Tag Archives: Chris Kaman

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

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.

All Star Voting: The four Celtics and Dwight Howard blog

I’ll get back to Ray and D-Wade and the Heat … First …

The beleaguered-yet-determined Bucks — what’s left of them — are out west, headed for Denver where who-does-what-now should decide how the lineup shakes up when Bogut is ready to come back to work.   The early returns suggest that Ersan Ilyasova has taken Drew Gooden’s starting power forward job and John Salmons may end up taking a seat soon so that he and the Bucks can figure out what ails him.

The better-than-expected arrival of Chris Douglas-Roberts Saturday and the pending return of Corey Maggette gives the Bucks some options with the Fish, who’s sluggish game thus far has made me miss Charlie Bell.  CD-R in two games has been just what the Bucks have needed — an NBA guard who can hit a shot.   (15 pts per game on excellent 61.1% eff-shooting.)

Ersan Ilyasova in Utah (18 pts on 10 shots, six tough-to-get-in-Utah rebs and three steals) continued to show that when he gets minutes, he produces.  In the 7 games that Ersan has played 25+ minutes, he’s averaging 14.6 ppg and 7.1 rpg, shooting an e-fg rate of 53.2% — that’ll win a few games for the Bucks if he keeps it up. He’s also managed 13 steals, pretty impressive for a power forward.

And no, Ersan’s not riding a six steal game or getting a bump from a 27 pt break-out — he has consistently scored and wreaked havoc on opposing offenses in each of the seven games that Skiles has given him 25+ the minutes.   All evidence suggests that Ersan has recovered from leading Turkey to a silver medal at the 2010 World Championships, and has likewise recovered from the early season benching-by-Skiles that his Turkish heroics earned him back in Milwaukee.

ALL STAR VOTING: This apparent rebooting of the Bucks has given me time to think about the All-Star ballot and mull over what’s been what in the first one-fifth of the season.  Have Lebron and D-Wade really earned a trip to the All-Star game?   Why do the Spurs and Lakers refuse to allow their centers to be listed as centers?   And who’s to stop me from voting four Celtics as the East starters?

On this last question: Nobody.  So I did.  And I probably will again until Lebron James does something truly impressive, like listen to his coach, Erik Spoelstra.  Rajon Rondo is an obvious choice to be the east starter at point guard.  I’ve seen enough Paul Pierce this season to know that he’s still knocking ’em down with clockwork regularity and leading the Celtics in scoring.  Those two selections were easy.

At power forward I would consider voting for Lebron, because the Heat don’t have one now that Udonis Haslem is hurt (note: this wasn’t intended as a knock on Chris Bosh but the word “power” just doesn’t connote the word “Bosh” in my mind.)  And I would consider voting for the Hawks Al Horford if only he were not listed as a center. Anybody who saw Dwight Howard and the Magic pummel the Hawks in four straight in the East semi-finals knows that Al Horford is not a center.  Anybody who watched the Bucks take the Hawks apart earlier this season knows the same — the Hawks don’t let Horford guard Andrew Bogut, instead starting Jason Collins at center against the Bucks.  Horford’s not big enough to tangle with Bogut, Howard, Noah, Lopez, the real centers of the East.

Dwight Howard is the All-Star starter at center, and it’s too bad Bogut hasn’t given Bucks fans a reason to vote for him … yet.  Let’s hope that changes.  Right now, Joakim Noah has the edge to be the backup center to Howard.

That leaves me with Kevin Garnett at power forward.  Sure, he backs away when confronted by guys like Bogut, but he’s still KG — love him, loathe him, he’s at least that — and his Celtics are still the team to beat in the East.  Done.  That’s three Celtics and a maybe for Lebron.  Maybe, but not now.  Did I forget Amar’e Stoudemire?  I forgot Amar””e, though he may be listed as a center, which makes him not only forgettable but irrelevant here.  I seem to have forgotten Chris Bosh, too.  Imagine that.  Bosh has not played like an All-Star in 2010, going back to last season.  (If you watched him in Toronto at the end of last season, you’d have wondered who was leading the Raptors in their bid for the playoffs.)

My shooting guard should be Dwyane Wade, shouldn’t it?  This is usually automatic.  But after two losses to the Celtics in which Ray Allen scored 55 points on him and shot 20 for 36 — see highlight reel above — it’s time to reconsider.  On the season, Ray’s shooting better than any long range gunner has a right to — 56.8% effectively, which takes into account his 44% shooting from Downtown.  Ray’s a weapon, pure and simple.  D-Wade is scoring 21.3 pts per game but it’s been a struggle to get those, and with the weapons the Heat have, his assists shouldn’t be down.  In Atlanta, Joe Jonson has also struggled to be the triple-threat that he was last season.  In Boston, Ray just lets the game come to him.  Easy, nothing but net.

One-fifth of the season done, the Celtics and Magic are leading the East at 12-4.  Punch it in: Four Celtics and Dwight to the 2011 All-Star game.

THE WEST: This is much tougher since I don’t watch the West as much as the East.  But these teams/the NBA (whoever makes the call on the ballot) don’t make it easy to pick a forward, do they?  Pau Gasol and Tim Duncan — two big men who mostly play center — are listed as forwards.  Dirk, West, Carmelo Anthony, what’s the voting fan to do?   At this point in the season, I’m punching in Gasol and New Orleans Bucks-assassin David West but that could change.  Dirk, carrying the Mavs and dropping the occasional 4o — deserve a vote.

The West guards: Kobe, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Brandon Roy, Kevin Durant … After Deron Williams‘ shredding of the Bucks last night, I went with Deron.  This brought to mind CP3’s expert game management in the Hornets two wins over the Bucks, so I gave the nod to Chris Paul, in recognition that the NBA is a better place with CP3 in it.   I then immediately thought of Kobe’s 30-point game in Milwaukee and how Brandon Roy’s Blazers handed the Bucks arses to them, also in Milwaukee.  Good thing Durant missed his game in Brewtown.  I may have to vote again.

Yao doesn’t need my vote at center, but he’s the only center on the ballot for the West.  There’s Haywood in Dallas, but he doesn’t start.  Tyson Chandler anyone?  Didn’t see him on the ballot.  Yao, even in his part time role, is out indefinitely with a bone spur.  Nene Hilario?

C’mon. Don’t make me vote for Chris Kaman.  At last check, Kaman says he doesn’t want “to be a hindrance” to the young Clippers. The West has not All-Star worthy center on the ballot, so I picked Yao, figuring it was the fair thing to do because he won’t play anyway and that’ll open up a spot for a deserving forward who plays center  — which will then open up a forward spot, which will help ensure that somebody like David West isn’t snubbed.  See how this works — or does it?

I’ll probably have to vote again tomorrow to see how all this settles.

Down in the standings: The next three games make or break the Raptors, Bosh

Toronto Raptors' Chris Bosh, left, dunks as Charlotte Bobcats' Stephen Jackson, right, looks on in the first half of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., Monday, March 29, 2010.It wasn’t so bad, being a Raptors fan for 24 hours, and they managed to overcome the locker room drama over the benching of Hedo Turkoglu to hold off the Bobcats in Charlotte, 103-101. And it was dramatic:

“Their postseason hopes suddenly in jeopardy, and with their $53 million shooter now an unwanted distraction, the Toronto Raptors came to Charlotte angry and on the edge of implosion.  … The Bobcats’ meek, nervous response showed this playoff race thing is still new to them.” — AP sports writer Mike Cranston, leading off his Raptors-Bobcats recap.

Dang, Mike. And most NBA fans think the high drama is in the West, where four teams are jostling for seeds 2-5. The race to settle 5-8 in the East may be just as good and not any less relevant, really, to the NBA title. The Cavs and Magic’s road to the championship runs East to West, and the beginning of that road is littered with teams playing .700 or higher basketball.

The Bucks remaining schedule is so difficult, it’s time to stop looking up in the standings and focus on the teams below them, all of whom have cake schedules and could make this too interesting for comfort. Besides, the Bucks play the Clippers tonight, and I certainly don’t want to spend any more blog time than I absolutely have to thinking about the Clippers.

