Thursday, April 16, 2009

St. Louis Bucks?

As a little side note I am in St. Louis right now, and if the Bucks did have to move in the next five years or so, I think this might be a cool place. This is undoubtedly a baseball and hockey town, but it looks like all the local places really throw their support behind their teams.

They have the Scottrade Center which held 22,000 some for the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament in 2007 which is pretty good. I'm not sure what the luxury suite situation in there, but that is a lot of seats. They also have great chicken wings everywhere you go. Delightful.

The Cardinals suck though.

The Off-Season Part Two

The more I think about this off-season the more I think it’s going to be pretty unimportant. Every off-season is a big deal, but really the Bucks have a year or two before their regular or off-seasons really matter. They don’t have any important expiring contracts, the market is so bad that they shouldn’t face too much competition for resigning either of their (basically) restricted free agents, and they have what they likely believe is a solid core when healthy locked up for two more seasons together.

This summer screams of them finding ways to cut costs by auctioning their pick and/or Joe Alexander as Frank at Brewhoop has been pointing out lately. Regardless, I feel like these are some interesting questions they’ll be facing.

What We Aren’t Sure Of

Michael Redd and Richard Jefferson, where do they go from here?

At the most Redd and Jefferson will be the featured scorers on a resurgent Bucks team next year that makes a significant push for the sixth spot in the East. At the very least, one or both of them will be shipped off this summer for roughly half of their actual value. Their value is something that is up for debate though.

Both of them are still productive players at or just passed their primes. The obvious problem with both players is that they have contracts that are inflated and extensive. Both come up after the supposed glorious Summer of 2010, but given the extent that the ever worsening economy has affected the NBA who knows if that will even be as big of a deal as it was supposed to be. Nevertheless their contracts make them close to nuclear with regard to the trade market. The Bucks will likely have to take back pretty crappy players with abrasive contracts and/or attitude problems.

Of the two, Redd would likely have been more appealing this summer had his knee not exploded in January. Yes, he’ll be fine by the time the season starts, and yes he was never all that reliant on his explosion to begin with, but any time an aging shooting guard blows out his knee it’s never a good sign. When the Celtics acquired Ray Allen some people (Bill Simmons) were afraid of his ankles giving out, since he was an aging guard with bad ankles; a valid concern. The thing about Redd though, is that he has always been more of an arm shooter. He slings the ball up like an early Bart Simpson with a rock. This may keep his value at least at an acceptable level.

Jefferson lacks the one skill to make him all that attractive, but teams like the Blazers and Jazz who still need another piece may have renewed interest in him after likely playoff flame outs. Jefferson is even more overpaid than Redd, but he does make a little bit less. It’s likely that the Bucks will have to sweeten any deal with either of them with a young player or draft pick.

Who Is Joe Alexander?

What is this guy really capable of? Alexander reminds me of a baby tiger. He’s young and doesn’t really know what he’s doing yet. He has all this athleticism and speed but he’s usually running too fast for his own good and ends up stumbling over himself (so many silly turnovers). He picks on animals bigger than him and needs help defending himself (over matched on the defensive end). He can be a valuable member of the pack when coming over to help more established members during their battles (shot-blocking help from the weak side).

But near the end of the year Alexander has shown real signs of development. He’s not as hesitant to shoot when with the first team and isn’t rushing himself as often. He must be working hard in practice; otherwise Skiles would not have rewarded him with playing time over the past month.

Alexander compared this season to his freshman year in college. It has been all about adjusting and learning a whole new game. We often forget how different and intensified things are on the professional level. No one out there is a weak link and smaller things are so much more important due to the talent level. Missing a defensive rotation will result in a lay-up or easy basketball almost every time. There is no swinging to the crappy over matched freshman in the NBA, it’s swinging to another guy who can hit almost any shot and convert around the hoop.

Alexander certainly has a sweet looking stroke and upside. At this point I’d much rather have him than Yi Jianlian, so that means something right? Plus the more I look at him the more I feel like I’m watching Paul Reiser and Mad About You had good ratings and led to a successful career for Helen Hunt, so that’s a plus. I’m still hoping we have a Kerry Kittles after a growth spurt and some weight lifting on our hands.

