Tag Archives: Sam Dalembert

Farewell John Hammond: The abstract expressionist maze of deals that demolished the original “Fear the Deer” Bucks

"Convergence" by Jackson Pollock, 1952.

Bucks GM John Hammond is gone to the Orlando to work for the ultra-conservative DeVos family, owners of the Orlando Magic, and quite busy in these political times they helped finance.

Hammond replaces Rob Hennigan, the GM fired by the Magic in April after missing the playoffs for the fifth straight year, this time beaten by his own big trade last summer for Serge Ibaka.

The editorial board at BobBoozerJinx.com (and I) wish Hammond well, and I’m sure he knows what he’s doing, just as I’m sure Hennigan had no clue what he was doing (any GM who trades two legit NBA starters and 6’11” lottery pick named Sabonis for Ibaka is buying a “fire me now” tattoo).

I also can’t shake the puzzling fact that Hammond was still in Milwaukee four years after his own five-year plan to build a winner lay in shambles, circa 2013. Bucks owners Marc Lasry and Wes Edens bought the team in 2014 and installed Jason Kidd as coach and de facto player personnel chief right under Hammond’s nose, without bothering to consult him. That he’s only just leaving now, three years later, is a wonder.

Jeff Weltman, Hammond’s draft guru, who left the Bucks in 2013 to work for the Raptors, will join him in Orlando. Scott Skiles, the former Bucks coach who walked out on his coaching contract with the Magic last summer over player personnel disagreements with Hennigan, will certainly not be joining them. Skiles quit after one season in Orlando because Hennigan, apparently, had no respect for Skiles’ ideas about building a Scott Skiles team.

Skiles quit on Hammond, too, for similar reasons. It happened during their fifth season together in Milwaukee, 2012-13, the final year of both the coach’s and the GM’s contracts, and also the year Weltman left. Skiles didn’t like the roster he was dealt post-Andrew Bogut trade (the roster itself didn’t like the Bucks roster) and when Skiles declined to negotiate a contract extension, Hammond let him go.

Their five-year plan in Milwaukee had produced immediate results and a 49-40 record, playoffs included, in its second year, thanks to some deft Hammond roster moves, which won him the NBA’s Executive of the Year award in 2010. The fans in Milwaukee were ecstatic, and the “Fear the Deer” slogan was born. But it fell apart just as quickly when the next Hammond trades undermined the Bucks chemistry (trade for Corey Maggette, 2010, and others; the 3-team draft day trade to be rid of Maggette in 2011 looks now like an unwarranted act of desperation). Injuries robbed the team of any consistency and gave Hammond some handy excuses.

The 2012 trade of Bogut to the Warriors in time anchored a championship defense in Golden State; it immediately destroyed the Bucks identity. By summer of 2012, Skiles had listed his home in the north Milwaukee suburbs “for sale” on the real estate market. By January of 2013, he was gone. Weltman exited for Toronto later in the year, though obviously on much better terms.

There’s an irony here amid the ruined five year plans in Milwaukee and Orlando, or maybe there is only Giannis Antetokounmpo, the diamond in the rough, the superstar rising whom Hammond and Weltman stumbled upon in their 6th summer with the Bucks. Maybe it’s the truth of Scott Skiles and his refusals to coach the Frankenstein rosters his former GMs patched together. The Bucks ability to benefit exponentially from Brandon Jennings via the trade with the Pistons and beyond is another (see the greenest area below). Or perhaps it’s elsewhere, the way one might find whatever it is they’re looking for in an abstract expressionist painting.

If you let your eyes blur a little over the minutia, a full account of Hammond’s wheeling and dealing of the Bucks “Fear the Deer” roster and draft picks does resemble a work of Jackson Pollock splatter art, or at least the sense of aimless searching one finds in the random meander of Pollock’s paints. 

Hammond reduced the entire 2010 Bucks squad and five years of draft pick assets to only a handful of players under contract: Khris Middleton, Malcolm Brogdon, John Henson. Add to that other 2010-connected assets such as the right of first refusal on Tony Snell in this summer’s free agency, Spencer Hawes‘ $6 million player option; and a super protected future 2nd round draft pick, and you have less than a third of a team, with two parts in flux.

Some of it was the work of Jason Kidd, but most of the work was done by Hammond prior to Kidd being hired. And here it is, in every exacting detail (I’m pretty sure I got it all, but someone please let me know if I missed anything).

