Tag Archives: Sidney Moncrief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bucks land Mike Dunleavy, Jr.

This just in from Wojnarowksi at Yahoo! NBA:

“WojYahooNBA: Free agent forward Mike Dunleavy will sign a two year, $7.5 million deal with the Milwaukee Bucks, league source tells Y! Sports.”
The 31-year-old Dunleavy’s a natural scorer, a 6-9 forward-guard who will be a nice addition to the Bucks depth.  He’ll be a welcome relief off the Bucks bench on those nights when Stephen Jackson is chucking away with no conscience and Andrew Bogut and gang are ducking the missile like bricks rocketing off the rim on Captain Jack’s misses.   (Don’t whince – this will actually happen, just as it did in Charlotte).
No, Mike Jr. doesn’t play anything but average defense but the thinking here is that he’s a hired scoring gun.
Dunleavy’s career stats.  12.1 points, 80 percent on free throws, 36 percent from downtown.  Average defensive rating (1o7) but an offensive rating of 108 — above the NBA average and a very high 115 last season.  Mike’s a gun.
His dad, Mike Dunleavy, Sr., of course, has held just about every job with the Bucks that there is.  He played with Marques and Sidney in 1984 and was a Buck in 1984-85 after the Marques trade for Terry Cummings.  He returned as an assistant coach/player-coach in the Del Harris years, taking over as head coach in 1992 when Harris moved to the front office and the Bucks tore down and began rebuilding.   When Harris left Dunleavy became coach/GM.  (Apparently, Herb Kohl thought he could do anything and everything).
Dunleavy, Sr., fans may recall, drafted Big Dog and was the Dog’s first NBA coach.  They got along pretty well, and Dunleavy managed to pull off some fan-friendly deals that brought in his old teammates such as Terry Cummings and Alton Lister to play alongside his young star (and knock him around in practice).
Dunleavy was not with the Bucks in Don Nelson’s last season, 1986-87,  Scott Skiles’ rookie year and lone season as a Buck (owner Herb Kohl didn’t want the hotheaded Skiles and his past drug history).   But now that Sidney Moncrief is on Skiles’ staff, not only is there a connection to Dunleavy Sr.’s playing days, but an offensive mind in Moncrief who will know how to best use Dunleavy’s instant offense.

Schedule cancellations beg critical questions of Bucks owner Herb Kohl

The cancellation of the November schedule has cost the Bucks four Saturday night home games, including games against the Bulls and Knicks.  It also increased the degree of difficulty of the 68 games still on the calendar, based on the 2011 final standings.

The Bucks would play 55.88% of their games against 2011 playoff teams, assuming no more games are lost.  Prior to the cancellation that percentage was 54.88%.  If Bucks owner Herb Kohl thinks his team is playoffs-worthy, he would do well to consider how much steeper the road to the playoffs will be if and when the lockout ends, and how much steeper it will get if December games are lost.

What’s that?  The failure of the owners and players to reach a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) has caused a one percent increase in difficulty for the Milwaukee Bucks?  Boo hoo.  And isn’t that scheduling disparity partly the Bucks fault for sinking into sub-mediocrity last season and losing a playoff spot to the Pacers?

Yes, and the Pacers are part of the point — one of the games lost is a home game against the Pacers, a plum opportunity to begin righting last season’s failures.  Not-yet-cancelled are two games in Indy and a game in Milwaukee.  Ratchet up the degree of difficulty a bit more with Pacers home court advantage against the Bucks, something the Bulls will also enjoy if the games cancelled remain off the calendar.

And it only gets more weighted against the Bucks the closer one looks at what was lost and what remains.

  • The lockout has cheated Bucks fans out of a chance to see Steve Nash and the Suns at the Bradley Center Nov. 12 (another Saturday showcase). The game in Phoenix is still on the calendar. The Bucks have not won in Phoenix since February 1987, the last of the Bucks seven straight 50-win season, Don Nelson‘s last season as Bucks coach, Moncrief, Cummings, Pressey, Pierce, Sikma and John Lucas in the fold, and a rookie Scott Skiles, too.
  • LaMarcus Aldridge and the Portland Trailblazers have proven to be a nightmare matchup for Bogut and the Bucks. A Bucks-Blazers Saturday night game was one of those cancelled.  Still on is the game in Portland, where the Bucks haven’t won since 2006.
  • No, the Bucks haven’t yet had a road game against a Western Conference team cancelled. All 15 of those are still on calendar. The Bucks were 4-11 on the road in the West last season. Ratchet that degree of Bucks difficulty to about 60%.  The road to the 2012 playoffs will be a steep uphill climb for the Bucks.

