MILWAUKEE (AP) — Call it what you want: Rebuilding, retooling, tinkering or even tanking, the Milwaukee Bucks are in a full-blown youth movement.
Choosing to build around Larry Sanders, John Henson and Ersan Ilyasova, general manager John Hammond has blown up his roster from a year ago and given new head coach Larry Drew a group of young faces, including 18-year-old Greek phenom Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee’s first-round draft pick.
“It’s time we talk about our youth,” Hammond said Tuesday at a news conference to introduce point guard Brandon Knight, acquired last week from Detroit in exchange for Brandon Jennings. “We have a young team but we’re going to try to compete. We brought in some veteran pieces to help us as we move forward that will provide leadership and mentorship, but they’re players capable of getting on the floor and help us win games.
Knight is the latest piece to Milwaukee’s offseason puzzle.
The eighth overall pick in 2011, Knight averaged 13.1 points, 3.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists in two seasons with the Pistons. Just 21, Knight fits the mold of a young and hungry player that Hammond and Drew sought while shaping the Bucks’ roster. Knight also fits into Hammond’s plan of maintaining financial flexibility.
Some might peg the 6-foot-3 Knight as more of a shooting guard, but he and Drew made it clear Tuesday: He will handle the ball for Milwaukee.
“I’m a point guard, there’s no question in my mind,” Knight said.
“What he brings to the table is what a coach looks for at that position, the speed, the quickness,” Drew said. “The ability to make shots, the ability to get to the lane. The ability to make other people better. I don’t know where this, ‘Is he a point guard, is he a shooting guard?’ came from. He’s always, in my eyes, been a point guard. A point guard that has the ability to score, and that’s a big, big luxury.”
Out after four years is Jennings, Milwaukee’s first-round choice in 2009. He showed plenty of promise his rookie season when he teamed up with big man Andrew Bogut for a talented high-low combination and helped the Bucks push Atlanta to seven games in a first-round playoff series. Inconsistency and poor shooting were the hallmarks of Jennings’ last few seasons and when Milwaukee signed Jeff Teague to a four-year offer sheet — later matched by the Hawks — it signaled the end of Jennings’ time in Milwaukee.
“It was a very difficult decision,” Hammond said. “I really appreciate what he brought to this organization the last four years. I’d call him a warrior. He put forth a great effort for us.”
Milwaukee has also acquired free agent guards O.J. Mayo and Gary Neal, veteran centers Zaza Pachulia and Miroslav Raduljica, point guard Luke Ridnour and small forward Carlos Delfino while dealing forward and defensive specialist Luc Richard Mbah a Moute for a future second-round draft choice. Unrestricted free agents Monta Ellis and Mike Dunleavy Jr. were not retained and J.J. Redick was moved in a sign-and-trade for another second-round pick.
Drew Gooden was waived using the amnesty clause of the collective bargaining agreement and Slava Kravstov, acquired in the trade with Detroit, is expected to be released.
In all, the Bucks return just a handful players from last season’s disappointing 38-44 campaign: Sanders, Henson, Ish Smith and Epke Udoh.
Sanders, Henson and Ilyasova are considered the core and Hammond thinks that group, along with the newcomers, will at least provide a much more productive locker room atmosphere than the last few seasons, which were marked with dissension.
“I think as the season wound down, we had a little dysfunction at times within our roster,” Hammond said. “I think we’ve rectified that. At the end of the day, I’m hoping to have a team that’s going to play hard, compete and enjoy playing with each other.”
But. can this group win? Hammond certainly thinks so.
“Some people use words like tanking but we’re in no way in that mode,” Hammond said. “We’re trying to remain competitive and I think we can be but we really want to start focusing on the youth and start talking about things like a championship-caliber team and building around our young players. I think they can develop into a core like that.”