ST. FRANCIS, Wis. -- This time next year, George Karl won't be satisfied if his summer vacation has already started.
In his final evaluation of the Milwaukee Bucks' recently completed season, Karl said Monday it will be a disappointment if his team doesn't advance beyond the first round of the playoffs in 2001.
"It's time to move on and believe in getting better," Karl said.
Milwaukee went 42-40, and the Bucks' most successful season since 1990-91 earned them the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, where they got their first playoff victories in a decade before falling to the Indiana Pacers in five games.
The Bucks held a one-point lead in the closing seconds of Game 5, but the Pacers came from behind to advance.
"It ended with a lot of sunshine," Karl said. "We ended the season very healthy. But there's a lot of work to be done, and there's a lot of disappointment in the fifth game. One rebound, one free throw, one possession, and we could still be playing.
"The sunshine of the run in April is something we can build on and we can motivate with."
Karl declared the current season a success even before the Bucks rallied in the season's final two weeks to snatch a playoff berth, and then nearly became just the third No. 8 seed to knock off a No. 1 seed. He sees his team developing incrementally, and while the final results weren't perfect, he liked the team's large and small improvements.
There's little doubt Karl has rescued the franchise from a decade of mediocrity. After taking over a team with seven consecutive losing seasons, he is 70-62 after two seasons in Milwaukee. With one of the game's most talented young cores, the Bucks could be good for years to come.
But it won't happen without hard work from both coach and players. Karl said he did more coaching this season than any in recent memory -- quite a statement for a coach with stops in the CBA, Spain, Cleveland, Golden State and Seattle prior to joining the Bucks.
"I yelled a lot this year," Karl said. "It was a good and bad frustration that I felt. I remember walking off courts this year thinking, `How did we win? We didn't guard anybody.' But we never stopped coaching, and I think that's why we were successful."
Karl is most proud of Ervin Johnson, Scott Williams and Darvin Ham, who emerged from obscurity to form an unexpectedly competent frontcourt for the Bucks. Johnson had a career defensive year at center, while both Williams and Ham resurrected their own careers with an intense work ethic.
After starting the season wondering whether his big men could compete in the NBA, Karl is now certain he wants to bring Johnson, Williams and Ham back next season to join Glenn Robinson, Ray Allen, Sam Cassell and Tim Thomas.
As for personnel moves, Karl is taking a firmly conservative line. He said he hopes Bucks general manager Ernie Grunfeld will be able to find a defensive stopper for next season, but doesn't think wholesale changes should be made.
While non-contributors like Danny Manning and J.R. Reid are as good as gone, Karl would be perfectly happy with only one or two additions to his current roster.
"We might have changed too much in the past two years," he said. "I might be leaning toward conservative change and allowing this team to grow."
Karl said his ideal pickup would be "a 6-foot-6, 6-7 athlete with long arms that can play a variety of positions" -- someone like Michael Curry, who left Milwaukee before the season to sign with Detroit.
But he said the Bucks' most important task will be signing Thomas, who's expected to be a hot commodity in the free agent market, and restructuring Cassell's contract if the point guard demands it.
In addition, Karl said the Bucks must not be content with the results of their breakout season.
"I think it's a summer to work hard," Karl said. "It's not a summer to relax. We can get better."
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