If December is cancelled, the Bucks will lose only a single road game in the West, a trip to Memphis. That’s early in the month, following a trip to New York and a Saturday marquee featuring Milwaukee’s favorite ex-Buck, Ray Allen, and the Celtics, tough games all.

Kohl and the Bucks front office have got to be eyeing that Celtics game and rueing the day more games are tossed into the shredder.  A Celtics game is one of those money-making, potential sell-outs, an easy-marketing homecoming for Ray, one of the last chances to see the current Celtics before they rebuild (Ray and Kevin Garnett will be free agents after this season).  It’s a natural for the Bucks’ 2012 home-opener, ready or not.

The Celtics are followed by a string of five matchups that should give Bucks fans a good gauge on where their team is headed this season: at home against rebuilding Detroit and Denver in flux, on the road to Washington to play John Wall and the Wizards, home for Corey Maggette and Charlotte and then on to Indiana.

Playoffs?  Not if the Bucks can’t get it together enough to win some of those games.  They cannot afford another start like last season’s 6-wins, 12-losses disaster. The first 22-games of the schedule, prior to the lockout and the cancellations, provided a solid chance for a decent start — assuming only the 2010-11 records of the opponents.

Then Dirk Nowitzki and the champion Mavs come to Milwaukee for their only appearance, Saturday, Dec. 17, another candy marketing game the Bucks front office should be loathe to lose.  A tough opponent, of course, but the loss of this game would leave the trip to Dallas still-to-come.  From a competitive standpoint, the Bucks can ill afford the cancellation of the first three weeks in December.

All of which begs the questions:  How much does pro basketball game talk matter to many NBA owners?  Specifically, how much does it matter to Bucks owner Kohl, who has yet to play more than a supporting role to the small market hardliners in these negotiations?

Unlike small market hardliners in Cleveland and Phoenix (when Nash leaves or retires) and Boston (rebuild after 2012) and San Antonio (aging San Antonio) the Bucks aren’t rebuilding or looking ahead to a near-future rebuild.  Ostensibly, they have more in common with the Bulls and Knicks — the Bucks want to play and win now with Andrew Bogut and Brandon Jennings, and put a forgettable, injury-plagued 2011 season behind them.

But like Portland Trailblazers owner Paul Allen, the so-called “Grim Reaper” on the owners’ side, Kohl has spent years playing and paying big under the current system, and losing in a market much smaller than New York or Chicago.  There’s talk that Allen is taking a hard line in the negotiations because he wants to clamp down on player salaries and exceptions to position the Blazers for sale.

Kohl has lost more than Allen in the current system, and paid big in recent years for the likes of Michael Redd, Bobby Simmons, Dan Gadzuric, Corey Maggette, Drew Gooden, tax accounting write-offs in the flesh.  There’s been little or no recent talk of Kohl selling the Bucks, and the real politick in Milwaukee and Wisconsin says even discussions over a new arena are years away.

But rumblings of a sale could sound at any time.  Kohl isn’t getting any younger and will retire from the U.S. Senate next year at age 77, and, while Kohl has never made the Bucks books public,  it’s safe to assume his team has more in financial common financially with Allen than he does with the “play now” teams in Chicago, New York, Dallas, Los Angeles and Miami.

At some point — and we may have passed this point already — the “play now” owners are going to push hard for a resolution, to end the 50/50 or 48/52 squabbling over how much “Basketball Related Income” (BRI) the players should get.  The owners have already bettered their financial position by $200 million per year and about $1.2 billion over the next seasons.  That’s a tremendous giveback by the players at 52% BRI.

With the two sides so close on the BRI, it’s the “play now, win now” owners vs. “don’t play, write another season off” mode.

(Editor’s note: Not more than a few hours after this post went up, one of the “play now, win now” owners, Miami Heat owner Mickey Arison, was fined $500,000 by the NBA for tweeting that he wasn’t the owner fans should be upset about. “You’re barking at the wrong owner,” Arison tweeted in response to a fan who accused Arison of ruining the game.