Also, baby tigers grow into full grown killing machines eventually, keep that in mind.

What do you do with the 10/11 pick in a crappy draft?

This one I’ll handle separately as we get closer to draft day, but it boils down to a few choices. Keep the pick and hope the guy you get turns out, trade the pick alone or in a package, or trade Joe Alexander alone or in a package because what you’re getting with this pick will be better.

At this point I’d advocate trading this pick before jumping ship on Joey Dunks because he has a year under his belt and pretty good looking potential. Again, I’ll look back at this question throughout May and June, but it’s probably the key question in what may be a bland off-season.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Off-Season Part One of Three

Unfortunately the Bucks regular season has become the off season for the last few years. Fans have been much more interested in seeing if the Bucks can do anything good in the summer to possibly save themselves from the wreck fans are expecting each regular season. When Richard Jefferson was acquired last summer that was a bigger deal than any individual game the Bucks played this year. This is not a good thing.

Why did I not make note of these last two games this week? The last few games of a season of mediocrity is like the last few days of sixth grade. You’re about to go into a nondescript grade that is really not much to look forward to. The next few days really don’t matter and won’t be the party you’re hoping for because teachers want to pretend like there is still schoolwork to be done.

See the Bucks don’t appear to have a lot to look forward to this summer. Their draft pick is going to be middling in a draft that has been described as anywhere from less than stellar to a class that can be done without. Their two best young players are free agents (kind of) and their large contracts do not come off the books. In the cookbook of NBA success this is not the typical recipe.

But that does not preclude certain doom. I feel like we can break the Bucks off season plan up into three sections: What We Know, What We Aren’t Sure Of and What We Hope For.

What We Know

1. The Bucks are Bogut’s

Bogut emerged this year as a candidate for a double double every night. In his 35 games he averaged a double double and threw in a block a game for good measure. The blocks went down but his impact on the team’s defense was incredible. When Bogut was healthy the Bucks for the first time in years were a top ten defensive squad and the league’s best rebounding team. While down from the season previous, his PER of 16.23 was considerably more than either Dan Gadzuric’s 12.06 or Francisco Elson’s 10.33.

That alone explains Bogut’s incredible value to this team. Gadzuric and Elson will both be back next year as neither of their contracts expires and the production of each player does not merit the money they will be making. When a player has no suitable replacement it makes them that much more valuable. With Bogut in the lineup the Bucks were a team that could at the very least seriously contend for the last spot in the playoffs; without him they looked soft and vulnerable to anyone they were on the court with.

Bogut has the point guardian skill of making the Bucks players better. He also has the Arenasian skill of connecting well with the fans and having a pretty sneaky cool sense of humor. Bogut was on the cutting edge of the Twitter NBA boom and showed serious comedic chops when he busted out his Pitino White Suit.

When Bogut is in the game he opens up the middle for Ramon Sessions to drive. His defender need worry that he’ll finish a play if said defender steps in Ramon’s way because Bogut has such skill around the hoop. Bogut has the presence of space and fluidity that Gadzuric and Elson lack. When he is on the court you don’t see the awkward moves to the hoop and missed opportunities resulting in frustration for the rest of the players on the court. If Sessions knows that his well-intentioned messes inside will be cleaned up by a teammate he can feel significantly more confident on his many forays to the hoop.

2. A Parade of Average Role Players Will Return

The following players are under contract for next season at a cost exceeding their worth: Charlie Bell, Luke Ridnour, Malik Allen (Player Option), Francisco Elson (Player Option), and as always Dan Gadzuric. (I’m not going to say Michael Redd and Richard Jefferson. I’m not saying them because they are not role players, not because they are not seriously overpaid.) What’s unfortunate about this is that it will likely prevent them from taking a flier on a second round pick with promise. Each of these guys offers something with regard to being a veteran or skilled, but they are end of the bench guys, not the entire bench.

Of this group I’d say Ridnour is most likely to go straight up. Allen or Elson have smaller contracts and could be peddled in a bigger deal to match up payroll figures, but Ridnour has six and a half million dollar deal that could be seen as savings for another franchise. He still has value as a backup point guard or possibly a starter if a team is looking for a one year stop gap before someone younger develops. Ridnour showed a spark a few times this season and can be relied on as a free throw shooter and average long range gunner.