How Hammond dealt Bucks assets Aug. 2009 – June 2013
(Green and CAPS indicates deal for current player (s) or asset; Red indicates end of the Bucks 2010-12 ties to that player, where the branch ends. “Assets” includes all draft picks 2008-2012.)
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2008 No. 8 draft pickJoe Alexander – traded 2/08/2010 w/ Hakim Warrick and a 2010 1st Round draft pick swap to Chicago Bulls for John Salmons, a 2011 2nd Rd pick (Isaiah Thomas) and a 2012 2nd Rd pick (Doron Lamb).
John Salmons – traded 6/32/11 w/ 2011 No. 10 pick (Jimmer Fredette) to Sacramento Kings for Beno Udrih as part of 3-team Corey MaggetteStephen Jackson, Shaun Livingston pick swap deal w/ Charlotte Bobcats
Beno Udrih – traded to Orlando Magic for J.J. Redick
J.J. Reddick – traded to L.A. Clippers for two 2nd Rd. draft picks (2014 – No. 48 Lamar Patterson; 2015 – No. 41 Pat Connaughton)
2008 No. 37 pick – Luc Mbah a Moute – Traded for to Sacramento Kings for future 2nd Rd picks
2014 2nd Rd Pick – Johnny O’Bryantwaived 2016
2016 2nd Rd pick – MALCOLM BROGDON – (Bucks traded their own 2016 pick Patrick McCaw to GSW for $2.4 CASH)
2009 No. 10 pick – Brandon Jennings traded 2013 for KHRIS MIDDLETON  Brandon Knight and Viacheslav Kravtsov
KHRIS MIDDLETON – current Buck
Brandon Knight – Traded w/ Kendall Marshall (claimed on waivers 2014) to Phoenix Suns for Miles Plumlee and Tyler Ennis in 3-team trade w/ PHI.
Sixers trade Michael Carter-Williams to Bucks
Miles Plumlee – traded to Charlotte Hornets for SPENCER HAWES and Roy Hibbert
Roy Hibbert – traded to Denver for cash, SUPER PROTECTED 2019 2ND RD PICK (top 55 protected)
SPENCER HAWES – current Buck, has player option 2017-18.
Michael Carter-Williams – traded to Chicago 2016 for TONY SNELL
Tyler Ennis – traded 2016 to Houston for Michael Beasley, unrestricted free agent 2017
Viacheslav Kravtsov – traded Aug. 2013 w/ Ish Smith to Phoenix for Caron Butler
Caron Butlerwaived Feb. 2014, signed with OKC.
2009 No. 41 draft pick – Jodie Meeks, traded for free agent veterans and 2010 2nd Rd Pick (Darington Hobson)
2010 No. 17 draft pick – swapped for Chicago’s No. 15 as part of Alexander-Warrick for Salmons trade, used to take center Larry Sanders.
Larry Sanders bought out March 2015 – ANNUAL $1.866 MILLION SALARY CAP HIT THRU 2022
2010 2nd rd pickDarington Hobson, injured, never plays, waived 2012
2010 2nd rd pick – Tiny Gallon, waived 2010
2010 2nd rd pickJerome Jordan, obtained in trade for Maggette, sold to Knicks for CASH
2011 No. 10 pick – traded in 3-team Corey Maggette trade draft day June 2011 with SAC and CHA for 2011 No. 18 pick (Tobias Harris)
J.J. Redick traded 2013 to LAC for future 2nd Rd Pick (2015 No. 41) and 2014 2nd Rd Pick (No. 48 Lamar Patterson)
Lamar Patterson – traded to Atlanta Hawks for 2015 2nd Rd. pick
2015 2nd Rd pick – (Norman Powell) traded to Toronto for Greivis Vasquez
Greivis Vasquez – left unsigned by Bucks as 2016 free agent
2015 No. 41 pick (Pat Connaughton) sent to Brooklyn Nets as compensation for Bucks coach JASON KIDD
Ish Smith – traded for Caron Butler, Aug. 2013
Caron Butler – waived, Feb. 2014, signs with OKC for playoffs.
Gustavo Ayonleft unsigned by Bucks as 2013 free agent
2011 No. 40 pickJon Leuer – traded w/ J. Brockman, Shaun Livingston for Dalembert, 2014 2nd round pick
Dalembert leaves in free agency 2013
2014 2nd Rd. pick – traded to Philly for Nate Walters
Walters waived to make room for the Bucks to sign Kenyon Martin
Kenyon Martinwaived Feb. 2015
2011 No. 60 pick – the Isaiah pick, traded to SAC for Jon Brockman
Jon Brockman – traded to HOU in Dalembert deal, 2012
Dalembert – leaves in free agency, 2013
2012 No. 12 pick – (Jeremy Lamb) swapped for Houston’s No. 14 Pick (JOHN HENSON) in trade for Sam Dalembert
2012 No. 42 pick (from Chicago) – Doron Lamb – traded 2013 to ORL w/ Tobias Harris for J.J. Redick, Ish Smith, Gustavo Ayon
Amir Johnson – traded Aug. 2009 w/ Sonny Weems to Toronto Raptors for Carlos Delfino and Roko Ukic
Carlos Delfinoleft unsigned in free agency Aug. 2012, signed w/ Houston
Roko Ukicwaived Jan. 2010
Sonny Weems – traded Aug. 2009 w/ Amir Johnson to Raptors for Delfino and Ukic
Hakim Warrick – Signed as FA July 2009, traded to CHI (w/ Joe Alexander) Feb. 2010 for John Salmons
Salmons traded to Sacramento as part of 3-team trade June 2011, thread finally ends with Greivis Vasquez, 2016
Charlie Bell expiring contract – traded June 2010 to the Warriors for Corey Maggette and a 2010 2nd Rd draft pick (Jerome Jordan)
2010 2nd Rd Pick – (Jerome Jordan) sold to Knicks for CASH
Dan Gadzuric expiring contract – traded June 2010 to the Warriors for Corey Maggette
Corey Maggette – traded to Charlotte Bobcats June 2011 for Stephen Jackson and Shaun Livingston, as part of 3-team trade (also included a swap of draft picks and John Salmons to Sacramento for Beno Udrih).
Shaun Livingston – traded with Jon Leuer, Jon Brockman to Houston for Dalembert
Stephen Jackson – traded 2012 to the Warriors w/ Andrew Bogut
 