“The response clearly fortified the belief Arison is part of a more moderate group of owners, mostly from big markets, who don’t share the opinion of the majority of hardliners who think the NBA needs to keep the players locked out to achieve financial concessions,” reported Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski.  That belief is certainly one held here.)

At what point does Kohl look at the first Saturday in December and say, “I need my team to be on the court against the Celtics” on that night?

Which kind of owner — write-it-off or play ball — is Kohl really?

The NBA DRAFT is upon us, ho hum

Ahh, the No. 10 pick, such a good place to run away from.   What do the Bucks do with this pick?

Trade it, I say, though it has limited value.

Draft Klay Thompson or Marshon Brooks, others say — at least they can shoot, and the Bucks need a shooter.

Draft Alec Burks others say, and pretend that he’s D-Wade or Sidney Moncrief in the making, which is what some are saying over at Brewhoop right about now, in fact.

Trade the pick, I say, get a veteran or two who knows how to win an NBA game.

Yet, at 3 AM on the eve of the draft, the Bucks yet hold the No. 10 pick, so it’s witching hour for Bucks fans.  Everything is true, everything is false, and everything is permissible.

A month ago, I said the pick should be Marshon Brooks, the leading scorer in the Big East  who happens to have a 7-foot wingspan at six-foot-four.    He can shoot, he’s a great athlete, he led the toughest defensive league in scoring whilst hogging the ball on Big East cellar-dweller Providence.

The Bucks backcourt was so bad last season that they probably should draft a guard, and draft the best guard available.  That’s Brooks at No. 10 because the three guards better than Brooks (Irving, Knight and Walker) will be gone.

But the Bucks would improve quicker and with more alacrity if they use the pick to dump the junk on their roster and try to bring in an NBA player (not a college kid) to back up John Salmons. (This latter “draft a backup shooter” proposition didn’t sound very good from the start, and John Hammond on Thursday traded his way out of it).

This is probably one of the worst draft blogs you’ve ever read.  I’m not sorry about that.  Really, and I’m too disinterested to even post some sort of graphic.

Well, that disinterest didn’t last long, did it?

NOTE: The pick is gone, traded to Sacramento in a 3-team deal that sent Corey Maggette and Sacramento’s No. 7 pick to Michael Jordan’s rebuilding Hornets team (which now has the No. 7 and No. 9 picks).

John Salmons returns to Sacramento, where he became an 18-points per game scorer (in 2008), to the Kings team that signed him in free agency from Philly.

The Bucks get Charlotte shooting guard Stephen Jackson, reserve Shaun Livingston and the Bobcats No. 19 pick.  From the Kings, the Bucks receive tall lefty point guard Benoh Udrih.

A Tale of Two Centers: Nevermind the DPOY voting, Dwight Howard and Andrew Bogut were the most dominant defenders of 2011

Dwight, Dwight, Dwight, hey Dwight — like the talking basketball in the playoffs commercial, 114 of 120 ballots for 2011 Defensive Player of the Year named Dwight Howard No. 1 and the Orlando Magic center became the first player in NBA history to collect three straight DPOY awards.

The odd surprise was that it wasn’t unanimous.  The true surprise was that so few of the ballots — only six — named as No. 2 the center who led the NBA in blocked shots per game, Milwaukee Bucks center Andrew Bogut.

Adding insult to small market center injury, only 14 voters deemed Bogut’s defense worthy of a third place nod, meaning that Bogut was omitted on 100 of the 120 ballots cast by the men and women in media covering the NBA.  Only one ballot omitted Howard.

West Coast bias is one factor.  Celtics love is another.  But 100 omissions of Bogut is a little scary when one considers that the people casting votes were, ostensibly, paying attention to the league they cover.  At last check the Milwaukee Bucks were still in the league, I’m fairly certain.  They appeared to be, anyway, last time I checked the regular season standings.

In watching a thousand or so hours of NBA basketball and assiduously tracking a season’s worth of defensive ratings and other statistics, as I did, one truth stands tall about the NBA’s impact defenders:  There is Superman and there is Andrew Bogut … and then there’s everybody else, Kevin Garnett and Grizzlies sixth man Tony Allen, a Celtic last season, leading the pack.

Howard this week joined Dikembe Mutombo (four DPOYs) and Big Ben Wallace (four also) as the only players in NBA history to win the award more times than Bucks should-be Hall of Famer Sidney Moncrief won it in the first two years of its existence (1983 and 1984).

