Trade deadline anxiety: Why the Bucks resisted the urge to make changes

Thursday, February 18th, 2016

Khris Middleton lines up a shot in the Foot Locker 3-point shootout at NBA All-Star weekend 2016 in Toronto (2/13/2016).

“No one knows who he is, so he doesn’t get in the paper,” said TNT analyst Kenny Smith as Bucks guard Khris Middleton began his round last Saturday in Toronto at the Foot Locker NBA All-Star 3-point shootout.

“Who does he play for, Kenny?”
wondered the inimitable Charles Barkley, as though he didn’t already know.

Milwaukee Bucks, baby,” Smith fired back, probably wondering why Barkley (and everyone else at the analyst table) had let Smith’s use of a great Yogi Berra quote pass without comment.

Yogi-ism noted, this exchange spoke volumes about the Bucks and where they find themselves three years after the end of the coach Scott Skiles era, that five-year plan to build a competitive, relevant team in ruin. Three years later and they are struggling in the standings, still working to grow a fan base, a reputation; to develop young players into something resembling NBA stars. To establish an identity. Charles Barkley may actually know that Middleton plays for the Bucks, but it isn’t locked in his mind as a sure thing.  Such is the Bucks roster story of the last few years — just when you think you know who they are, team management gets restless and begins making changes, and not necessarily the right changes (Corey Maggette, Drew Gooden, Keyon Dooling, Stephen Jackson; trading Andrew Bogut for Monte Ellis and Ekpe Udoh; passing on Kawhi Leonard to trade down for Tobias Harris, J.J. Reddick …). Nobody knew who they were, so not only did the Bucks not get in the paper, coach Skiles refused to sign the contract extension he was offered in 2012 and was asked to leave.

A lot has happened since then, most of it very good, beginning with the pick of the 2013 draft, 18-year-old Giannis Antetokounmpo. New ownership came in, hired new management and coaching, accomplished the near-impossible by negotiating a new arena deal, and set out to establish a new identity for the Bucks.  Trading a point guard (Brandon Knight) who shot too much and had trouble running the pick-and-roll was part of this identity thing. The Bucks and coach Jason Kidd wanted a tall, young, pass-first point guard with good court vision and they got one last February at the trade deadline — Michael Carter-Williams.

 

Greg Monroe and the Milwaukee Bucks were all smiles last summer when Monroe was signed, yet unfounded trade rumors persisted only a few months later.

Acquiring free agent center Greg “Moose” Monroe last summer was considered a great surprise catch at the time. Monroe was and is the kind of skilled big man who could give the Bucks reliable offense and presence inside, a borderline All-Star who, in the right setting could become a genuine NBA star. But while Monroe has played well (17 points, 10 rebs per game, team-leading 5.4 Win Shares), the Bucks have been one of the worst defensive teams in the league and they’re currently out of playoff position — so the obvious thing to do, of course, is to say “thanks for the excitement last summer and the five months of work, Moose” and trade him elsewhere. Right?

Monroe and Carter-Williams have allegedly been been on the trading block for a couple of months now, according to the rumor mill, and it’s been disappointing to see the speculation get as much play as it has.  Same old Bucks, some bloggers and reporters in Milwaukee and much of the NBA media seem to think — they’re losing, management is restless and they’ll entertain trade talk on everybody but Antetokounmpo, Middleton and 20-year-old forward Jabari Parker (Parker turns 21 on March 15).  The speculation died when real news reporting took over this week: It turned out that there was absolutely no substance to the Monroe trade talk. Teams that inquired about his availability were rebuffed. The Carter-Williams talk is all but dead as the trade deadline approaches, and it has slowly dawned on most observers that there was no realistic trade available.  All’s quiet with 15 minutes to go before the deadline.  Even the Miles Plumlee trade talk has died down.

The Bucks stood pat, win or lose, with their young, developing roster because it was the only sensible thing to do.  “There’s no change to be made. Continuity is something we’re trying for,” said coach Jason Kidd, also the guy most believe is calling the player personnel shots. Monroe and Carter-Williams need time. Parker, despite his obvious defensive and rebounding shortcomings and lack of court sense, needs time.  In the 1990s, Glenn Robinson, Ray Allen and Vin Baker were given a full season (1996-97) before it was decided that Baker (the Black Hole) was not a good fit.  Carter-Williams has barely had that, Parker has not yet played a full season, and Monroe’s been a Buck for 54 games; the idea that the Bucks would trade him so soon after signing him was, from the start, ridiculous. This season was not the season for trades, and it’s a relief to write that as the deadline has passed and Carter-Williams, Monroe and Plumlee are still Milwaukee Bucks.  Plumlee had only recently begun to play well, filling in for injured John Henson, so it was good to see the Bucks decline on whatever offers were out there (the Wizards were reportedly interested).

Trade speculation around the deadline is an annual February ritual for NBA fans, complete with its own sense of non-reality.  It’s not always a good thing, especially for a team struggling to establish an identity in the league.  So far that identity is rooted in the sometimes brilliant play of Antetokounmpo and Middleton, when that happens, though both have been inconsistent this season. Inconsistency is the norm for most Bucks players (Monroe excepted) and this has been disappointing after making the playoffs last season.  Middleton looks like an All-Star some nights. Michael Carter-Williams can be a shutdown defender, some nights. Antetokounmpo is nowhere to be found some nights.

Like it or not, the Bucks are still a development team and have been from the moment they started 18-year-old Giannis at small forward in 2013.  This season was designed by the Bucks to be a development tableau for Jabari Parker, who may never become the front line star everyone thought he would be on draft day 2014.  The shoe contract came first before the stardom in Parker’s case, and his future is a bit cloudy right now. Trading other players is not the fix for Parker, not this year, with the player himself still a work in progress.

Nobody yet knows who Parker and the Bucks are, so they don’t get in the papers.  That’s OK.  We don’t have anything definitive to write just yet, and nobody reads the papers anymore.

38 or Less: The worst regular season won-lost records by NBA playoff teams of the last 38 years

Sunday, April 21st, 2013

To mark the Milwaukee Bucks 38-win playoff season, here are the “38-wins-or-less” playoff teams from the 1975 to 2013 seasons, with an important caveat:  I’ve excluded 11 teams that won between 35 and 38 games and made the 1984-1988 playoffs, listing only the two playoff qualifiers from those five seasons who lost so much they deserve mention.  Those five “exempt” seasons were the first years of the 16-team playoff format when, suddenly, only 7 of 23 NBA teams missed the post-season.   Somebody had to lose during the regular season, and some of those losers found themselves in the playoffs.

Some of them were pretty good too, given the strength of the East and scheduling heavily weighted toward conference play — an eighth Eastern Conference seed in 1986 with 35 wins was comparable to a 46-win team a few years later after expansion, not so much to the teams listed below.  (Such dilution realities certainly put a damper on the Bulls 72-win season in 1996.)

The 1975-1983 seasons are more “apples to apples” at least in terms of today’s playoff format. In 1975 and 1976, ten of 18 teams made the playoffs.  After the NBA-ABA merger in 1976, 12 of 22 made it.  In 1980 the Mavs were added to the league and the conferences properly aligned; the 12 team format remained until the 1983-84 season.

