Tag Archives: Marques Johnson

Now we can talk “Best Team Ever” – Durant signing unites MVPs for the 2nd time in NBA history (no, the 1st time did not involve Lebron)

The only available precedent says that Kevin Durant and Steph Curry’s Warriors will win the 2017 title – going away.

When I saw the text that said Kevin Durant had made the big decision and was leaving his OKC Thunder to sign with Golden State — the team he couldn’t beat in the Western Conference Finals — my immediate response was two words: “Not Fair”.  As the week progressed and I read and heard the mountain of spin piling up about Durant’s move, it doesn’t strike me any differently. It’s simply not fair competition for two NBA Most Valuable Players — in the prime of their careers — to join forces on an NBA Finals team.

The last and only time this happened, the impact on the psyche of the league was devastating. Most teams rolled over in submission, with the notable exceptions of one team that became the Super Team’s nemesis and another that put up a good fight in the playoffs but still lost their series 4 games to one. It was the only loss the Super Team suffered in the playoffs.

The team in question is the 1982-83 Philadelphia 76ers, who after losing in the 1982 NBA Finals were able to bring together free agent center Moses Malone, the Chairman of the Boards, at age 27 the baddest player in the league and the reigning MVP, and Julius “Dr. J” Erving, who had won the MVP one season prior (1981). Until this week’s uniting of Durant, the 2014 MVP, with Stephen Curry, the reigning MVP for two seasons, the Moses and Dr. J pairing was the only time in NBA history that a team had been able to suit up two concurrent MVPs to lay waste to the rest of the league.

The late Malone (who passed away last fall at age 60) in 1982 was the first reigning MVP to leave his team in free agency; Lebron James in 2010 was the second. Though NBA fandom and the media are wired to talk about Lebron (the Lebron context being where the league lived until Durant signed with the Warriors), the similarities between the Lebron signing and the Durant signing don’t go very far. When Lebron joined the Heat, Dwyane Wade was in his prime, had made 1st team All-Pro for the 2nd year in a row, and had been in the running for 2009 MVP (Lebron won that one, too) — but Wade’s Heat were nothing resembling title contenders until Lebron came along. And there’s the rub. The Warriors were within a Kyrie Irving 3-pointer of winning a 2nd title last month. One shot. And now they have Durant.

Indeed, let’s set aside the analytics and graphs and charts and apples to oranges comparisons and take a look at what happened the first time two concurrent MVPs suited up on the same team.

Moses leads the Sixers to the Promised Land

Moses Malone and Dr. J at the outset of the 1982-83 season.

The Sixers in the early 1980s had in many ways adopted the cool intellectualism and quiet intensity of their star, Dr. J. The ball moved freely on offense, the shot selection was smart, the Philly fast break was a work of art featuring the graceful glide of the Doctor in mid-air, and the Sixers took pride in their plus 50% shooting, which in 1982 was 2nd best in the league behind the run-and-gun Denver Nuggets. If Darryl “Chocolate Thunder” Dawkins had seemed out of place as the Sixers starting center, it’s because he was. Dawkins was traded to New Jersey in the days before the Sixers signed Malone. Moses was the ultimate fit for the team’s biggest needs: Better inside scoring and rebounding, the boards having been the Sixers trouble spot for years. Moses, one of the most prolific rebounders in NBA history, quickly put an end to that problem. He also had the feet of a ballet dancer, as Bucks radio voice Eddie Doucette described them, and a dump truck-full of quick moves around the basket. Erving wisely and tacitly agreed to allow the natural flow of the offense through Malone, and the Sixers quickly found their new chemistry.

Philly won 9 of their first 10 games, then put together win streaks of 14 and 10 games, powering their way to a 50-7 record and a big lead over Larry Bird‘s Celtics in the Atlantic Division, and an even bigger lead over the Central Division champs, the Bucks. When the Sixers record reached 49-7, coach Billy Cunningham began resting his stars, beginning with All-Star, All-Defensive forward Bobby Jones and 33-year-old Dr. J, who sat out ten games during the season. While taking it easy down the stretch, the Sixers went 16-10 to finish 65-17.

At season’s end, with his team healthy and well-rested, Moses laid down his famous “Fo’ Fo’ Fo'” declaration — meaning the Sixers would sweep all three of their playoff series’ and become the only team in NBA history to romp undefeated through the playoffs. Malone wasn’t bragging when he said it, and his team came oh-so-close to accomplishing Fo’ Fo’ Fo. They went 12-1 in the playoffs, the lone loss coming in the East finals to a Milwaukee Bucks team flying high and pushing the pace after sweeping Bird’s Celtics in the semis (and making it look easy).

The Marques Johnson-led Bucks had put up a terrific fight, losing game 1 in overtime and dropping Game 2 in the final minute.  Every game in the series but Game 5 was close, every minute a bitter contest. The Finals against the “Showtime” Lakers were a different story: Moses dominated Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson in the paint (the Lakers defensive plan relied on Magic dropping down to help on Malone), averaging 26 pts and 18 rebs a game in the series. The Sixers blew the Lakers out in Game 3, the first game played in LA,  and the sweep was on. Fo’ Fi’ Fo’.

Moses won the 1983 MVP, his 3rd in five years, and his 4th rebounding title in 5 years. Moses and Dr. J were named 1st Team All-Pro. Malone, Jones and point guard Maurice Cheeks, one of the great thieves of NBA history (No. 5 all-time steals) were voted 1st Team All-Defense.  Jones won the 6th Man of the Year award. Four Sixers — Moses, the Doctor, Cheeks and shooting guard Andrew Toney — made the 1983 All-Star team. There was no room for Jones, apparently, who had made the All-Star teams of 1981 and ’82.

Did I mention that the Sixers swept the “Showtime” Lakers in the NBA Finals? The Lakers featured four Hall of Famers (Kareem, Magic, Wilkes and McAdoo), all-star guard Norm Nixon and the great defender, Michael Cooper.

Malone shoots over Alton Lister in the 1983 Eastern Conference finals as the Bucks move in to triple-team him.

The 1983 Sixers were declared the best team in history by nearly everyone who saw them play with the exception of Celtics and Lakers fans whose DNA is engineered to deny the glory of others; and, ironically, their coach, who thought his 1967 Sixers team was better and even wrote a book about it (Season of the 76ers,  2002). The Moses – Dr. J – Bobby Jones – Cheeks – Toney five was, for one dominant season, the best five to play together since the days of the battles between Bill Russell‘s Celtics and Wilt Chamberlain‘s Sixers (1966-68).  That homage to the 1960s Glory Days said, the brilliance of the players and the rising fortunes of the league during “the renaissance” of the 1980s — yes, even before Jordan and Barkley — should not be underappreciated. The game had evolved for the better and entered its Golden Age.

