Tag Archives: Spencer Hawes

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 same sense of aimless searching one can find in the 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)
Patterson traded to Hawks for 2015 pick Norman Powelldead-ends with Greivis Vasquezleft unsigned by Bucks as 2016 free agent;
Connaughton was the pick sent to Brooklyn as compensation for the Bucks hiring coach JASON KIDD (see also Tobias Harris trade 2013)  
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 HAWEScurrent Buck, had player option 2017-18. Bucks
Michael Carter-Williams – traded to Chicago 2016 for TONY SNELL
Tyler Ennis – traded 2016 to Houston for Michael Beasley, unrestricted free agent 2017 (Beasley signed with the Knicks
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.) Looking back on this post a few months later, woah, some of these moves are so mind-boggling they had to actually happen to be believed, and there are no doubt some who still don’t believe they happened, sort of like seeing the Marvel Deadpool movie for the first time.
JASON KIDD, however partial – compensation 2nd Rd pick sent to Brooklyn, hiring of Kidd done by team owners without Hammond’s knowledge. This token connection to coach Kidd is all that’s left from the No. 8 2008 pick and the No. 10 2011 pick, plus Hakeem Warrick, Charlie Bell and Dan Gadzuric’s 2010 expiring contracts; and Andrew Bogut, who connects to this via Stephen Jackson who connects back to the deals involving 2008 and 2011 draft picks. Madness.
2012 #12 Pick – swapped w/ Houston for #14 – JOHN HENSON
KHRIS MIDDLETON – acquired in trade for Brandon Jennings*
TONY SNELL* (Snell is in Milwaukee due to trades believed to have been instigated by Kidd – beginning with the 3-team Brandon Knight-to-Phoenix trade in 2015; Michael Carter-Williams came to Bucks from Philly in that deal; MCW was traded to Chicago for Snell in 2016). Bucks signed Snell to a 4-year $44 million deal July 1, 2017.
SPENCER HAWES – player option 2017-18* Hawes opted IN, and Bucks waived him August 31, stretching his $6.021 million contract over three years, so they will take an ANNUAL $2.007 MIL SALARY CAP HIT through fy 2019-2020
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
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. 
Post updated 10/24/2017 by someone who obviously has wayyy too much time on his hands.
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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

Mission “Impossible” – The Milwaukee Bucks evaluation that coach Scott Skiles says can’t be done

Bucks coach Scott Skiles said after Friday’s blowout loss in Dallas that it was “impossible” to evaluate the 2012 Bucks.  They’ve been too hurt, too MIA and too jumbled in disarray in this rush-start, lock-out shortened season; it just can’t be done, not yet after 11 games, not in Skiles’ mind.

At The Bob Boozer Jinx, we’re undeterred by such obstacles, and have already noted that Skiles and Bucks GM John Hammond failed for the second year in a row to put a team on the court ready to start the season.   With that in mind as the Bucks get set to play the Philadelphia 76ers on Martin Luther King Day, here’s your 2012 Milwaukee Bucks evaluation, coach, in order of most playing time to least.

Brandon Jennings: He’s shooting better and has played smarter, attacking to the basket more than settling for that unreliable jumpshot of his, as the Bucks are playing at a faster pace than last season.  BJ3 is among the NBA leaders in minutes played per game, was at one point near the top in free throws per game (he needs to do more of this) and was shooting 44.3% going into Philly, 35.7% from Downtown.  Those are winning numbers for a point guard these days, especially one that keeps his turnover rate as low as Jennings does (10%).   Had a tough game in Philly and couldn’t give the Bucks an edge in the 3rd quarter when they needed it, but make no mistake — Brandon Jennings has improved.  Defense?  That’s improved, too, as BJ3 leads the Bucks in steals.  He wins the Bob Boozer Jinx “2012 Most Ready to Play” award.

Stephen Jackson:  He shoots, he scores.  He shoots, he misses.  A lot.  A 42% career shooter who can’t make a third of his threes is not a good shooter, but that doesn’t deter Captain Jack.  The intangibles?  Showed up out-of-shape and with a sore back but looks close to 100% now, and he seems to be the kind of nasty competitor the Bucks need some nights — and there will be those.  Unfortunately, he shoots so badly in some games — like today’s 3-for-12 against Philly — that the Bucks will often find themselves climbing out of a deficit as Jack rants.  The Bucks can’t win with Jennings and Jackson shooting a combined 6-for-23.  There will be those nights, and days, like these.