League expansion began in 1988 with the addition of Miami and Charlotte, effectively ending the NBA’s “Golden Age.”  By 1990 there were 27 teams, 16 making the playoffs, and four expansion teams around to beat up on and puff most of the worst playoff records above our 38-44 cut-off.

Note that of the 13 teams on this list, no team other than the 1976 Pistons (led by Bob Lanier) won its first round series.

1. 1986 Chicago Bulls (30-52). Michael Jordan broke his foot in the third game of his second NBA season and missed the next 64. He would come back to have a 63-point game against Larry Bird and the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs, not enough to prevent a Celtics sweep. The 1986 Celtics won 67 games, the third championship for the Bird-McHale-Parrish front court and are widely considered one of the top three or four teams in NBA history.

This Bulls team had talent other than Jordan, though it was not great talent, and half the players ended up in rehab of one form or another, facts reported by writers Sam Smith (The Jordan Rules) and David Halberstam (Playing for Keeps: Michael Jordan and the World He Made) among others. (The Chicago Tribune didn’t miss much in those days.) Forwards Orlando Woolridge and Sidney Green, and guard Quentin Dailey were in this group of early Jordan teammates, along with big Dave Corzine at center and Hall of Fame scorer George Gervin in his final season (16.2 ppg).  Charles Oakley and John Paxson are the most notable here due to Oakley’s later success with the Knicks and Paxson’s ability to cling to Jordan’s star for three titles.  In 1986 Oakley was a rookie and Paxson had yet to solidify his future as Jordan’s pal. Stan Albeck was head coach.

The Bulls had the misfortune of playing in an Eastern Conference ruled by three of the top four teams in basketball since 1980 — the Celtics, the Sixers and the Bucks — with the Pistons and Hawks rising up bit by bit each year in hopes of challenging the top.  The “Bad Boys” Pistons in 1986 were still a couple of years away from their baddest phase.

The NBA schedule in those years was more heavily weighted toward conference play than it is now, which made the 1986 Bulls schedule a prolonged nightmare.  They played the Beasts of the East six times each, winning just six of the 30 games.  The Bulls weren’t the only team in the East hammered by the schedule.  A tough, talented, Buck Williams-led New Jersey Nets team could muster only 39 wins and were swept by the Bucks in the first round. Rookie Patrick Ewing’s Knicks lost 59 games.

Throw out the five Beasts of the East and two losses against the “Showtime” Lakers, and the 1986 Bulls won 24 and lost 26 against the rest of the league, not too shabby for a hodgepodge group of guys playing most of the season without Michael Jordan.

2. 1988 San Antonio Spurs (31-51).  The last season of the 23-team league as the expansion to Miami and Charlotte would occur in the summer of ’88.  Magic’s Lakers and Bird’s Celtics remained at the top, with the “Bad Boys” Pistons shoving Boston off the pinnacle to reach their first NBA final.  Some of the power balance had shifted East to West with the decline of Philly and the Bucks, along with the rise of the Dallas Mavs, creating the parity between conferences than hadn’t existed since 1980.

In the East, the Bucks played their first year under new coach Del Harris and fell to 42-40. The Pistons and Hawks and Sidney Moncrief’s ailing knees had finally caught up with our Bucks.  Ewing’s Knicks were getting better, and won 38.  Jordan’s Bulls had their first 50-win season.

In the West the Stockton-Malone Jazz fell short of the fifty milestone with 47 wins.  Magic and the Lakers won 62 and their fifth championship.

While most of the lower rung playoff teams of this period can’t be labelled “bad” by today’s standards, the 1988 Spurs were bad in any day.  They were swept (3-0) in the first round by the Lakers.

The Spurs best player was defensive demon Alvin Robertson, who would be traded to Milwaukee in 1989 for All-Pro (3rd Team) forward Terry Cummings.  Robertson’s teammate on the Spurs, Frank Brickowski, would join him in Milwaukee in 1990, traded for Paul Pressey.  Why the trades with the Spurs?  By 1990 the Spurs had center David Robinson and were title contenders, while the Bucks were slipping into their 1990’s rebuild.

3. 1995 Boston Celtics (35-47).  The Celtics were sort of rebuilding (or beginning to) after the Larry Bird era. Kevin McHale had retired in 1993. All-Star shooting guard Reggie Lewis collapsed and died of heart failure that summer (1993), and the Celtics in 1995 were still staggering under allegations that he might have been saved, had the team (and those close to Lewis) not been so eager to dismiss evidence that Lewis was at risk, even to the point of avoiding tests for drug use (Money Players, “Puff Policy,” 1997, by Armen Keteyian and other journalists).  In an effort to fill the void left by Lewis’ death, the Celtics signed 35-year-old Dominique Wilkins, not flying as high as he did with the Hawks in the 1980s but scoring 17.8 ppg to lead the team.  Coached by Chris Ford. Dumped out of the playoffs (3-1) by Shaq’s Orlando Magic, who would go on to be swept in the Finals by Hakeem Olajawon, Clyde Drexler, Sam Cassell and the Rockets.

4. 2004 Boston Celtics (36-46).    All that losing in the mid-1990s brought draft picks and an effort to build a contender around the would-be duo of Antoine Walker and Paul Pierce, who instead became symbols of post-Jordan NBA mediocrity.  The 2003-04 season found the Celtics tearing down again and trading Walker, one of the least scrupulous shot hogs in the game.  That left Pierce, listed as a shooting guard then, and boy did he ever.  Pierce shot nearly 19 times a game – and missed 11  – shooting less than 30% from three-point-land and averaging 23 ppg. The Celtics fired coach Jim O’Brien after 46 games and assistant John Carroll mopped up.

These were rather dark days for the NBA. The pace was at an all-time low.  Average and below average shooters bricked away at will and somehow made all-star teams. Ball movement was often non-existent, a trend that continued for years.  Assists would reach an all-time low in 2006.  Kobe and Shaq bickered in LA and guys like Walker, Pierce, Allen Houston and the Bucks’ Michael Redd gunned poorly selected shots out of isolation offenses, winning big contracts if not playoff success.  Orlando Magic star Tracy McGrady was the best of this lot, yet all of it was ugly basketball.

The 2004 Celtics were a bad team in an Eastern Conference that had deteriorated rapidly in the early-aughts.  The 4th seeded Miami Heat won just 42 regular season games.  But hey – former Buck Vin Baker was on this Celtics team for a few weeks in 2003. Kendrick Perkins was a rookie.  The Celtics were swept in Round 1 by 38-year-old Reggie Miller’s second-to-last Pacers team, about seven months before the “Malice at the Palace” in Detroit.  Dark days indeed.

5. 1997 Los Angeles Clippers (36-46).  Loy Vaught (who? – I can’t even find a picture of him) led this team in scoring at 14.9 ppg.  Forwards Bo Outlaw and Eric Piatkowski led a halfway decent bench crew.  Coached by Bill Fitch, somehow still in the league.  The Western Conference was none too balanced in those days, as the Clippers were one of three teams from the west to make the playoffs with a losing record.  The T-Wolves (40-42) in Kevin Garnett’s second year and the post-Charles Barkley Suns (also 40-42) were the others.  The Clippers were swept out of the first round by the Stockton-Malone Jazz, fated to go on to lose their first of two NBA Finals to Jordan and the Bulls.

