeling that all this is temporary. 

Temporary like Richard Jefferson. Temporary like Hakim Warrick and Ramon Sessions. Temporary like draft picks Joe Alexander and Jodie Meeks. Like Luke Ridnour, probably gone after this season. When Bucks fans begin to look ahead to next season and think about ticket purchases, can we count on John Salmons being here? Or is this latest acquisition just another rental by Bucks GM John Hammond?

There’s nothing Hammond can say that can quell this feeling — he’s the reason for it. Since the day in June 2008 when Hammond made the trade for RJ and drafted “project” forward Alexander, Hammond’s flailed about in a sort of GM limbo. He has been unable to commit to players(Andrew Bogut excepted), unable to fulfill promises or plans, and said pretty much whatever he thought fans wanted to hear about any number of moves — even if it has conflicted with what he said days earlier.

Is it dishonesty or just bad to tell media and fans that Alexander could play power forward in the NBA — “you are what you guard,” Hammond said. Amir Johnson was “a special player.” Carlos Delfino a good shooter. Hakim Warrick too good an opportunity to pass up.

So it turned out that Warrick was no better than two forwards the Bucks already had, Ersan Ilyasova and Luc Mbah a Moute, and, unlike Ersan and the prince, Warrick wasn’t getting better or getting along with Skiles. No upside and an expiring contract translated to trade bait, and that’s what Warrick was from the start.

But that wasn’t what Warrick was supposed to be, according to Hammond, despite the one-year contract. Now where does that leave Bucks fans as they cheer on Salmons on the Bucks playoff run?

Salmons of course is a much better player than Warrick, and a better fit for the Bucks, too. There wasn’t much forward playing time available for Hak with Ersan and Mbah a Moute here. Salmons is also a bargain. There are not many 18 pts per game scorers paid $6.4 million now and looking at a decrease to$5.8 million in 2010-11.

But Salmons can also terminate this summer and seek better pay or a better opportunity. With Andrew Bogut developing into an All Pro, Milwaukee may not be such a bad place to be for a 30 or 31-year-old shooting guard. And with the free agent bonanza in the NBA this summer, Salmons won’t be anybody’s priority — though he could be a nice consolation prize.

Let’s not forget that Charlie Villanueva and Andre Miller got $7 million per year deals last summer. Miller is older than Salmons and Charlie, well … if bad shot selection, a lot of chucking from downtown and poor defense are worth $7 million per year, Salmons will surely be looking for a raise this summer. Will the Bucks GM be ready to make a commitment to his latest acquisition?

Don’t bother asking him. Whatever Hammond tells Bucks fans and the media now, the chances are very good that he’ll do precisely the opposite.

12 thoughts on “Renting John Salmons

  1. Kevin

    Buckner became a good, not great shooter by then. He also had a 40 point game, but they surely missed his all around game. In ’83, we had Pressey and Phil Ford at the point, one raw player and another well past his peak, but a decent enough combo. Lister was in his second year and contributed more, especially on the defensive end. Marques was at his peak, he was a little off his game with the holdout the year before. Marques and Sid dominated like Kareem and Oscar, both being below Kareem and above Oscar.
    Another near miss was 1987, down 3-1 to Boston with something like 2 one point losses and going seven games, up six with about 3 minutes to go in game 7. One publication, not sure which one, picked us to win it all because of additions of Sikma and Skiles. But it was John Lucas that saved the team going into the playoffs.

  2. J.D. Mo. Post author

    We’ll have to agree to disagree on Quinn, who I thought was a limited player, strong defense aside. “Don’t shoot it Quinn!” I used to holler at the TV. Cheeks outplayed him in 1981, and that was certainly a factor in that series. With Moncrief becoming an All-Pro and Winters still with game, I thought their chances were just as good if they were kept on the floor as much as possible. We swept the Celtics without him in ’83 and did it by relying on Marques, Sid, Junior and Winters. I think that would have worked against Philly had Junior been healthy in 1982.

