Tag Archives: Jabari Parker

NBA playoffs: Tied 2-all with the Celtics, Bucks eye first playoff series win in 17 years . . . Whatever happened to Indianapolis?

Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson drives on Charlotte Hornets forward P.J. Brown in the 2001 playoffs. License: Standard-non-commercial use.

The Bucks dumped the first two games of the series in Boston; Jabari Parker talked about his lack of playing time and role on the team; and Bucks fans lost their minds on twitter and everywhere else in the city. The knives were out in Milwaukee between Games 2 and 3.

The Bucks won the next two games in Milwaukee (with Parker’s playing time doubled), but Giannis Antetokounmpo couldn’t get timely service at trendy East Side restaurant after tipping in the game-winning shot in Sunday’s Game 4. The fans lost their minds again in shock, awe, disbelief.

Welcome to Milwaukee, where we’re far out of practice and shape for this NBA playoffs thing, and so starved for a winner that all faults and slights, real and imagined, are met with outraged howls of indignation. The last time the Bucks won a playoff series was in 2001, when the Bucks prevailed in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the original Charlotte Hornets, who would end up in New Orleans a couple of years later.

Seventeen years is a long time. The Big Dog Glenn Robinson was barking in those days, out-dueling Hornets All-Star forward Jamal Mashburn to lift the Bucks to the Eastern Conference Finals. In the first round series, Robinson lost the “Wee-Mac” (Tracy McGrady) vs. “Puppy Dog” challenge — but the Big Dog had the last laugh as the Bucks took the series 3-1 and would run all the way to Game 7 of the East Finals, a controversial defeat to Allen Iverson and the Sixers.

McGrady’s in the basketball Hall of Fame now, as unlikely as it seems given his notable lack of success in the playoffs. And the Bucks haven’t won a playoff series since the days of Wee Mac and Dog and Mashburn. But they’ve got the momentum against the Celtics heading into Game 5, and the best player, Giannis, averaging 28 pts – 8.5 rebs – 6.5 asts per game in the series.

Khris Middleton has been shooting the lights out all series long (15 of 24 from three, 40 for 65 overall — 73% true shooting!!). Parker has found his playoff game. Eric Bledsoe, Malcolm Brogdon, Thon Maker — everybody with a job but injured John Henson — are playing well and on the same page.

What could possibly go wrong?

Whatever happened to Indianapolis?

Still from the 1975 film, Rollerball. James Caan as Rollerball hero Jonathan E.

The question was raised in the original Rollerball film. Our hero, Rollerball sensation Jonathan E., and his assigned companion, Mackie, relax in between Rollerball matches with Jonathon’s trainer, Cletus. As they recline on floor pillows sedating in the glow of synthetic drugs, they talk of the harsh and uncompromising corporate realities of their world. Indianapolis has apparently disappeared from their sphere of knowledge or understanding. The city is gone. As Cletus drifts off into his high, he wonders again, “Whatever happened to Indianapolis?”

As the Pacers prepare to face the Cavs in Cleveland tonight (Wednesday) in pivotal Game 5 of their first round series, they may be asking the same question Cletus did. Or more specifically — what happened in Game 4? The Pacers had it all — a 2-1 series lead and playing on their home court in Indy, a golden opportunity to put Lebron James and his inexperienced new teammates in difficult 3-1 hole, where there would be little room for error to avoid defeat. The Pacers even had the lead in Game 4, 92-89, halfway through the 4th quarter. But not all of Lebron’s teammates are so inexperienced. James made plays, Kyle Korver hit threes, and . . .

“Just like that, it was 101-95. From there, it was a few more bricks from the Pacers and too much Stephenson sideshow, wrestling Cleveland’s Jeff Green to the floor in yet more antics gone too far.” —  NBA.com’s Steve Aschburner on Pacers-Cavs Game 4.

That says it all, it seems. Now the advantage is back in the King’s court, and while the Pacers may battle and Lance Stephenson and Domantas Sabonis may scrap and claw and bully and earn their Ts, Lebron and his Cavaliers will prevail. Sorry Pacers fans — many of whom truly believed, even when it was tied 1-1, they would win the series and end James’ 7-year reign in the East,

But then Pacers fans truly believed not such a long time ago in Paul George‘s stardom.