The Raptors (36-37 and in 8th, just a game ahead of the Bulls) haven’t made any progress since 2008 when they finished 6th in the East (41-41), started slowly the next season and fired coach Sam Mitchell. With the addition of free agent Turkoglu, 2010 was supposed to be different — not a step back with 4th place even farther out of reach. 

So the blame has fallen on Turkoglu, who was benched Sunday in the loss to D-Wade and the Heat. Turk just wasn’t as responsible for the Orlando Magic’s success as people thought, and the Magic haven’t exactly missed the forward who was their weakest defender. In Toronto, where everybody from Jarret Jack to Andrea Bargnani to Chris Bosh can fill it up, Hedo’s solid offensive game is lost in the shuffle.

Offense never was the Raptors problem — they’re dead last in NBA defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) and allow more points per game than even the Knicks. If this can be laid on Turkoglu’s doorstep, I’ll bet you a contract extension for Toronto coach Jay Triano against Chris Bosh remaining a Raptor that says it can’t … even if he (Turkoglu) never was that good.  Not even Ben Gordon good.

That said, a split on a two-game road trip to Miami and Charlotte was better than half bad for these Raptors. The Bobcats in particular are an interesting matchup for the defense-challenged Raps, nearly their opposite. Larry Brown’s Cats may be one of the top four defensive teams in the league, but they have a difficult time putting the ball in the basket. The Raptors, led by Bosh’s 22 pts and some timely shooting by Turkoglu, put up 103 points last night and it was one bucket too many for the ‘Cats, even at home.

This was the right outcome for the Bucks, as it hung Eastern conference loss # 23 on the Bobcats. This will matter if the Bucks and Bobcats end the season tied, a reasonably good possibility given the difficulty of the Bucks last 10 games. Should the Bucks lose in Charlotte on Friday the season series would be tied, throwing the tie-breaker to conference schedule.  Bucks are 27-17 against the East this season, and would have to do a lot of losing in the conference for the Bobcats and their 23 losses to get the advantage in the race for the 6th seed.

The Raptors go home to play the Clippers, in the East this week to play back-to-back games in Milwaukee and Toronto. Then it’s down to Philly for a game against the suddenly good Sixers and back home to play Golden State. These three games should decide whether the Raptors and Bosh have any business thinking about the playoffs, because the next three (Cavs, Celtics, Hawks) say the Raptors are A) an afterthought (the Cavs) and B) a spoiler.

I think Bosh’s NBA stardom is also on the line in these next few games. You can only go so long losing more than you win before falling into the second tier or worse. If his Raptors are no match for the Clippers, Sixers or Warriors, this could be the last time we see Bosh as a centerpiece player in the NBA. Really. 

We went through this in Milwaukee with Michael Redd. Blaming the help (Turkoglu) is the first sign that the fall has already begun.  How’s that for playoff run drama?

Bucks-Clippers: I just realized the last thing I want to do is think about the Bucks two midweek games, tonight against the Clippers and Wednesday against the Cavs. At least it’s a back-to-back and the Bucks can get past these two quickly. And at least they play the Clippers first.

Having to play the Clippers at all in the middle of an Eastern Conference playoff run is kind of a distraction. But there are a few things the Bucks have going for them:

A) Hope that Carlos Delfino will return to the lineup tonight, recovered from the injuries suffered Friday at the feet of Miami’s Udonis Haslem;

B) That Andrew Bogut doesn’t want to be outplayed by Clippers center Chris Kaman; and,

C) The Clippers beat the Bucks two weeks ago in L.A., with point guard Baron Davis running a clinic on Brandon Jennings. Revenge to split the season series will be good for Jennings and make the plane ride to Cleveland much shorter. (Scratch Davis – he’s not playing. Steve Blake will start in his place. Typical Clippers – you never know who’s playing or not or who’s even on their roster.)

D) The Bucks are at home.

E) This is the last time the Bucks or their fans will have to think about Chris Kaman’s Clippers until next season. They’re the very definition of NBA distraction

Spoilers: Sticking in everybody’s business are the Sixers, who are suddenly playing like the playoff team they were supposed to be this season. They beat the Bucks and Hawks last week, and play in Charlotte tommorrow. Saturday the Sixers host the Raptors. The Bucks close their season series with the Sixers April 9 in Philly, where they haven’t won since 2007.

The Sixers rotation is filled with talented, athletic players, none of them the loafing kind (well, maybe Sam Dalembert takes a few nights off now and then, but never against the Bucks and Bogut). Mostly, they like playing D and, like a lot of defensive/hustle teams, will drive anybody who likes offensive efficiency nuts. They’ve had some injuries but forward Thaddeus Young (broken thumb) is the only player still sidelined as of this week. For teams like the Bucks or Bobcats, who like a good defensive struggle where the game comes down to turnovers and the battle for loose balls and rebounds (those 50-50 plays) the Sixers can be tough. They thrive playing the kind of ugly, possession-to-possession, Scott Skiles/Larry Brown style of basketball that breaks a lot of teams backs over 48 minutes.

Philly might wake up and realize that their season is over, but that would be very un-Sixer-like.  Very unlike an Eddie Jordan-coached team, too. In any case, it looks like the Sixers are doing exactly the opposite of quitting.  

“This is not a fluke. It is disappointing because we could’ve played like that the entire season.” — Sixers big forward Elton Brand.

The fluke may have been that they didn’t. And they haven’t lost their work ethic, according to coach Jordan. For future reference, here’s Jordan’s take on how the Sixers beat the Hawks and the Bucks last week:

“Obviously [in the wins], we’ve been making shots, but I do think we’ve been real solid in key areas. Whether it’s Andre [Iguodala] or Jrue [Holiday] locked up, or Samuel [Dalembert] locked up, it’s usually those three guys. They’ve been very good with their assignments, and that’s been very critical for us.”

Bucks brutal remaining schedule scares fan into rooting for Raptors

With 7:38 to play in the 4th quarter Sunday and the Memphis Grizzlies threatening to pull away from the seemingly exhausted, flat-shooting Bucks, Andrew Bogut and Brandon Jennings stalked onto the court from the sidelines with such determination and focus that anyone who saw it might have declared the game over right then and there.

Kurt Thomas, who had just turned the ball over by committing an offensive foul, headed for the bench, and Jerry Stackhouse, mired in an 11-game shooting funk (1-6 Sunday) that looks too business-as-usual to be called a slump, headed for the bench. Not to put the blame on those two reserves, both of them nearly old enough to be Brandon Jennings’ paw. The Bucks slide began late in the 3rd quarter with BJ and AB in the game and the Bucks in the process of making an 8-point lead vanish.  They were down 5 went Bogut and Jennings returned to the game. A 17-footer by Rudy Gay on the ensuing possession made it 85-78.  Coach Scott Skiles called time.  Enough was enough, time to see if Ersan Ilyasova, Luke Ridnour and John Salmons were into the game or not. They didn’t have much choice in the matter.

A rejuvinated Jennings quicked double-time into the pace of the Bucks offense, driving twice for layups. Luke Ridnour drove for one of his own. Salmons shot wasn’t flat anymore, Jennings was flying in for third layup and Ilyasova made the crowd forget about the airballs he had earlier tossed in zombie-like fashion from 3-point land.

Meanwhile Bogut challenged Memphis shots, took a charge on Gay, tapped back an offensive rebound, ate space in the paint and the Bucks found themselves clinging to a 94-92 lead in the final seconds.

The refs were apparently enjoying this spirited test of wills by the NBA’s new and interesting so much they didn’t want it to end. A phantom foul called on Jennings sent Mike Conley to the foul line to tie the game, which he did, and it went into OT tied at 94.   Check it out:

Didn’t touch him, did he? 

The Bucks, dog-tired in the 3rd quarter, seemed like the younger team in overtime (which they’re not, Jennings excepted).  They also made sure to get Bogut involved in the offense, and he delivered a running hook that served to collapse the Griz defense for the next few possessions, and that’s all it took.  The Bucks had open looks all over the court and wide open lanes to the hoop. They might have pulled away earlier than they eventually did but for a Gasol block of yet another layup by Jennings and a fluke step-out turnover by Ilyasova (refereeing at any level’s not supposed to be that good — it happened so fast it was difficult to see Ersan step out of bounds even in slo-mo replay, right though the ref was. Crazy.)