Carlos Delfino:  Here’s another guy who wasn’t ready to go, as he missed two games and was useless for three others due to a sprained shooting wrist.  Del is the Bucks best 3-baller (38%), and a capable defender who is again leading the Bucks in steals.  He’s solid all-around and would do well to take it to the hoop more often, and doesn’t help out on the glass as much as he could.  When he’s on, the Bucks can be dangerous.

Shaun Livingston:  One of the reasons the Bucks can look at their schedule, look at their record, and feel like they should be 7-and-5 instead of 4-and-8 even after reading the injury report.  Livingston has helped the Bucks build a few blowout leads, only to see them frittered away aided by offensive droughts, bad rebounding and Skiles’ flawed sense of matchups and rotations.  A player who does everything there is to do on the basketball court well — turnaround jumpers from the post! — and has fit in seamlessly on the Bucks jumbled roster.  He may have found his second NBA life in Milwaukee.

Ersan Ilyasova:  If you followed Ersan this summer with the Turkish national team and with Anadolu Efes in the Euroleague, you knew that Ersan had seemingly lost his jumpshot but wasn’t really bothering to look for it, content to play D, rebound and mix it up inside.  He’s very much a player in transition from “Dirk-lite” scorer to cage-rattling NBA power forward.  Does it look good in the box score or other metrics?   Hell no, with the exception of the rebound column.  Currently making Thaddeus Young‘s MLK day miserable in Philly, and is on the court with Bogut, Delfino, Jennings and Jackson – the Bucks strongest defensive unit today.  That unit “got up on ’em and got  physical,” said Bucks assistant Jim Boylan, noting that this was when the game changed.  They pulled a 13-point deficit down to six in the 2nd quarter.  Bucks trailed by four at the half.

Important note:  Skiles has managed to evaluate Ilyasova, deciding he’s an “off the bench forward” on “a really good, deep club,” and that this seems to be his NBA future.  Ersan would beg to differ, and this will very likely be his last season playing for the Bucks (not a really good, deep club) and certainly his last playing for Skiles.

Jon Leuer:  Ilyasova’s heir apparent and fan fave, currently starting at power forward.  Unlike Ilyasova, Leuer actively looks to shoot, and has been the Bucks most efficient scorer this season.  The downside is that the Bucks defense and rebounding takes a hit when Leuer is on the court, evidenced by the first 4 minutes of the 2nd half in Philly, as the Bucks struggled to keep the Sixers off the glass.  Enter Ilyasova at the 7:50 mark, as Skiles continues to play power forward roulette.  The interior defense and rebounding picks up in the 3rd, but little else.  The Bucks tried to pull back into the game in the 4th without Leuer or Ilyasova.

Andrew Bogut:  Not ready to play this season, missing four of the Bucks first eight games due to a “personal matter” back home in Australia.  Staying on the court is AB’s main problem.  Lesser problems:  As more and more centers step out to the three-point line, pulling Bogut 20 feet or more from the hoop, Bogut will need to learn to adjust — and it is frustrating to watch Spencer Hawes draining threes.  Bogut himself is stepping out a bit this season, encouraged to do so for the first time in his career, and he’s been able to knock down four or five set-jumpers.  Bogut’s game remains close to the basket, of course, where he’s one of the best defenders in the NBA.   He played strong against Hawes, racking up 20 points, 11 boards, four assists and three blocked shots to keep the Bucks within striking distance in the 4th quarter.  His best game of the season, a hopeful sign for Bucks fans everywhere.  Has Godot arrived?

Drew Gooden:  Bogut can’t play 40 minutes a game, certainly, and probably won’t play enough this season to qualify for the NBA leader boards, which makes the 30-year-old Gooden, the Big Zero, a primary NBA backup center for the first time in his NBA career.  Check that – this project was attempted and abandoned in San Antonio and Dallas.  It will have to work in Milwaukee, or Drew becomes a $6 million-a-year big man with no job.  Poor guy.  May end up spending most of his time playing high stakes poker with GM John Hammond.

