Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Double-Ohs Disaster, Starring Michael Redd

Michael Redd retired today at the age of 34.  In a way, it's sad.  He was once a great scorer for the Bucks, and many great scorers continue solid play well into their thirties.

I was right up close when Redd's Bucks career effectively ended.  The 2010 season was my first as a full season ticket holder.  When the Bucks played the Lakers in Los Angeles, I was able to get friends and family tickets (which I had to pay full price for) about seven rows behind the Bucks bench.  Redd, who was having a poor game, made a move in the lane and collapsed.  He was helped off the floor just to the left of me, and I knew already that he was gone for the season.

Redd's absence in the 2010 season ended up being a textbook example of Bill Simmons's Ewing Theory.  After losing four of their first five post-Redd games to finish up an awful west coast road trip, the team righted the ship.  They were 16-23 (seven games under .500) at the end of that trip, but by the All Star break they had won seven of their last eleven.  One brilliant John Salmons trade later, and the Bucks began the short-lived Fear The Deer era.

Redd would return for a cup of coffee at the end of the 2011 season, but it was clear that he was done.  He signed with Phoenix for the 2012 season, ostensibly in an attempt to having his legs rejuvenated by their famous training staff (which I am suspicious of, but that is another story for another blog post).  He hasn't played since.

Redd is a fascinating case study for yours truly because his time with the Bucks was unusual.  He was a 20+ point per game scorer for six straight seasons.  Several great scorers -- Reggie Miller, for example -- can't say that.  But in those six seasons the Bucks made the playoffs only twice, losing to those dominant mid-00's Pistons teams in the first round both times.  So was he a great player on a bad team?  Or was he an overrated player who gave his team a ceiling?  It's a discussion that yours truly had with fellow Bucks fans numerous times.

To the author, Redd is ultimately a symbol of the Bucks' post-2002 demise.

The final game of the 2002 season was such a sad thing to watch.  NBA League Pass only was using home team feeds at the time, so I sat there on my couch watching the Pistons' announcers revel in the Bucks being run out of the playoffs.  The year before they were the conference finalists who might have had a shooter's chance against the Lakers.

After the 2002 season ended, Bucks management finally let George Karl have his way.  Long frustrated with the unwillingness of Big Dog, Ray Allen and Tim Thomas to "play the right way", Karl got Big Dog traded.  The 2003 season was one of underachievement, and when Redd emerged as a young scoring wing in Ray Allen was traded for Gary Payton.  Karl and the Bucks parted ways at the end of that season.

At the time, yours truly viewed Redd's rise to star status (at least, "star status within the Bucks' universe) as a positive.  The 2004 squad felt like a winner with TJ Ford, Redd and Tim Thomas leading the way.  2005 saw the Mo Williams/Redd backcourt show the potential to be amongst the best in the league.  In 2006 Bogut joined and Bobby Simmons was signed.  I remember an offseason conversation with a high school friend where we thought that team would have the potential to get near the level of the Pistons and Heat (the East finalists in 2005).  That began a series of seasons where the promise of a lethal Williams/Charlie Bell/Redd perimeter with Bogut manning the paint would sprout here and there, but ultimately the teams would fall apart due to poor coaching, injuries or some combination of those and other factors.

In some ways, the rise of the Splash Brothers in Golden State validates Redd's place.  Redd was every bit the scorer that Klay Thompson is, maybe more so.  If Bogut had matured to his current level and if Gadzuric rebounded like David Lee and if Mo Williams embraced his secondary role, then maybe the Bucks could have been special.

I've vacillated over the years on how I view the George Karl years and the double-ohs era that followed.  In some ways I wish that Big Dog would have been retained for a run at the 2001 magic in '03.  Or that the Bucks should have given Ray Allen a contract instead of Redd.  Or that Redd should have been moved for a big man to help Bogut during his early struggles.  Then there are the days when I say that they made the right moves.  Big Dog was always going to struggle on defense.  Ray was always going to be a jerk.  Redd was a dynamite scorer who just never had the right pieces placed around him.

Another side effect of the Redd retirement announcement is the way it reflects on this year's Bucks team.  This is the first year since 1994 that the team lacks a great scorer.  Big Dog to Ray to Redd to Brandon to Monta ended in July.  It's great to get excited about defense and teamwork and the Greek Freak, but I hope that the Bucks are looking to acquire a top notch scorer.

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