Howard was again the highest-rated defender in the league (94.0 team points allowed per 100 possessions) and also led in “Defensive Plays” (blocks + steals + est. charges taken) with 3.88 per game.  He was fourth in blocked shots (2.4 per game) and hauled in 14.1 rebounds per game, finishing third in defensive rebounding rate, grabbing 30.6 percent of opponent misses.

Bogut finished 4th in defensive rating (97.3) and led the league in shot blocking (2.6 per game).  Bogues grabbed a career-best 11.1 rebounds per game and finished sixth in defensive rebounding rate at 27.1 percent.  He also took an estimated 32 charges this season, pulling in right behind Howard with 3.8 “Defensive Plays” per game.

Those “Defensive Plays” are quantifiable “stops” that disrupt the opposition and, in Bogut’s case, usually force a change of possession because most of his blocks stay in bounds and are recovered by the Bucks.  Howard, by choice, tries to intimidate opponents by rejecting shots into the expensive seats.  A quick estimate says that half of Howard’s “Defensive Plays” force possession change, compared to about 75 percent of Bogut’s.

But the quantifiable plays tell only part of the story.

Individual statistics don’t capture the number of shots a big man alters in a game, nor the number of passes he tips or forces out of bounds by denying the ball in the post, nor the number of rushed shot-clock prayers and weak side offense that result from denying the post, nor the turnovers forced by playing good help defense.

And the box score stats certainly don’t quantify how often opposing players opt for low percentage perimeter shots simply because Howard or Bogut is patrolling the paint.

Magic opponents shot a fourth-worst 43.6 percent from the field.  Bucks’ opponents shot 44.7 percent, the sixth best defensive mark in the league, and a third-lowest 33.6 percent from 3-point-land, a testament to the fact that the Bucks don’t sag too deep to the paint and rarely double team the post.  Bogut’s not given, nor does he require, defensive help.

The results showed on the scoreboard:  Howard’s Magic played the third-best defense in the NBA ( 102.1 pts.allowed/100 poss.).  Bogut’s Bucks were right behind the Magic in fourth (102.5 pts./100).

How good are Howard and Bogut?   The Bulls (100.3 pts/100) and Celtics (100.3 pts/100) play the best team defense in the NBA.  As such, there are nine Bulls and Celtics in the individual defensive ratings top 20.  There are only two Magic and Bucks — Howard and Bogut, though in January and February Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova climbed as high as 17th in the ratings.

This means that the Magic and Bucks defenses, ranked third and fourth, allowed significant increases in opponent scoring when Howard and Bogut were not on the court.  For the Magic the increase was monumental — an estimated 16+ points per 100 possessions, placing the Magic’s non-Howard defense above the league average of 107.3.

But Howard was on the court 74 percent of the Magic’s season.  Bogut played 57.8 percent of the Bucks season, with the Bucks D giving up an estimated 9.5 more points per 1oo possessions when their center was on the bench or missing 17 games.

It’s next to unreasonable to expect Superman endurance from any player, 67 percent on-court time this season from Bogut would almost certainly have pushed the Bucks into the playoffs.  As it turned out, they were within a buzzer beater in Indiana April 1 of making it with Bogut’s 58 percent playing time contribution.

Therein, however, lies the main difference between Howard and Bogut and the reason that Bogut — whom some considered the leading candidate for DPOY until the Bucks February swoon — wasn’t more seriously considered, even as a No. 2 candidate.  The Magic are in the playoffs with home court advantage against the Hawks; the injury-addled Bucks defied expectations by missing the playoffs, and Bogut this month underwent a second surgery on his mangled right arm, which was never fully functioning this season.

Yet despite the 17 missed games, it may surprise many post-season awards voters that Bogut logged more minutes (2,297) than Tyson Chandler (2,059) played for the Mavericks; and he had more on-court time than the Spurs’ defensive anchor, Tim Duncan (2,156 minutes).

Chandler had an exceptional season in Dallas but the individual and team statistics don’t lie — Bogut not only played more but had the more Howard-like impact, and it wasn’t really close.  Wilson Chandler blocked more shots than Tyson did.

In 2011 Bogut made more defensive plays than Duncan or Chandler, opponents shot a lower percentage against his Bucks and scored less.  Duncan’s Spurs allowed 4.2 more points per 100 possessions than Bogut’s Bucks, while Chandler’s Mavs allowed 5.3 more.  Those differences were big and obvious to those who watched Bogut in action in 2011.