    We did have some good matchups against the Lakers — Sidney and Marques of course (Jamal Wilkes would have been a relief for Marques after going against Bird and Dr. J) and the Dobber was very good against Kareem, too strong for him. And Worthy was still in college, wasn’t he? But I always used to worry that Magic might have been too much in a seven-game series, as much as I would have loved to see it. And the Lakers were so well rested for the Finals by the time the Celtics, Sixers and Bucks finished battling, that it was almost unfair.

    All things being equal, a healthy 1981 or ’82 Bucks team should have won a title. I still believe they were the best team never to win one.

  3. Kevin

    Actually, in 1981-82 we pasted the Lakers twice in the regular season and in 1983 when they were swept by Philly they were without Worthy. Actually, Buckner’s injury was more significant in ’82 because he was our starting point guard and we had both Bridgeman and Winters backing up Sid. Bridgeman was still missed but Brian had to start instead of coming off the bench. Scott May and Pat Cummings did not produce much in the playoffs, as neither did pickups Robert Smith and Brad Holland. It would have been a sweep if it wasn’t for Sid’s game winner at the buzzer of Game 3. But winning game 5 in Philly after being down 3-1 and undermanned is one of the most impressive wins in team history. That year, in spite of Marques’ holdout, the injuries at the end of the year and Lanier’s usual ailments, they still won 55 games. That was our year. Speaking of home court, we finally got it in 1985 and were blasted four straight by Philly. That’s the best series any opponent ever played against us. Everyone they put on the floor had a career series.

  4. J.D. Mo. Post author

    I remember those playoffs all too well. They were heartbreaking, worse than 2001. Against Seattle, the game 6 loss at home was a shock. Losing to Philly in ’81 was simply ugly. Every time Lanier went to the bench for a blow, or with fouls, I would hold my breath expecting a Sixers run. It was Marques who usually took it on himself to hold them off, as he was playing better than any Buck I’ve ever seen in that series. That was our year, if ever there was one after Kareem.

    Home court advantage became the theme for ’82 but Marques held out and the Bucks started 8-6. But we still had home court over Philly and Boston with about 25 games left and I thought it was a lock that we would at least have home court in the semis. Then Bridgeman got hurt. Then Boston went on a tear. By seasons end the Bucks were 3rd again and headed for Philly in the conference semis.

    I don’t think we matched up with Magic’s Lakers all that well, had we ever made it to the finals and found them waiting for us. But the Bucks would have handled the Rockets in ’81 as decidedly as Bird and the Celtics did, if not moreso.

    It was agonizing to be so good — no, great — and so close … but not even in the conference finals until ’83 when Moses and the Sixers were too good, still the best team ever in my mind. A few weeks ago I was trying to explain this to a Knicks fan who was agonizing about John Starks’ shooting debacle in the 1994 Finals vs. Houston. It finally came down to me pointing out that the Bucks of the early ’80s were so good on the perimeter that Starks, the Knicks 2nd-leading scorer behind Ewing, would not have been on the court for the Bucks in the playoffs.

  5. Kevin

    You may be underrating Lanier. In 1980, we went something like 20-4 after the trade after being a .500 team, in spite of a red hot start to that season. Then we lost games 6 and 7 to Seattle by 1 and 4 points because Bridgeman got floored by Sikma in game 5 and missed the rest of the series. In 1981, we lost game 7 by one point and in 1982, injuries to Buckner and Bridgeman definitely cost us a title. Then in 1983, we swept Boston but had to deal with Moses; lost game one in OT by 2 and Marques and Sid both missing 2 foul shots. Bob was less effective with each passing year and although he couldn’t get us over the hump, he took us to the brink.

  6. J.D. Mo. Post author

    I just realized that I shouldn’t have written that the trade for the Dobber made THE difference. Had it made the difference, the Bucks would have beat the Sixers in ’81 or ’82 and went on to break the Jinx.

    I’m in complete agreement on the need for another big man. The Bucks are extremely vulnerable if Bogut gets into foul trouble. We’ll probably see some of that in these remaining games against the Hawks and Celtics, two teams that will try to attack Bogut.