6. 1976 Detroit Pistons (36-46).  This might be getting a bit far back — the league that existed prior to the merger with the ABA — but 1975 and 1976 get our deepest historical look because the 1971-74 playoff format allowed less than half the league to qualify (8 of 17 teams, no real losers).  This changed in 1975, with the addition of the New Orleans Jazz and the short-lived 10 of 18 format. In the 1975 and 1976 seasons, a total of four teams with losing records made the playoffs.  Another quirk was the regular season schedule, heavily weighted toward division play instead of conference play.  Midwest Division teams the Bucks, Pistons, Bulls and Kansas City Kings played each other seven times in the season, 36 games against the nine teams in the Eastern conference and 25 games against the Pacific Division. This is as equalized as the NBA schedule has ever been.  To further emphasize the importance of division play, the top two teams in each division received a playoff bid, with a 5th seed going to the team in the conference with the next best record. So a team in the Pacific division with a better record than either of the Midwest Division leaders could miss the playoffs entirely.  This happened to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Lakers in 1976. The playoff teams with the two worst records, regardless of division standings, would then face off in a wild card mini-series, best two out of three. A pretty good system if you think divisions should matter, a belief the current NBA schedule makers clearly do not hold.

Bob Lanier’s Pistons won 40 games in the 1975 season and 36 in 1976, making them the model of mid-70s NBA mediocrity. But “mediocrity” in a mid-1970s when you had a Hall of Fame center meant that you were pretty competitive when the center was healthy.  Lanier missed 18 games in 1976 and the Pistons lost 12 of those.

Detroit in 1975 had also traded star veteran guard Dave Bing (another Hall of Famer) to the Bullets for young point guard Kevin Porter (who would lead the NBA in assists for the Pistons a few years later) but Porter was lost to injury 19 games into the season and the Pistons struggled.  Coach Ray Scott was fired and replaced by Herb Brown, and Brown found 20-year-old point guard Eric Money on his bench to fill in for Porter.  Led by Lanier, power forward Curtis Rowe and Money, the Pistons won 10 of their last 13 games and nearly caught the Bucks (38-44) atop the Midwest Division. As the playoff teams with the worst records in the West, the Bucks and Pistons squared off in a first round mini-series.

The Bucks were in their first season after “The Trade” of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and they were young, hungry and very nearly a match for Lanier and the Pistons.  Lanier and Rowe dominated the Bucks inside (a familiar story for the ever-power-forward-challenged Bucks) while the Bucks guards, led by All-Star Brian Winters, bombed away from the outside (remember, no three point line yet in the NBA) and came within a shot of winning the series. Detroit won it in Milwaukee in game three in what would become typical Bucks heart-stopping and heart-breaking effect.

The 1976 Pistons really have no business being on this list, but the 1976 Bucks do (see No. 11 below) so I included both. The Pistons went on to lose (4-2) in the second round to Rick Barry’s Golden State Warriors, the defending champs.  Lanier averaged 26.1 ppg and 12.7 rebounds in nine playoff games, Hall of Fame numbers from a highly skilled and strong NBA big man. Rowe added an average of 15 pts and 8 boards on the Pistons run.

7. 2011 Indiana Pacers (37-45).  Another Jim O’Brien team, this one led by Danny Granger in the role of Paul Pierce, and playing the same ugly style of 2004.  This time coach O’Brien lasted to game 44 amid a lot of grumbling from GM Larry Bird that he was refusing to play his younger players, Tyler Hansbrough and rookie Paul George among them. Replacement coach Frank Vogel did more than mop up O’Brien’s mess, as the Pacers went 20-18 the rest of the way, edging out the injury-riddled Bucks (35-47) for the final spot in the East.

The Pacers were simply not a very good team until the arrival of David West and George Hill for the 2012 season, with Vogel as the coach. Dismissed in five games by Derrick Rose and the Bulls in Round 1 of the 2011 playoffs. Only made the playoffs because of the injury epidemic in Milwaukee.

8. 1979 New Jersey Nets (37-45).  From the land of the final season before the 3-point line was drawn on NBA courts comes the 1979 Nets, coached by Kevin Loughery and featuring the unstoppable mid-range post-up game of Bernard King.  King was young, in his second season, and top scoring honors went to guard John Williamson (22.2 ppg), a Net from the ABA days of Dr. J and one of the better long-range shooters of the time.

King and Williamson didn’t have much help beyond assorted journeymen like big man George Johnson (not to be confused with the George Johnson who played for the Bucks in 1978-79), the above mentioned Eric Money, acquired from Detroit, and aging zen power forward future Jordan-Shaq coach Phil Jackson in his 15th and almost-final playing season.  Jackson just didn’t want to quit (he finally would in 1980).  One has the impression that the guys on this 1979 Nets team partied down quite a bit (though not King, who was known for heavy drinking alone), and the record reflects this.

Personalities noted, the Nets were a fast, fun team that locked down on defense (3rd in the league) and pushed the pace to 110 possessions a game, about 12 more than the Golden State Warriors of today. Unfortunately the Nets were the worst shooting team in the league and turned it over more than every team but Chicago. They would trade Money and guard Al Skinner to Philly in February for future shot-blocking Buck Harvey Catchings and former ABA star Ralph Simpson.

The Julius Erving-led Sixers swept the Nets out of the 1979 playoffs, 2-0, and the Nets began a full-scale rebuild.  King’s knee problems began the following season, after he was traded in preseason to Utah along with rookie point guard Jim Boylan (yes, the same Jim Boylan who was Al McGuire’s favorite point guard, Scott Skiles’ favorite assistant, coach of the Bulls and Bucks and now an assistant with the Cavs) and John Gianelli for big man Rich Kelley.  Gianelli had come over from the Bucks in a post-season trade for Catchings, along with a first round draft pick that would become Calvin Natt in 1979.  Confused?  Me too, especially about why Don Nelson traded that draft pick.  The Bucks had received the Pacers 1979 pick as compensation for the free agent signing of future Hall of Famer Alex English in 1978. The Pacers had a lousy season, so it turned out to be the No. 8 pick in the draft that gave the NBA Magic Johnson, Bill Cartwright, Sidney Moncrief, Vinnie Johnson, Bill Laimbeer, Mark Eaton, Natt and a few other notables).

Boylan would never play a game.  Kelley would never develop into more than a journeyman center.  The Nets would slide to the bottom of the East, but with draft picks obtained by trading young Natt to Portland for Maurice Lucas (Lucas was the power forward Nellie and the Bucks should have targeted), they would draft Mike Gminksi (1980) and Bernard King’s brother Albert (1981).  Natt would become an All-Star in Denver of all places after being traded by Portland, along with Fat Lever and others, for Kiki Vandeweghe.  English would make the Hall of Fame in recognition of a long career scoring a mountain of points for run-and-gun coach Doug Moe in Denver. Bernard King would recover from knee trouble and alcoholism to star for the Golden State Warriors and New York Knicks and eventually join English in the Hall (2013).  And Catchings would be the goat in the Bucks 1981 playoff loss to Philly (3-16 shooting, 24 fouls and 7 turnovers in 109 mins), but continue on to play 13 years in the NBA and block 1226 shots, which is quite a few of those.

