The first thing you notice about the new and improved John Salmons is the smile.
It's not that he didn't smile while he was playing for the Chicago Bulls, it's just that it didn't usually come across his face while he was surrounded by the media. When he was in Chicago, he didn't always look so happy. It's understandable, considering he was mired in one of the toughest slumps of his career over the first few months of this season. He struggled to score and failed to become the offensive threat that so many expected him to be.
To his credit, he was always upfront about his struggles, but he never looked very happy.
Two months later, seemingly everything has changed.
Salmons is averaging 20 points a game for the Milwaukee Bucks and has been the major reason why they are on the verge of clinching a playoff spot.
"It's been good," he said before Tuesday's game. "The whole situation, for whatever reason, worked out."
Yes, it has.
But, the question is, why has it worked out so well for Salmons in Milwaukee after he struggled so much in Chicago?
"I don't know," Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said. "He worked hard all the time. He was in the gym and working. I think the difference was, the year before, he was playing the small forward position, where this year we started him more at the two-guard position because Luol [Deng] was back. So, that was an adjustment for him I think defensively probably more than anything and some offensively. And Milwaukee has a different system in terms of getting the ball into [Andrew] Bogut and working off him ... but like I said, John's a good player. He helped us. He's helping them. And that's what good players do."
Bucks coach Scott Skiles is just happy that Salmons has found a groove on his team.
"He's been great," Skiles said. "He's unbelievable. He just fit right in. He's played good defense. He's scored for us, obviously. He's shot the ball well. He's been able to handle it late in games and make big plays for us. Made his free throws. Just all around, he's been very, very good."
Salmons believes that he is going through a lot of the same things with the Bucks that he went through during the start of his Bulls' tenure.
"It was actually a similar situation to what I was in last year," he said. "Up-and-coming team on the cusp of making the playoffs. [It's] only an hour away. I just packed my stuff up and drove down the road. I think that helped me with the transition."
Salmons said he still follows his old teammates.
"I wasn't wishing anything bad on them," Salmons said. "I still got good friends on the team. There's some good people in the organization. I wasn't like happy that they had all the injuries and they wasn't winning games. Being in Milwaukee, we were chasing them. In that sense, I wanted to catch them so we could go to the playoffs. But it wasn't like I was rooting against them or anything."
Now it's the Bulls who are looking up at Salmons and the Bucks.
No wonder he's smiling a lot more these days.