Darnell Jackson – claimed on waivers 2010, traded July 2010 with 2011 2nd Rd pick for Jon Brockman
Brockman – traded to HOU w/ Leuer, Livingston and 1st Rd. draft pick (Jeremy Lamb) in pick swap-Dalembert deal
Luke Ridnour unsigned in free agency, July 2010, went to Minnesota T-Wolves
Kurt Thomasgone to Chicago Bulls in free agency July 2010
Jerry Stackhouse – signed 01/19/10 for rest of season, signed w/ Heat 10/23/10
Andrew Bogut – traded 2012 season to Golden State Warriors (w/ Stephen Jackson) for Ekpe Udoh, Monta Ellis, Kwame Brown
Kwame Brown – left unsigned free agency 2012
Monta Ellis signed with Dallas Mavs, free agency 2013
Ekpe Udoh – left unsigned free agency 2014
Carlos Delfino – suffered concussion vs. Miami Heat 3/26 2010, left in free agency Aug. 2012, signed with Houston
Michael Redd – injured, played very little for Skiles. If ever there was a trade to be made for Redd, Bucks owner Herb Kohl probably nixed it. Redd was an annual $16-$19 million salary cap liability for Bucks 2008-2011, but also a combination of Lloyd’s of London insurance payments to Bucks and player asset depreciation that could be written off as loss on the team’s books . Contract expired 2011.
Ersan Ilyasova – traded in June 2015 to Detroit Pistons for Shawne Williams and Caron Butler
Butler waived by Bucks a 2nd time, June 2015
Shawne Williams – waived June 2015
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Assets remaining from all transactions, Fear the Deer 2010 roster and draft picks 2008-2012
(Includes all assets resulting from moves of players from the 2010 team and draft picks 2008-12.)
JASON KIDD, however partial – compensation 2nd Rd pick sent to Brooklyn, hiring of Kidd done by team owners without Hammond’s knowledge.
2012 #12 Pick – swapped w/ Houston for #14 – JOHN HENSON
KHRIS MIDDLETON – acquired in trade for Brandon Jennings*
RIGHT OF FIRST REFUSAL on restricted free agent TONY SNELL* (Snell is in Milwaukee due to trades believed to have been instigated by Kidd – beginning with the 3-team Brandon Knight trade in 2015)
SPENCER HAWES – player option 2017-18*
JABARI PARKER’s KNEES (as a 2014 draft pick, Parker should not be included but perhaps his knees qualifty)
$1.866 MIL ANNUAL CAP HIT through 2022 owing to Larry Sanders buyout
MALCOM BROGDON – 2017 Rookie of the Year finalist
A 2019 protected 2nd rd pick from Nuggets (Roy Hibbert trade) the Bucks will only see if the Nuggets have one of the five-best records in the NBA in 2019.
*Middleton, Snell and Hawes (and the 2019 pick from Nuggets) all connected to Brandon Jennings and Jennings trade thread that starts w/ Hammond’s trade w/ Detroit June 2013. 
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Source-erole and other notes:
Image: “Convergence” by Jackson Pollock, 1952. Prints available at Art.com
Tracking down the final traces of those seemingly infinite 2nd Rd picks: https://www.prosportstransactions.com/basketball/DraftTrades/Future/Bucks.htm
  • Player and team transactions: http://basketball-reference.com
  • Devos family research: Rolling Stone article on worst sports owners, http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/lists/the-15-worst-owners-in-sports-20141125/the-devos-family-orlando-magic-20141124
  • Forbes Magazine, column on Devos social/political networks: https://www.forbes.com/sites/lauriebennett/2011/12/26/the-ultra-rich-ultra-conservative-devos-family/#300911c06479
  • NY Times, 02/07/14, “Betsy Devos confirmed as Education Secretary; Pence breaks tie”: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/07/us/politics/betsy-devos-education-secretary-confirmed.html
  • Orlando Sentinel, Toronto Star, AP story on Hennigan’s firing, ESPN news, a crazy, half-baked CBS Sports feature 12/14/15 on how Hammond and the Bucks were “responsible for basically building the Warriors” championship team. It’s partially true, as everyone knows because the Andrew Bogut trade was a direct infusion of Bucks top 5 Skiles defense to the Warriors. And the decision to trade Shaun Livingston and others to Houston stands alone as Hammond’s worst trade. Where the article gets fuzzy is the question of whether the Bucks were going to draft Klay Thompson with their No. 10 pick (which they traded in their eagerness to dump Corey Maggette). Having covered the 2011 draft here at BobBoozerjinx, I know the Bucks were excited about a guy named Thompson but his first name was Tristan, not Klay. They only swapped the No. 10 pick when they realized Tristan Thompson was going to go much higher than anyone but Cleveland expected. The killer about the 2011 draft, and I never grow tired of pointing this out, is that Kawhi Leonard and Kenneth Faried were both on the board when the Bucks made the trade, and while I didn’t write much about Faried, well, here’s the post.  “The best answer for the Bucks is hardworking Kawhi Leonard,” who “fits the Bucks core personality, if for no other reason than he has a nose for winning 50-50 plays that Skiles can’t resist.” As for Klay Thompson? Hammond didn’t want to take a shooting guard and wasn’t going to be forced into it by “Bucks needs” or any lottery politics — so he traded out of it and did what he likes to do: take the youngest forward in the draft. Klay Thompson was never the pick that got away — that was Leonard, and if you didn’t catch it before the draft, you knew it the instant that sinking feeling set in when the Spurs traded for him on draft day.
  • Adrian Wojnarowski’s twitter account Jan. 2013 (tweet on how Skiles “hates his team” https://twitter.com/WojVerticalNBA/status/288522111281135616
  • Toronto Star, “Raptors without GM Weltman”, 5/22/17:  https://www.thestar.com/sports/raptors/2017/05/22/raptors-without-gm-after-weltman-jumps-to-magic.html