The Warriors of today have a lot in common with that Sixer team. No, they don’t have Moses Malone in the prime of his career — but there’s more than enough to suggest that the extreme success of the 1983 Sixers gives NBA fans a pretty good indication of what’s in store for the league in 2016-17. The Warriors, not the champs in Cleveland, are now the team to beat.

The obvious and irresistible parallels

They seem very happy. Warriors coach Steve Kerr, Durant and GM Bob Myers. 7/07/2016

Both the 1982 Sixers and the 2016 Warriors made the NBA Finals and lost. In both instances, the losing team was coming off of an intense 7-game struggle in the conference finals, while the winner of the championship series had strolled through their conference playoffs unmolested.

A tired, beat-up Sixers team faced a Lakers team that hadn’t lost a game in the West playoffs and waited an unprecedented 12 days for their opponent (still the record for longest Finals layoff). Like the 2016 Warriors, the 1982 Sixers had barely made it out of their conference playoffs. In the semi-finals they were pushed to six games by a short-handed but star-studded Bucks team. In the conference finals, the Sixers became the first team to win a Game 7 on the parquet floor of Boston Garden.

After beating the Celtics, the 1982 Finals were “anti-climactic”, Dr. J would write in his autobiography years later. In Game 1 the well-rested Lakers played just seven players and stole home court advantage from the Sixers, then ran away with the title in six games. The weary, beaten Sixers were satisfied to have had their revenge in Boston (they lost the 1981 East finals in a Game 7 in the Garden) but knew they had to make a change if Dr. J (and Bobby Jones) were ever going to win the NBA Championship that had eluded him since the ABA-NBA merger in 1976. Doc was running out of time, and there was an even chance the Bucks or Celtics might prevent the Sixers from reaching the Finals again. Enter Moses Malone.

It can’t be said that the 2016 NBA Finals were anti-climactic for the Warriors, but they were battered and bruised after coming back from a 3 to 1 deficit to beat Durant’s OKC Thunder in a 7-game West finals series. Riding on the energy from that series, the Warriors ran out to a 3-1 series lead against Lebron’s Cavs, which meant they had won six of seven games against the Thunder and Cavs.  A great achievement, but they were running on fumes, and it showed in games 5, 6 and 7, especially in the play of Steph Curry. Lebron James played a Finals for the ages, the Cavs swept the last three games and the title was theirs. Enter Kevin Durant.

The 4 All-Pro starting lineup

Kevin Durant isn’t Moses Malone — he’s not a player on quite that transformative Moses level.  But as some of the spin has spun this week — with an eye toward making a case that competition has not been compromised by Durant’s move — KD’s already historic achievements have been somewhat downplayed.

Durant is just the 4th small forward in the 61-year history of the MVP award to win the award. The other three are Dr. J, Larry Bird and Lebron James.

Durant in 2014 swiped the MVP crown Lebron James had worn for four out of five seasons. Steph Curry won the next two MVPs, so today’s Warriors players have held the crown three straight seasons.

Durant’s career impact and efficiency (BIER) numbers, while not as phenomenal as Bird or Lebron’s, are comparable to Dr. J’s NBA stats, and to the numbers put up by Marques Johnson, the sadly under-recognized forward who led the Bucks against the Sixers in the early 1980s. In this top shelf “box score impact” statistical context, the sixth small forward in league history worth mentioning is 1980s scoring machine Adrian Dantley. There are many others with legendary reputations and Hall of Fame recognition, but they didn’t have the statistical impact, or, (in Kawhi Leonard’s case) haven’t yet played long enough.

Kevin Durant after nine seasons in the NBA is simply one of the best small forwards ever to play the game. KD’s already accomplished Hall of Fame-worthy honors and stats. He’s got an MVP award; and he’s going to Golden State at age 27, in the prime of his career. The irresistible parallel here is that Moses Malone was 27 when he signed with the Sixers.

Durant joins Curry, the MVP, and two All-Pro teammates, big forward Draymond Green (2nd Team All-Pro) and shooting guard Klay Thompson (3rd Team). Since the ABA-NBA merger, no team has had three All-Pros in one season, so what Curry, Green and Thompson accomplished last season was unprecedented — and let’s not forget the 73 regular season wins.

Durant was 2nd Team All-Pro last season, behind Lebron James and Kawhi Leonard at forward. Green was the other forward honored on the 2nd Team. Let’s pause there.

3rd Team All-Pro honors didn’t exist until 1989, so for 40 seasons the NBA honored ten guys, which made sense when there were only 8 to 10 teams in the 1950s up through 1967. The NBA merged with the ABA in 1976, so for 31 years (1976-2016), no team has boasted 3 of the first 10 honored All-Pros. The 2016-17 Warriors will be the first.

No, it’s not fair

Lebron, Wade and Chris Bosh were All-Pros in the same year only once – in 2007, when Lebron was in Cleveland, Wade in Miami and Bosh in Toronto. Bosh was never an All-Pro during the Heat’s four-year run.

Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman were never All-Pros in the same season, though they would have been in 1995 had Jordan played the full season. Rodman was still a San Antonio Spur at that point. The 1996 Bulls, the 72-win team, best team ever?  The dilution of the talent due to expansion and the lack of great competition in the mid-1990s makes it impossible to say. Jordan’s Bulls were undoubtedly the NBC Network’s greatest champion.

Both the Celtics and Sixers started four All-Star players during the Bill RussellWilt Chamberlain battles 1966-1968, but because both teams played in the Eastern Conference, neither team ever got four All-Star spots in a season. Combined, there were five players from “The Great Rivalry” voted to the 1967 All-Pro team.

Bird and Magic.

3rd Team All-Pro honors did not yet exist when the 1980s Super Teams battled for supremacy, so the All-Pro teams are a poor measuring stick for the greatness of the Sixers, Lakers and Celtics teams of the Golden Age. It gets messy. No team had three in one year. Only the Sixers and Lakers had two. From 1983-1986, Larry Bird was the only Celtic to be named All-Pro (he won three MVPs in that time, and the Celtics won two titles).  But the Celtics had four All-Stars who were All-Pro at one time or another, and a former MVP – future Hall of Famer (Bill Walton) coming off the bench in 1986. The “Showtime” Lakers had similar talent — four players who made All-Star teams from 1980 through 1985, and a former MVP – future Hall of Famer (Bob McAdoo) coming off the bench.

