Chemistry problem: 2010 Bucks and 2001 Clippers are a strange mix

Friday, December 31st, 2010

What did Corey Maggette, Keyon Dooling, Earl Boykins and Brian Skinner have in common entering the NBA’s 2010 offseason?

They were all teammates on the 2000-01 Los Angeles Clippers, the last team that Bucks GM John Hammond coached in the NBA before taking a front office job in Detroit as Joe Dumars’ basketball operations VP.

Other than that, not much except a lot minutes on losing teams until, one-by-one last summer, Hammond brought them to Milwaukee to play for the Bucks.

Coincidence?  It doesn’t seem possible.  Maggette in 2010 was a player the Golden State Warriors couldn’t use and a 3-year, $31 million salary cap burden they didn’t want to bear through June 2013.  The Bucks proposed trade of Dan Gadzuric’s 2011 expiring contract and Charlie Bell’s $4 million per year salary was well received in Oakland, to say the least.  Done deal, thank you very much Mr. Hammond.

Dooling was a free agent whom the Bucks targeted to back up Brandon Jennings after Hammond decided his available sub-luxury tax room was better spent on Drew Gooden than on Luke Ridnour, who signed a four year, $16 million deal with the Timberwolves.

Boykins was also a free agent pickup, fan friendly bench filler behind Jennings and Dooling.

Skinner was the last 2001 Clipper added, prior to training camp.  He didn’t make the Bucks roster but early season injuries made Skinner the obvious big man roster-filler-who-had-been-in-training-camp.

The Maggette trade opened a lot of questions.  “The Machette” isn’t a player who comes to mind when one is looking to improve an NBA “good chemistry” team with the in-your-face defensive mentality of the Bucks.  He doesn’t exude “Scott Skiles player” at all — quite the opposite.  Offensively, Maggette has a well-earned reputation for getting his 20 points, damn the outcome of the game or his wide open teammates.  One of his nicknames is “Bad Porn.” Defensively, well, nobody’s ever accused Corey Maggette of being all that interested in defense.

Perhaps Hammond held a different view, having coached Maggette in Maggette’s second NBA season.  He also cleared $1.7 million in payroll making the deal with the Warriors (which he quickly spent).

Hammond and Maggette both arrived in L.A. in the 2000 offeseason.  Maggette was acquired — along with rookie Dooling — in a trade with Orlando for draft picks.  Hammond arrived a couple of months later with new Clipper head coach Alvin Gentry, who the Pistons had fired during the 2000 season.  Hammond and Gentry are part of a Larry Brown coaching tree that began in the late 1980s and early 1990′s in San Antonio and L.A., and extended to the Pistons during the Grant Hill era.

There they were, ten years ago, assembled in Los Angeles.  Maggette and Dooling, Skinner and Boykins, part of the Clippers kiddie corps; Hammond part of the coaching staff from Detroit assigned to develop the kiddie corps into an NBA team. The Clippers won 16 more games that year than they did the previous year.  Of course, the Clippers won only 15 games in 1999-2000 but improvement is improvement.  Hammond would stay only for the first year before returning to Detroit in 2001 to work for Dumars.

The Maggette trade, in and of itself, might have stood on its own despite the questionable judgement of integrating Maggette with a Skiles team.  But when Ridnour agreed to a 4-year, $16 million contract with the T-Wolves and the Bucks responded by offering their Bi-Annual Exception to Dooling only days later, the 2001 Clipper connection came into view.

July 13 – 21 was a strange week.  Ridnour, a Skiles favorite whose scoring off the bench had been key for the Bucks in 2010, had figured in the Bucks 2011 plans until Hammond made others.  Ridnour had solicited the offer from the T-Wolves and agreed to it July 13, but didn’t sign it right away.  The Bucks actually signed Dooling (and made a trade with Sacramento for forward Jon Brockman) before Ridnour finalized his T-Wolves contract.

This brought Maggette and Dooling — part of a Magic-to-the-Clippers trade ten years earlier, Clippers teammates from 2000-04 — together again in Milwaukee.  In the very least, their old assistant coach had to find it amusing.

Combine this with the availability of free agents Boykins and Skinner and it was likely too much to resist — a sign from the Clipper gods!   The chances that mere coincidence brought four 2001 Clippers to the 2010 Bucks all in one summer seems remote. Very remote.

It wouldn’t matter — and could have been fodder for a feel good 2001 Clippers reunion story — if things were panning out for the Bucks.  But the Bucks are a disappointing 12 wins, 18 losses, and, due to injuries, have had to rely on Hammond’s new acquisitions far more than planned.  Chemistry questions have arisen, with Maggette the focus after grading his Milwaukee experience an “F,” following a tough loss to the Bulls on Tuesday.