9.  2008 Atlanta Hawks (37-45).  The first playoff appearance for the young Al Horford-Josh Smith Hawks (featuring Joe Johnson), and it was a good one, with the Hawks pushing the “Big Three” Celtics (the 2008 champs) to seven games in the first round. Horford was 21-years-old and Smith 22, and the Hawks were on the rise, something that can’t be said about nearly all of the teams on this list, 1986 Bulls excepted. The Hawks became one of ESPN’s “it” teams.

“It” was not to be.  Although some remarkable good health eventually resulted in a 53 win season in 2010, playoff success eluded the Hawks.  After beating the Celtics three times in the 2008, they couldn’t win a playoff game against anybody but the Andrew-Bogut-less 2010 Bucks, who were in the process of bum-rushing the Hawks out of the playoffs until game six when they forgot how to shoot.  The Hawks made it to the second round in 2011, were out in the first again in 2012, let Johnson go to Brooklyn rather than overpay him like the Nets did, and now 2013 is the end of the line for Smith (and Zaza Pachulia too) as the team looks to build a better roster around Horford.  Back in 2008, the future didn’t look anywhere near as dim as it would be for Atlanta.

10. 1980 Portland Trailblazers (38-44).   This was the season after the Blazers parted bitter ways with the center Bill Walton and his fractured feet and let him sign with the Clippers of San Diego, Walton’s hometown. The Clippers compensated the Blazers with players (Kermit Washington the most compelling) and two first round picks.  Walton sued the Trailblazers for medical malpractice. By the 1980 mid-season the Blazers had broken off other key pieces of their 1977 championship roster. Power forward Maurice Lucas, the star of the 1977 finals, was traded to New Jersey, along with two first round draft picks, for rookie forward  Calvin Natt, who became the Blazers leading scorer.  Natt was drafted with the first round pick the Bucks had sent to New Jersey along with Gianelli in the Harvey Catchings trade.

Point guard Lionel Hollins (now coach of the Grizzlies Nets himself) was traded to Philadelphia, where he joined Maurice Cheeks in the Sixers backcourt and helped spark the Sixers run to the 1980 Finals (where they lost to the Lakers, featuring Magic Johnson’s sensational game six at center and everywhere else on the court for injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar).

The Blazers were left with an interesting mix of rookies and journeyman veterans, including a redemptive Washington (notorious for throwing the punch that almost killed the Rockets’ Rudy Tomjanovich in 1977) who played 80 games. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Halberstam would follow the team for the entire season and prologue, and publish The Breaks of the Game (1981), still considered the masterwork of pro basketball journalism, biography and history.

One of the more interesting characters was rookie forward Abdul Jeelani, a recent convert to Islam who grew up in Racine (as Gary Cole) and played college ball at UW-Parkside.  That’s right, Parkside in Kenosha, Wis., an NAIA school at the time. A long-armed 6’8″, Jeelani was precisely the type of productive, scoring bigger forward who would be a natural for an NBA roster today, earning a salary of $8 million a year or more.  But things were different in the mid-1970s. The available NBA jobs were fewer (rosters were cut to 11 players in 1977) and the money sweeter in Europe.  Jeelani had failed to make NBA rosters twice, gone on to play in Europe, and was back for a third try at age 25.  Despite the trimmed down roster, he made the team, and after a solid season in Portland with some high scoring flashes, Jeelani — much to the surprise of the Blazers, who wanted to keep him — was picked up by the Dallas Mavericks in the expansion draft.

After Dallas, expansion was halted for eight years as the NBA went to work with what it had in the new decade: 23 teams in a meaner, leaner league filled with often brilliant players, all searching for an audience in a slow economy. Attendance had fallen and TV ratings were very low; there were problems attracting advertisers, problems with national network (CBS) priorities and presentation, and a number of franchises struggling under the financial strain of free agency. But Bird and Magic had arrived, and the game itself was undergoing a creative renaissance sourced in teamwork and great passing, with a series of strong drafts growing the talent each season.  The 200-some players holding down NBA jobs coming out of the late 1970s would cut the diamond that Michael Jordan and the Dream Team marketed to the world.

Jeelani would be one of the 200 for only one season in Dallas, where he was one of only four players to remain on the team from training camp to the end of the season.  He scored the first bucket in Mavericks history, and got used to hearing chants of “Abdul” from the home fans. Gary Cole from Racine, Wis., had changed his religion and his name; encountered rejection; traveled the world; and returned to try again in the league that rejected him, making the cut during its lean recessionary times. And as a young follower of Islam, he became a fan favorite in Tom Landry and Roger Staubach’s good ol’ boy christian conservative Dallas.  That’s one heckuva story.  The only problem was Jeelani’s salary of $57,000, which was far easier to double in Europe than in the NBA. In Europe Jeelani was a star; in the NBA, he was a mid-level player who usually came off the bench, and economic times were still tough in 1981.   He would move on to play in Italy and Spain for the better part of the next decade.

The 1979 Blazers bowed out in the first round (2-1) to the Dennis Johnson-Gus Williams-Paul Silas-Jack Sikma Seattle Supersonics, the eventual champs.

11. 1976 Milwaukee Bucks (38-44).  First season after the Kareem trade, the young Bucks were led by All-Star forward Bobby Dandridge, great-shooting Brian Winters and center Elmore Smith, the latter two acquired in “The Trade” along with Junior Bridgeman and power forward David Meyers.  The Bucks, coached by Larry Costello, won the 1976 Midwest Division without Kareem, largely owing this to the Pistons early season injury troubles (see above). Kareem’s Lakers actually failed to make the playoffs despite having a better record (40-42) than both the Pistons and the Bucks.  In the divisional playoff format of 1976, the Lakers had to catch Phoenix to win the fifth and final seed in the West but lost four of six to the Suns in the regular season and fell two games short.

Not a good year for Kareem or the Midwest Division, obviously, but the playoffs redeemed Lanier’s Pistons.  Against Detroit in the first round, the Bucks opted to bomb away from the outside and, thanks to some phenomenal shooting, managed to steal game one and then leave fans hyperventilating in Games 2 and 3 with three point losses in each.  Winters, a 1976 and 1978 All-Star, shot 63%, averaging 27.3 points per game in the series — without the aid of the 3-pointer.  Dandridge netted 22 per game on 49% shooting and guard Gary Brokaw shot 62.2% for 21 ppg. But it wasn’t quite enough.

This was Costello’s last full season as Bucks coach. Don Nelson, who was busy helping the Celtics win the 1976 title in his final season as a player, joined Costello’s staff for the 1976-77 season, and the head coaching job fell in Nellie’s lap early on.  The Bucks kept the core of Winters, Bridgeman and Meyers, let Dandridge go to the Bullets in free agency (received cash compensation), and launched full-on into the “Green and Growing” rebuilding plan. Nellie and GM Wayne Embry traded Brokaw and Elmore Smith to Cleveland for Rowland Garrett and two first round picks, one in 1977 (Ernie Grunfeld) and one in 1978 (George Johnson).  They drafted Quinn Buckner and Alex English in 1976, then Nellie traded monster rebounding center Swen Nater (their 1973 draft pick, who had been playing in the ABA until the merger) to the Buffalo Braves for the No. 3 first round pick that would be used to draft forward Marques Johnson in 1977.  When Marques arrived the Bucks started winning and the rest, as they say, is history. The Bucks became a perennial contender after drafting Sidney Moncrief in 1979 and acquiring Lanier from Detroit in 1980.