And now we’re back to the 1983 Sixers and their four All-Stars, plus 1982 All-Star Bobby Jones, the 1983 6th Man of the Year — the team that swept the Showtime Lakers in the Finals. That’s good enough to settle the Best Team Ever debate, especially in light of Moses’ domination of Kareem and Magic in the Finals, and of the entire NBA that season.

Those Super Teams were loaded with talent almost beyond comprehension in today’s NBA — until this week. The Warriors bringing three current All-Pros together is unprecedented. Now add to the mix 3rd Team All-Pro All-Star and Olympian Klay Thompson, and veteran Sixth Man Andre Iguodala — an All-Star in 2012, All-Defensive in 2014 and the 2015 NBA Finals MVP …

As currently constructed, the Warriors are as close as the Super Teams of the 1980s were to the Sixers five-star team. It’s just not fair to the rest of the league; and It’s very small solace for the opposition that, at age 32, Iguodala’s All-Star days seem to be behind him, or that the Warriors had to let go of all four of their big men to sign Durant. They’ve already replaced two of them, and this seems like a good time to point out that Durant is listed at 6’9″ but is taller than that, and rebounds on the defensive end like the average NBA center.

And here’s the kicker: As we look to the Super Teams of the 1980s for proper perspective and precedent for the 2017 Warriors, we find that there is no record of failure in that precedence — all three of the 1980s Super Teams won the championships they set out to win, with the 1983 Sixers being the team most dominant and decorated, but sometimes forgotten in the shadow of the Magic and Bird story.

No record of failure. It wasn’t fair in 1983 when the Sixers signed Moses to win a title with 33-year-old Dr. J. It’s not fair now. Kevin Durant is just 27 years old, and signed on with the Warriors for two years. Steph Curry is 27. Draymond Green and Klay Thompson are 25, and under contract for four and three years respectively. The 1983 Sixers slowed down due to age after winning the title. The 2017 Warriors won’t be slowing down any time soon.

Think about that.  It’s not fair, but enjoy this team while it lasts.

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

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.

Who the @!&# is Swen Nater and why is he one of the most important players in Bucks history?

Andrew Bogut hauled in 27 rebounds last night in the Bucks 101-95 overtime loss to the Miami, tying Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s Bucks franchise record for most defensive boards in a game with 20.   Kareem did it twice, once in 1974 and once in 1975.

Bogut’s 27 total rebounds were six off the franchise single game record of 33 held, not by Kareem or the Dobber, Bob Lanier, Vin Baker or any All-Star big man Bucks fans would remember, but by a 6’11” center who had, like Kareem, played for John Wooden at UCLA and who, like Dan Gadzuric and Francisco Elson, was a product of the Netherlands:

Swen Nater.

Who?

Nater grabbed 33 rebounds Dec. 19, 1976 in Milwaukee at Mecca Arena against the Atlanta Hawks, a game that is distinguished in other ways by the fact that it was one of only 30 games the Bucks won in 1976-77, Don Nelson’s first season as Bucks head coach.  It was Nellie’s 13th game, his 3rd win of an NBA coaching record 1,335.  That old “Green and Growing” jingle hadn’t been written yet. Bango didn’t even exist.

Neither did the ABA, which made the 1976-77 NBA season the dawn of the modern era.  Nater, a 1973 Bucks draft pick, joined the Bucks three years later when the ABA dissolved (see comments below),  played one season and was traded to the Buffalo Braves for the #3 overall pick of the 1977 draft as the Bucks dove headlong into a youth movement, created Bango, hired somebody to write the goofy “Green and Growing” jingle and dove headlong into a youth movement.

Nater, along with Moses Malone, Artis Gilmore and Marvin “Bad News” Barnes was one of the top rebounders in the ABA, and didn’t disappoint in the NBA.  In the five seasons of his prime, 1977-1981, he hauled down 4,848 rebounds in 392 games (12.4 per) for the Bucks and the Braves/Clippers.  In 1980 he led the NBA with 1,216 boards and in 1981, led the league in defensive rebounds with 722.

To put that in perspective: Bogut’s season high is 763 overall rebounds in 2008.  In his sixth season, AB’s career total is 3,318.  Statistically, and in terms of durability, only Dwight Howard in today’s NBA has put together a five consecutive rebounding seasons that compare favorably with Nater, 1977 through 1981.

Nater averaged 13 pts and 12 rebs per game in 72 games for the Bucks in 1976-77, about where Bogut’s current numbers are.  No, Swen didn’t block shots or play defense like Bogues (no center in Bucks history has ever played the kind of enforcer D Bogut is playing now) but he hit his free throws.

What madness befell the Bucks that caused them to trade Nater to Buffalo for a draft pick?

Nellie and the Bucks in 1977 had the #1 overall pick in the draft and their hearts set on 7-footer Kent Benson out of Indiana, and this made Nater expendable.  Benson, however, was a bust, more or less, and was eventually traded to Detroit for Bob Lanier.

The Bucks used the #3 pick they netted from Buffalo on another player from UCLA, forward Marques Johnson, who, in his rookie season, led the Bucks to within one game of the Western Conference finals.  By 1979, Marques was a first team All-NBA forward, arguably as good as Dr. J.  By 1980 the Bucks were back in the East, where Marques was the one matchup that gave Larry Bird fits more than any other (sorry Doc).  The Bucks remained in the Golden Age’s top tier along with Magic’s Lakers, Bird’s Celtics and Dr. J’s Sixers for the remainder of Marques’ career (1977-84) in Milwaukee.

That 1977 Nater trade eventually morphed to bring Terry Cummings, Ricky Pierce and Craig Hodges to the Bucks in the 1984 trade with the Clippers (for Marques and Junior Bridgeman).  Cummings, Pierce and Hodges helped keep the Bucks in the upper echelon of the league through the 1980’s, or until Sidney Moncrief’s knees gave out.  Cummings, the primary player in the Marques trade, would later bring back All-star Alvin Robertson in a trade with the Spurs.

Of course, what the Bucks did with the abundant resource that was Swen Nater was certainly more important than Nater himself, but an argument could be made that getting Swen out of the ABA and then trading him to Buffalo are two of the most important — and ultimately beneficial — events in the history of the Bucks.  The drafting of Lew Alcindor in 1969 still stands as the single-most important event in Bucks history; the trade with Cincinatti in 1970 for Oscar Robertson is up there;  the trade with Detroit in 1979 that allowed the Bucks to draft Moncrief was another monumental event.