“Fear the Deer?” NBA.com writer Steve Aschburner asked last week after the Bucks lost to the Bulls in Chicago.  “Right now, Bucks the ones ducking for cover.”

Over the Christmas break, Bucks center Andrew Bogut described the current situation, or the mental saga that is  learning to play for Skiles:

“No disrespect to guys from other teams but when guys first come here and think, ‘Oh this is a tough system. Am I going to buy into it fully?’  And then they realize that our coaches keep it professional, and they make you keep the (same) system every day. Once you realize they’re not changing the system for anybody, guys start to buy in because you have no choice. … So it usually comes to that at this time of the season. Guys kind of realize that nothing is changing.  This is what wins us games. It’s a proven winner, so if we keep doing it, we’ll win games.”

The problem is that too many of the players who know the Skiles system is “a proven winner” just don’t seem to be around this season.  In addition to losing Ridnour, the Bucks saw veteran center Kurt Thomas escape to the Bulls in free agency.  The Bucks have missed them both this season.  Badly.

Starting small forward Carlos Delfino‘s  been out since early November with concussive symptoms and may not return this season.  Jennings will be out at least three more weeks with a broken hand.  Right now there are just as many 2001 L.A. Clippers on the Bucks bench as there are 2010 Bucks.

Sentimentality is sometimes nice in professional sports, a relief from the “it’s a business” aspects of it all.  But considering the good chemistry the 2010 Bucks finally found on their 30-13 finish and 7-game playoff battle with Atlanta, the sentimentality of a 2001 Clippers assistant named John Hammond — or the whims of the Clippers gods — may have gotten the better of Hammond’s current team.

Note: There is no evidence yet that forward Drew Gooden — also signed as a free agent last summer — had any previous connection to the 2001 Clippers, other than finishing the 2010 season as a Clipper.  Gooden in 2001 was a 19-year-old sophomore at U. of Kansas.

5 Responses to “Chemistry problem: 2010 Bucks and 2001 Clippers are a strange mix”

  1. Maybe the Candy Man can come out of retirement to back up Bogut.

  2. I read that Ridnour wanted to leave for a chance to start on a team… but that conflicts with the story here. Which is true? If he didn’t want to leave, I think the Bucks made a mistake. I’d take Ridnour over Dooling anyday, bad move. Luckily Boykins has been a pleasant surprise. But still, having both Ridnour + Boykins would have been good.

    Also, is there any point to giving Larry Sanders measly minutes to Skinner?

  3. Olowokandi, Michael. One of the biggest #1 overall pick busts in NBA history. 35-years-old, out of the NBA. years ago.
    Wonder what he’s doing these days?

  4. No, there’s no point really to Skinner playing over Sanders and his shot-blocking ability — though, with Bogut’s injury history, it’s good to have Skinner around as a 13th man.

    T-Wolves Prez David Kahn told everybody (and Ridnour) that Luke would have the opportunity to challenge Johnny Flynn for the starting point guard job. But the T-Wolves also had Ramon Sessions on the roster when the deal was made, whom Luke lost his job as Bucks starting pg to to in 2009-10, and they’re hoping Rubio can join them at some point this season.
    http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/news/story?id=5398866
    Sessions is gone, but Minnesota remains a crowded point guard development school with no playoff hopes that offered Luke 4 yrs-$16 million. When Flynn gets healthy and Rubio returns to the Twin Cities, where does that leave Ridnour? With a nice contract.

    Milwaukee wasn’t offering Luke any hopes of taking BJ’s starting job, but they could offer two things that the T-Wolves couldn’t: 1) Winning and the high pressure playing time that comes with it; 2) Playing for Scott Skiles, who absolutely loves Luke Ridnour and has found ways to keep him on the court as much as possible (21.5 mins per game last season, a third of it playing with Jennings).

    Ridnour said the two situations were “similar.” But that’s a lot of “saying the right thing” when changing teams. What Ridnour wanted was Bucks GM Hammond to come up with a better offer than 4yrs-$16 million, and he gave him a week after agreeing with the T-Wolves to do it. Hammond, unfortunately, decided the Bucks could not afford him.

  5. Boykins should be number 2 point guard when Jennings comes back. His offense off the bench is sorely needed. Consistency has plagued the rest of our newcomers, and their injuries just make matters worse.
    Sanders looked awful in the Atlanta game, so Skinner was given a look.

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