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mike Dunleavy is Carlos Delfino;

Beno Udrih is Luke Ridnour;

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

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

Monta Ellis the wild card;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Revenge of the Airball struck again in Philly

The Bucks just can’t shake the mojo that the Philadelphia 76ers have over them, and they fell victim to it once again Friday in a regrettable 90-79 loss to the (ouch) 2-10 Sixers in Philly.    Throw the team records out — Sixers have won three of the last five matchups and 6 0f 8 since Scott Skiles took over as coach.  Philly had won 7 straight before the Bucks seemingly broke the spell last January in what was likely Allen Iverson’s last game in the arena where he staged so many of his career highlights – the Bradley Center.

The Sixers have always been the Bucks nemesis, their greatest rival when times were good and Nellie’s Bucks in the early 1980’s were one of the best teams in the NBA — one of the best teams in history never to win a title, and certainly the best team in NBA history never to play in the Finals.  Forget 1991, the year the 48-win Del Harris Bucks were swept out of the playoffs by Charles Barkley’s Sixers —  there was something else amiss in Philly’s recent domination of the Bucks.  It can be traced back to Iverson’s first shot in the NBA, an airball that bounced harmlessly out of bounds on Nov. 1, 1996.

Was the spell broken last January?   Alas, no — “The Airball” is still exacting its revenge, and the Sixers showed Friday that they don’t need “The Answer,” Andre Iguodala or Sam Dalembert to stymie the Bucks — Thaddeus Young and Lou Williams will do just fine, shades of 2008 and 2009 when the Sixers were winning seven straight against the sluggish Michael Redd teams.  Interesting to note that Young and Williams are Mo Cheeks players, guys who, like their coach in his playing days, have always seemed to light up when they see a Milwaukee Bucks uniform.