But Nater-for-the-pick-that-became-Marques, in my book, ranks ahead of the Sidney draft, and not only because Marques was my favorite player and the 1977-82 Bucks were a team built around him. By 1983, the Marques-and-Sidney, Sidney-and-Marques Bucks were arguably the best team in Bucks history, certainly one of the best teams in NBA history never to win a title.

What makes the Nater-Marques transactions matter more than others (probably even more than acquiring the Big O) is that they were the gift that kept giving into early 1990’s, when the Bucks at last, after more than a decade of winning, had to tear down and rebuild.  No Nater, no Marques. No Marques, no Terry Cummings or Ricky Pierce or Craig Hodges.  No Cummings, no Alvin Robertson.  And so it goes … all the way to the tanking that eventually led to the #1 pick in the 1994 draft.

And all this makes Swen Nater, the gift from the defunct ABA that kept giving, who once grabbed 33 rebounds for the Bucks in a single game, a player whose significance to the Bucks franchise rivals that of Sidney and the Big O, and is lesser than only Kareem and the player Nater was traded for, Marques Johnson.

The “Ginobili rules” of the West don’t put the Spurs in title contention

He took the ball on a bounce after a sloppy, tipped inbound.  He held it too long, allowing precious seconds tick away, robbing his team of any chance for an offensive rebound if his final shot missed.  He advanced then toward Luc Mbah a Moute, one of the best defenders — if not the best defender — in basketball.  He drove hard left but Mbah a Moute was there first.  He pushed Luc off with his right arm but not far enough — Mbah a Moute stayed right on him as he planted a pivot foot.  He had no time and no choice but to jump full back, with both feet — traveling — and tossed up a 20-footer that barely lofted over Mbah a Moute’s outstretched hand.

No whistles.  The jumper poured through the hoop at the buzzer, giving the Spurs a 92-90 win over the Bucks.

“He” is Manu Ginobili, Charles Barkley’s second favorite player.  How about Charles’ boy this week?

“You mean that he travelled?” – Sir Charles doth speaketh.  “… That’s a travel. In all 50 states, that’s a travel.”

Not in San Antonio, Texas, on a Wednesday night in December — and not when the 10-13 Milwaukee Bucks were on the verge of pulling off a Texas sweep of the teams with the best records in the West.  Are the Spurs and Mavs truly title contenders?   Maybe.  But no, not if Boston and Miami continue playing the way they’re playing, not really.  Not if they’re struggling — and the Mavs failing — to beat the Bucks in Texas.

It’s been two-plus seasons since Ginobili, Parker and Duncan made the West Finals but the story seems to be that this summer they “banded together” for a title run in 2011. It’s an improbable story when you consider that they haven’t really been close to a title since 2007 when they last won; and it’s not a story everybody’s buying into — the Denver Nuggets certainly didn’t on Thursday night.  FoxSports “In the Paint” NBA analyst Marques Johnson this week qualified  his take on the Spurs and Mavs as “the best in the West” with a telling … “for now.” And he says it twice for emphasis.

Marques (1977-1984) was the greatest forward to ever wear a Bucks uniform, the only Buck not named Kareem or Sidney to be a 1st team All-Pro.   It’s always strange to see Junior Bridgeman‘s #2 up in the BC rafters (though they on the court together for roughly half the game, Bridgeman was Marques’ backup) while Marques’ #8 is still in circulation, worn by rookie Larry Sanders (heck, I’d wear it too if I were a Bucks rookie).  Like Barkley, Marques is more keen on the Mavs chances — probably figuring that Dirk Nowitzki is the one player whom none of his contending Bucks teams would have had a defense for.  The Spurs?  “The Spurs are the Spurs,” Johnson shrugged.

But the thing that’s going unmentioned in the NBA this week by Marques, Barkley or anybody is that neither the Spurs or Mavs looked like championship contenders against the Bucks — a concession perhaps to the idea that the Bucks have the unluckiest 10-14 record in basketball and are so-under-the-radar in terms of contention that you need sonar to track them.  The Bucks haven’t backed away from any challenges since Andrew Bogut came back into the lineup, including the Heat, but that’s not the point — nobody’s going to talk about the Bucks until they start putting the ball in the basket with more regularity, go on a winning streak and actually beat the Heat, which they’ll get two chances to do the first week of January.

The point is, the Bucks were screwed in San Antonio — no other way to put it.  The refs didn’t just eat their whistles on Ginobili’s buzzer beater, they were loathe the entire game to call fouls on the Spurs starting five.  That isn’t going to happen if and when the Spurs meet Kobe, Gasol and the Lakers in the playoffs.

Here’s the foul story: One on Manu, one on Parker, one on DeJuan Blair and three on Tim Duncan, who was guarding Bogut most of the night and basically humped his arm with the score tied 90-90 and the Bucks trying to feed their All-Star center in the post.   No fouls on Richard Jefferson.  That’s six fouls in 150 minutes played by the Spurs starters — or an astounding one foul per 25 minutes played, which means the refs were not about to whistle even 5 fouls on the Spurs starters per 120 mins of available PT in a half.

Brandon Jennings was hacked all night by Tony Parker and battered to a 4-18 shooting night.  Yet the Bucks, with John Salmons and Corey Maggette all but benched for the game and Carlos Delfino still recovering from a head injury, had the ball with the score tied at 90 and 30 seconds to play.

The following night in Denver it was more of the same for the Spurs, playing at full strength against the Chauncey-less Nuggets.  Duncan fouled out two or three times by my count but was only whistled for four, even as his counterpart, Nene Hilario, was fouled out.  Parker — who fouls everybody in sight — was caught for all of one foul playing 37 minutes.  In the end it was Manu twisting for a layup to give the Spurs the lead and then saving the game by leaping into Carmelo Anthony‘s path to draw a charge as time expired — taking the winning points off the Denver scoreboard.

Was Ginobili there, planted in position in time?   It was close, too close not to question — but it was Manu.  Of course the call went his way, whether or not what he did was to jump — leap, literally, both feet in the air from the weakside — under Carmelo as Carmelo (31 pts in the game) was gathering to lift to the rim.

But hey — it was Manu.  Tough luck, Carmelo.  “Bullshit,” said Nuggets coach George Karl.  The Spurs are now 22-3, the best record in basketball and they’re playing at full strength in December. It’s the fastest start in Spurs history.  But I watched the Spurs lose twice this week, and so did you — only to see the refs award them the wins.  No, the Spurs are no title contender — they don’t have the muscle in the paint to help Duncan and truly contend, and no amount of magical refereeing will allow the Manu and Parker and RJ show to carry them to the finals.