Now they don’t.

Trade Deadline: Bucks still need help at center . . . Hassan Whiteside is not named Zeller or Plumlee . . . The Stepien rule and the Bucks 2018 pick

“Is anybody going to actually read this trade deadline ^%@#?” Tyler Zeller (left) and John Henson, who were college teammates at North Carolina, discuss future possible trades and possibly the finer points of retro disco (when Zeller was still a Celtic, obviously). Photo from USA Today. License: Standard non-commercial use.

John Henson hauled down 15 rebounds against the Nets Sunday night, but nobody’s fooled. The Nets are the Nets. They start rookie Jarrett Allen at center and play the worst kind of small ball — where everybody shoots 1 for 6 from three and wishes they were Golden State or Houston.

The Bucks brass couldn’t help but notice the Nets weren’t playing forward-center Tyler Zeller, so Zeller became a Buck on Monday, traded for Rashad Vaughn and a 2nd round pick. A nice pick-up because Vaughn, the beleaguered 1st round bust from the 2015 draft, had little more than a cheerleaders’ role on the Bucks — and still, nobody was fooled.

The Bucks need bigger and better help in the middle than anybody named Zeller or Plumlee or Henson or Maker can provide, and the Feb. 8 trade deadline is fast approaching, just two days away. If five January losses to teams with Bucks-destroying big men — Toronto (Jonas Valanciunas), Philly (Joel Embiid) and Miami (Hassan Whiteside) — didn’t sufficiently freak out Bucks GM Jon Horst, news of the Celtics acquisition of the Moose, Greg Monroe, had to come on like a bad dream. The centers may be dinosaurs in the West the Warriors made, but can the Bucks survive the Jurassic Age of the Eastern Conference playoffs with their current crew of average-at-best big men?

[They’re ecstatic about Monroe in Boston. See “Monroe Doctrine: Celtics Rx for ‘man, we could really use 2 points right now'”. They haven’t yet realized what a good passer out of the post the Moose is (7th-best assist rate among qualifying centers last season). Or that he really can’t jump, but the easy offense off the bench he brings has been missed badly in Milwaukee since the trade. And we miss the “Moooose” call too – but that goes without saying – edit]. 

The Raptors, Heat and Celtics are very possible playoff opponents for the Bucks, so a defensive-minded big man is the Bucks Rx for “why can’t we grab a rebound?”

The Buck “most likely” to be traded, says Yahoo sports, is John Henson. Henson’s got two more years guaranteed after this season at $10.6m and $9.7 million, not a terrible salary bite for an average center, and, as such he’s the most appealing of the Bucks four $10-million-a-year guaranteed players. Trade rumors are buzzing around a bunch of NBA big men – DeAndre Jordan, Robin Lopez, Tyson Chandler and Whiteside, so there’s certain logic to this. But are any of these trades doable for the Bucks?

Robin Lopez is a real NBA center who wonders why referees don’t like him more. Lopez got kicked out the Bulls-Kings game last night, apparently for gestures less thought-provoking than this one during his days in Portland. Photo license: Standard non-commercial use.

A Robin Lopez trade with Chicago seems pretty easy salary-wise, and the Bulls are in “sellers” mode after trading Mirotic to New Orleans. But the Bucks have one too many of those $10 million contracts guaranteed next season-and-beyond and want to reduce salary load next season if they can (ostensibly to pay Jabari Parker). Lopez’s salary next season is $3.8 million more than Henson’s. The Bucks could add in rookie D.J. Wilson to reduce the load next season. But even with Wilson off the books they’d be adding $1.5 next season in a Lopez-Henson deal. And it doesn’t sound like the Bulls want to add a contract like Henson’s, guaranteed through 2020

Trading with the Bucks is difficult – they have no sizable expiring contracts but Jabari Parker, just now coming back from his second ACL surgery. Bucks GM Jon Horst says he wants to resign Parker after this season, but the Bucks don’t have the money to get it done without jumping into the luxury tax zone, which may be unavoidable at this point, given the Bucks “win a championship” mindset. Parker’s clearly an asset, not a salary dump, one the Bucks should hang on to, but I’m not sure I believe Horst isn’t considering trade options for everybody but Giannis Antetokounmpo and maybe Malcolm Brogdon and Eric Bledsoe, the last regular guard standing now that both Brogdon and backup Matthew Dellavedova are sidelined. 