12. 1992 Miami Heat (38-44).   First playoff trip for the expansion heat. Glen Rice wasn’t a 50-40-90 shooter this season (the Bird-Dirk-Durant standard) but he wasn’t too far off at 47-39-84. Rice led the fledgling Heat with 22.3 ppg, getting help from center Rony Seikaly and rookie gunner Steve Smith. The Heat would try use those three as a base to build a winner; they would not succeed.  The Heat started winning when Pat Riley took over in 1995 and completely overhauled the roster, including the core three.  The 1992 Heat were coached by Kevin Loughery, same Loughery who coached the Nets in the 1970s (see No. 8 on this list). Swept in the first round by Jordan and the Bulls on their way to title No. 2.

13. 2013 Milwaukee Bucks (38-44).  What will history say about this Bucks team?  Their coach, Scott Skiles, quit/was let go 32 games into the season after putting his house up for sale and declining to sign a contract extension.  The interim coach, Jim Boylan (the same Jim Boylan who was included in that 1979 Bernard King trade) played his team fast and loose and continued to develop good, young big men (Larry Sanders, John Henson).  But the Bucks’ trio of guards shot too poorly overall and played too little defense down the stretch to avoid a first round series against the defending champs, the Heat.  The Bucks lost 15 of their last 21 games, and few expect Boylan back as coach (Boylan was fired after the Heat dismissed the Bucks from the playoffs in a 4-0 sweep).

There are worse teams on this “38 or less” playoffs list, to be sure (Jim O’Brien’s teams come to mind), and better teams too.  The common thread for these teams is that they were all in transition, most of them on the way down, not up or sideways.  Those sideways teams that stayed the course, such as the 1976 Pistons and the 1992 Heat would break up their teams within three years. It will happen this summer in Atlanta.  It may happen soon in Indiana, too, though not this season. History shows that mediocrity in the NBA plays itself out to sub-mediocrity, unless your Hall of Famer can stay healthy, and the Bucks don’t have one of those.  They don’t even have an Al Horford or a Glen Rice, not to say that Sanders can’t get better (this statement looks funny two years later).

The current situation says the Bucks won’t win in the long or short run with Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis and J.J. Redick’s disparate jump-shooting tendencies.  Whatever happens with the rest of the Bucks roster, the series against the Heat should be the last time we see the guard trio play for the Bucks.

Why +/- can’t be trusted for basketball analysis

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

When Ersan Ilyasova entered Sunday night’s game in Detroit, the Bucks were down 2-0 and Luc Mbah a Moute was headed for the locker room for some stitch work.  (See play-by-play log at NBA.com).

When Ilyasova left the game ten minutes later after picking up his second foul, the Bucks were down 29-21.   That’s a -6 in the world of box score +/- calculation. Pretty simply, right?

The Bucks were down 12 (70-58) when Ilyasova entered the game for Moute in the 3rd quarter and began a 13-6 run to end the quarter, whittling the Pistons lead down to eight (86-78) with 8:28 to go in the game.  That’s a +4 for Ilyasova in that stretch.

Negative 6 and +4 = -2 for Ersan (he had 17 pts at this point).  Yet when I looked at the boxscore online, the Yahoo-NBA boxscore from the Associated Press had Ilyasova at a whopping MINUS 21!

Even if you were just following along with the play-by-play online, you’d know that the +/- numbers for this game were off.   When Ilyasova’s was “corrected” with just under eight minutes left in the game, the box had Ersan at minus 3.  Better, but still wrong.

Then — somehow — as the Bucks fell down by 10 points, Ersan’s +/- actually improved to -1.

A few minutes later, the Bucks cut the lead to 3 (92-89) with Ersan still on the floor and his +/- had miraculously plunged again to -10.  What’s going on here?

All statisticians agree that Ilyasova had 21 points at that point.

The official NBA box, by the way, was even further off.  With the score tied at 94, they had Ilyasova at minus 17.   The correct number was +6.

We may be getting some idea how Ekpe Udoh was among the league leaders in adjusted +/- for Golden State last season.   (There was even some speculation that the trade of Andrew Bogut for Monte Ellis and Ekpe Udoh was inspired by young Udoh’s seemingly awesome +/- and his potential to do even greater things as he matured.  In fact, Bucks GM John Hammond even said words to this effect. Brewhoop addressed the phenomena in October 2012, almost three years ago as of this revision. The explanation for Udoh’s freakishly good +/- turned out to be that in Golden State he played a significant portion of his minutes with Steph Curry, and that those minutes added up to a small sample size.  Here, I’m obviously annoyed that the +/- numbers aren’t even correct some of the time). 

The final tape of our Bucks-Detroit game, despite a good game from Ersan, read Detroit 96, Bucks 94 as  Monta Ellis missing a jumper and a runner in the final 32 seconds.

Ilyasova finished with 24 points, 17 of those coming as he led the Bucks back from a 12-point 3rd quarter deficit.   The official box score at last read Ilyasvoa +3.   The correct +/- number for Ersan in this game +4.

And Ekpe Udoh?  He played 11:39, did not take a shot or grab a rebound, was largely invisible yet was credited with two steals I’m not sure he actually had.   His +/- for those invisible minutes read +7.  This +7 is the number that some will use to show how important Udoh was to the Bucks in this game, citing invisible and unmeasured basketball activities like setting good screens and not getting in the way of others.

It’s nice to have teammates.

Dwyane Wade is freezing and Ray Allen is shooting

Saturday, December 29th, 2012

Twitter highlights from the Miami Heat’s visit to Milwaukee for tonights game:

This from Dwyane Wade:

Back in Milwaukee. I can’t believe it’s been 10yrs since my days playing here. WoW..it’s still freezing tho. http://instagr.am/p/T1nNrglCFO/ 

 

And it appears that Heat gunner James Jones is now joining Ray Allen’s pregame shooting rituals.  This cannot be good for the Bucks tonight, or the rest of the NBA.   A tweet from Bucks p.r. …

Ray Allen and James Jones warm up before#MILvMIA @ BMO Harris Bradley Centerhttp://instagr.am/p/T1tbwnDdcf/

 

“Not finished product” and “still trying to figure it out” – The existentialist polarities of Bucks coach Scott Skiles

Saturday, December 29th, 2012

Sometimes Bucks fans just have to scratch their collective heads about the existentialism of Scott Skiles.  Here are the latest “still searching” musings from the man in charge of making Bucks playing time decisions:

”We’re 15-12. I don’t think we’re a finished product yet. We’re still trying to figure out some things.”  — Skiles this past Thursday in the AP story “Bucks in thick of Central race for now.”

27 games into the season and the coach is still trying to figure out some things, still trying to find his team — or find himself within the context of this Bucks team:  The Brandon Jennings-Monta Ellis show with an overstock of power forwards and centers.