Hopefully other GM's leaguewide paid as much attention to the Bucks as the rest of America did and John Hammond can fool someone into taking Ridnour for something of value. He was in the conversation when they were talking about revamping Team USA a few years ago. Can we just promote that a whole bunch?

3. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute Has A Future

Even more than Joe Alexander and Ramon Sessions the Prince will be a certainty for next year. It's likely the Bucks will find a way to bring back Sessions, but Mbah a Moute will be very undervalued for at least one more season, which is key for a franchise as cash strapped as the Bucks are. Mbah a Moute is the best perimeter defender Milwaukee has seen in years and someone for fans to be excited about.

The way he outplayed Alexander all year really created something of a dilemma around these parts. The second round pick was not suppose to look so much better than an athletically superior first rounder, even if he had more college seasoning. He and Alexander both play the same position ideally, but Mbah a Moute showed a lot of grit in being able to move up to the four to play.

Excitement has been rare on 4th street in these last few years, so this youngster's value is hard to measure. He's already a favorite of coach Scott Skiles and is probably the one guy I haven't heard anyone in Milwaukee disparage.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Mr. NBA Milwaukee

Steve Haywood: NBA Fan.

This is what I've been saying for about two years now.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Allure and Sadness of Opening Day

Early April in Milwaukee is a wonderfully awful time.

The beloved Brewers retake the field and the sun begins to peak out from behind the clouds with an idea about how to eradicate snow from the ground. Thermometers begin to creep up over the 50 degree landmark and coats turn into hooded sweatshirts. Friends come back from spring break in much warmer places and complain about how much nicer it was there than here; at least until they have four beers in the parking lot at Miller Park and forget those problems.

And the Bucks, who teeter on the edge of importance in the minds of many all fall and winter, fall out of favor with local fans.

But in step one of a destroy and rebuild type plan that can be expected. The idea behind this season was the change the culture surrounding the team. Yes, the playoffs would have been nice but ultimately this has been a season of analysis. The Bucks now have an idea of who will work within the Scott Skiles defensive-minded system and who does not fit the plan going forward. The players in turn know what is expected from them every night regardless if they are Damon Jones or Richard Jefferson. Everyone will be held to the same standard.

A season wrought with injury may actually have been a blessing in the clever guise of heartache. Without the injuries to Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut it's possible that Charlie Villanueva is not rewarded with heavy minutes. He may still be floundering in a sixth man role, leaving his true potential and abilities a mystery. Now we know that he can fill it up on a fairly consistent basis, even if he isn't going to be a dominant defender and rebounder. Given his position next to a pretty good threat on the boards and defensive end the Bucks may opt to try harder to bring him back now. Combining him with Bogut would give them a potent offensive combo on the front line. Or they may have seene enough to know that they'll be better off with a Paul Millsap/Dejuan Blair type big man who will do all the dirty work to keep Bogut focused on the larger picture.

Redd going down opened up some time on the wings for Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. He forced his way into the lineup earlier with his defense, but he looked even better on the wings than he did playing power forward. If he can learn how to hit a corner three he would be exciting on the court with Redd and Ramon Sessions.

Sessions himself benefited from injuries. Luke Ridnour going down at the start of March opened up the starting point guard spot that everyone was pining for him to take from the break of camp in October. Sessions proved he was a deft assist man and capable of putting up big points if the refs would allow him to get to the free throw line.

The question now lies with what to do with Villanueva, Richard Jefferson and Ridnour. Each man's fit and/or talent level has made them expendable to a degree. They all have value and with a draft pick could allow the Bucks some significant financial savings. Villanueva is the most likely to stay and most likely to leave given that he is a free agent. Teams will be awfully stingy with their cash this year and he may be better off signing a one year tender with the Bucks in hopes of a rebounding economy next year. Jefferson and Ridnour will be interesting to watch this off-season. The financial future of the Bucks lies squarely on the shoulder of those two, as they are productive and expensive. They have the most appeal of players the Bucks are likely to try and shop and very well could be gone on draft day.