It would be totally insane for the Bucks to trade for Jordan, who can opt out of his contract at the end of the season, but writing about it was a good excuse to bring up “the Stepien rule”, and whether the Bucks can trade their 2018 1st Round draft pick. Photo from USA Today. License: Standard non-commercial use.

DeAndre Jordan can opt out and become a restricted free agent after this season, and the Clippers would want Jabari Parker in any Henson deal, not Khris Middleton. They would go for Henson, Parker and the Bucks 2018 1st round draft pick, but including that pick gets complicated because of “the Stepien rule” about trading future draft picks. Besides, the latest reports are that the Clippers are balking at taking Cleveland’s 2018 1st round pick. They want the Brooklyn pick the Cavs received in the Kyrie Irving trade last summer, but the Cavs are worried about rebuilding if Lebron leaves, so they’re loathe to part with the Brooklyn pick.

If they don’t want the Cavs own pick, how much interest in the Bucks 2018 pick would they have, realizing that the Bucks would have to put conditions on the pick in order to trade it? Technically, and as far as I can tell after reading up on “the Stepien rule”, the Bucks CAN trade the 2018 pick, but would have to get another team to agree to hand over a 2019 pick in the event the Bucks don’t win next season. “The Stepien rule” prevents any team from trading two consecutive future 1st round draft picks. The Bucks pick would go to Phoenix as part of the Monroe-Bledsoe deal if the Bucks finish 15th in the league or worse this season or next season, not something that appears to be in the cards, but that doesn’t matter. There are conditions on the Bucks first round picks through 2021, and the rules say each of those picks are already traded until the Bucks actually convey a pick to Phoenix, which will most likely happen in 2020. Getting a conditional replacement for the next season’s pick is the loophole for trading this season’s pick.

To do anything, the Bucks may need to find the extra pick first, and then see whether they can put together a deal. Too complicated? Probably — and, of course the Clippers would love to have Jabari Parker, knee surgeries and all, in exchange for a 33-year-old free-agent-to-be DeAndre Jordan. It’s not happening. Jordan has a new agent, Jason Kidd‘s guy Jeff Schwartz, and they’re not open to Jordan opting in with anybody as part of the trade, which the Wizards are finding out. Anyway, there’s a better deal out there for the Bucks.

Hassan Whiteside was scratching his head over the Heat’s loss to Orlando last night, wondering why he didn’t get more touches in the game. He may also be questioning the shot selection of his teammates or the Orlando point guard, Elfrid Payton. It’s like that for big men in the NBA these days. Photo from the Miami Herald. License: Standard non-commercial use.

A Hassan Whiteside trade may be less on Miami GM Pat Riley‘s mind these days than it was before the Heat won 8 out of 9 games, culminating in their 106-101 defeat of the worn out Bucks in Milwaukee Jan. 17, just days before coach Jason Kidd was fired. Oh, the trouble the Heat have stirred up in the East. The Milwaukee game had implications, and so did two down-to-the-wire Miami wins against Charlotte during that stretch — the Hornets went a winless 0-4 against the Heat this season, a season in shambles, and now Kemba Walker‘s on the trading block because there’s nobody else on the Hornets roster of much interest to other teams.

Since that win in Milwaukee, however, the Heat have lost 7 out of 10 games, including losses to Cleveland, Philly and Detroit. They’ve fallen to 7th in the East behind the Bucks and Pacers after losing to Orlando at home Monday night. The Heat may reassess where they’re really at, given how close so many of their recent victories have been. Have they been lucky or good? Erik Spoelstra’s one of the savviest coaches in the league and Whiteside’s arguably the most impactful center in the game — but he’s a part-time player in Miami right now, averaging 26 mins per game. The rest of the roster seems to get it done with mirrors, and, in the view of Hornets, a lot help from the referees.