In many ways comments like these are self-serving on Skiles part.  The players didn’t start the D-League-level forward tandem of Tobias Harris and rookie John Henson, three Bucks losses until the Bucks bench reversed a laugher in Chicago to bury the Bulls.   Scott Skiles filled out those Frankenstein lineups that sometimes included Ekbe Udoh, sometimes Sam Dalembert, and finally Marques Daniels in place of the very limited Harris.   Sure, the coach was searching, but for what?

The Bucks lost seven out of nine during that forgettable stretch, and there wasn’t a Bucks analyst alive who could figure out what Skiles was doing, other than scape-goating Ersan Ilyasova in full view of Bucks fandom while waiting for the return of Luc Mbah a Moute, the great defender who, more than any other player, has made sense of things for Skiles since he took the Bucks job in 2008.   Moute’s also the only player left from Skiles’ first team.

This last fact, in other ways, shows Skiles’ comments to be veiled criticism (perhaps) of the Bucks front office — which hasn’t agreed with Skiles’ conception of Moute as a starting power forward, and has larded the Bucks with the likes of Drew Gooden, Jon Brockman and Ekbe Udoh at the position, even as Ilyasova has played his way, time and again, into a prominent rotation spot as the Bucks power forward.

And this is precisely where the Bucks and Skiles have found themselves again:  starting Moute at power forward while Ilyasova plays the majority of the PF minutes off the bench and finishes games, with Moute shifting over to small forward and platooning in and out for defensive purposes.

With 2013 days away, the Bucks are the same as they ever were circa 2009-10:

Mike Dunleavy is Carlos Delfino;

Beno Udrih is Luke Ridnour;

Sanders-Udoh-Przybilla-Dalembert are a weird, four-headed version of Andrew Bogut that plays with only two heads and has watched the Bucks plunge to 26th in the NBA in defensive rebounding (coinciding with the benching of Dalembert);

Marquis Daniels is Keith Bogans, Jerry Stackhouse and Charlie Bell, and sometimes Delfino;

Monta Ellis the wild card;

And Jennings and Moute — and often Ilyasova — managing at times, when they can, to make sense of it all for Skiles and the fans, regardless of what the front office does with the players around them.

When it does, it’s not always clear Skiles knows why it works, beyond knowing that Bucks wins are usually predicated on defense and that they match up well with the Boston Celtics (a 3-wins out of four surprise for the Bucks).

When it doesn’t work, the product isn’t finished (still) and more mad tinkering may be in store from Skiles, the front office or both.

Ridiculous Stat of the Day:  There’s always something that jumps out about these Bucks when one looks at the sort-able season summary stats at basketball-reference, the ritual with which the Bob Boozer Jinx editorial board starts its day.  With the Miami Heat in Milwaukee to play our deer tonight, the board decided it was time to check the Strength of Schedule rankings.

Lo and behold, our 15-12 Bucks have played the 28th easiest schedule in the league.  With the Celtics, Pacers and Bulls (Bucks are 6-2 against their rivals) more average than good so far this season, that’s how it goes.   Playing the Heat tonight will change this stat, but the Bucks head for Detroit on Sunday, back down it’ll go, leaving the Bucks with a hard road ahead in 2013.  Ridiculous.

Ridiculous Stat of the Day II:   As mentioned above, the Bucks are currently the 5th worst in the NBA at rebounding their opponents’ misses.  Ridiculous.

Ridiculous Stat of the Day III:  The career defensive rebounding percentage of little-used Bucks center Sam Dalembert is 25.4% — 10th best in NBA history.  The Bucks with Dalembert starting at center began the season leading the league in defensive rebounding.  Do we think there’s a connection between Bucks rebounding and Dalembert’s playing time?  Absolutely.  Ridiculous.

Ridiculous Stat of the Day IV:  The Golden State Warriors are 20-wins, 10 losses and are tied for 4th in the West with Memphis.   How good will the Warriors be when Andrew Bogut is healthy enough to anchor the defense?   Ridiculous.

Scott Skiles’ starting rotation shooting the Bucks in the foot

Monday, December 24th, 2012

Coming off a big overtime win in Boston and facing the 5-23 Cavaliers at the Bradley Center BMO Harris BMO Harris Bradley Center, a 15-11 record heading into the three-day X-mas break looked pretty good for the Bucks.   But not after the starters shot less than 38% and repeatedly dumped the Bucks into a 10-then-20 point hole that the bench couldn’t dig out of.

If the opening tip five against Cleveland are to be coach Scott Skiles’ starters the rest of the way, get used to nights like Saturday.   As a group they are one of the worst — if not the worst — shooting group currently starting in the NBA.

Skiles’ current starting lineup — Brandon Jennings and Monte Ellis, with forwards Marquis Daniels and Luc Mbah a Moute, and center Larry Sanders — would be dead last in the NBA in shooting, were the 7 wins-20 losses Charlotte Bobcats not shooting worse.  (See NBA season summary).

The Bucks starters combined are shooting an effective 45.3% on the season (587.5 out of 1297), adjusting up for three-pointers made.  (The Bucks by the way are 28th in the league from downtown, hitting just 31.9%.)

The rest of the team is misfiring too, though not so much since Ersan Ilyasova has resurrected to find his jumper.  They’re at 47.4% effectively, slightly better than the team % of the Memphis Grizzlies.  Ilyasova’s percentage has climbed out of the 25% range and is heading toward 50%.

The dud Saturday against Cleveland was actually accomplished with cold-shooting Monta Ellis on a good night, going 15 of 27 and shooting an effective 59.3% – only the second time this season Ellis has hit that mark.

Ellis shoots more than anybody in the league with the exception of Kobe Bryant and Russell Westbrook, while posting career-lows in field goal and 3-point-%.   Monta’s never been good from 3-point-land, but the 20.9% he’s shooting this season is horrific. And those latest stats include two good shooting games by Ellis against the Celtics and Cavs.

There is no “shooting guard” in the NBA playing more than 30 mins per game who shoots worse than Monta  (See HoopData sorted stats by position).

Point guard shooting percentages being what they are (generally lower), only the Knicks J.R. Smith joins Ellis as a “shooting guard” in the bottom ten.  And remember, Ellis is firing away at a rate topped only Kobe and Russell Westbrook.

But this isn’t all about Monta Ellis or Jennings.   Compounding matters is that Skiles starts Ellis with forwards Luc Mbah a Moute and Marquis Daniels, two defensive minded players not known for sticking shots.  Moute and Daniels are both below 48% career eFG%, under the league average of 48.8% this year.

Skiles has done this, he says, because he wants to start games with stronger D — defying the expectations of Bucks fans that Ilyasova and Moute would finally get a chance to start together and bring some chemistry to Skiles’ ever-changing rotations — and  it’s not as though Ilyasova’s a slouch on defense.

One could argue — I suppose — that with good-shooting Beno Udrih still out with a right ankle injury, Skiles is looking for some balance off the bench, where Mike Dunleavy could use Ersan’s scoring help.

But if this is an attempt at balance by Skiles, it’s being lost brick by brick with a starting lineup that isn’t supposed to shoot well because they never have.   The  tip-off five needs a shooter, and Ilyasova’s shot is coming back around to where it was last season.