The 5-8 Bucks. The silver lining for the Bucks these days could be the realization that, for the most part — until last weekend — they’ve been playing fairly well against a tough early season schedule and coming up painfully short in a few close games (two against the Hornets, OT in Boston and Saturday in a very winnable game against the Thunder, playing without Kevin Durant, the league’s leading scorer.  Add that one-point loss to either of the Hornets games as one the Bucks want back.

Yet it’s some consolation that their strength of schedule ranking is 12th in the league, better than everybody in the Central Division but the Bulls, with two Central games on the schedule this week in Cleveland and Detroit.  On some level, the Bucks have simply been an unlucky team that can’t catch a break.

The Bucks schedule for the first 35 games is tough, at no time tougher than next week when they head west for a Utah-Denver road swing, then come back home to play the Heat and the Magic.  No, it’s not much consolation, but the Bucks record should eventually turn around.  It will probably take a while … and they’ll have to do some good work on the road in the west in December to mitigate the depth of the hole they’ll likely be in come January.  Maybe they’ll even get lucky a time or two.

Brandon Jennings, #1 at age 10 (pic from the famous ballboy archives)

BJ4GThe 45-34 Bucks are 3-1 without center Andrew Bogut and are playoff bound in the East with a seed no worse than 6th. They’ve successfully avoided a Round 1 matchup with the Orlando Magic, which could have been quite embarrassing and depressing to watch with no Bogut to battle on in the paint against Dwight Howard.

I’m sure Howard’s happy about this too, given the mano-a-mano nature of center battles and the pride that goes into the post rivalries. Sixers center Sam Dalembert, ever the Bogut nemesis, seemed a little lost on the court against the Bucks in Philly Friday, eventually picking it up in the second half to help bring the Sixers back into the game with some active help D … above the free throw line?  Never if Bogut was on the court. On Saturday, the Celtics gave KG the night off and center Kendrick Perkins played just 18 mins.

But I digress. It’s time to celebrate in Brewtown, to party, literally, like it’s 1999 and Dominguez High out of Compton is the Division II state champion, the top-ranked ballers in all of California.  A 10-year-old named Brandon Jennings was a ball boy for the Dominguez basketball factory, led by smooth shooting, 6’4″ senior guard Keith Kincade and sophomore center Tyson Chandler (at left), already a household name thanks to a 60 Minutes profile. Kincade scored 23 in the title game against Sacramento Grant, while Chandler was held to 5 pts, 5 boards before fouling out.

The above photo came my way via an email from Dewey (thanks again Dewey!), a blogger at PlaymakerMobile. Dewey’s site is all-sports with what looks like a strong NFL focus (lots of McNabb trade stuff there now), and he’s been keeping an eye on BJ’s exploits in his rookie season.

Back to this photo:  We all know what became of the Dominguez ballboy. And Chandler, a Parade and McDonald’s HS All-American by his senior year, declared for the 2001 NBA draft right out of high school. The Clippers drafted him #2 overall and traded him to the Bulls for 2000 ROY Elton Brand. After years of back trouble, grumbling by Chicago fans about “potential” and a few more in and out of Scott Skiles‘ doghouse, Chandler became a shot-blocking, offensive rebounding machine.  He’s now with Larry Brown in Charlotte, a good place for that sort of specialist to be.

Funny isn’t it, that the the towering 10th grader on the left and the beaming 4th grader in the lower right would eventually end up under Scott Skiles’ tutelage, like it or not. But whatever happened to Keith Kincade?

Celtics 105, Bucks 90: I’ve never believed the reports about the demise of the Celtics, and not for once thought the Bucks could take them in a 7-game playoff, Bogut in the lineup or not. Playing without Kevin Garnett and with center Kendrick Perkins sitting out two-thirds of the game, the Celtics flexed what was left of their muscles and simply overpowered the Bucks. Kurt Thomas didn’t dent the Celtics front line. Ersan Ilyasova was game but too often on his own in the paint, with Luc Mbah a Moute in foul trouble. Ray Allen (21 pts on seven shots; attempted a single three pointer) Rondo and Pierce were too much for BJ, Salmons and Delfino. Sheed was a Bucks killer, as always, and Big Baby wants to fight, someone, anyone.

BJ’s brashness aside, the Celtics are not the playoff matchup for the Bucks —  this year. With better inside help for Bogut, Ilyasova and Mbah a Moute, the Bucks should be ready for the Celtics in 2011.  The Hawks? The Bucks are ready for them right now. 

Bucks 99, Sixers 90: The Bucks won in Philly without Bogut, which, as discombobulating as that was for Dalembert, is just plain weird given The Revenge of the Airball and all things that make little sense about a Bucks-Sixers game. The Bucks managed it with half-a-John Salmons too, as their leading scorer fought a bout with the flu through halftime but looked dead on his feet by the 3rd quarter. Jennings had a bad night shooting (4-17) but I’m becoming more and more impressed with BJ’s defense. Tuesday night he slowed down Derrick Rose in the 4th quarter, enough for the Bucks to eke out a win in Chicago. Last night BJ harassed fellow rookie pg Jrue Holiday into an 0-10 start from the field, a far cry from the hot shooting night Holiday had in Milwaukee March 24.