The concern here is that many awards voters apparently didn’t see the Bucks play this season, and if they did, they were paying more attention to the Bucks (and Bogut’s) missed shots than to the center’s All-NBA defense.  (Even the reporters who cover the Bucks daily fell into this trap, though there’s no need to link here to that offensive team report.  They actually graded Bogut a C-.)

As Duncan would attest, post defense isn’t about spectacular blocks or rabid intensity during 4th quarter stands in close games, or about altercations instigated on national TV.  It’s about persistence, positioning and leverage, possession-after-possession, as well as smart off-the-ball rotations to the weak side.

Howard and Bogut persist as masters of these defensive arts in the paint, and if they sometimes make it look too easy, one can only hope the awards voters aren’t fooled.  When the All-Defensive Teams are unveiled, I hope the voters don’t make the same mistakes they made with their Defensive Player of the Year ballots.

Howard, of course, will be the first team center.  And there should be Bogut, deserving of his rightful spot as number two.  Careful!!  There are only two NBA All-Defensive teams … and that third step down for the centers is kinda steep.

Kicking themselves: Bucks blew a badly needed chance to spark a rivalry with the Bulls

“… It just feels like failure,” said John Salmons this week as the Bucks prepared for the final game of a season that has, in no uncertain terms, been a failure.  For Salmons, in particular, the 2010-11 has been a long struggle to find a shooting groove and consistency within Scott Skiles’ perimeter oriented pick-and-roll offense.

Salmons, like many Bucks, played through injuries, and, though he played 73 games before it was said and done, the Fish was only healthy for half of those, and fewer still with a healthy Brandon Jennings in the backcourt.

But injuries are no excuse.  It’s almost unthinkable that this Bucks team is looking up in the standings at the 37-win Indiana Pacers, the only team in the 2011 playoffs to have fired a coach mid-season.  (One of these things is not like the others and the Pacers are it.)

A cold 4th quarter shooting here, a bad bench run there, dead-end finishes in Philly Jan. 14 and in Charlotte March 28, a defeat at the buzzer in Cleveland in November, a 6-and-10 record in their own weak division and the Bucks earned the shame of seeing the Pacers play the Bulls in the playoffs, Round One.

Weren’t the Bucks expected to be the Bulls rivals this season?

Indeed they were, and to a certain extent they still are:  Centers Andrew Bogut and Joakim Noah, the heart and soul of whatever the current Bucks-Bulls have become, aren’t going anywhere.  Brandon Jennings vs. Derrick Rose?   We’ll get back to you on that.   Scott Skiles, the coach who ran the Baby Bulls in Chicago (2003-2007) will be here for next season, according to Bucks GM John Hammond.

But for now, the failure to grab the low-hanging 8th seed in the East, thereby setting up the first Bucks-Bulls playoff series since 1990, is a painful blow to an NBA franchise in a city that seems to care less and less about its pro basketball team.  The Bucks this season needed to give its fans something, anything — and, no, a farewell to Michael Redd doesn’t qualify as “anything.”

Whatever the outcome, a Bucks-Bulls playoff would have been a nice consolation prize in the Bucks battle for NBA relevance.  No, it would not have made this season’s Bucks relevant — but a series against the Bucks’ natural rivals down I-94, boasting the certain league MVP, Rose, would have at least helped keep Milwaukee on the NBA map, a place where they’ve not often been since that Bucks-Bulls playoff series 21 years ago.


By the 1989-90 campaign, the Bucks had traded Terry Cummings for Alvin Robertson and Sidney Moncrief was an Atlanta Hawk. The Ricky Pierce-led Bucks were a mere shadow of the Central Division leading Don Nelson teams.  Michael Jordan’s Bulls, in Jordan’s fifth season, had become contenders, though the Bad Boy Pistons in Detroit ruled the East as Larry Bird’s career waned.  Patrick Ewing patrolled the paint in New York.

The Bulls won the first round series 3-1, cementing the Del Harris era Bucks teams as playoffs also rans — same as it’s ever been in Bucks-Bulls history.  When one franchise is up, the other is down, more often than not due, in part, to the success of the other.  This was the story this year as the Bulls not only swept the Bucks 4-0 in the season series but dropped a key late season game to the Pacers in Indiana that helped the Pacers take the inside track in the race for eighth. … Same as it ever was for the Bucks and Bulls.

