MILWAUKEE -- In explaining why the Milwaukee Bucks are back in their usual state of disrepair, only two questions matter:
The first, why a seemingly up-and-coming team failed to make the playoffs, helps clarify an extraordinarily disappointing season for an organization that really couldn't afford to take such a big step backward.
In no particular order the answers are injuries, breakdowns in chemistry and confidence, poor personnel decisions, another unproductive draft and a yearlong inability to score.
As for what's next, keep in mind that the NBA is a bigger mess than any of its wanting franchises. When the collective-bargaining agreement expires at the end of June, expect the kind of lockout that could put most decisions for everyone on hold for a long, long time.
Remember the mantra that the Bucks would finally have the financial flexibility to redo their roster for the 2011-'12 season? That's not necessarily so now.
Part of it is because of labor uncertainty. Part is because of some of the choices the reigning NBA executive of the year made in an effort to keep momentum going from a surprisingly good season.
It's not all John Hammond's fault that the Bucks were one of the league's most inefficient teams. For a payroll approaching $70 million that put Bucks near the top 10 in the league, they couldn't even get into the top half of the Eastern Conference.
It's undeniable Hammond inherited long-term bad paper and was anxious to get rid of Dan Gadzuric and Charlie Bell. Unfortunately, he traded them for Corey Maggette.
You can't blame Hammond for trying to present a good product, because the Bradley Center is no different from any building in the NBA. It will empty in a hurry if the team stinks, but the market size makes personnel mistakes nearly impossible to cover.
Maggette was so ineffective that he was benched, and now the Bucks are back in the same financial soup because they are on the hook to him for two more years and $20 million. It's not necessarily an unmovable contract, but the Bucks would be obligated to take back the same amount in potentially unproductive players.
So what about Michael Redd's $18.3 million that comes off the books next week? That just brings down the Bucks' payroll to a manageable amount for a small-market team, and they still have to make a decision on restricted free agent Luc Mbah a Moute.
Meanwhile, they're in a bind with John Salmons, whose guaranteed $24 million during the next three years looks worse with each rimmed shot. Although free agent Drew Gooden has been fairly effective since returning from injury, he will be almost 34 years old when the last of his $27 million is deposited.
Maggette, Gooden and Salmons would present an unmanageable financial hole for the Bucks if not for the fact that Ersan Ilysova and Carlos Delfino, who has been terrific since shaking off a months-long concussion, are relative bargains.
And there's always hope when a team is built around Brandon Jennings and Andrew Bogut.
But wasn't that the rallying cry after last season?
One of the Bucks' major failings was the inability to find a suitable backup for Bogut, who was never physically right after his horrific fall last season. Opponents kept forcing him the other way because could not shoot with his right hand. The Bucks must hope that off-season elbow surgery fixes their $60 million man.
Jennings wasn't always healthy and he had no backup help. Another one of Hammond's signings, Keyon Dooling, couldn't play the point.
The Bucks cannot afford for their franchise players to wear down as they did this season. That's got to be addressed somewhere, preferably the draft. In fact, that is the only way a struggling team like the Bucks can regain footing.
Problem is, Hammond has whiffed on two of his first three drafts. Jennings is a gem, but Joe Alexander was a bust and Larry Sanders has been even more of a project than anyone expected. Mbah a Moute was a nice second-round find, but the Bucks gave up too soon on Jodie Meeks, who has given Philadelphia what the Bucks lack in shooting.
Would the Bucks be a different team today had Bogut, Jennings, Delfino, Gooden and Ilyasova remained healthy? No doubt. But the Bucks also introduced a different level of chemistry into the clubhouse with their ineffective off-season moves.
I've put off Scott Skiles until now, because he's not an issue. Skiles can coach, but not everything that happened this season was within his control. Hammond, too, only proved that a good administrator is capable of an off year.
It's easy to put everything on Herb Kohl, because he's been the one constant throughout many of the failed seasons. But he deserves credit in that Skiles and Hammond have three years left on their contracts. Such a level of stability should work to the Bucks' long-term favor. Considering what they inherited, one year out of three in the playoffs could almost be justified.
But next year, assuming there will be a next year, pressure will be on all three to give anyone confidence that the Bucks have anything approaching a future.