Where’d the offense come from?  Carlos Delfino was lights out with 23 pts (5-8 from downtown) and Luke Ridnour had one of those nights off the bench where everything found the bottom of the net (18 for Luke on 8-12 shooting). … Centers Kurt Thomas and Dan Gadzuric were awful on the offensive end but solid and focused on D (5 blocked shots between them). The Bucks do what they can, and it’s been good enough all year.

Yi Jianlian #9 of the New Jersey Nets looks to shoot during the second half of a pre-season game against the New York Knicks on October 20, 2008 at the IZOD Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Knicks won 114-106. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.The Nets’ Brook Lopez got away with a goaltend to dunk the Nets into overtime against the Bulls in New Jersey, on an otherwise very workable play drawn up by coach Kiki Vandeweghe with 3.6 seconds to go. Vandeweghe set up a football-like screen for Lopez and Yi Jianlian to freely stream into the paint as Terrence Williams drove in on Derrick Rose.  When Williams’ shot rimmed out, both Yi and Lopez were right there for the tap, which Lopez delivered, hand and ball clearly in the cylinder. No call, and on to OT they went, tied at 103.

In the first overtime, the Bulls jumped out to a 110-103 lead but some more terrible officiating (two no-calls on Courtney Lee hacking Rose) and two missed free throws by Rose pushed the game to a second overtime, 112-112.  In the second OT, Devin Harris and T.Williams staked the Nets to a five point lead and the Bulls folded.

This was actually a pretty good game, New Jersey’s 12th win.  Lopez and Yi combined for 41 pts and 26 boards; Brad Miller and Joakim Noah responded with 43 and 19, while Williams had the second rookie triple double of the season for the Nets.  But refs will be refs in the NBA. And this loss by the Bulls (38-41) sets up a Sunday night showdown with the 38-41 Raptors in Toronto for the 8th playoff spot in the East.   

Over at Blog-a-Bull, friendly neighborhood Bulls fans are, as usual, trying to fire coach Vinnie Del Negro.

Very, very interesting box score from Miami. Pistons fans have always regretted trading the wrong guard (Chauncey) for Allen Iverson in 2008 but very few fans seemed to notice that the Pistons went 8-2 last year with the Answer doing his thing while Rip Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace were out with injuries.  This season, it’s more of the same. Deactivate Hamilton and suddenly coach John Kuester remembers that Ben Gordon is on his team. 39 points from Gordon later and the Pistons had broken Miami’s nine game winning streak. Things are getting real obvious in Detroit, as in Michael Redd-Tracy McGrady obvious.

Somebody in the West plays defense?  Of coures the Lakers do when they want to but how about the Oklahoma City Thunder?   I didn’t think coach Scott Brooks had them playing Eastern Conference style D but after last night in OK City vs. the Suns, I’m a believer. The Thunder held run-and-gun Phoenix  to 34 pts in the 2nd half and closed out a 96-91 win. This is the kind of game that will win Brooks Coach of the Year honors, though it doesn’t seem as though OK City fans really appreciate a good defensive performance.  Or maybe it’s just because the blog I read was one of those ESPN jobs. 

I’m still in awe about the final shot defensive stand the Bobcats made this week in New Orleans. Mean and suffocating it was, and game winning. The Cats and Bucks are tied as the stingiest defenses in the NBA, ahead of the Magic, Celtics and Lakers. Then the Heat and the Cavs. The Thunder are 8th, giving up 104.2 pts per 100 possessions, just ahead of the Spurs and Jazz, rounding out the top 10.

Point being – it doesn’t take much to get it together in the NBA, really. Play dedicated team D, rebound the ball, have a reliable, go-to scorer and you’ll win some games.  It’s no great secret why the Bucks are 21-6 since acquiring John Salmons – they were winning and playing great D most of the year, and Salmons gave them the go-to offense they needed.  The Thunder play some excellent team D for Brooks; Kevin Durant‘s got the scoring end of it well in hand. It’s the D that makes them a likable sleeper pick to get to the West semis.

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.”