Henson ($11.4m) and Khris Middleton ($14.1m) for Whiteside ($23.8m) is nice and neat salary-wise, and a good return for both teams. Miami gets a 20-pt per games scorer in Middleton, who doesn’t seem happy playing second fiddle to Giannis in Milwaukee, and a less expensive part-time center in Henson. Middleton is more reliable and efficient than the Grizzlies’ Tyreke Evans, the scorer Miami is rumored to be targeting. For the Bucks, a lineup of Giannis, Whiteside, Parker and Eric Bledsoe is scary good, plus factor in injured Malcolm Brogdon for the playoffs with Zeller and Tony Snell (Zelly, Snelly and Delly?). The Bucks would likely contend, not just this season but next. They would almost surely be paying luxury tax next season for that group, assuming they resign Parker, but the tax would happen anyway if the Bucks do nothing with the current roster.

If paying luxury taxes in either scenario, what’s the better buy? The team with Hassan Whiteside at center or the team with John Henson at center?

Tyson Chandler was assumed to be on Jason Kidd’s wish list, but if a Henson-Chandler deal was going to happen, it would have happened by now. The Bucks really could have used Chandler in January. Another dead end.

Andrew Bogut is still out there, sitting around the house, sending out tweets about Australian rules football and political correctness.  #Bogut  Whatever happens at the trade deadline this week, the Bucks have until March 1 to sign Bogut for the stretch run and playoffs.

And the Lakers have been fined $50,000 because Magic Johnson said nice things about Giannis in an ESPN article. Because Magic is the Lakers GM, that’s “tampering”. ESPN received no fine for pandering to Magic’s need to be talked to in an article about Giannis.

Things seem awfully quiet for the Bucks, with the deadline two days away. And remember, none of this is real until it actually happens, and don’t believe a word of this or any other blog during trade deadline week.

The Stepien Rule

“The Stepien rule” prevents any team from trading two consecutive future 1st round draft picks. The rule was named after Ted Stepien, owner of the Cavs in the early 1980s who traded his 1982-85 first rounders in repeated attempts to win with “veterans” like Mike Bratz and Bill Robinzine, while trying to build teams that were, in his view “racially balanced” – half white, half black, to better reflect the NBA audience. While those were real enough issues at the time, Stepien’s efforts to build a winner were more half-assed than anything else and the league froze his ability to make trades while it sought a new buyer for the team. Stepien sold the team in 1983.

But the damage to the league’s competitive balance had been done. Dallas was able to build a contender on draft picks acquired from Cleveland (Derek Harper, Sam Perkins, Roy Tarpley and Detlef Schrempf), not that Stepien’s picks got the Mavs to the NBA Finals in the 1980s with the Lakers dominating the West. But Stepien playing a role in building the Lakers juggernaut. The Lakers won the 1982 NBA championship and, thanks to a Stepien trade in 1980 for forward Don Ford, languishing on the Lakers’ bench and the Lakers 1980 pick, ended up with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1982 draft (the Cavs also sent Marquette star Butch Lee to the Lakers). The Lakers used the pick to take Hall of Fame forward James Worthy, the can’t-miss star forward on North Carolina’s 1982 NCAA championship team. Their dynasty would have to wait a couple of years for Worthy to catch up, while Moses Malone‘s Sixers and Larry Bird‘s Celtics took the 1983 and 1984 titles, respectively. The Lakers circa 1985-87 are considered by many the greatest team in NBA history during a time of greatest teams (the 1983 Sixers and the 1986 Celtics also being in the conversation).

Sourcerole

  • Yahoo sports, one player on every NBA team likely to be traded: https://sports.yahoo.com/one-player-every-nba-team-likely-traded-221004964.html
  • The Sporting News, 02/05/18, “Don’t expect Whiteside deal”: http://www.sportingnews.com/nba/news/nba-trade-rumors-hassan-whiteside-miami-heat-news-deadline-contract-cavs-celtics/d018shcs5il919316jg3uc60a
  • The Sporting News: Deandre Jordan to the Cavs?http://www.sportingnews.com/nba/news/nba-trade-rumors-deandre-jordan-cavs-news-contract-clippers-tristan-thompson-jr-smith/sqmufzplhlsg1begzfudly0fw
  • HoopsRumors.com, best explanation of the Stepian rule I could find: https://www.hoopsrumors.com/2017/09/trade-restrictions-on-future-draft-picks-by-team.html
  • Fox sports Australia: “Ted Stepien rule” inspires Australian football changes on future draft picks, including history of how the Stepien rule came to be, complete with a ridiculously huge picture of James Worthy. https://www.foxsports.com.au/afl/how-nbas-stepien-rule-inspired-afls-to-introduce-trading-future-draft-picks/news-story/177351267209c2c523a693d4214a7e4a