The Griz finally cracked, Zach Randolph got hit with a couple of dumb fouls trying to crash the boards, and the Bucks shot free throws to the 108-03 final. This turned into one of the better games of the season, and not because the Bucks schedule is so brutal the rest of the way that it was almost a must-win game. I said it when the Bucks stole the game in Sacramento and I’ll write it again — this was not a game the Bucks would have won 3 months ago.  

Bogut and Jennings willed this game into the win column. The knowledge that they can do this makes being a Bucks fan a hopeful fan to be with their first playoff together fast approaching. Jennings led the Bucks with a near triple double: 29 pts, 7 rebs and 8 assists. Bogut added 18 pts, 11 boards. And Salmons shot his way to 25. Ridnour refound his hyper-efficient groove and added 14 pts, 6 assists off the Bucks bench.

The Grizzlies starting five is fun to watch. Third-year-pro Conley, from the 2007 Final Four Ohio State team (Greg Oden) is at point; last season’s ROY runner-up Mayo is the shooter; UConn star Rudy Gay (2006 draft) is averaging 20 pts per game at small forward; there’s beastly 28-year-old Randolph (Michigan State) at big forward (31 pts, 15 rebs Sunday) and, at center, Marc Gasol, 25, younger brother of Laker Pau, but tougher and not complaining about Kobe’s refusals to pass the ball.

The Griz are 38-35 in Lionel Hollins’ first full season as the coach, as opposed to the interim/acting stints he’s served for the team in the past. Hollins was an assistant on Scott Skiles’ staff last season before returning to the Griz. That half-season in Milwaukee was the only NBA job outside the Grizzlies’ organization Hollins has held since the franchise came into the league as the Vancouver Grizzlies in 1995. Up until 2008, Hollins had coached in one capacity or another ever single game in Grizzlies franchise history, beginning as an assistant to Brian Winters at the dawn of Grizzlie time in the NBA. (Winters’ retired #32 Bucks jersey is hanging from the Bradley Center rafters).  There’s a post way back in the BBJ archives about Hollins, written when Skiles hired him in May of 2008, and you should click here to read more about it.  Hollins is a great coach and if yesterday’s game was any indication, he’s got the Grizzlies moving in the right direction. The Bucks were lucky to have him here for the time that they did.

“I have no problems or worries about how we are going to finish the season,” Hollins said after the game. “But I told them if you have this kind of focus and effort, you are going to win a lot of games and we are going to have a good finish.”

Yeah they are. And it looks as though they’re going to be tough to beat for years to come. 

Are the Chicago Bulls serious about getting into the playoffs or is Detroit really this bad?  The Bulls have nothing to lose — GM John Paxson agreed to swap picks with the Bucks as part of the Salmons trade, providing that the Bucks finish with a better record than the Bulls. That will happen. There’s no sense in the Bulls tanking so the Bucks can have the extra pings, so they play on.  While pondering this and other things, reading the Bulls-Pistons game recap at yahoo.com/nba, my eyes fell upon this little factoid in the “Notes” section:

Detroit is 2-14 against the Central Division, with both wins coming against Milwaukee. Besides being swept by the Bulls for the first time in 14 years, they were swept by Indiana for the first time in franchise history. The Bulls have beaten the Pistons 7 straight times.

Yes, the Pistons are that bad. Earlier today I saw a headline on the Journal Sentinel website about “Villanueva” and a possible “demotion.” I hit the link, curious to find out the latest bunk on Charlie Villanueva only to find that it was only Brewers pitcher Carlos Villanueva trying to convince a reporter that the possibility of being sent down to the minors doesn’t bother him. For a second there, I thought the Pistons were considering sending Charlie V to the D-League for some shot selection boot camp. How did the Bucks lose twice to those guys?

In MIAMI —  A big comeback by the Heat in the 4th quarter commandeers a game the Raptors had well in hand. Chris Bosh and team appear lost as Dwyane Wade makes play after play, asserting the inevitable.  That’s the good news. The bad news is that the 35-37 Raptors were the only team remaining on the Heat schedule that had any chance at a playoff spot. All that’s left now are 8 teams fighting for pings, and the Heat have a scaaaaaaary 3-game road trip coming up that takes them to Detroit, Indiana and Minnesota, their only departure from the dregs of the East. The Heat have won five in a row and are 40-34, just two games behind the Bucks (40-32) on the loss side. The Bucks hold the tie-breaker but D-Wade wants the #5 playoff seed.

The Bucks, meanwhile, hope Carlos Delfino recovers nicely from the neck and jaw injuries he suffered agains the Heat Friday and are battling a flu bug (Ersan took IV treatment a couple of days ago and now Charlie Bell is sick). Bogut seems OK after missing Friday’s game with a muscle problem in his upper back, and he’s just in time for a rematch Tuesday against Clippers center Chris Kaman, who had 20 against the Bucks in L.A. without his feet ever leaving the floor. 

After that, six of the Bucks last nine games are against teams fighting for playoff spots or position.  Team # 7  is the Lebrons on Wednesday in Cleveland, not fighting for anything really but wouldn’t mind mathematically eliminating the Lakers from contention for home court advantage throughout the playoffs, the sooner the better.  Zydrunas “Big Z” Ilgauskas, made his big return from 30-day buyout exile last night against Sacramento.

Game 8 is at Philly, where the Revenge of the Airball seems a vendetta without end.

Game 9, April 7, features the hopeless crusade of the 2010 New Jersey Nets. But it happens to be the second game of one of four back-to-backs coming up for the Bucks and has “weird things are going to happen in this game written all over it.”  

For the moment, the Bucks play four games in five days, are tasked with winning the tie breaker against 7th place Charlotte Bobcats (38-34) in Charlotte on Friday, a game certain to be a nasty defensive struggle against Larry Brown’s team. It always is. The Bucks then jet home to face Steve Nash, Amar’e Stoudamire (got the apostrophe this time) and the red-hot Phoenix Suns Saturday. It’ll be the Suns 5th game this week, too, and they’re fighting for home court advantage in Round 1 of the West playoffs.

Given the Heat’s pushover schedule, it’s looking more and more probable that the Bucks are destined for the 6th seed — if they can hold off Charlotte in 7th. The Cats have won 7 of their last 10 games, have a much easier schedule than the Bucks and tonight host Chris Bosh’s Raptors, fresh off their 4th quarter stinker yesterday in Miami. The Bucks need to go at least 5-5 through this ten game gautlet, with one of the wins seizing the season series and the tie-breaker from Charlotte.*

For the first time in the history of the Raptors franchise, I find myself rooting for them. Let’s see if it does any good.

*In the event the Bucks lose and the Charlotte season series knots at 2-2, the next tiebreaker is conference  division record.

After a whole bunch of nonsense that I just deleted, the bottom line is that the Bobcats are very much in striking range of the Bucks, especially if the Bucks crap out and lose six games to East opponents the rest of the way — a possibility considering that the Bobcats, Hawks, Celtics (twice), Cavs, Bulls (in Chicago) and a trip to Philly are on the schedule. The Bucks’ conference record is 27-17. The Bobcats are at 22-23.  The Bucks need 3 wins against East competition to claim the tie-breaker IF they lose Friday in Charlotte.

If this sounds like one too many scenarios springing from the art of losing, it probably is. Let’s just beat the Bobcats Friday and grab the tiebreaker.

It’s sucking time at Basketbawful

If the streaking-for-the-playoffs Bucks 101-93 loss to the Clippers in LA didn’t bring Bucks fans down to earth, or at least out of the clouds, how they did it might. After Brandon Jennings scored 14 points in the 3rd quarter to pull the Bucks back into the lead after they had fallen into a 16 point hole, the Clips came out in the 4th playing a 2-3 zone.

That’s right, the Bucks were down 16 to Chris Kaman and the Clippers. Bogut!

The Bucks couldn’t solve the zone or shoot the Clippers out of it. Playing without forward Carlos Delfino and with Charlie Bell relegated to the bench after a poor first half (Charlie started at guard and Salmons moved over to Delfino’s forward spot) the Bucks rimmed 6 three-pointers in the first six minutes of the 4th, two by Jerry Stackhouse, two by Luke Ridnour and one apiece by John Salmons and Royal Ivey. Suddenly they were down 86-78 and couldn’t claw back. Unfortunately, this is why some of our guards (Stackhouse, Ridnour) are 30% in their careers from Downtown.