Larry Sanders:  Drafted in the first round 2011, by 2012 he’s riding the bench behind Gooden, Leuer and Ilyasova – even Jon Brockman at times.   A fantastic shot-blocker and defender in development, now a utility, garbage-time, odd man out.  If Alton Lister was Nellie’s “Big Project,” Sanders is Skiles’ “Really Big Project” — one that the Bucks organization may not ever get around to.

Beno Udrih:  Luke Ridnour is back and he’s taller and left-handed, shoots about the same, too, though not as experienced or sneaky on defense. “Allergic to defense,”  the Kings bloggers said about Udrih when he was traded to the Bucks.  This is true.  Udrih plays about the worst perimeter defense I’ve seen since Michael Redd and Mo Williams.  But he came to Milwaukee ready to play, and, were it not for getting creamed in a collision with Andre Miller in Denver and missing six games, the Bucks might have a road win or two.  A 5-and-7 record would look pretty good right now compared to 4-and-8.  (Udrih returned in Philly and played as the Bucks faded in the 4th.)

Mike Dunleavy, Jr.:  Coming into this season, Dunleavy had missed 110 games from 2009-11, or nearly half of those three seasons.  Now he’s missed eight more with a groin injury.  Yet another guy who wasn’t ready to play this season.  An injury-prone free agent acquisition by GM Hammond.

Tobias Harris:  Strong, good hands, gets to the rim and has good scoring ability around the basket, just as advertized when the Bucks drafted him.  The Bucks rookie had made the most of his 90 minutes to date, and scored 12 against Philly in 21 minutes.  The Bucks don’t have a small forward backup with Dunleavy and Luc Mbah a Moute out with injuries.  The way this season has gone so far, the Bucks may consider taking a development year for Leuer, Harris and Sanders.  Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

Jon Brockman:  The Brockness Monster is still that, and he’s a punishing rebounder.  Problem is he can’t guard anybody and has no offensive game to speak of.  GM Hammond knew this when he signed him in summer of 2010.  It’s still not clear why he did it.

Darington Hobson:   Good floor skills and likes to drive.  6’7″ but plays like he’s 6’5″.  Belongs in the D-League with the Mad Ants of Fort Wayne, Indy.

Luc Mbah a Moute:  Expect some player movement when Mbah a Moute returns to 100%.  He’s signed and committed for four years ($19 million), and Luc will be here as long as Skiles is here.  He was sorely missed against Philly.  There are few things in the NBA better than watching Luc lock down on the likes of Andre Iguodala.

Trends from the armchair:  The strongest defensive unit — Jennings, Jackson, Delfino, Ilyasova and Bogut — was used only a quarter of the game in Philly — not enough.  Skiles abandoned it late in the 3rd quarter in a hale of Jackson and Jennings missed shots.  Livingston might’ve looked good with this group in place of Jennings.   Note that Leuer, Ilyasova, Gooden and Sanders did not play a single minute in the 4th as the Bucks dropped out of the game.  That was curious, though it may have been a function of Skiles wanting to look at Harris with the game (sorta) on the line.  It never felt like the Bucks were ever in it, not with the perimeter defense playing so poorly. …

…. And Skiles said this couldn’t be done.

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.

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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.

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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.

Bucks in the West: As the ROY race tightens …

Bucks @ Denver Nuggets, 8:00 pm CST, FsWis

Double OT: Bucks 114, Kings 108

This one never seemed to be going well, even in the first half when Brandon Jennings was hitting five three balls and the Bucks maintained a 5-7 point edge throughout, only to see it cut to one at halftime. Rarely does so much deadeye long range bombing go for naught.

That’s because a lot of other things weren’t going so well for the Bucks. Andrew Bogut was big in the paint but the shots weren’t falling (7-18, late in the 4th) and his free throws (1-6) had reverted to last year’s clanking form. The Kings’ 21-year-old center, Spencer Hawes, was getting loose in and around the paint for putback dunks and other short range damage (18 pts, 8 rebs, 6 assists) while Kings guard Beno Udrih was having the game of his life, slashing, twisting and leaning his way to a season-high 26 pts and 9 assists. Udrih averages 12.2 pts per game.