So the obvious answer is to move Ilyasova back into the starting lineup and see if the Bucks can ween themselves off their dependency on Ellis, who shoots too much for the team’s good — but will keep on shooting unless there is a reliable alternative on the court.   Right now, there’s just no such alternative in the Bucks starting 5, and the Bucks might as well make some effort to get a payoff out of the $7.9 million a year investment they made in Ersan.

A Bucks-Celtics note:  Skiles has played Ilyasova starters’ minutes (29.4 per game) in the four games against the Celtics, three of them victories.  Good matchups for Ersan?  Or a trend?  We shall see.  

Thieves:  Brandon Jennings trails only Chris Paul and Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley in steals per game.  The Bucks continue to be a Top 5 team in forcing turnovers while being 6th in the league at not turning the ball over.  They’re getting two more possessions per game than their opponents.

Larry!  Larry!:  Larry Sanders is leading the NBA in blocked shots per game (3.1) and is No. 1 in defensive rating, a measure of points allowed per 100 possessions that a player is on the floor.   Larry’s 93.4 points allowed per 100 is one point better than Tim Duncan’s and 1.3 better than Pacers center Roy Hibbert.

Ray in Miami:  There’s still mucho love for Ray Allen in Milwaukee, but they surely like him more in Miami these days.   Ray’s staking his claim to “The Best Shooter in Basketball” crown, leading all guards and forwards in Effective Shooting percentage (eFG%).  Ray’s  a 61 percent shooter, behind only Knicks center Tyson Chandler.   Ray’s the only non- center in the top 5.

Lebron James, meanwhile, is a surprising 6th in the NBA with a 58.1% effective shooting, as the MVP is having a career shooting year inside and outside the 3-point arc.   The extra room and better spacing James gets with Ray on the floor is certainly partly responsible for this — as are the added offensive smarts a team gets with Ray — but most of the credit goes to James himself.  He’s playing more post-up than in the past, he’s hitting his threes and his shot selection is the best its ever been.

James is also having a career rebounding year, grabbing 8.5 boards per game.

Where’s the love? Jennings is Player of the Week but the Bucks remain unconvincing

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

Brandon Jennings is leading the NBA in assists and steals and Jennings was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week for the 2012-13 season tip-off week.

The 2-0 Bucks are leading the NBA in defensive rebounding (grabbing 82% of available boards), leading the league in pace (98.2 possessions per 48 minutes) and they’re  the league’s 3rd-best defensive rated team.

So where’s the love?  This from NBA.com’s power rankings heading into week 2, with the Bucks ranked 20th:

Though the Monta Ellis/Brandon Jennings pairing doesn’t look any better than it did last season, Jennings himself is off to a strong start. He scored 21 points in Friday’s win in Boston, hit the game-winner on Saturday against the Cavs, and dished out 13 assists each night. Mike Dunleavy carried a huge load (29 points, 12 boards and six assists) off the bench against Cleveland.

And this from Yahoo NBA, where the Bucks are ranked a surprising high 9th:

Milwaukee Bucks (2-0, previous ranking: 17th): Brandon Jennings playing with an edge after not getting a contract extension.

Realistically, it’s too early to tell, but there aren’t too many around the league impressed with Bucks GM John Hammond’s pairing of Jennings and Ellis, two undersized defensive matadors who are models of offensive inefficiency even as they command the ball.  Unless one (Jennings in week one) is playing like an All-Star.

And then there’s Jennings’ contract situation, which isn’t making too many in the Bucks camp or its fandom too comfortable.

Stay tuned …  The Bucks defense was impressive in Boston, challenging everything the Celtics tried to do with the ball …. yet somehow it still feels like preseason.

The Memphis Grizzlies and their mean, mean frontline of Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Mareese Speights are in town Wednesday.   A good test the day after the election.

Election Day: Speaking of which, President Obama’s nearly a lock for a second term, according to various sports stats gurus, and they’re under attack for saying so.

The cold hard facts have been suggesting that — barring a Romney miracle — the election was all but decided 10 days-to-two weeks ago.   But nobody in politics likes obviousness.  There’s just no money in it.

Happy Election Day.

Nellie’s Hall of Fame induction speech and the Bucks era the NBA forgot

Monday, September 10th, 2012

The winningest coach in NBA history (1,335) got the lion’s share of those wins as coach of the Milwaukee Bucks in the Marques JohnsonSidney Moncrief era.  This weekend coach Don Nelson — Nellie — was inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame.

With Satch Sanders (a Celtics teammate from Nellie’s playing days), Bucks center Bob Lanier and Nellie’s Warriors star Chris Mullin standing behind him, Nellie reeled off the names of his Bucks core – the best team the NBA ever forgot:  Sidney, Marques, Junior Bridgeman, Brian Winters and Paul Pressey (Terry Cummings, Marques’ eventual replacement, also got a nod).  Here’s the video of the full speech:

Nellie won 540 games (.611 winning percentage) and seven straight division titles with the Bucks, one in the Western Conference, then six straight Central Division titles in the East after the 1980 realignment that set the rivalries in the post-ABA merger Golden Age.   Oh, it made sense geographically for the Bucks and Bulls to switch conferences with the Rockets and Spurs, aligning the three Texas teams in the Midwest Division after the 1980 expansion in Dallas — but moving Marques and Lanier’s Bucks (Moncrief was coming off the bench behind Winters at the time) into the East with the Dr. J’s 76ers and Larry Bird’s Celtics grossly weighted the balance of power in the league.

Had the Bucks stayed in the West, the 1981 Finals might well have been a Milwaukee-Philly matchup.   The 1983 Finals would certainly have been a Milwaukee-Philly showdown.   Instead, Nellie’s Bucks were denied the big stage by either Philly or Boston in the East playoffs while Magic Johnson’s Lakers waltzed to the Finals eight times in 10 years.   Those great Bucks teams have faded in league memory, getting less respect now than Reggie’s Pacers and the Malone-Stockton Jazz teams, even Ewing’s Knicks, Finals losers all.

As difficult as it may be for fans who don’t remember to imagine this, Reggie Miller — inducted into the Hall this week with Nellie — would not have started on the Bucks and been a valued sharpshooter off the bench circa 1981-87, playing behind Moncrief.  The same is true of Jamal Wilkes, also inducted into the Hall this weekend.   Wilkes would have backed Marques up, just as future Hall of Famer Alex English did in the 1977-78 season.   Marques and Sidney — 5-time All-Stars both — were that good.  Yet their Bucks teams seem to slip further into unremembered time with each passing year.

Who was that the camera cut to when Nellie mention Sidney and Marques?   There in the audience sat an expressionless 76ers coach Billy Cunningham, deep in thought.  Four out of five years (1981-85), the Sixers kept the Bucks from a shot at the Finals or the Celtics, or both.   Was Cunningham remembering Game 7 in 1981 in Philly, when Caldwell Jones saved the Sixers by grabbing a loose ball under the 76er basket?   Or was he thinking of the protest Nellie filed with the league after that game?