Revenge of the Airball: The Sixers’ strange spell over the Bucks

What did the Milwaukee Bucks ever do to the Philadelphia 76ers?  Was it drafting Julius Erving in 1972 when he didn’t want anything to do with Brewtown, and, a few years later — preventing the Hawks from signing him out of the ABA?  Or was it drafting somebody named Russ Lee six picks before the Doctor?  Did the Bucks commit some cosmic offense to the basketball gods in the first round of the 1987 playoffs when they failed to close the Sixers out in Philly, moving the Dr. J retirement party to the Bradley Center — ensuring that the Doctor would suffer his final loss in front of Bucks fans?   Didn’t Doc owe us at least that, small enough consolation though it was for the pain and suffering he and Bobby Jones and Mo Cheeks caused in the 1981, ’82, ’83 and ’85 playoffs?

Was it the Milwaukee police arrest of Charles Barkley in December 1991 for breaking some duffus’ nose outside Rosie’s on Water?  A Milwaukee jury had the common sense to acquit Sir Charles of any wrongdoing, agreeing the punch was thrown in self defense.  … Or was it this, on Nov. 1, 1996? —

Allen Iverson’s first shot in the NBA: (Unfortunately, some entity — the NBA, the Sixers or the Bucks — claimed protected rights on video of Allen Iverson and Ray Allen’s first minutes in the NBA, so the video evidence of AI’s first NBA shot and Ray Allen’s first made NBA 20-footer and first made NBA 3-pointer is no longer available … but read on ….)

I have a feeling it has something to do with that shot — the airball — #1 overall pick Iverson’s first field goal attempt in the NBA, his first shot on the Philly home court that he would ritually kiss before each game — an off balance fall-away off an aborted drive — drawing no rim in his premiere game for the fans who would grow to love him.  That shot, the airball, even as his rookie Big East rival, Ray Allen, tickled the bottom of net with sweet jumpers, sinking both his first midrange two and, before he Answer could respond, his first high-arcing shot from 3-point land, that place that would become forever known as the Land of Ray and Reggie.  The rhetoric of the 1996 draft — “Stephon Marbury creates shots for others/woulda been better for the Sixers” prognosis was out on parade, voiced in the clip by Bucks bland-alyist Jon McGlocklin — though you’d have to know that Johnny Mac was also taking a backhand swipe at the Bucks for drafting Marbury #4 and swapping him for a future draft pick and Ray, whom the Timberwolves had taken 5th.  McGlocklin was one of the many thousands who thought the Bucks needed a “true” point guard, not a scorer, and obviously had similar thoughts about the Sixers, who had already had a young gunner — 22-year-old Jerry Stackhouse — in the fold.  *(see notes on Stackhouse below)*

Iverson went on to score 30 opening night, 1996, but the Bucks won the game, 111-103 and took the season series 3-1, then winning the first two the next season in Larry Brown‘s first year as Sixers coach.  But Brown and Iverson turned the tables in the remaining two 1998 Bucks-Sixers games, then went 9-4 over the next four season, beating the Sam, Ray & Dog “Big Three” teams 7 out of ten times.  If the Iverson-Ray rivalry was on — and it was — advantage Sixers.  Nothing screamed this louder than the bitter 7-game 2001 Eastern Conference Finals, still the NBA standard for crooked refereeing.  Most of the shady stuff occurred in Philly but Game 4, the crucial game that would have put the Bucks up 3-1, was hijacked at the BC in a blur of calls and non-calls as the walking wounded Sixers were given new life. The series would live on in infamy, tarnishing Shaq’s 2nd title in LA if only the East Finals were more well-remembered. But they’re not.   One of the NBA’s greates travesties wasn’t left on the cutting room floor of ESPN columnist Bill Simmons’ The Book of Basketball (publ. fall 2009) — Simmons simply forgot it.  That’s OK, Bill. The Bob Boozer Jinx remembers.

Since Iverson dropped 5 of those first 6 games against Ray Allen, the Sixers are 28-15 vs. the Bucks, with many of the Answer’s career highlights achieved at Milwaukee’s expense, including a 45-point masterpiece in a 124-120 OT win in Philly, Jan. 3, 2000.  For a few years, Iverson held the record for most points by an opponent at the Bradley Center (broken last season by Lebron James), dropping 54 on Michael Redd and Mo Williams, good defenders that they weren’t, more interested in filling up their own box scores than stopping AI from filling up his and winning the game. It was pure streetball that night at the BC, and Iverson was worth the price of admission. There was a down season for the Sixers against the Bucks after Brown quit and resurfaced in Detroit, and another in Iverson’s last full season in Philly, when he took one look at the rookie Andrew Bogut and realized that Ray Ray probably hadn’t been a Buck for years. The rivalry had become one-sided. The airball had been avenged, and it probably should have ended there, in Dec. 2006, when Iverson was traded to Denver for Andre Miller.