Kaman had 20 pts and 7 boards, all of them excruciating to watch. Did I mention Royal Ivey? I did. Ivey came in for Bell in the 3rd and sparked the Bucks’ comeback with some rabid D (two steals) and a much needed 3-pointer. Nice to have Ivey back … and wouldn’t it have been great to have him around last season?  It sucked that we didn’t …

BASKETBAWFUL‘s “30 reasons this kind of sucks”: Is it that time of year already?  With the Bucks winners of 12 out 13 going into the Clippers game, losing just once since John Salmons joined the club, Andrew Bogut realizing his All-Pro potential, Rookie of the Year talk for Brandon Jennings and Coach of the Year talk for Scott Skiles, is this really the time to think about the bad stuff?

11. The Milwaukee Bucks: They fleeced the Bulls out of John Salmons, immediately went on an 11-1 run and moved from sub-.500 to the fifth seed in the Leastern Confernece. Andrew Bogut took a break from high-fiving himself to become one of the better centers in the league, Brandon Jennings is learning to pass the ball, and the Bucks as a whole are buying into Scott Skiles’ “bust your ass on defense and outhustle the other team” system. It’s all clicking in Milwaukee, which will inevitably lead to unreasonable expectations for the 2010-11 season. Just wait. It’ll be all, “Once they get Michael Redd back, they’ll be even better. This was a season to build on!”

But no, no it won’t be. Look, I’ve seen this before. Hell, the same thing happened last season when the Bulls obtained Salmons and then rocketed into the playoffs. This chemistry spike won’t last. Michael Redd, once he returns from yet another knee surgery, still won’t be a true franchise player. Salmons — assuming the Bucks hold onto him — will revert to form. Bogut, for all his improvement, probably won’t be a franchise player. And the Milwaukee players will eventually tire of Skiles’ taskmaster tendencies. It’ll happen. It’s just a matter of time.

You’re right, Bawful, that did suck, and here’s why:

Brandon Jennings will become a great point guard in the NBA. The Rookie of the Year talk you’re hearing isn’t in Italian (Jennings played in Italy last year), it’s in English. Kid Money really is that good, and will only get better.

Andrew Bogut is a franchise player. He will very likely be an All-Pro this season, and the Bucks have not had an All-Pro center since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the early-mid 1970’s. We’ve had an All-Star center, Bob Lanier one time, and a very good Jack Sikma, but they were nearing the end of their careers on those great 1980’s Bucks teams. Bogut is 25 and hooking left, hooking right … into his prime.

Sure, it’s taken a while for Bogues to realize his All-Pro potential, but now he’s playing with teammates who aren’t fighting it and has a coach that expects franchise-defining play out of him. He’s putting up a strong 16.2 pts, 10.5 rebs per game, and there’s nothing flukish about those numbers, nor anything stopping him from adding a bucket or two to the scoring average.

No, those aren’t Jabbar-like numbers, and they’re not as good as Dwight Howard‘s, but, like Howard, Bogut is defined by his defense. AB is second only to Howard in NBA defensive rating. In other words, the Bucks play the best defense in all of basketball when Bogut is on the court and Dwight Howard is sitting … or eating, exercising, napping or doing anything other than playing in an NBA game.  AB’s right behind Howard in blocked shots, too, at 2.5 per game.

The Scott Skiles defense, the constant pressure D that wears opponents down,  it eventually wore out Skiles’ players at his previous stops in Phoenix and Chicago. The idea that Skiles will wear on his players to the point where they tune him out is nothing we haven’t heard before. Bogut addressed this in a long Wojnarowski article at yahoo NBA this week, affirming that the Bucks are very much in tune with Skiles. In fact, Bogut said there is nothing “wearing” about Skiles at all.

This could change, of course, but Skiles’ is in just his second year with the Bucks. It took him four years to wear out the Baby Bulls. If Skiles’ run in Chicago is any indication, the Bucks should hit their peak with the coach over the next two seasons. We’ve got some time. And Bogut and Jennings, too.

The chemistry spike and Michael Redd, however, is right on the money, Bawful.  It’s not clear what will happen with that situation. Will Redd come back next season? Can he fit in if he does, despite all evidence to the contrary? The Bucks have proven perfectly willing to put their fans through this tired drama over and over again, and I like it a lot less than you don’t. Now that you mention it, I can already hear the wheels squeaking down in St. Francis … “We can move Salmons to forward, start Redd at guard with Jennings and Bogut and The Prince.” … It sucks, it really sucks.

And we don’t know if John Salmons will stick around or opt out this summer. It’s a cause for concern, and I’m not trusting anything anybody says on the matter right now, least of not Bucks GM John Hammond, who’s been known to say one thing, do another. You’re right, Bawful, that does suck.

On the plus side, Hammond has stocked up on draft picks and the Bucks have three of them this summer, barring any further deals. They’ll have the Bulls 1st round pick, a 2nd rounder from the Sixers and their own pick.  You forgot to mention that, Bawful, because draft picks don’t suck at all. They’re good, and with three of them, odds are the Bucks should be able to find some additional help for next season, maybe even a power forward to help us break the Bob Boozer Jinx.

Maybe … But next year at this time, I do expect the Bucks to be a little further down the Eastern conference “things that suck list” — and I don’t think that’s an unreasonable expectation.

Quote of the day:  “What we have here are a bunch of guys with a chip on their shoulders, with something to prove. We’re a bunch of underdog guys, in an underdog city. Milwaukee is the butt of a lot of jokes and on TV and the movies, but we’ve got a bunch of hard-workings and that suits this city, the people here.” — Andrew Bogut to Adrian Wojnarowski in this week’s feature article at Yahoo.com.

Clippers tonight: Bogut vs. the Kamanizer

The Bucks are in Los Angeles tonight to play the tanking Clippers (25-43), the first of a three game road trip that will then take them to Sacramento and Denver, their final road game of the season against a Western Conference opponent. Those are the facts as I know them. Now it’s time for the fun. 

A Clippers game is one of those rare opportunities to explore NBA weirdness. You never know who’s on the Clippers roster, and just when you think you do, half the roster arrives at the gym in crutches to ask for a trade. I couldn’t tell you right now how they’re playing, who sits and who starts, whether MU gunner Steve Novak is still raining three’s on the opposition or whether or not the Bucks ought to be concerned about this game. I have a Chris Kaman photo. The rest is guesswork.

I heard somewhere that the Clippers fired coach Mike Dunleavy, Big Dog’s first coach with the Bucks. I’ve always liked Dunleavy, who, when he was an assistant for Del Harris, suited up and played when the roster got thin. And he had a sense of humor. He was GM and coach during those win-starved “development” years, and brought Alton Lister back in 1994 because he thought it would make the fans happy to see “The Big Project” again. He was right. Dunleavy in 1995 brought Terry Cummings back for a spin, too, and that was cool, despite the 57 losses.

I also heard somewhere that Marcus Camby is now a Trailblazer, and that Portland thinks maybe they can make a title run this year. Camby’s still a dedicated defender and rebounder but Camby is a guarantee that the Blazers will not win a title. Ask Patrick Ewing. The upshot is that there is somebody named Outlaw on the Clippers roster now, but I don’t think it’s Bo Outlaw from those post-Shaq Orlando Magic teams.  Former Buck Steve Blake may be a Clipper, too, but whether or not Jamal Magliore was part of the deal I can’t be sure.

Chris Kaman is still a Clipper and by now he should have some sort of nickname. He’s been there since 2003. He’s also a guy I’ve never liked as an NBA center. In fact, I refused to list him on the inaugural Bob Boozer Jinx center rankings on grounds that I could not make a “Top Ten NBA Centers” list with Kaman on it. He’s lumbering, he’s awkward, he’s ridiculous looking, he misses more bunnies than a big man has a right to. I hold him responsible for my man Sam “I Am” Cassell‘s failure to lead the Clippers past the Suns in the 2006 playoffs.