Call the Spurs a lucky 22-3, as lucky as the Bucks 10-14 mark has been unlucky and injury riddled.  As lucky as the Bears 9-4 record atop the NFC North (oh, that’s probably stretching it).  The luck of things in the NBA have a tendency to even out over the grueling 82-game schedule — let’s not go ahead and crown their asses yet.   Remember, against the Bucks, the Spurs were posterized in the 4th quarter by, of all people, Drew Gooden.

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“I still don’t think he’s a center” — Kevin McHale on the Hawks Al Horford — who is not a center despite the Hawks insistence (under Mike Woodson anyway) that Horford is a 6’11″center.   In Boston, Horford had just hit an early 18-footer against the Celtics, and McHale noted that Horford’s improving 18-footer was the thing that “separates him from other big forwards.”  Al Horford, power forward.  Too small to start against Andrew Bogut and other centers (that task goes to Hawks big man Jason Collins), and too small at 6’9 to appear on center ranking lists.  Hopefully, commentary like McHale’s is a sign that Bogut will be making his All-Star game debut in Los Angeles in February.

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Bogut since his return against the Magic Dec. 4:  19.8 pts – 14.2 rebs – 4 blks – 1 steal – 2.3 assists per game.  Add in the possessions that he turns over by taking charges and the result is a center playing better now than Dwight Howard.  Overall, Bogut leads the NBA in blocks per game (3.1) and has the 3rd-best defensive rating in the league (96.5 pts allowed per 100 possessions when he’s on the court) behind Kevin Garnett and Howard.  That’s the sort of company AB keeps these days.

If Bogut keeps it up and continues hitting 55% of his shots (50 of 89 since tipping it off against the Magic), the Bucks should weather the current scheduling nightmare (and AB’s horrendous free throw shooting) by earning a few tough road wins in the West — and be right on the Bulls’ tails by late January.

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Speaking of centers and the Bulls, Joakim Noah will be out nursing a broken right thumb until after the All-Star break.  With the Bucks in the middle of the toughest stretch of basketball in the league this season, fate (or Bulls management) has conspired to make sure the Bulls don’t run away with the Central.  The Bulls can’t and won’t keep up their 16-8 pace (and 3rd-ranked defense) without their defensive anchor in the paint having the All-Star season he was having — but the Bucks have a six game hole to climb out of while playing the toughest December-early January schedule in the league.

The Bucks play Dec. 28 and Jan. 24 in Chicago.  Noah will miss both of those, which means the Bucks won’t get a chance to see the Rose-Noah-Boozer Bulls until Feb. 26 in Milwaukee.  That’s too bad, because a Bucks-Bulls game without Joakim Noah is like playing the Celtics without Kevin Garnett — it takes the fun out of the battle for the paint.  I wonder if Bogut will miss him.

I can’t help but wonder, though, given that 2-handed push shot that Noah throws up at the rim,  what he needs his right thumb for?

Dog DaZe in Milwaukee summer… The Fish has been landed

Is there a more slumbering time to be a basketball junkie than the dog days of summer, when it’s so dam hot you can’t get a game on without melting the soles of your shoes?   Last year I broke the tedium by posting video of stripper babes dancing in a hot tub at a Las Vegas nightclub (the post had something to do with NBA summer league in Vegas) but that was when The Jinx was still on the Journal Sentinel sports server — my dancing stripper babes in their Vegas hot tub had to come down.

This summer, I’m too swamped with various get-rich-in-the-slowest-way-I-can-possibly-come-up-with-next schemes to even blog about “The Decision,” which I didn’t bother watching because ESPN’s basketball coverage tends to be nauseatingly bad no matter what the subject matter is.

Lebron James as prima donna with Michael Wilbon’s nose in his keester for an hour is excruciating to think about, much less envision as watchable TV programming.   But ESPN couldn’t help itself and neither could Lebron.  One would think a guy who shares a hometown with avant-punk marketing geniuses Devo (“Are We Not Men?”) would know better.  Or maybe being from Akron, Ohio, is like, well, being from Akron. (What was I trying to say here?)

Lebron might have saved himself a lot of criticism (and the world would undoubtedly be a better place today) had he simply taken the story to the better basketball broadcaster, TNT, where he could have taken his knocks from the Round Mound, Kenny the Jet, McHale and Weber like any ballplayer should.  It might even have been interesting.

Two things to be thankful for:

1. Lebron’s not a Chicago Bull, good on many levels for the Bucks (who get a more balanced rivalry) and it’s not all bad for the Bulls, either. They’ll have to gut it out Lebron-less with guys like Rose and Noah who are growing into bigtime stars (and headaches) just fine in their own right. Bogut-Jennings vs. Noah-Rose didn’t need Lebron in the mix to distort their emerging rivalry.

2. Now that he’s playing on Dwyane Wade‘s team, The Nickname “The King” will die the mercy killing it deserves.

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Bucks note: A lot of moves by  Bucks GM John Hammond this summer, my favorite one the resigning of guard John Salmons to be Brandon Jennings’ backcourt running mate for the next few years.  Great job by Hammond defining the Bucks needs and the value of Salmons to the team for themselves rather than allowing the market to determine those things.

The Bucks have guaranteed 30-year-old Salmons about $36 million over four years, which is right about what Salmons was worth in light of other starting shooting guard salaries (Ben Gordon’s to name one).

There are plenty of Bucks fans who think four years is far too long-term for a 30-year-old guard, but wait — there’s a fifth year too, which the Bucks can buy out of if Salmons is shot at 35.  Yes, the Bucks wanted The Fish that bad, and they landed him.

Good work by Hammond, enuff said.  I don’t want to think about Corey Maggette just now.  Or Drew Gooden.

And Hammond isn’t finished shaping the 2010-11 roster.  Not yet.

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What’s this link? … which I found laying around on the site.

“This is no time to quibble about details.

“Outside of the Milwaukee Bucks’ overpowering run to the 1971 NBA championship, the 4-minute finish Wednesday night was, without question, the greatest stretch in franchise history.  Are you kidding?”

That was Journal Sentinel Bucks columnist Michael Hunt writing at the height of Bucks excitement, just moments after Ersan “Bobby Jones” Ilyasova stunned the Hawks by stealing Game 5 right from under their uninspired noses.

Is he kidding?  Apparently not. Where was the Milwaukee daily newspaper’s Bucks columnist during the Nellie years? …

…. When in 1983 the Marques-and-Sidney Milwaukee Bucks swept the Bird-McHale-Parrish Boston Celtics out of the playoffs.

