Bucks' success could be costly for Bulls in draft

  • The Milwaukee Bucks have gone 11-1 since trading for John Salmons. The Bulls, meanwhile, are 4-8.

    The Milwaukee Bucks have gone 11-1 since trading for John Salmons. The Bulls, meanwhile, are 4-8. Jeffrey Phelps

Published: 3/14/2010 6:14 PM

Anyone who followed the Bulls during the past decade already knew Scott Skiles was an excellent coach and shouldn't be surprised the Milwaukee Bucks are in playoff position.

But who knew Skiles could predict the future?

Maybe it wasn't Skiles, but someone in Milwaukee saw a Bulls' slump in the forecast.

The two teams made a trade-deadline deal on Feb. 18, with the Bulls sending guard John Salmons to the Bucks in exchange for forwards Hakim Warrick and Joe Alexander.

Knowing the Bulls were desperate to unload another salary to create more cap room for the summer, Milwaukee was able to coax a couple of sweeteners in the deal. The Bulls are sending two second-round draft picks north and the Bucks also have the option of swapping first-round picks this year.

At the time, it seemed as though the Bulls were giving up nothing when they agreed to the first-round switch. The Bulls had a 27-26 record on Feb. 17, while the Bucks were 24-28. Obviously, no team would opt to move down in the draft.

As it turned out, Salmons has been a brilliant addition, averaging 19.3 points for Milwaukee. Since the trade, the Bucks have gone 11-1, while the Bulls are 4-8.

"He hasn't had a bad game yet," Bucks center Andrew Bogut said in the Racine Journal Times. "No disrespect to Joe or Hakim, but we think we got a steal in that trade. He's really helped us."

Based on the standings as of Sunday morning, the Bulls were out of the playoffs and would have the No. 11 draft pick, while Milwaukee was No. 18. That's a pretty significant jump for a team that already received the best player in the trade.

The Bulls' draft pick is protected through the top 10, and this is the only year Milwaukee has the option of switching. So if the Bulls drop one more spot in the standings, they'll keep the No. 10 pick and that will be the end of it.

Right now, though, the Bulls have a 7-game lead on the team just below them, the Clippers, so they'd have to continue losing with a purpose to drop into the 10th draft pick. If the Bulls got lucky in the lottery and won one of the top three choices, they'd get to keep it.

The Bucks have been on such a roll, though, moving into one of the top four spots in the East isn't out of the question. With Sunday's results, Milwaukee moved within 5 games of fourth-place Boston.

In many ways, Milwaukee's turnaround looks like a replay of Skiles' second season coaching the Bulls in 2004-05. He took a team with low to no expectations and turned it into a defensive powerhouse.

"Since I've been here, you can definitely tell the coaches have the players' attention," Salmons said in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "The coaching staff sets the tone for our focus. I think it should be like that."

This past week, the Bucks beat Cleveland (without LeBron James), Boston and Utah, without allowing more than 87 points. Milwaukee has given up fewer than 90 in nine of the 12 games since the trade, and the only loss was in overtime at Atlanta.

A direct comparison of the Utah games is startling. Against the Bulls on Tuesday, the Jazz scored 132 points, shot 54.2 percent from the field and canned 12 of 20 shots from 3-point range. In Milwaukee on Friday, Utah scored 87 points, shot 41.7 percent and went 0 for 10 from behind the arc.

Salmons filled a huge need for the Bucks after shooting guard Michael Redd was lost for the year with a knee injury. Milwaukee also added veteran Jerry Stackhouse at midseason, while center Andrew Bogut is averaging career-highs in points (16.2), rebounds (10.4) and blocks (2.5).

"We've been very bad for a number of years so for a guy like me, we can't take it for granted," Bogut said. "We need to be confident that we've had success but not cocky."