There were times during his career that Andrew Bogut on a bad day  reminded me a little of Kaman, but I didn’t blame Bogut. I blamed Chris Kaman.

Kaman used to have the worst hair in the NBA (and that’s saying something) — but at least he had the guts to play with the game with a few strands of flyaway hair, and that was something to be said for Kaman. Now that he’s cut his hair, I can’t think of anything good to say about Chris Kaman.

Except that he’s averaging 18.8 ppg and 9.1 boards on a bad team, all the while refusing to jump. He’s as big as Bogut and a lot wider but Kaman and Bogut haven’t gone head-to-head since Feb. 11, 2008, in Milwaukee. That didn’t go well for the Bucks or AB. While Kaman only had 7 pts, he grabbed 15 boards and bodied Bogut into a 4-16 shooting night. Bogues was good on the glass with 12 but Al Thornton killed Yi and Charlie V for 25 pts. (Check that — no, it really does say that Bogut got 16 shots two years ago). 

It was the night Michael Redd decided he was going to finally make coach Larry Krystkowiak happy by sharing the ball, and he did, refusing to shoot in the first half. Redd racked up a career high 11 assists and Mo was all too happy to take the shots (he was 12-20 from the floor). The Bucks appeared to be outplaying them all night, but … somehow we managed to lose to a 16-32 Clippers team at the BC. It did make for a weird-looking boxscore … those were the days.

And Chris Kaman still had his hair.

Bogut ankle injury update… Team USA downs Russia… Another crazy Bogut-Yao photo

Bogut mugs Yao last WednesdayA minor ankle injury Andrew Bogut suffered last week benched the Aussie center in the second half Friday against Argentina, but he’s sure to play in the Aussie’s next Olympic warm-up Tuesday ayem in Shanghai against Team USA.  Contrary to a report on JSOnline yesterday suggesting that the Bucks center was injured in the Argentina game, Bogut tweaked the ankle during his 32-point, 11 reb rampage against Angola Thursday. Aussie basketball reported that Bogut carried the ankle injury into the Argentina game.

Bogut started and played most of the first half against Argentina but missed most of the second half. With Bogut on the court, the Aussie Boomers built a double digit lead up to 19 early in the 3rd Quarter. Without Bogut in the paint, Argentina big forward Luis Scola (Houston Rockets) went off for 28 second half points as the Aussies couldn’t close, losing 95-91.

Is it possible Bogut could sit out Tuesday’s game against the U.S.? Slightly, but he’s almost certain to play. It is much more possible that Australia and Team USA could never meet in these Olympics (Australia is in Group A, the US is in Group B). The way the Olympic tournament is set up, if the Aussies finish 1st or 3rd in group play, the Boomers would not play the US unless they made the gold medal game (assuming Lebron and Kobe et al win Group B) or if Team USA loses one along the way. The Aussies would be the surprise of the tournament if they did that well, though I think they’re becoming a great sleeper pick for at least a bronze medal.

But that’s looking too far ahead. Tuesday’s game for Bogut is a matchup in the paint against the Orlando Magic’s 1st team All-NBA center Dwight Howard and a chance to play against his Bucks teammate, Michael Redd. Bogut’s a guy that doesn’t like to sit out Bucks games even when his nose has been mashed, much less a test against Howard that he’d run to on one leg. The ankle injury is minor. He’s playing Tuesday.  

Game time Tuesday is 7AM Central Time. ESPN2 has the game live from Shanghai, China. (Shanghai’s 13 hours ahead of Milwaukee). For an internet feed go here to myp2p.eu. You’ll probably need to download the p2p software to make it happen.

This is the last tune-up game for both teams – Olympic basketball starts this Sunday, Aug. 10. Team USA opens Group B play against China; the Aussies in Group A go against Croatia.

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USA defense, Kobe, stop Russia 89-68: Lebron fouled out with just ten points but Kobe Bryant was relentless on D and on the O, leading all scorers with 19 in what ESPN’s Chris Sheridan described as “a defensive struggle.” (Sheridan’s again got the Olympic basketball beat and that’s a good thing – he’s one of ESPN’s better writers). Andrei Kirilenko (Utah Jazz) led Russia with 18. Carmelo Anthony added 17 and D-Wade 16 off the bench for the US.

This game was closer than the final score indicates, as the Russians continually pushed the US lead toward single digits. The Russians had pulled to within 10 in the 3rd quarter, but the Bucks’ Michael Redd drilled two threes and D-Wade got 4 pts to drive the lead back to 20 going into the 4th. Redd, still getting only spot playing time, finished with six points on those two 3-pointers. Redd, however, again missed the ESPN highlight reel:





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Kobe gave himself a new nickname after the Lithuania blowout: The Doberman. This has something to do with defense and Kobe priding himself on being able to shut down the other team’s best player. Apparently that didn’t apply to Ray Allen, who carved Kobe’s Lakers up during the NBA Finals. US coach Mike Krzyzewski locked Detroit’s Tayshaun Prince on Kirilenko in the first half.

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Jason Kidd was benched in the 2nd half in favor of Chris Paul and Deron Williams, and that may be a sign of things to come, Sheridan wrote. Or it could just be Sheridan picking up bad ESPN habits for manufacturing controversy. Obviously, Paul is going to get some minutes with Kobe and the starters and it’s really not a big deal for him to playing instead of Kidd. The bigger controversy is Kidd starting over CP3 to begin with. Most basketball fans around the world haven’t seen the spectacular point guard who finished 2nd in the MVP voting play all that much, and the Olympics are a made-to-order stage for CP3’s arrival. Something tells me, however, that Coach K would like to think he’s immune to these sorts of pressures. We’ll see.

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Another story building seems to be Coach K’s growing frustration with center Dwight Howard. He played Howard just 17 minutes against Russia and singled out forward-center Chris Bosh for praise after the game. Bosh isn’t a center at all, of course, and therein lies Howard’s problem so far in these warm-up games: The US has yet to play a team with a decent center. Howard’s likely bored. But he’ll see Bogut Tuesday and Yao Ming Sunday in Team USA’s first Olympic game. Those two ought to wake him up and give him some company in the paint.

Howard’s also not quite at full strength. He fractured his sternum against the Pistons in the playoffs and Tyson Chandler was named first Olympic alternate in case Howard couldn’t go. But then Chandler missed time due to an inflamed big toe. Bogut has his “minor” ankle injury to deal with; and now Yao, recovering from a stress fracture in his left foot says he’s only “60 to 70 percent“, is out of shape and “feels weak.” Chris Kaman

Chris Kaman shoots a free throw as a member of the German Olympics team.jpgSpain’s Pau Gasol (Lakers) is still recovering from numerous injuries suffered against the Celtics in the NBA Finals, mostly relating to his pride. That leaves Germany’s Chris Kaman (Clippers) as the only healthy “true” NBA center in the Olympics.

Bad hair notwithstanding.

Or doing the new ‘do for Deutschland.

Ranking Bogut and his contract – The top ten (or 13) NBA centers and their money

MILWAUKEE - APRIL 08: Andrew Bogut #6 of the Milwaukee Bucks wears a mask over a broken nose suffered earlier in the season during a game against the Boston Celtics on April 8, 2008 at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Celtics defeated the Bucks 107-104 in overtime. From Getty Images.Is Andrew Bogut the best center named Andrew drafted in the 2005 lottery? Is Bogut a Top 10 NBA center? What does Mehmet Okur, the center for the Utah Jazz, get paid?

These are things Bucks fans need to know as Bogut last week inked the five-year contract extension he more or less demanded from the Bucks. The agreement reportedly guarantees $60 million to Bogut over five years. Add Bogut’s $6.3 million salary, which is not part of the extension, and Bogut will be under contract for a guaranteed $66.3 million over six years, through the 2013-14 season. 

As projected back in April on the BBJ (almost to the dollar) that’s a fairly good deal for the Bucks, in line with the contracts of Sixers center Sam Dalembert, New Orleans’ Tyson Chandler and the Cavs’ Zydrunas Ilgauskas.