Sure, Game 5 against the Hawks was thrilling.  But the Bucks didn’t win the series. And they were only playing the Hawks.

Sweeping Larry Bird’s Celtics was the unthinkable impossible.  The 1983 Milwaukee Bucks, to this day one of the best teams in NBA history to not win the title, swept Larry Bird’s Celtics. How quickly we forget.

How it is that the Milwaukee daily sports guy has apparently forgotten Nellie and even been dismissive of the Nellie era lately (this isn’t the only recent bout of Nellie forgetfulness by Hunt) is a mystery, one I don’t have time to solve at the moment.   For now, let’s say that the hangover from the Michael Redd era will be with Bucks fans for a while, and it has many strange side-effects.

I’d better get to work on a few more of those fish tie blogs.

First Aussie: Andrew Bogut named 3rd-team All-NBA

Andrew Bogut Named to All-NBA Third Team

He didn’t make the cut on the All-defensive teams but Andrew Bogut‘s break-out season didn’t go unrecognized.  The Milwaukee Bucks have an All-Pro center for the first time since Kareem Abdul Jabbar.

Bogut today joined Orlando’s Dwight Howard and Suns forward/center Ama’re Stoudemire as the league’s All-NBA centers, becoming the first Australian player ever voted All-Pro.  Bogut was voted 3rd-team All-NBA by the league’s media, receiving the 11th-highest vote total (149) and finishing ahead of big men Tim Duncan and Pau Gasol.

Bogues averaged 15.9 pts, 10.2 rebs and was 2nd in the NBA to Howard in blocked shots (2.5 per game). The league’s two best centers were the only players to average more than 15 pts, 10 boards and 2 blocks per game. …  Bogut was also 2nd to Howard in defensive rating and 9th in defensive rebounding % and total rebound %. 

More importantly, the Bucks were 40-29 in AB’s 69 games and are finally poised to become a force in the East, five seasons after drafting the 7-footer #1 overall out of the University of Utah (2005).

Kareem (1970 draft) is the only other Bucks #1 overall pick to win All-NBA honors. Center Kent Benson (1977) and forward Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson (1994) never achieved it, though the Dog was a two-time All-Star. 

Bogut becomes the 9th All-Pro in Bucks history. 

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 5 times: 1st Team (1971-74); 2nd Team (1970)

Sidney Moncrief, 5 times: 1st Team (1983); 2nd Team (1982, 1984-86)

Marques Johnson, 3 times: 1st Team (1979); 2nd Team (1980-81)

Terry Cummings, 2 times: 2nd Team (1985); 3rd Team (1989)

Oscar Roberston: 2nd Team, 1970 1971

Vin Baker: 3rd Team, 1997

Ray Allen: 3rd Team, 2001

Michael Redd: 3rd Team, 2004

Andrew Bogut: 3rd Team, 2010

Note:  3rd Team All-NBA didn’t exist until 1989.

Bucks making it easy for the Hawks

Bucks coach Scott Skiles was runner up in the coach of the year voting, but right now he's looking for hair to pull out over his Bucks' play against the Hawks.Two games into this playoffs series, just about the last thing I expected to write was this:   The Bucks aren’t challenging the Hawks’ shots and they’re lacking focus. They’ve hardly resembled the defensive Bucks team the NBA is used to.

Scott Skiles’ constant pressure defense has a few basic principles. Constant pressure on the ball, no switching on picks (the fight-through pick rule) and show help/don’t leave your man. The intended result of these activities is a sticky defensive stew in which the Bucks should be in position to tightly contest shooters. The consequence of not contesting shots is usually a seat on the bench.

The Hawks have generally been a lot more open than Bucks opponents usually are, and Skiles is not happy about it. Milwaukee Journal NBA beat reporter, Tom Enlund, is back in action for the playoffs, and Enlund reports that Skiles’ shot challenge charts from Games 1 and 2 are looking rather bare.

“We need to have a minimum of about 75% contested shots and we’re well below that right now,” said Skiles.

[Edit: Whether or not center Andrew Bogut is in the lineup shouldn’t impact whether or not (searching for the right example here) … John Salmons is sluggish on defense.]

In other news from Skiles:  “Our focus hasn’t been where it normally is.”

The Bucks have one shot to find theire focus and get it back to normal. If they lose Game 3 Saturday, they fall down 0-3 to the Hawks. Nobody’s ever come back from O-3 to win an NBA playoff series.

Coach of the Year:  While the Bucks were busy making the Hawks look like the Lakers, the NBA was preparing to release it’s Coach of the Year voting results. And the winner is:  Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks, down 0-2 to the actual Lakers.  The Thunder went from the lottery and 22-47 record in Brooks’  “interim” last year to 50 wins and the 8th seed in the Western Conference playoffs. Maybe they did it by surprising a lot of teams but Brooks’ Thunder play some D.  They finished in the league’s top 10 in defensive rating, in that 2nd hextile the Cavs fell to this season. It’s not a bad place to be — the Spurs, Jazz and D-Wade’s Heat are in the 2nd tier, too.

Brooks won 58% of the first place votes on the 123 NBA media ballots, a landslide. Skiles finished a strong enough second for people who tend to dribble around in cyberspace about the NBA to conclude this was a race of two Scotts. That’s fine. The lackluster play of the Bucks on Tuesday does, however, lead me to believe that the voters probably chose the right Scott.

Someone please tell Journal Sentinel that Richard Jefferson is not an All-Star

Puhleese make me an All-StarWhy do those who run Milwaukee’s daily newspaper seem to believe that bullshitting Milwaukee Bucks fans will bring us back to the Bradley Center next season?

Gary D. Howard, Journal Sentinel Sports Editor, fouled out in the first few paragraphs of the column he wrote in yesterday’s paper, a blatant yet well-meaning attempt to make his readers feel good, really good, ecstatic even, about the acquisitions of pitcher CC Sabathia by the Brewers and forward Richard Jefferson by the Bucks.

Sabathia, who won his first game as a Brewer last night, has the Brewers bouncing around the clubhouse about their postseason prospects. Howard, however, is a basketball guy, and his column was about making Bucks fans feel as good about Jefferson as the Brewers fans feel about Sabathia.

He does this by:

1) Starting out the column talking about Brett Favre, a big no-no, irregardless of how good Sabathia or Jefferson may be;

2) Describing both Sabathia and Jefferson as “all-stars” as if there was some parallel between the two athletes.