    On the JSOnline Bucks blog, the fans are pretty quick to hand out credit to Hammond’s newbies, which is natural, I suppose. In Salmons’ case it’s warranted I think. Hammond has brought in small forward after small forward since he got here and it seems he’s finally found a guy who really does take a lot of offensive pressure off of everybody without hogging the rock. I wish Salmons was a couple of years younger, but that’s probably asking too much as a Bucks fan.

  7. Kevin

    The young players are definitely part of the future, but the way the team is playing since the trade is worth keeping Salmons. Interesting about Luc and Ersan, we need another big man to go with them or trade someone. We need Drew Gooden or Shelden Williams or a similar player. Luc is 6-7 and Ersan is mostly a perimeter threat. Although both are playing well we will only go so far in the playoffs, if we even win a round.
    Now, IF Michael Redd makes it back this time and sees he does not have to shoot every time down the floor, Salmons could move to small forward because he gets to the line. Delfino has picked it up, but again mostly perimeter. That would make a solid contending team, a combination of youth and experience.

  8. J.D. Mo. Post author

    The Jinx was in full power back then, wasn’t it? Meyers and Benson never seemed to be healthy at all. George Johnson didn’t work out. And keeping Lanier healthy was a drama in and of itself. But the Dobber was good, and that trade with Detroit made the difference.

    Moving to the present, the Salmons trade probably doesn’t have quite the same magic. It was important, yes, and he’s a smart, reliable player. But the future still looks a bit murky to me because there should be more youth in the rotation to grow around Bogut, Ersan, Luc and Jennings.

  9. Kevin

    More examples of the jinx: losing English to Indiana, waiving Scott Lloyd for Rich Laurel, losing Richard Washington to Dallas and trading Pat Cummings for the rights to Fred Roberts. Also drafting Kent Benson instead of keeping Swen Nater and drafting Marques #1. No disrespect to Lanier, but Nater’s rebounding along with what we had would have put a few more banners in the rafters.

  10. J.D. Mo. Post author

    The model for building a contender here is the “Green and Growing” Bucks that Nellie put together in the late 1970’s. Young players Junior Bridgeman, David Meyers and Brian Winters came over in the 1975 Kareem trade … then Nellie drafted Quinn Buckner, Alex English and Marques Johnson, center Kent Benson too. In 1978-79 when Meyers went out for the season with a back injury and Benson flopped, nobody panicked, we just played on and kept the group together (minus English). The result was drafting Sidney Moncrief, then came the Lanier trade and the Bucks were one of the top 3 or 4 teams in the league for 4 + seasons.

    What would Hammond have done? His M.O. says he would have rented some help to get the ’79 Bucks to the playoffs. The Bob Boozer Jinx time machine says Moncrief would probably not ever have been a Buck had Hammond been in charge back then. I can’t see him drafting Pressey in 1982, either, and I have serious doubts about how he would have handled Marques Johnson’s holdout in 1981. I just can’t warm up to the guy … and I sure don’t trust him when it comes to Salmons’ situation this summer.

  11. Kevin

    Hammond should not do the opposite. Why keep signing players of equal talent for one year of when keeping the core of a team together is part of becoming a contender? That is how the 2000-2001 team peaked. The only exception in team history was the Terry Cummings / Marques Johnson trade. That turned an old talented team into a younger talented team. Salmons is 30 and should get a reasonable offer from Milwaukee. I don’t see any team offering more than 3 years for a journeyman guard because too many teams have gotten burned. Jefferson was traded because he was overpriced and Charlie V. was too streaky. The team wasn’t winning with all that offense because of lack of team play and turnovers compounding poor defense. Those problems have been corrected with the new cast and they should nopt be broken up.

  12. Wisco

    Good work JD, but you have to love the salmons trade for so many reasons. This will be a busy off season for hammond and we’ll see what he’s truly made of.

    Love your work JD, keep it up

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