Jason Kidd firing: When “win now” becomes impatience . . . the #FireKidd summer ale . . . It’s the schedule, stupid

Jason Kidd during the Bucks-Wizards game 1/15/18. AP photo by Nick Wass. License: Standard non-commercial use.

Maybe it was worth it. The Bucks were 3-0 last week after firing coach Jason Kidd (along with three of his assistants), a sudden move that upset Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo but had at least some positive effect on his teammates. Kidd assistant Joe Prunty took over as interim head coach, and Khris Middleton, the Bucks’ up-again, down-again No. 2 scorer, was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week for the week Jan. 22-28.

Maybe it could have waited. Given the choices of making Antetokounmpo less than happy or “uncomfortable”, as he put itor maintaining the coach’s uneasy status quo with some of Giannis’ under-performing teammates, it’s difficult to say that sacking Kidd mid-season was the right one for Bucks first-year GM Jon Horst. The three opponents the Bucks beat last week (the Suns, Nets and Bulls) had a combined winning percentage of .353 (a 53-97 record), a bad sample group to conclude much of anything about the state of the Bucks.

The Bucks opened this week with a 107-95 win against the Joel Embiid-less Sixers. The Sixers without Embiid have been even less successful than the Suns, Nets and Bulls, winning only twice in ten tries. Embiid scored 29 points in the Sixers’ 116-94 drubbing of the Bucks Jan. 20 in Philly, Kidd’s last game as Bucks coach. (Giannis was held out of action in that game to rest his sore right knee. Malcolm Brogdon also did not play due to a personal matter.)

But then Horst’s decision to sack Kidd was less a reasoned choice, apparently, and more so the final say in a nasty confrontation between Horst and Kidd at the Bucks practice facility on that fateful Monday. This explains a lot, like the hurried press conference later that day, wherein Horst offered few details to justify the firing, beyond overall team performance. The Bucks lost 5 of the last 7 games coached by Kidd, the tail end of a brutal stretch — 13 games in 23 days, all but two against teams now in playoff spots. Bucks won 6 of the 13, then lost to the Embiid-ful Sixers.

Jon Horst, the Bucks 34-year-old GM. Bucks media photo. License: Standard non-commercial use.

“We just felt that we’d gotten to the point in the season where this team could do more; it could perform at different level in a different way,” Horst said, adding that the Bucks were “looking for a fresh approach and a different voice in leadership for the team.”

There’s no question they had reached a point where things would be different with the toughest part of the schedule behind them. The softest part of the 2017-18 schedule began Jan. 23, the day after Kidd was fired — three off-days followed by 11 games to the Feb. 16 All-Star break, only two of the games against sure-fire playoff teams (the T-Wolves Feb. 1 and the Heat Feb. 9).

So whether Horst had terminated Kidd’s employment then and there or waited to make an evaluation in the summer, the Bucks were going to get some time to recuperate and (hopefully) stockpile some wins. For a while, at least, they would not be as exhausted as they looked losing at home to Miami on Jan. 17. The Bucks weren’t going to hover around .500 for long. Horst didn’t offer much detail about other “differences” beyond the coaching change. Different from what?

The Bucks offense has been in the NBA’s top 10 all season, and is rated 9th as of this writing. Under Kidd these last four seasons, the Bucks have been a habitual “smart shot selection” team that tends to play unselfishly but has resorted to more isolation sets with Antetokounmpo’s rise to stardom. Giannis is 2nd in the league in scoring at 28.5 ppg and will start in his 2nd All-Star game. The Bucks rank 5th in both True Shooting and Effective Shooting % this season, and with Jabari Parker cleared to play this week and set to suit up Friday against the Knicks, the Bucks offense looked to be formidable in the stretch run no matter who was coaching. The job fell to Prunty, Kidd’s top assistant, who posted an 8-9 record in 2015-16 when Kidd was out having hip surgery.