But it didn’t end there, and lately, the Revenge of the Airball has hit the Bucks hard: the Sixers have won 8 out of the last 10, and had won six straight until the Bucks 91-88 victory Jan. 27, very likely the Answer’s last game ever on the Milwaukee court that has been so kind to him. I was there to see it, and though Iverson gave way to Louis Williams in the 4th quarter, I caught a basketball high watching AI chase Brandon Jennings all over the court, both of them wearing #3, the young Buck honoring the old Sixer, his hero. I also believed I was witnessing the breaking of the Sixers’ spell. When Iverson left the team a couple of weeks later for personal reasons and didn’t come back, and the Bucks went on a 15-2 tear after acquiring John Salmons, I was sure it was over. Boy, was I wrong.

Wednesday night the Sixers, a dismal 24-47 and without two of their best players, Williams and Thaddeus Young, blew the Bucks out of the Bradley Center. Willie Green (16 pts) couldn’t miss until his team was up by 20. Rookie point guard Jrue Holiday (15 pts) proved unguardable for Jennings and Luke Ridnour. Center Sam Dalembert, as usual, locked down Bogut, with some help from 2nd-year big man Marreese Speights, and Dalembert was almost perfect under the basket for 12 pts, 10 rebs. Andre Iguodala played lock down defense on Salmons and was off to the races in the open court, where Iggy’s Sixers teams are at their best. Power forward Elton Brand, who’s done most of the damage for the Sixers vs. the Bucks this season (also singled out as the force of gravity slowing down Iggy and the gang since becoming a Sixer) didn’t have to break a sweat or make more than a shot. Brand was 1-7 from the floor in 27 uninspired minutes, while the Sixers young guns had a blast. Jodie Meeks, traded by the Bucks a month ago with Francisco Elson to the Sixers for Royal Ivey, Primoz Brezec and a draft pick, got into the act with 7 pts. The Bucks managed to make up a few points in garbage time for a 101-86 final.

Clearly, the Sixers’ mastery over the Bucks has extended beyond the corn-rowed one and the rivalry of a decade ago. Iverson was in Denver and Detroit and Memphis for the eight most recent Bucks losses, make that nine. The Sixers are now 9-3 vs. the Bucks since trading Iverson to the Nuggets, while going 127-155 (.454) against the rest of the NBA. But coach Maurice Cheeks  had figured out that speed and nasty defense could be tough on the slow-footed Bucks, even as the detrus of Iverson and the rivalry remained, infecting his teammates with the necessary Buck-beating mojo. Iggy got it, and there was Dalembert (who seems to enjoy his matchup against Bogut). Guards Williams and Green were on those teams, and it infected Thad Young when he came along the next year. Now it seeems to have Holiday and sharpshooter Jason Kapano, too, after playing with Iverson for only a month. And, hey, look who’s back from a one-year exile in Minnesota — forward Rodney Carney, a Sixers rookie during the trade year. Carney killed the Bucks last year in a game at Minnesota, with 22-points and a 4th quarter 3-point barrage. I could mention ex-Sixer Kyle Korver here, too, but that would be redundant. There is something to this Sixers hex, the Philly jinx. The Revenge of the Airball.

If the fact that Wednesday’s loss was clearly beyond the red-hot Bucks’ earthly control wasn’t enough, take a look at how one other Sixer from those post Brown-Iverson teams did in the game. He’s on the Bucks (for now), and on Monday scored 32 in a classic 4th quarter shootout with the Hawks’ Joe Johnson. Yes, the Bucks salvation at shooting guard, John Salmons, predated even Dalembert in Phlly, playing his rookie year in Brown’s final Sixers season. Salmons played four years with Iverson under five different coaches (Cheeks the last one) shooting the ball five or six times a game off the bench if he was lucky.

Salmons was 2-12 Wednesday night in 30 mins against the Sixers and the hex, the Revenge of the Airball. He finished with 4 pts and as many turnovers (1) and fouls (2) as  rebounds (1), assists (1) and steals (1). That airball of Iverson’s just never seems to  get enough revenge.

*Note: Jerry Stackhouse started his career in Philly and played with Iverson in AI’s rookie year, but lasted only 22 games into the following season. I’m guessing that because he was unhappy playing second fiddle to Iverson and asked to be traded (he went to Detroit), Stack is probably exempt from any effects of whatever it is I’m calling this Iverson thing. Stackhouse was in just his third season when the Philly-Detroit trade went down, which tells us that …

A) Allen Iverson was horrendous to be around early in his career,

B) Jerry Stackhouse was quite the 23-year-old prima donna for a guy who would never go on to make All-Pro, or

C) Both A and B are true, and Larry Brown certainly wasn’t about to let Stack slash the tires on the Iverson-mobile.

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?