If the rivalry was ever bitter, it was in the early-to-mid 1970s, when the Lew Alcindor/Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Bucks, realigned to the Western Conference and found Nate Thurmond (guarding Kareem at left) Bob Love, Jerry Sloan, Chet Walker and Norm Van Lier waiting for them in the Midwest Division (Thurmond would come later, in 1974-75).

As rivalries go, however, it was awfully one-sided, the Bulls unwilling patsies and annual runner-ups to the Bucks’ division dominance.  They met once in the playoffs, a four game sweep by the Bucks in the 1974 Western Conference Finals. If there was bitterness, it was all Chicago’s.  (See notes on the 1974 series from Kevin below).

From then on, the rivalry continued on its see-saw way as the Bucks rebuilt after the Kareem trade and the Sidney and Marques dominated the Central Division of the early 1980s (the firing of Jerry Sloan as Bulls coach part of that history).

In the mid-1980’s, Sidney and Terry Cummings held back the Bulls in Jordan’s early years, the Bucks finally relenting to Moncrief’s bad knees and, of course, to Jordan.

Jordan’s teams dominated the Glenn Robinson-Ray Allen Bucks in the 1990’s, while the Big Three Bucks returned the favor after Jordan left in 1998.  The Redd era Bucks were Central Division doormats while Skiles built the Baby Bulls.  In 2008 both teams were terrible.  Since then, if the Bucks were struggling, the Bulls were on a roll; if Rose had a bad ankle, Andrew Bogut was leading the Bucks into the playoffs.

This season, more of the same.  MVP-in-waiting Derrick Rose and his Bulls rocketed to the top of the Eastern Conference while the Bucks were only as good as a one-armed Andrew Bogut and sophomore-slumping Brandon Jennings could make them.  Too often, that wasn’t very good.  The Bucks won 28, lost 37 in games Bogut played.  Yet they had their chances.

And same as it ever was, this rivalry with the Bulls that seems like such a natural for the Bucks, will have to wait another year.

Only this time, the looming NBA lockout may make the wait longer.

Recalling bitter rivalries long past: A Sixers, Celtics, Bucks round-robin with playoff implications

Springtime is on the way in Milwaukee.  The snows are melting a dirty trickle in the rain.  The chartered buses are revved up for the state high school sectionals.  March Madness is in the air.  And the Bucks playoff seeding rests (in part) on how well they fare in games against the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics.

Celtics-Sixers, Sixers-Bucks, Bucks-Celtics — a weekend round-robin that began tonight in Philly — harkens (albeit vaguely) back to the NBA’s Golden Age when Larry Bird‘s Celtics, Sidney Moncrief‘s Bucks and Dr. J‘s Sixers waged battle season after season for home court advantage in the Eastern Conference.

To be a fan of coach Don Nelson’s Bucks was to worry about your team’s health every spring and fret over the strength of the opposition, the names Bird, Erving, Bobby Jones, McHale, Moses muttered under the breath in curses.  Bucks fans cringed at the inevitable playoff disappointment against arguably the two best teams ever assembled in the NBA.  But the Bucks in those days had Moncrief and Marques Johnson and Bob Lanier, and later Moncrief and Terry Cummings and Paul Pressey.  There was always hope.

The stakes aren’t so high for our Bucks these days.  They are a disappointing 25-38, a far cry from the Bucks teams that chased 60-win seasons during Moncrief’s prime.  Yet the 2011 Bucks find themselves gaining ground in the mad stumble for the 8th and final playoff spot in the East, one game out as they face the Sixers Saturday at the BC and go to Boston Sunday to meet the Celtics.

The Celtics are hanging on to the top seed in the East with Derrick Rose’s Bulls hot on their heels.  The Sixers are in 7th place, out of the Bucks reach and looking to move up a rung or two on the East playoff ladder.

This Philly-Boston weekend is critical for Bucks as they work to establish some late consistency and salvage the season.

“The big test for us is Philly (on Saturday),” Bucks center Andrew Bogut noted after the Bucks ran away from the last place Cleveland Cavs on Wednesday for a rare easy victory.  “We never play well against Philly, and they’re having a great year. I think Philly is our test.”

Eighth will have to do for Bogut and the Bucks this season.