The defense is a different story — good in spots, sluggish in general and too often dreadful and foul prone. Only Memphis has been hit with more fouls per 100 possessions than the Bucks this season; and Bucks opponents get three more trips to the free throw line per game than the NBA average. Some of the trouble is referee-induced (the Cavs shot an absurd 38 FTs in Cleveland Nov. 7; the Rockets shot 42 in Houston Dec. 16).

But some of it is roster-induced. The Bucks play two slow footed guards, Brogdon and Matthew Dellavedova, and their centers (John Henson and Thon Maker) are foul prone, among other deficiencies. (Those four lead the regular rotation players in fouls per 36 minutes.) And there is no defensive-minded, shut down forward on the Bucks bench (think Andre Iguodala, P.J. TuckerJared Dudley). Oddly enough, since the Bucks lost Mirza Teletovic to health issues, there are usually no forwards on the bench at all other than rookie D. J. Wilson, and he’s rarely played.

Some of it probably was on coach Kidd. Since ranking 3rd in defensive rating in 2015, Kidd’s first season, the Bucks slipped to 23rd in 2016, 19th last year and 24th this season, despite improved rebounding. [The Bucks defensive rebounding is about average this season (17th), after being worst in the NBA most of last season.]  The Bucks are a long-armed defensive squad that likes to double team the ball and force turnovers (5th best TOV% in the league), but they’re also on the “soft” side — most of whatever toughness they have is defined by Antetokounmpo. The roster constants during Kidd’s tenure have been Giannis and Middleton, and Henson, each of whom carries some semblance of a “good defender” reputation despite the results. Parker’s return isn’t likely to help, the D end of the court often becoming his personal Land of the Lost when he’s been able to play.

A common refrain since coaching change is that the Bucks “inexplicably awful” defense — as ever-intrepid NBA.com writer David Aldridge described it — ultimately cost Kidd his job. But Horst hasn’t offered up the D in explanation, and did not do so again in a one-on-one interview with Aldridge. The fewer the details the better for the Bucks front office these days. And the young GM (he’s 34) said he loves the Bucks roster, “loves our young core,” so no recognition yet – publicly – of any need to make roster changes.

At the initial press conference, Horst did explain that the firing decision was made “relatively quickly” and wasn’t “premeditated” and it came off as an “I’m in charge and I’ve made a decision” sort of thing. There was no careful evaluation done, other than to say evaluations are “ongoing” within the long-term goal of winning a championship. It’s great to set goals, but today the “win now” attitude the Bucks are trying to instill in their culture reads more like impatience, and the abrupt, mid-season firing didn’t cast the Bucks in the more flattering lights of league-wide media perception. There was a lot of that last week.

Yes, it has been tedious and irritating. On the home front, fans became distressed back in December after the Bucks lost twice in five games to a suddenly hot Bulls team. The #FireKidd online movement has simmered right along on the boiler plates of Bucks Brew-town diehards — but theirs was always a brew better-served in summer, after the Bucks had evaluated their roster with a healthy Parker in the fold. 

Parker’s impending return made the timing of the firing questionable at best, and a little weird. This led to speculation about whether or not and Kidd and Parker were speaking. Questions about the struggles of Bucks ownership were raised. The easy speculation about who believed they should be in charge of player personnel decisions, Kidd or Horst, was a given. And so it went as the mid-season mess made in Milwaukee rolled on through the week. The #FireKidd brand might have been a half-way decent summer ale, but it’s many parts too bitter for January.

Bledsoe (at left) slumped in January, shooting 37% overall and 22% from three in the 7 games Jan. 8-20. The coaching change hasn’t stopped the slump, and Bledsoe left the Sixers game Jan. 29 after playing just three minutes and did not return. The Bucks reported that he’s been playing on a sore left ankle and is not expected to play Thursday against the T-Wolves. Image license: Standard noncommercial use.