But what about these “incentives” that could add $12.5 million to the guaranteed money, bringing the potential worth of the extension up to $72.5 million? That’s nearly the “Yao money” that the Bucks, as a lottery team, needed avoid paying a 23-year-old center with a lot left to prove. Sure, he can “prove it” earning those incentives, but why not just make all-star getting $12 mill a year? What more incentive is needed?” The incentives are “team-based and individual” according to Journal Sentinel, which didn’t cite a source for those details. Bogut’s agent later told Brewhoop that the incentives were along the lines of “play like Dwight Howard get paid like Dwight Howard.” Or, All-NBA pay.

But enough about the contract. Without further ado, meet the inaugural Bob Boozer Jinx 2008 NBA center rankings.

Dwight Howard can touch his chin to the rim1) Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic. First team All-Pro; 2nd team All-Defensive; leading rebounder in the NBA three years running (14.2 avg. last season); 4th in blocked shots. Only 22-years-old and has not missed a game in his four-year career since being the 1st pick overall in the 2004 draft. Shot 60% from the floor last season (3rd in the NBA), but only 59% from the line, which hurt the Magic as Howard led the league in free throw attempts. “Hack-a-Dwight” is the new “Hack-a-Shaq” defense. Howard was 6-15 from the stripe against the Pistons in decisive game five against Detroit in the playoffs, which the Magic lost by five. Coulda made the difference.

Howard this season starts year one of his five-year $85 million extension ($17mill avg), the max extension (CP3 got a similar max extension). He’ll earn $13.76 mill 2008-09.

Duncan slams on Richard Jefferson2) Tim Duncan and his Spurs were tough enough in the paint to beat the Suns, and there’s nothing like Duncan magically transforming into Dirk Nowitzki to hit a game-tying three to demoralize the Suns in Game 1 of that series. Is Duncan a center? If Pau Gasol, who was pushed around all over the NBA Finals, is a center, so is Duncan, who plays the 5 much of the time in the Spurs dangerous small lineups, and is usually guarded by the opponents’ centers, such as Shaq. Duncan anchors the Spurs D in the paint and was first-team All-Defensive 2007 and 2008. Sounds like a center to me. At 7′ 0″ 248 lbs, Duncan is one of the best big men in NBA history. Averaged 19.3 pts and 11.3 rbs per game last season, 1.9 blocks, 7th in the league. Four championships. 31-years-old and plenty of gas left in the tank.

Duncan’s salary is $20.6 mill this season. He’s set to make $62.2 mill over the following three years.

Stoudemire vs. Duncan3) Amare Stoudemire/Shaquille O’Neal  Stoudemire is no longer the Phoenix center now that Shaq is in the paint, but he’ll be called on to play the low post during the stretches of the season that Shaq is bound to miss. Phoenix acquired Shaq and fired coach Mike D’Antoni partly because of the lack of defensive toughness from Stoudemire and others (two straight playoff losses to Duncan Spurs didn’t help). Amare’s still one of the best scorers in the NBA around the basket.  Averaged 26.7 points and  9.7 rebounds last season, earning 2nd-team All-NBA alongside Duncan as Yao slipped due to injuries.

Soudemire’s contract extension was 5 years $72.6 million, $14.5 million per year avg. He’ll be only 28 years-old when he’s done playing out the remaining three years. Bogut can earn current “Amare money” if he makes the incentives in his contract. By the time Bogut’s extension is in effect, however, Stoudemire will be in the backloaded years of his contract, at $15-16 mill per.

ShaqShaq at age 36, is a part time player unless he comes roaring back next season to his 2006 form, which didn’t seem likely at the outset of 2008-09 but is beginning to occur now that he has days off. Shaq utterly dominated Bogut in a Nov. 8 Suns win in Milwaukee. doesn’t seem likely. Combining Shaq and Stoudemire at #3 may be cheating, but it’s as though Phoenix has a center-and-a-half. Few teams in the West are tough enough to compete with the Suns in the paint (Spurs, Rockets, Jazz). Shaq has lost a step but he’s still Shaq. No center who follows Shaq on this list has proven that he is indeed better than a well-rested 36-year-old Shaq.

Shaq’s salary is $21 million per year through 2009-10.

Yao4) Yao Ming. 3rd-team All-NBA last season despite missing 27 games. Six-time All-Star and 4-time All-NBA selection. Yao’s a 22 pts, 10 rbs per game center who is, however, at 7′ 6″, 310lbs, not proving very durable. He’s missed 86 games over the last three years. Best free throw shooter among the centers at nearly 86% over the last three seasons. Not a shotblocker or a charge-taker, and could rebound more than he does for a 7′ 6″ guy. His Rocket teams win — 107 wins over the last two seasons — but his Rocket teams win just as much without him.

Yao, 27 or so, starts year three of a 5-year $75 million deal – $15 million avg. per year. I hope that if the Bucks are willing to pay Bogut near-Yao money with these reported incentives that one of them is based on improved free throw shooting. Bogut shoots better than Shaq from the line but even Howard outshoots the Bucks center from the stripe. (I take that back – no one in the NBA should be offered a contract incentive to make free throws.)

Pau Gasol traveling5) Pau Gasol/Andrew Bynum* Gasol is a gifted offensive player, but you’d almost have to put Kendrick Perkins on the list ahead of him after the Lakers were shoved around all over the NBA Finals by the Celtics. Still the Lakers went on a tear after acquiring Gasol last year and Gasol (18 pts, 7.8 rbs) will have Bynum to help him out in the paint next season. But really, Gasol is a lot more like big forward Dirk Nowitzki than he is like center Tim Duncan.

*Andrew BynumBynum averaged 13.1 pts and 10.2 rbs until he hurt his knee (before the Gasol trade). After surgery this summer, he’s is a bit of a question mark (hence the asterisk and the double entry here at #5). Still, the Lakers should have few worries about the inside game next season. Bynum, the 10th pick in the 2005 draft, played strong against Bogut in their head-to-heads last season, with Bynum coming out on top. He’s considered by many around the league to be the best center from the 2005 draft.

*Bynum has reportedly asked for a five-year $85 million extension, which would put him in the Howard $17 mill per year level. Good luck with that Andrew, as it looks like Chris Paul is the only player from the 2005 draft who’ll get Howard money. The Lakers will look to keep Bynum as close to Bogut’s $12 mill deal as possible, though Bynum still hasn’t proven that he can stay as healthy as Bogut. With the season underway, Bynum does not yet have his extension and will earn $2.8 mill 2008-09.

Gasol’s contract is a guaranteed 6 years $86 million, a max contract that puts him in Stoudemire’s neighborhood. Like the Bucks max Redd contract, Gasol’s is backloaded – three years and $49.3 mill left to play out, a situation Bucks GM John Hammond was wise to avoid by keeping Bogut’s annual increases relatively flat.

Marcus Camby about to swat one6) Marcus Camby has never had much of an offensive game but has been one of those rare players who thrives on the defensive end. The Nuggets center last season led the league in blocked shots, was 2nd in rebounding to Howard and made 1st team All-NBA Defensive. Trouble is that after the playoffs, it’s difficult to tell where the Nuggets and Camby are at, or where coach George Karl’s head is at. Camby, for one, has been upbeat about next season. The oft-injured center outplayed his contract incentives for the first time, earning his full $11.2 million salary, with career highs in games played, minutes, assists, blocks and rebounds at age 33. I’d rank him ahead of Gasol but for that sweep business in the playoffs.

Camby was traded to the LA Clippers last July. Camby’s guaranteed $19.65 million this season and next.

Zydrunas Ilgauskas7) Zydrunas Ilgauskas. A tough spot to pick, as a combination of a good offensive-defensive game becomes a rare find in NBA centerville, which brings us to Cleveland, the best rebounding team in the NBA for a few seasons. The Cavs’ toughness starts with their 7′ 3″ center. After missing the better part of two seasons early in his career with injuries, Z has been a remarkably consistent scorer, rebounder and defender in the paint for Lebron James’ entire career-and-one. Ilgauskas can score 15 in his sleep off his rainbow set shot, still the most effective offensive weapon the Cavs have outside of Lebron. The James-Z offensive combo was probably not used as much as it should have been in the Cavs-Celtics series, but the Cavs showed that a championship is much more within their reach than many NBA wags had thought. (C’mon, the NBA wags had all but handed the title to the Lakers).