And, no, the names Bogut, Garnett and Brand don’t resonate like those of Erving, Bird and Moncrief, who will be on hand Saturday providing color commentary for the Bucks’ FSN broadcast.

But spring is almost here in Wisconsin, and this will have to do.


Eighth was good enough for the Chicago Bulls in 1986, Michael Jordan‘s second NBA season, the year he missed 64 games with a broken left foot.  It will be good enough for Brandon Jennings in his sophomore NBA season, a year in which he, too, broke his left foot.

Jordan’s 1986 Bulls, also featuring rookie Charles Oakley and Orlando Woolridge in his second season, are worth mentioning here because whoever grabs the 8th seed in the East this season will surely make the playoffs with one of the worst records in recent memory.

The worst NBA playoff record, post-ABA merger, belonged to the 1986 Bulls, who won just 30 games playing in arguably the toughest conference that the NBA had ever put on the nation’s courts — the Eastern Conference of the mid-1980’s.

How good was the 11-team East in 1986?  The young Bulls went 3-15 against the Celtics, Sixers and Bucks.  There were Dominique Wilkins‘ Hawks and Isaiah Thomas‘ Pistons to contend with, too, and the Bulls were just 3-9 against them.

The Western Conference champions, the Twin Towers Houston Rockets starring 7-footers Hakeem Olajawon and Ralph Sampson, would fall in six games to the Celtics in the 1986 NBA Finals.  The Rockets, with the luxury of playing in the West, finished 51-31 (#2 in the West behind the Lakers) but won just 3 of their 10 games against the Beasts of the East.  The Rockets would very likely have finished 6th in the East, and no better than 5th.


Playoff atmosphere in Philly. The Sixers kicked off the Boston-Philly-Milwaukee round-robin by holding off the Celtics, 89-86, snapping a seven-game home losing streak to the Celtics.  Center Spencer Hawes, forward Elton Brand and swingman Andre Iguodala led a balanced Sixer attack that ended with five players in double figures.   The Celtics were led by Jeff Green (18 pts) and Nenad Krstic (16 and 15 boards)?

No, these are not the Celtics and Sixers of the great Bird and Dr. J rivalry, but the Wachovia Center crowd roared playoff intensity nonetheless as Iguodala waltzed through the lane for the game-clinching layup.

Ray Allen had perhaps his worst game this season, scoring only 5 points on 2-11 shooting. The Celtics have lost two in a row.

The Sixers are playing their best ball since Allen Iverson’s heyday for coach Doug Collins, and moved to within a half game of the Knicks for 6th place and three games back of the Hawks in 5th.

The Hawks looked downright sick losing by 18 to the Carlos Boozer-less Bulls in Chicago.  “All-Star” Al Horford contributed 6 points and 7 rebounds in the loss.  Did I mention that the Bulls power forward, Carlos Boozer, didn’t play?

I watched Hawks-Bulls a second time, late night.  The Hawks simply turned dumb and selfish when faced with the in-your-face Bulls defense, just as they do when playing the Bucks.  They don’t like being challenged, and, even though Kirk Hinrich just joined the team, they looked completely lost when he wasn’t on the court.

They switched and had bigs guarding Derrick Rose in the 3rd quarter, same way the Mike Woodson Hawks of last season played Brandon Jennings.  That was a miserable failure.  Luol Deng got hot, and the Hawks had no one to guard him.  Josh Smith and Joe Johnson made horrible decisions on offense, repeatedly, Al Horford disappeared, and Jamaal Crawford and Kirk Hinrich seemed like the only guys interested in playing the game.

Zaza Pachulia was, as usual, a useless hack who isn’t too effective when a stronger player (Kurt Thomas) is matched up against him.

It was games 3, 4, and 5 last May all over again, with the Bulls dominating like the Bucks never could have without Bogut.   Bucks play the Hawks in Atlanta Tuesday, and that game looks very winnable.

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

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

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

Swen Nater.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dog DaZe in Milwaukee summer… The Fish has been landed

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

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

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

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

Two things to be thankful for:

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

“This is no time to quibble about details.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew Bogut Named to All-NBA Third Team

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oscar Roberston: 2nd Team, 1970 1971

Vin Baker: 3rd Team, 1997

Ray Allen: 3rd Team, 2001

Michael Redd: 3rd Team, 2004

Andrew Bogut: 3rd Team, 2010

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