Or was Cunningham thinking about Dr. J and Marques, a small forward showdown for the ages, one that Doc ceded to Bobby Jones on the defensive end?   If a Bucks fan could offer a guess, it was probably about “Bobby.”   Which heroic Jones defensive play was the Sixers coach remembering?   His memory on those plays (and non-calls by the refs)  can’t possibly resemble how a Bucks fan remembers them.  But at Nellie’s induction, Cunningham was there, back in time somewhere, lost in the many close shaves the Sixers had against the Bucks.

Dr. J and Bird were in the audience, but (as you’ll see in the video) the cameras didn’t find them during the Bucks portion of Nellie’s speech.   And when Nellie noted that his assistant coach (and former teammate), K.C. Jones, won two titles with Bird as Celtics head coach, Nellie politely declined to mention that Jones got the Boston job amid the fallout from the Bucks’ 1983 playoff sweep of the Celtics — four straight in the playoffs, in Bird’s prime.

Later on in the speech, when Nellie mentions that he coached Miller on “Dream Team II” in 1994, the cameras do find Bird and his “Dream Team I” teammate Michael Jordan.   While Jordan is smirking, apparently enjoying a private joke, the look on Bird’s face is none too pleasant.    It is drawn into a scowl, and there’s a dark look in his eyes, as though he wanted to revoke Nellie’s Celtics player credentials.   I like to think that Bird was still mulling the Bucks and the ’83 sweep, about the sub-par shooting series he had against Marques; and how Nellie humiliated the Celtics — Danny Ainge in particular — during the series, labeling the over-matched Ainge “a whiner,” not good enough to be on the court with Moncrief, Winters, Pressey and Bridgeman.  Things were pretty ugly for the Celtics in that series from the opening whistle to the end, when Moncrief threw in a three-pointer in the closing seconds just to add to the Celtics humiliation.   The final score wasn’t close.

The Celtics fired coach Bill Fitch shortly after the sweep and replaced him with Nellie’s assistant, Jones.  They kept Quinn Buckner on, too, as a backup point guard, probably more so to make sure Nellie didn’t bring Quinn back to Milwaukee in 1984 than because Quinn was much use to the Celtics.   Whether that’s true or not matters less than the depth of the bitterness felt in Boston after the sweep.   The next season the Celtics got their revenge, beating the Bucks in the 1984 East finals on their way to a title and Quinn, bad knees and all — the player once singled out by Nellie as the one guy he would never trade — was in kelly green, not the forest green of the Bucks.

Or maybe Bird was remembering the Celtics being down 10 to the Bucks in Boston with four minutes to go in Game 7 of the 1987 East semifinals, with only the Pistons between either team and the Lakers in the NBA Finals.   Miraculously and with it all on the line, the Bucks self-destructed and the Celtics won their fifth trip to the Finals in the Bird era, another Larry and Magic finals.   And it is Celtics guard Dennis Johnson, not Sidney Moncrief, who is in the basketball Hall of Fame.

This may change someday for Sidney, now a Bucks assistant coach, maybe next year but probably not.   Moncrief won the league’s first two Defensive Player of the Year awards and was the only guard in the 1980s allowed into any conversation about Magic and Michael (sorry Isaiah), yet his name did not appear on the list of potential 2013 inductees posted by NBA-TV during the induction ceremony.   Bobby Jones was listed, however, and so was Sixers point guard Maurice Cheeks.    This is how the league remembers the era that included Nellie’s Bucks, even if Larry Bird doesn’t.

For now, the Bucks coach is in the Hall, and that will have to do.   It does, if only because of Cunningham’s far away stare and that horrible scowl on Bird’s face during Nellie’s induction speech.

RIP Bob Boozer

Monday, May 21st, 2012

Bob Boozer, the power forward on the Bucks lone NBA title winner, the player whose picture graces the website banner above, passed away Saturday of a brain aneurysm. He was 75.

Tom Enlund wrote a nice obituary in the Journal Sentinel, featuring fond memories of the Big O, Oscar Robertson, who played with Boozer on the gold medal winning 1960 Olympic team and with the Cincinnati Royals and our 1971 NBA champion Bucks.  Read Enlund’s story here.

I had hoped to someday meet the man whose retirement in 1971 gave birth to the jinx at the Bucks power forward position … but it seems the basketball gods had other ideas.

Rest in Peace Bullet Bob, and thank you.

— J. D. Mo

The Chris Kaman conspiracy: Are the Bucks in the game?

Monday, January 30th, 2012

No Andrew Bogut until April at the earliest, highly speculative and tenuous playoff hopes, a Bogut-less Bucks fan base that needs those playoff hopes, no space under the salary cap next season and most of the necessary roster ingredients for a trade.

Stir it all together and you’ve got motive and opportunity for the Bucks to be party to a trade for veteran center Chris Kaman, who’s been publicly placed on the trading block by the New Orleans Hornets.   The Hornets reportedly want “draft picks, cap space and a young player” for the 29-year-old former All-Star (2010) and his expiring $14 million contract.  The Celtics have already declined.

The Bucks have young players, draft picks and the expiring contracts of Ersan Ilyasova and Carlos Delfino, not enough to make the trade.  (See Bucks salaries at Shamsports.com). But Stephen Jackson’s contract could get them there, if the Hornets are willing to take on Jack’s $10 million salary next season.  Add Ilyasova, draft picks and/or the developing Darington Hobson, Larry Sanders et. al., and a trade could work.

The Hornets could do a lot worse.  Ilyasova’s become one of the better rebounding forwards in the league and would be a good addition to the Hornets undersized front court, led by Emeka Okafor.  It’s no secret that, while Ersan is a key member of the Bucks core, Bucks management hasn’t been willing to trust him with starting PF minutes.  For all the good Ersan does on the court, at the end of the day he’s still standing in the way of Jon Leuer‘s development.  Acquiring Kaman helps solve the Bucks defensive rebounding problems (yes, it’s still a problem) in the short term, and clears minutes for Leuer.

So while the Bucks are giving up the better rebounder (currently) and defender in Ilyasova, they would shore up the center position while clearing $14 million in cap space next season.  And Jackson?   The Hornets would be well under the cap next summer standing pat, and adding Jackson would still leave them Room.  They’d only have to pay Jack a year (or less if they trade him).  And, as the Bucks have discovered this season, Jack’s a good guy to have around in spite of all the angry yapping.

So why don’t the Bucks keep him?  Delfino and Mike Dunleavy, jr. play more or less the same position as Jack, and Luc Mbah a Moute needs small forward/guard minutes, too (locking down on Joe Johnson, Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce, Lebron James, Danny Granger, Carmelo Anthony, to name a few).  Jack’s fairly expendable, and the Bucks play just fine without him.

Kaman fits in well in the Bucks scheme, and he’s a more reliable offensive player than Bogut.  Kaman helps get the Bucks to the post-season, where the Bucks would have Bogues, too (in theory) and a formidable white behemoth front court.

So would the NBA-owned Hornets sting on this trade?   With the league office involved, it’s not clear that the Bucks have the right expiring contracts for a trade, but there are a lot worse contracts out there than Jackson’s (Drew Gooden’s comes to mind).  A trade would likely depend on the young players, whether the Hornets want to keep Ilyasova, and the value of the draft picks involved.

It also depends on Bucks GM John Hammond, never one to stand pat or worry about stability or player development.

Of course, it’s also likely that I’m just talking myself into it so I can post crazy Chris Kaman photos.