At age 33, Z may only have a good year or two left, but experience counts. Bogut and many other younger centers haven’t distinguished themselves enough (or in Bogut’s case, have not outplayed Z head-to-head) to be ranked ahead of him.

Ilgauskas took a pay cut in 2005 to stay in Cleveland, and this season enters year four of a five year $50.6 million contract. The final two years pay $22.3 mill.

Mehmet Okur8) Mehmet Okur began his career in Detroit but the Pistons couldn’t afford to keep him after winning the 2004 championship. No skin off then-coach Larry Brown’s nose as Brown often left 24-year-old Okur on the bench to keep Darko Milicic company during the Pistons playoff run. In Utah, Okur replaced big Greg Ostertag, still around from the Stockton-Malone years, and teamed with power forward Carlos Boozer — also acquired that offseason — to give the Jazz toughness inside to build around. By 2006 Okur was averaging 18 pts, 9 rbs per game. By 2007 the Jazz were back to the 50-win level and Okur was in the All-Star game.

Okur and his incredibly hot wife, Yelez OkurThe knock on Okur is that he’s no shot blocker or great athlete; and who wants a center who shoots threes even if he is the best three-point shooting center in the league? (.388% last season, better than any Buck.) Utah coach Jerry Sloan, however, has played to Okur’s strengths — and there’s no denying Okur and Boozer’s toughness inside. Over the last two regular seasons, the duo has averaged about 20 rebounds per game. In the playoffs this year against the Rockets and the Lakers, they cleaned an average of 24.1 boards off the glass (Okur had 11.8 per game). They’re tough and it’s put the Jazz right on the Lakers’ heels in the West.

Okur, 29, is a bargain in the center market with a 6-year $50 million contract. He’s set to make an average of $8.75 per year in the final two years of the contract, but the final year 2009-10 is a player option. With the Boguts, Dalemberts and Chandlers of the NBA making $11 million-plus by then, expect Okur to look for a nice raise.

Sam the man9) Sam Dalembert was drafted by Philly in 2001, at the height of the Allen Iverson/Larry Brown era, when the Sixers beat the Big Three Bucks in the East Finals and went on to play the Lakers for the title. After not playing much behind Dikembe Mutumbo his first year, he missed his entire second year with injuries, then came back to join the Sixers decline after Brown jumped to Detroit. He has yet to develop much of an offensive game to go with his sometimes dominating defense, yet it’s the defense and rebounding that has been pivotal in the Sixers turnaround, which was in the rest of the NBA’s face in the second half of last season. As a team, the Sixers can be defensive demons. Dalembert, 27, is entering his prime and hasn’t missed a start in two years, averaging 10.5 pts and 10.4 rbs (7th in total rebounds) last season. He was 3rd in the league in total blocked shots (2.3 per game).

Dalembert’s D can be stifling. He handed Bogut his two most humiliating games last season, outplaying him in three of the four Bucks-Sixers matchups. The game logs ain’t pretty. Dalembert had 22 pts, 8 rbs, 3 blks in the first matchup, a Sixers win in Milwaukee (Bogut had 6 points). The Bucks took game two, with Bogut playing well, though Dalembert had 16 pts, 16 rbs. The third matchup was a Sixers blowout with Bogut held to 5 pts, 4 rbs, turning the ball over five times. Game four was another wipeout of the Bucks, with Dalembert getting 18 and 10, while Bogut failed to score a hoop, got just two rebounds and called it “the worst game of my career.”

Dalembert has three years left on a backloaded six-year $64 million deal, and will be paid $36.4 mill in those years. This avg. $12 mill pay keeps him about $1 mill ahead of Bogut’s pay, though that narrows 2009-10 season. That might seem like a lot for centers who have never been all-stars and whose teams have not won a playoff series. But that’s the inflated market value that is the NBA. Sam hasn’t been the most popular player in Philly, and neither has his contract. Now that the Sixers have Elton Brand and could be contenders in the East, however, don’t expect many complaints about the center.

Tyson Chandler10) Tyson Chandler (Tie) came into the league out of high school and spent the first two years of his career looking absolutely lost on the court in Chicago, which had obtained his rights in a trade for Elton Brand. This was bad mojo in the post-Jordan Bulls era. Along came coach Scott Skiles and Chandler often found himself on the bench, counting his millions and taking on criticism that athleticism had been wasted on him. The Bulls signed declining veteran free agent Big Ben Wallace in 2006 and sent Chandler packing to the Hornets. In New Orleans, Chandler’s found a home and a role — dunking the ball off Chris Paul and Peja Stojakovic passes and tearing it up on the offensive boards. Chandler led the NBA in offensive rebounding the last two seasons; 2nd only to Howard last season in field goal percentage and 3rd behind Howard and Camby in overall rebounding (11.6 per game).

So why is the ultra-athletic Chandler ranked behind Dalembert, Okur and Ilgauksus?  First, he’s nowhere near the defensive presence Dalembert is, nor is he as mean in the paint as Sam; and he’s no shotblocker. Second, Ty’s got no offensive game to speak of, other than the aforementioned dunking. To his credit, Chandler is a hustle player who kills lazy rebounding teams and has thrived playing with CP3 in the West. But Hornets coach Baron Davis runs little or no offense for Chandler — no coach would. Against the Bucks last year Chandler averaged 17.5 pts, 15.5 rebounds in two Hornets wins. In a stretch last March, however, playing against the better teams in the East (plus Chicago and Indiana) Chandler averaged 11.6 pts (on his season avg of 11.8) but his rebounding was down three boards a game to 8.6. Still, the Hornets went 6-2 and split with the Celtics.

Chandler, 26 next season, has a 6-year $63 million deal that he signed with the Bulls; it pays him $34.6 mill over the next three years just above Bogut’s guaranteed avg. salary over the next six. 

Andrew Bogut 200610) Andrew Bogut (Tie). Bucks coach Scott Skiles would likely object to having his 23-year-old center in the same club with a guy who spent years in and out of his doghouse in Chicago. But that was then, this is now. Other NBA fans might whistle homerism and question whether Bogut should be ranked this high — his 14.3 pts, 9.8 rbs averages last season are no better than those of Kings center Brad Miller or Bobcats center Emeka Okafor, and short of Clippers center Chris Kaman’s; and Kaman blocked more shots than Bogut despite playing in only 55 games.

But here’s where Bogut gets credit for toiling away on Michael Redd’s hapless Bucks; respect vs. West players for playing in the increasingly clogged paints of the slower-paced East; and where his passing skills earn some props. Tim Duncan and Paul Gasol may be the only centers on this list who pass as well as Bogut — Dalembert and Chandler certainly don’t. Bogut is tough to rate because his development and production have been hurt playing with uncoachable ballhogs his entire career. What he’s done is focus on one-on-one matchups with other centers, and worked to take care of business in the paint regardless of all the wrong play going on around him. (Look out Sam Dalembert — Bogut’s looking for a few rematches.) Skiles, of course, is out to fix the wrong that has been the Milwaukee Bucks. The team has only won 94 games since drafting Bogut #1 in 2005.

“I’ve got to tell you,” Skiles said Friday at Bogut’s contract-signing press conference, “In watching almost every minute of every game (on film), I got a little tired of seeing when Andrew did run the floor and seal his man under the basket, a three-point shot going up. It’s not brain surgery. If you have big guys that run the floor and cover their man up right by the basket, they oughta get the ball.”

Unlike Kaman, Dalembert, Okur and Chandler, players older than Bogut, there’s still plenty of upside left to Bogut’s game. Last season he finally had a head coach, Larry Krystkowiak, in his corner and made the biggest strides of his career, showing that the Bucks could run low post offense through him and win games (hence the tie with Chandler of whom the same cannot be said). In fact, the Bucks often struggled most when Bogut’s teammates freelanced away from the low post game plan. Defensively, Bogut made his biggest strides and a concerted effort to block shots (9th in the NBA); and was 3rd in offensive charges taken. The new “no flopping” rule shouldn’t effect Bogut because he doesn’t flop. He has taken a beating from opponents driving at will against the Bucks weak perimeter defenders. A big flaw in Bogut’s game has been his Shaq-like free throw shooting and lack of an outside shot – but then those are Howard’s big flaws too.