Lost in all this has been Eric Bledsoe‘s recent shooting slump — 37% and 23% from 3-point-land in the 7 games Jan. 8-20. The Bucks were 2-5 in those games (see full stat line below). In the Miami and Philly losses in the days before Kidd was sacked, Bledsoe shot a combined 7 for 31 from the floor (22.5%) and missed 11 of 12 from 3-point land. Bledsoe was more often than not a victim of his own bad decision-making, not Kidd’s coaching. He was as sluggish as the rest of team against the Heat. And his shot wasn’t falling.

Were the big expectations that arrived in Milwaukee last fall when the Bucks traded center Greg Monroe for Bledsoe overblown? Horst isn’t going there.

Will there be some nod from the Bucks front office that Monroe’s replacements (Henson and Maker) have been helpless against the likes of Embiid, Miami’s Hassan Whiteside and Toronto’s Jonas Valanciunas? Not so far, with the trade deadline fast approaching and the Bucks needing help inside.

Instead, Horst got into it with Kidd and, well, here we are. Jon Horst is in charge. He loves the Bucks roster and its young core. Joe Prunty is interim head coach. And the Bucks have feasted on lottery teams and the Embiid-less Sixers for eight days.

Bledsoe’s slump dragged on after Kidd was gone (he’s shooting 33% overall and 20% from three in the last six games), and his scoring dipped to 12.6 ppg. Against the Sixers in Milwaukee Monday, Bledsoe played three minutes and left the game for good. The Bucks reported that he’d been playing on a sore left ankle and is not expected to play Thursday in Minnesota.

________________________

After the Bucks on Sunday beat the Bulls for the first time in three tries, Giannis offered at least implicit support for Kidd when asked how the team was responding.

”I see that guys are playing harder. Some guys – I don’t know what they’re thinking in their heads. Maybe (they were) not OK with what happened. I just see guys playing hard.” — Giannis Antetokounmpo

Khris Middleton had a different take, and talked about how the Bucks were “a little bit looser” and “much more relaxed” playing for coach Prunty; and how teams “usually take on the personality of their coach.” He also praised Prunty’s “side-to-side” passing offense in the wake of Kidd’s preference to isolate mismatches and have the team “playing off one match-up”.

It’s the schedule, Khris. 

Coach Kidd, too, would doubtlessly agree that the Bucks latest opponents were more relaxing than Toronto was in two January meetings, or Miami on Jan. 17.  The Miami game was the Bucks 13th game in 23 days, the Bucks toughest, most unforgiving stretch of the season — three back-to-backs and 11 of the 13 opponents now holding playoff spots. Over the final 10 games of the stretch, they had no more than a single off-day between the games.

But the Bucks won 6 and lost 7, beating the Wizards twice on the second nights of back-to-back games. They lost twice to the Raptors and twice to the Heat, but beat Minnesota and OKC back-to-back, no easy task. They split with Indiana. In the 13th game, the Bucks were visibly exhausted against the Heat, as Giannis missed 7 free throws and Bledsoe shot 2 for 13 in the 106-101 loss.

They didn’t make it through unscathed. When it was over, Giannis sat out the next two games to relieve soreness in his right knee, a recurring problem that forced him to miss two games earlier this season and summer international play with Team Greece. Malcolm Brogdon also missed the game in Philly, and two more since, with a calf injury. Bledsoe was playing on a bum left ankle, and isn’t expected to play against the T-wolves Thursday. And Jason Kidd lost his job.

The scheduling reality and the mid-season wear on tear on the team beg the “what if” question. A win here, a win there, a timely extra day off — would Horst and Kidd have had a problem? Should they have had a problem as it stood, the Bucks record at 23-22, given the grueling schedule?

Contrast all that with the three-day break the Bucks enjoyed after beating the Suns the day Kidd was fired. They were able to rest and recharge, to recuperate Giannis’ aching knee and other team ailments; and Prunty had plenty of time to prepare the team for the 3-games-in-4 days stretch against lesser teams of the East. The Bucks have a two-day break this week before meeting the T-Wolves in Minneapolis Thursday.

What a difference the schedule makes: A four game win streak built on the bottom feeders of the East, then five more lottery-bound opponents before the All-Star Break Feb. 16, and 7 off-days in two weeks (Feb. 2-15). 