Sabathia’s no mere “all-star.” He won the Cy Young last year, a declaration that, in 2007, he was the best player at the pitching position in Major League Baseball. The NBA equivalent is to be named 1st Team All-NBA. This makes Sabathia parallel to, say, Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic, the center on this past season’s All-NBA 1st Team.

The last Buck to be named 1st Team All-NBA was Sidney Moncrief in 1983. Marques Johnson made the 1st Team in 1979, the year before the advent of Bird and Magic; also the year Marques shot at will and averaged 25.6 points per game and only 3.0 assists per game. True, Marques’ shots were good ones — he shot 55 percent from the floor before the dawn of the three-pointer — but the team finished 38-44 and did not make the playoffs.

(Michael Redd take note: the last player in a Bucks uniform to be allowed to shoot at will and control the ball the way you’ve been allowed to these last five years was Marques in 1979 — and look how the team finished. Marques never played that way again after that season, and never again averaged more than 21.7 points a game in his career, while his assists rocketed up to 4.6 per game and the Bucks became a 50-60 win team. I realize that comparing you, Mike, to Marques Johnson is completely unfair to you, but … just saying.)

But that’s it for the Bucks in the last 30 years — only two, count ’em two, Sabathia-equivalent players: Sidney and Marques. Honorable mention goes to Terry Cummings (2nd Team All-NBA 1985).

So what does this have to do with Gary Howard’s column? Everything … because Richard Jefferson has never been an All-Pro, period. Not 1st, 2nd or 3rd Team.

In fact, Richard Jefferson has never made an NBA All-Star team. Not once in his seven-year career. Look it up.

Jefferson was a Top Ten scorer in the league last year, averaging more points per game (22.6) than All-Pro Marques Johnson ever did except for the 1979 season in which the Bucks failed to win. Last season, only five players in the NBA scored more points than Jefferson. Yet RJ did not make the All-Star team. His team, the New Jersey Nets, finished a disappointing 34-48.

So how did Richard Jefferson become an All-Star in the eyes of the Journal sports editor? Nobody knows. Maybe Howard figures that anybody in the Top Ten in scoring is an All-Star in his book.

But we know how that goes in Milwaukee. Michael Redd‘s been in the Top Ten in NBA scoring four of the last five years yet his team has never won. He did make the All-Star team once – in 2004, the year the Bucks almost won and finished 41-41. He was also 3rd Team All-NBA that season. 2004 also happens to be his lowest scoring year of the last five (21.7 pts avg) and the only season in Mike’s career that he averaged five rebounds per game. Redd was All-Star, and the Bucks almost won. That now seems like a long time ago.

The trend is fairly clear. Getting into the Top Ten in scoring doesn’t necessarily make a player an all-star or a winner. For many players, including Redd and Jefferson, if you’re scoring in the Top Ten, chances are you’re hurting the team, pursuing what Bucks center Andrew Bogut late last season called “individual accolades.” Wonder who he was talking about?

Oddly enough, Jefferson hasn’t pursued individual accolades all that much in his career (when the Nets were winning, Jefferson was scoring much less, often a third option) but things began to change for the Nets in 2007, going sour as Jason Kidd all but gave up on the team and asked for a trade. Suddenly, Jefferson’s scoring went up. To me that’s a bad sign.

The Bucks now have two guys who like to score the ball a lot, drive to the hoop and get to the line, but couldn’t win games in the Eastern Conference last season playing the way they did. One has been an All-Star. The other, the new guy, has never been more than a 2nd-Team All-Rookie selection (2002) in the NBA. Sounds to me like a concoction that will give Scott Skiles headaches all year if it’s allowed to suit up for the Bucks.

So why again am I and other Bucks fans being told by the editor of the big daily in town that the new guy is an All-Star?

You got me. Nobody knows. For the record, it’s not coming from the Bucks organization or John Hammond. (Click here for the full transcript of Jefferson’s news conference Monday.)

To be fair, Howard’s not the only one in local media saying or writing “all star Richard Jefferson” since the trade. But as an NBA fan who supposedly respects Bucks fans/his readers (and therein may be the problem) Howard should know enough not to publish jive.

Sponsored by: Trade Michael Redd

Like ESPN’s Bill Simmons, would-be GM of the Milwaukee Bucks and master of the Michael Redd shootingESPN Trade Machine, I consider basketball-reference.com the bible. A bbr window is almost always open on my desktop, despite that I know basketball refuses to be reduced to a game of statistics.

Imagine my surprise yesterday when I clicked to the bbr link for the 2007-08 Bucks and found that our 2007-08 Bucks had, as of April 21, acquired a sponsor: Aporiatwo.


No info is given about our proud sponsor, but “Aporiatwo” has this message for Bucks fans: 

“Why not the Sports Guy for GM? 2nd last in sieve-like defense, another lottery for us loyal Bucks fans. Why not the master of the Trade Machine? Think of what we could get for Michael Redd…”



Yes, it’s come down to this: Bucks fans so disgruntled they welcomed ESPN “Sports Guy” Bill Simmons as GM, probably because Simmons at least promised to make losing a little more fun.

(I’d post a link to Simmons’ fine writing here but “The Sports Guy” has yet to credit the Jinx for the hire-Sam “I Am” Cassell-as-player/coach idea. I wrote it first. Simmons knows it. He’s ducking me, probably because he figures he one-upped me with shock value by proposing Sam as player/head coach. I had Sam in mind for an offensive guru-type assistant. But here’s the kicker, Simmons’ high maintenance “idea” requires an NBA rule change – can’t play and be head coach at the same time. My idea – which came first – is perfectly legal as is. That makes my idea not only first but better – I PLAYED BY THE RULES!!!  Simmons, the ball is in your court.)

(Deep breath) Now that that’s off my chest, where we were we? …. Right, disgruntled Bucks fans entertaining Simmons’ madcap GM campaign;

AND mad enough to pay good money to brand our Bucks on bbr page with a “Michael Redd trade” message. The sponsorship cost Aporiatwo $30 cash money.

Aporiatwo, I realize that “trade Michael Redd” has become the motto of the season for Bucks fans, and I’m down with the cause, but … That’s a case of beer and a six pack!!!  What were you thinking?  

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As if some strange synchronicity among Bucks fans was at work, shortly after finding Aporiatwo’s “trade Redd” branding, I clicked over to the RealGM.com Bucks fan forum (which I don’t often do) to see if anything was going on with Scott Skiles’ assistant coach search that I might have missed. Sure enough, at that very moment, the realgms, ballboys and scouts were in the process of trading Michael Redd to Cleveland Cavaliers. Now there’s an idea! (It was the trade of the week last week here on Bob Boozer Jinx).