Howard, Bogut, Bynum, Atlanta’s Al Horford and Portland’s Greg Oden (yet to play an NBA game) are the young centers to watch in the NBA next season. I’d keep an eye on Shaq in Phoenix, too.

*Bogut’s guaranteed extension is 5 years $60 million, bringing his six-year total to $66.3 million. It seems that both sides in the Bogut negotiations came to the table understanding that Chandler and Dalembert money — $12 million in 2009-10 — was the fair and equitable base for Bogut. The $12.5m in incentives? It’s still not clear what those are but Bogut’s agent David Bauman mentioned Dwight Howard in saying that the incentives are, in part, based on all-star achievement. That’s misleading because the incentives don’t reach “Howard money.” They make Bogut’s possible avg. earnings $14.5 million per year — currently Yao-Gasol-Stoudemire money. Howard’s avg salary, $17 million, is the All-NBA standard for an extension these days. Should Bogut make 1st, 2nd or 3rd Team All-NBA in the next few years, that would mean the Bucks are winning a lot — and that the contract is indeed a very good deal for Milwaukee.

Overall, I like the contract — it’s right in line with the market, including the incentives. In fact, I predicted the figures back in April. Then why does it still feel that the Bucks paid too much for their young center, steadily improving as he is, but with so much left to prove in the NBA?


Long-term deal for Bogut: What’s it worth?

Bucks center Andrew Bogut wants a long-term contract extension, up to five more years, and his agent this week said the Bucks and new GM John Hammond seem positive about getting a deal done. Bogut’s improved play and 38 double-double games being the bright spot in another dismal season, this qualifies as good news.

So what is the 23-year-old Bogut — the 12th leading rebounder in the NBA, and an improved post player both offensively and defensively (9th in the league in blocked shots; 3rd in offensive charges drawn)  — worth after three seasons? How much can the Bucks afford?

The latter question is hardly complicated: the Bucks can’t afford much in the next two years given the salaries on the current roster. The Bucks have already picked up the fourth year options of Bogut’s and Charlie Villanueva’s 2005 rookie contracts. Paying them both will bring the Bucks right up to next year’s salary cap, with about $9 million or so to play with before hitting the league’s luxury tax limit, likely to be about $70 million. The tax is $1 dollar tax for every $1 dollar over the limit.

Slickless Larry Harris had this all worked out. The Bucks were supposed to win this year and next year with the current roster, and Larry didn’t schedule in any of that “salary cap flexibility” GM’s desire. This means that there’s very little chance the Bucks will tear up the $6.3 million agreement for next season (they could). There will be no cap room in July to pay him more — unless Bobby Simmons suddenly quits to go play in Albania, which would free up $10 million. Or if Hammond trades Michael Redd for Miami’s lottery balls which would free up $15 million or so.

Now to the question: What’s Bogut worth?

Let’s start by looking at the top salaries in the NBA this season.

As you can see, the All-Star, All-NBA centers and big forward/center types (Amare Stoudamire, Yao Ming, Paul Gasol, Rasheed Wallace, Chris Bosh) are grouped 20th-30th on the list, making between $13.1 (Bosh) and $13.8 million (Stoudamire). (Yes, they will all make less money this year than Michael Redd, believe it or not).

Veteran champions like Shaq, Tim Duncan and Ben Wallace have much more lucrative deals, but their contracts won’t tell us much about Bogut. A center not on the list who will be next season: Dwight Howard of Orlando, the league’s leading rebounder for three years running and a near sure-thing 1st Team All-NBA selection. Howard made $6 million this year in his fourth year. Before this season, he was in Bogut’s contract situation, and the Magic extended his contract five years beyond this one for an additional $85 million.

Howard, the #1 pick in the 2004 draft, creates a long shadow for Bogut (#1 in 2005) in this extension game. So does Yao Ming, who signed an extension with Houston for 5 years and $75 million in 2005.

Howard at an average of $17 million per year for five years,

Yao at $15 million per year for five set the standard for young NBA centers in the extension era. Bogut doesn’t play at their All-NBA heights (among centers, only Stoudamire does and he’s moved to power forward on the Suns), nor to the level of the big men currently in the $13-$14 million range (Stoudamire again), nor can the Bucks assume he will be playing like a $13 million dollar star even in two years. As well as Bogut has played at times, would you want to bring the Bucks 54-110 record over the last two years to the bargaining table?

Bogut’s agent can point to a bad contract, like the one center Eric Dampier signed with Dallas ($10.5 million this year) and say, “Andrew should be paid more than Dampier now.”

The Bucks can look at New Orleans’ Tyson Chandler’s $10.5 million in 2008 and say, “Chandler’s the 3rd-leading rebounder in the league, and the Hornets are winning in the playoffs.” It’s arguable whether Bogut is underpaid.

Where does the league’s 12th leading rebounder on a losing team fit in? Because of his young age, Somewhere in line with Chandler’s six-year $63 million deal, which, only two years ago was considered a glorious waste of money in Chicago.

Cleveland Center Zydrunus Ilgauskus will make $10.1 million this year. At 32, Ilgauskus may be on the down side in his career, but he outplayed Bogut two of three games this year (the game logs at basketball-reference.com ain’t pretty). Bogut should surpass Ilgauskus soon, but next year? Or the year after?

Philadelphia’s Sam Dalembert, who dominated Bogut defensively in three of four games this year, has a six-year $64 million deal. At $10.25 million this year Dalembert’s right where he should be in the Ilgauskus-Chandler range — though many in Philly view him as overpaid. And Dalembert’s a much better defender than Bogut.

Bogut has improved each year, true, but he’s only recently moved up among  the Top Ten centers’ in the league, and he’s much closer to #10 than to Howard at #1. Like it or not, Dalembert and Ilgauskus are Bogut’s peers in the Eastern Conference paint. If the Bucks can keep the first three years of the contract extension in the $10-12 million per range, they’ve got a good deal. Over five years — what Bogut wants — the Bucks should look to keep it around $60 million.

At five years, $65 million, a Bogut contract begins to look too lavish for what he’s accomplished. Sure, if Bogut’s a mutliple-time All-Star by 2011 and 2012 when Bogut is 26-27, in his prime — and the Bucks are winning — $13-14 million a year won’t look so gaudy. But that’s a big “if.”  Sign Bogut at $70 million for five years now and fans will ask why he’s getting a contract in Yao’s neighborhood.

With next year scheduled to be $6.3 million, adding 5 years and $60-63 million to it would bring Bogut’s six-year terms into the $66-69 million range, which is where the Bucks should keep it. (The more I think about it, six years – $68 million sounds more than fair, but why do I have this feeling it will be more? Just a feeling.)

There’s no reason for Hammond to break the bank, not now with a player who still has much to prove on a team that is still so incomplete. The Bucks will need plenty of salary cap space to grow in the years-to-come; it’s a good time to find out how serious our 23-year-old center is when he says his goal is to win in Milwaukee.

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Some unabashed hype is needed in these not-so-private negotiations, and that’s what agents are for. This is what they’re saying in Melbourne, Australia, verbatim from the text of the press release put out by Bogut’s supremely confident agent, David Bauman:

“In 226 career NBA games, the Melbourne, Australia native has improved
in each season and demonstrated that he is one of the top young Centers in
the NBA. In fact, Bogut’s improvement has made it a near certainty that the
Milwaukee Bucks will seek to sign the center to a long-term extension
, on
July 1, in order to secure one of the key foundations of their team for the
next six years. Bogut, along with Chris Paul and Deron Williams, are the
star players from the 2005 NBA Draft class.”

Leave it to the sports agent to start an argument, especially with CP3’s MVP-like season, Deron’s All-NBA year and Laker fans talking up injured Andrew Bynum as the best center of the 2005 draft (and worried whether he’ll ask for a $75 million-plus extension this offseason). It’ll be interesting to see how Bynum and Bogut’s contract extensions pan out.

And leave it Foxsports-australia to ramp up Bogut’s contact numbers. In its coverage of this story, fox-aussie pegged Bogut’s new contract “in the region of $63-79 million.” The headline? “Bogut to earn the Big Bucks” … Fox does realize Larry Harris was fired, don’t they?