The Bucks are 27-22 and in 6th place in the East as of this writing. They remain on track, maybe not to win 50 games, but to at least challenge for the No. 3 or No. 4 spot in the East and fulfill their goal of winning a first round playoff series, something Bucks teams have done only twice in the last three decades. Jabari Parker is due back on Friday, right on schedule.

Funny, it’s pretty much the same situation they Bucks were in when they fired Kidd, give or take a few wins against the patsies of the East.

###

Who the heck is Jon Horst?

  • Excellent feature 6/18/17 on Jon Horst in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: -https://www.jsonline.com/story/sports/nba/bucks/2017/06/18/who-new-bucks-gm-jon-horst/406803001/
  • Brewhoop on the weird process of Horst’s hiring: https://www.brewhoop.com/2017/6/16/15815804/report-milwaukee-bucks-closing-in-on-hiring-jon-horst-as-new-gm
  • NBA.com on Justin Zanik, the GM candidate the Bucks owners couldn’t agree to hire: http://www.nba.com/bucks/release/bucks-name-justin-zanik-assistant-general-manager

Bledsoe stats per 36 minutes in 7 games Jan. 8-20. The Bucks fired Jason Kidd Jan. 22. 

PtsPer36 FG FGA FG% 3P 3P% FT FT% REB AST STL BLK TOV PF BIER100
16.8 6.2 16.8 37% 1.4 23% 2.88 82% 3.2 3.8 3.4 0.6 3.2 3.5 0.115

Notes: The 3.4 steals per 36 are great, the 3.2 turnovers normal for Bledsoe, but he’s had some awful shooting games in the last seven before the Suns game Jan. 22. The Bucks posted a 2-5 record in those games.  A BIER100 of 0.115 is a very low impact and efficiency rating — well below average for a shooting guard (the SG median last season was 3.4). It’s tough to beat good teams when your star guard is suddenly playing like a replacement player or worse. Bledsoe BIER rating was about double the BIER median (6.74) at the midway point of the season (game 41), so his numbers have fallen off a cliff this month. 

Source: https://www.basketball-reference.com/players/b/bledser01/gamelog/2018

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

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

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

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

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

Yogi-ism noted, this exchange spoke volumes about the Bucks and where they find themselves three years after the end of the coach Scott Skiles era, that five-year plan to build a competitive, relevant team in ruin. Three years later and they are struggling in the standings, still working to grow a fan base, a reputation; to develop young players into something resembling NBA stars. To establish an identity. Charles Barkley may actually know that Middleton plays for the Bucks, but it isn’t locked in his mind as a sure thing.

Such is the Bucks roster story of the last few years — just when you think you know who they are, team management gets restless and begins making changes, and not necessarily the right changes (Corey Maggette, Drew Gooden, Keyon Dooling, Stephen Jackson; trading Andrew Bogut for Monte Ellis and Ekpe Udoh; passing on Klay Thompson and Kawhi Leonard to dump Maggette and trade down for Tobias Harris, later traded for J.J. Reddick …). Nobody knew who they were, so not only did the Bucks not get in the paper, coach Skiles refused to sign the contract extension he was offered in 2012 and was asked to leave.

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

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

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

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

The Bucks stood pat, win or lose, with their young, developing roster because it was the only sensible thing to do.  “There’re no change to be made. Continuity is something we’re trying for,” said coach Jason Kidd, also the guy most believe is calling the player personnel shots. Monroe and Carter-Williams need time. Parker, despite his obvious defensive and rebounding shortcomings and lack of court sense, needs time.

In the 1990s, Glenn Robinson, Ray Allen and Vin Baker were given a full season (1996-97) before it was decided that Baker (the Black Hole) was not a good fit. Carter-Williams has barely had that, Parker has not yet played a full season, and Monroe’s been a Buck for 54 games; the idea that the Bucks would trade him so soon after signing him was, from the start, ridiculous. This season was not the season for trades, and it’s a relief to write that as the deadline has passed and Carter-Williams, Monroe and Plumlee are still Milwaukee Bucks.  Plumlee had only recently begun to play well, filling in for injured John Henson, so it was good to see the Bucks decline on whatever offers were out there (the Wizards were reportedly interested).

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

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

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