Although I do admit to taking a certain amount of creative license in calling Lebron James’ cell, I was (and still am) quite serious about the anatomy of the Michael Redd trade to Cleveland. The Cavaliers get Redd; the Bucks get 21-year-old shooting guard Daniel Gibson and the Wally Szczerbiak contract (one more year at $12 million). Keep it simple, get it done.

A few posters on realgm came to similar conclusions – Bucks would have to get Gibson or F/C Anderson Varejao or both; Cleveland would require that the Bucks take Wally’s contract, no way around it. The Cavs cannot afford to keep both Redd and Wally at shooting guard. The realgm-ers also added to the mix the Cavs #19 pick in the 2008 draft.

Gibson and Valejao are young players who can ball. Gibson’s been a better shooter than Redd the last two years (Gibson’s first two seasons in the league). Varejao’s like a young Dan Gadzuric, but less of a train wreck — a monster rebounder and a good defender. Because of Big Ben Wallace’s back and Z-Ilgauskus’ age, however, Cleveland’s not likely to risk parting with Varejao.

Gibson’s an up-and-coming player and a good pickup; and Wally (he’s only 30) would be a good veteran to have around for a year. He would fit in. Redd has nothing on either of them as an outside shooter, and the rest of his game would not be missed. The Bucks get better in the trade without the draft pick, and don’t risk the baggage of any other team’s expensive, tradebait “stars” who could hurt the development of the team.  With the pick, it’s a sweet deal.  Why would the Bucks turn it down?

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Back to basketball-reference.com  Other teams have sponsors too, but their fans haven’t been so activist with the messages as Aporiatwo, which is why it’s worth a mention. Most fans who buy player and team stat page sponsorships don’t leave any message at all, but there is this little note from the 2007-08 Miami Heat page sponsor, Eduardo Kupfer:

“Ah Riles, you slay me.”

“Riles” being Heat GM Pat Riley, who recently vacated the Heat coaching job – yikes!  How’d you like to see that message for a year on your team’s reference page? Buck up, Heat fans, you’ve got D-Wade.

One last bbr sponsorship note: The charge to sponsor the Michael Jordan page for a year is $520, or $10 per day. It’s much more economical to be a Bucks fan. Marques Johnson sells fo $20; Sidney Moncrief for $25. Kareem‘s takes the sky hook of Bucks players – $220 – but isn’t that the cost of Kareem being a Laker?

Phantom Net defender pokes Redd in eye

While Muhammad Ali has claimed he hit Sonny Liston so fast and so quick that the cameras missed the punch, the pictures do tell us that Ali’s right cross was right at Sonny’s face when Liston went down.

The film crews at the Bradley Center, however, faithfully trained to the ball and Michael Redd as Redd drove past one Net and into another on his way to the basket in the fourth quarter Saturday night, were unable to find a hand anywhere near Redd’s face on the play. Yet somehow he crumbled to the floor clutching his eye and left the game whincing as though one of Nets had stuck his finger in it.

The guy sitting next to me at the bar where we had negotiated a switch to the Bucks telecast (yes, Bucks fans often have to negotiate to get the game on the toob at many local establishments these days), saw it too. I should say, he didn’t see what I didn’t see. If you watched the game, you probably didn’t see it either.

A little while later, I met up with a friend who had also watched the FSN broadcast, and when I mentioned the play, she was already ahead of me: “There was no hand anywhere near Redd’s face,” she said. I took this as evidence that I was not crazy or suffering from a hallucinatory form of Bucks fan depression. I realize that this may have been presumptuous on my part.   

I’ve seen NBA players fake the poked-in-the-eye injury before, but always to get a free time out — and most of that was years ago, before the rules committee added the 20-second time out. I recall Marques Johnson faking a charley horse to get a time out, and dribbling the ball off his foot and out of bounds at what always seemed like the most inopportune moments – no, I’m not suggesting it was ever intentional, really. 

I’ve seen plenty of other crazy things during Bucks games (we did have Sam Cassell for four-plus seasons). I once saw Ray Allen intentionally miss a free throw during a Bucks-Knicks game in 1998 so that he could glare at Tyrone Hill, who missed a lot of free throws. I was sitting behind the basket Ray was shooting at with my pal Nick, and turned to him and said, “Did Ray just miss that on purpose?” Yeah, he did. Then he did it again and said something nasty to Hill as they ran back on defense. (Yes, the Bucks did win the game and the festering chemistry problem was solved when George Karl traded Hill).

In Saturday’s game, the Bucks first in front of new GM John Hammond, there was no apparent strategic purpose to Redd’s flop, other than to get himself off the court. In the late 3rd and early 4th quarter, the Bucks had struggled to stay in the game, and with Redd on the bench, had pulled back to within seven points of the Nets with about seven minutes left to play.

Coach Krystkowiak had let Redd sit for a long stretch when the cameras finally panned over to the bench to find him, arms crossed and glowering at the court, upset about something or other. With the new GM on hand for the first time, Redd seemed to be pouting. I assumed he was upset because he wanted to be in the game.

A minute or so later, Krystkowiak sent Redd in, with plenty of time left to make a run at winning it (c’mon, it’s happened a few times this year). Moments later he was back on the bench, in agony over a poke in the eye that no one seemed to have seen. The Bucks broadcasters couldn’t find the source of the injury but just let it go. No comment.

“It didn’t seem like he had the usual energy level,” Milwaukee coach Larry Krystkowiak said of Redd in the AP game story. That’s pretty bad timing, considering it was Hammond’s first game as GM, and that Redd has the captain’s C stitched to his jersey.

We can only speculate on whether Hammond will try to trade Redd in the offseason. He’s indicated that he’ll explore every way possible to make the team better. He did say “yes” when a reporter asked him Saturday if he considered Redd a cornerstone, but what’s he supposed to say? “No” on his first day, before he’s even met with Krystkowiak? Who asked that question, anyway? As far as reporters tricks go, not too sneaky.

If Redd does want to stay in Milwaukee, as he’s said, he had better hope Hammond was in the men’s room when the phantom poked him in the eye. Or that the culprit magically materializes. If not, the new GM just might begin to ask a few questions about the leadership methods of his team captain, if he hasn’t already.

From the angle I saw, the leading suspect in the eye-poking incident may in fact be the captain’s “C” on Redd’s jersey. It had a guilty look about it as Redd rushed himself and it back to the bench.