And then there was Carl Landry, sent to Sacramento from Houston as part of the deal that sent Tracy McGrady to the Knicks. As usual, Landry was everywhere the Bucks didn’t want him to be. After Jennings sank one (his 8th of the game) from downtown to pull the Bucks within 2 at 84-82, a Landry lay-in, a Udrih three and a putback by Ime Udoka (yes, he’s killed the Bucks on the glass before) made it 91-82 as the clock ticked under the 2-minute mark.

What was going on in Sacramento? Hawes, Udrih, Udoka? Who are these guys? This was supposed to be the battle of the Rookie of the Year contenders, Jennings and Tyreke Evans (who would soon be headed for the trainers’ room, his jaw split after a collision with an Ersan Ilyasova elbow on a rebounding play). Jennings wasn’t matched on Evans — he guarded Udrih, the Kings point guard. John Salmons took the Evans assignment.

Then the advantages the Bucks had been looking for all night arrived, all in the space of two minutes. Ilyasova hit a jumper. Udrih missed on a drive and, when Hawes grabbed the rebound, he foolishly shot instead of running clock.  Ex-King Salmons hit for three to make it 91-87. Landry did what he rarely does against the Bucks — he missed. Bogut dunked (that’ll improve the offensive efficiency) off a Salmons dish, and it was down to two.

Two Kings free throws, a Salmons three, more Kings free throws and a high arcing 27-foot bomb from Ilyasova tied the game and sent it into OT. The Kings never stood a chance. They lived to fight a second OT but were playing uphill the entire 10 minutes of extra play. The Bucks had finally found their groove 46 mins into regulation, not a second too late.

And Hawes could have won it by simply NOT shooting with a fresh shot clock and about a minute-and-a-half to play. Though he’s 21 (soon to be 22), he’s in his 3rd pro season and has probably been playing roundball since he was a little Spencer. There’s no excuse for getting greedy at the prospect of winning the boxscore battle against a rising All-Pro center who’s had a big feature article at yahoo.com staring a nation of the NBA obsessed in their million mosaic face at yahoo.com. Why else would the hoop look so tempting? Hawes lost the boxscore battle anyway, as though it were the moral to a Red Auerbach basketball fable. Bogut finished with 21 pts, 11 boards, two blocks and two steals, and never quit playing (Hawes kinda disappeared). Let this be a lesson to young Spencer, who does seem to have a bright future ahead if the Kings stick with him.

In the 12 mins spanning the final two minutes of regulation and two OTs, the Bucks outscored the Kings 32-17.  Salmons led with 12 , Ilyasova added 7,  Bogut 6, Jennings 4 (35 on the night) and Delfino finally hit his first three of the night. It was too much for Sacramento, a team built for youth, not necessarily for crunchtime grit and savvy.

That’s not to say that the Bucks are old pros at this. Earlier in the season, they might have lost this one. But after 33 games settled by three points or less and seven overtimes (won 2, lost 5), the Bucks may be getting the hang of this.  Having Salmons around to bail them out in the clutch certainly doesn’t hurt the cause.  Here are the highlights:

The Bucks starters played heavy minutes to finish the Kings off (53 mins for Salmons, 45 for Bogut, 45 for Jennings and 47 for Delfino).  If I were Scott Skiles (and I’m not) I’d give Bogut tonight off in Denver and take it easy on his primary rotation mates, giving the bench players an opportunity to find their rhythm. Name any one of them other than Ersan — they’re out of sync and struggling, and could use some extended playing time together.

The Bucks play Eastern conference rival the Atlanta Hawks at the BC Monday in a game that has all sorts of implications for the Bucks. The Hawks are a measuring stick of the Bucks progress, a very possible Round One playoff opponent and a team the Bucks have yet to beat this year. It’s the first game of a 5-game homestand which the Bucks may have visions of sweeping if their legs aren’t dead from the road. They’ve already beaten Denver this year, Nov. 11 at the BC. No need to wear the starters out going for a season sweep in the West that would be tough enough to get when well-rested.

Puppy love: Brandon Jennings has a crush on Ciara.  Apparently, he tells all in the next issue of GQ Magazine, coming soon to a newstand near you.  My advice: Don’t buy GQ — just click this link and read all about it at Ball Don’t Lie. They’re all over it, got an advanced copy of the mag, like, really.

Ciara who?