Regardless of what happens, the Bucks will be doing everything this off-season with the idea of being relevant next April.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Week Ahead April 5th-April 11th

With four games left until the first season of the Scott Skiles era is over coach Skiles appears to want to make it clear that things will continue to be done his way. After a lethargic effort defensively and offensively in quarter two on Saturday Skiles pulled his favorite move out of his pocket: bench those not giving enough effort to satisfy.

Charlie Villanueva, Richard Jefferson and Ramon Sessions were the men who started half two on the bench. Skiles has been known throughout his career for being as hard as anyone on his guys and that held up Saturday. With the season having slipped away in the last few weeks perhaps this was Skiles letting his guys know that on his squads the players will play hard whether it is game one or game 81 and whether they are playing for playoff position or ping pong balls.

I once heard somewhere that the only thing a coach had at his expense to use for the purpose of teaching players lessons was playing time. This seems accurate. It may have been in David Shields “Black Planet”; largely about George Karl and the 1994-95 Sonics. Karl may have said that, I wish I could remember. Karl was constantly battling with Kendall Gill and used minutes as his weapon. Gill complained up and down about Karl. The next year Gill was gone and the Sonics gave the Jordan and Company a couple of games during the finals of the Greatest Season Ever from the Bulls.

What does this all mean with regard to the Bucks? Maybe nothing; maybe everything, we’ll see where we end up. Ultimately respect of your players is what matters. I think Skiles has that. But he always has that in year one. I’ll hold my judgement until the third and hopefully fourth year. By that time Skiles act has usually worn thin.

I’m banking on Skiles having learned from his past experiences though. Surely he won’t repeat his mistakes for a third time. Between that and the fact that most of the guys who are here now won’t be in three years, I’m really thinking that this whole Scott Skiles thing will have a positive ending.

April 8 vs. Atlanta (43-34)
The Hawks have taken a nice step forward this year. Think of how good they would be if they had an owner. If they had an owner they would probably have Josh Childress, who would fill in nicely over the likes of Mo Evans and Ronald Murray. Murray has been a pretty effective gunner this year. The Hawks might even advance to the second round of the playoffs this year. If Josh Smith can focus in and put it all together for a few weeks they could be a surprise team. The first round battle with Boston last year was the greatest thing that could have happened to this franchise. It seemed to have united them and given them a chip on their shoulder for this whole season. Too bad they don’t have an owner to guide them.

April 11 vs. Oklahoma City (21-54)
Kevin Durant is coming to Milwaukee. Kevin Durant is coming to Milwaukee. Kevin Durant is coming to Milwaukee. Kevin Durant is coming to Milwaukee. Kevin Durant is coming to Milwaukee. And they have Shaun Livingston This, my friends, is must-see TV.

Welcome to Milwaukee Salim Stoudamire

"Who the hell is that dude with the crazy hair next to Bogut?"

That was my first reaction upon seeing last night's game. I obviously hadn't heard the big news. Sharpshooting Arizona guard Salim Stoudamire is a Buck. I love it. No, Salim isn't going to make a huge impact and he might be a bit of a flake, but the man has a skill. There is always room at the end of the bench for players who have a skill.

Be it a defensive specialist, a free throw shooter to ice games, an athlete for energy or a great shooter, if you have one incredible talent you can make an impact.

If you don't believe me watch Kyle Korver on the Jazz.

Stoudamire is a lights out shooter who has drifted around the league finding more problems with coaches than minutes with other players. Everyone deserves a clean slate though. The fact that the Bucks saw someone who had some talent out there and decided to take a shot is encouraging. Why waste the roster spots on the Eddie Gill's of the world when you can take a look at a guy who could fill a specific role on a good team?

Yet another encouraging sign that John Hammond knows what he is doing.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Thoughts During the Joe Alexander Revenge Tour

The Joe Alexander Tour is what I've dubbed the rest of the season.

What is going on right now? I missed the start of the game and I tune in to see the Bucks up 11. It’s probably due to Joe Alexander. (Correction: It is not due to Alexander, but he just put in a nice dunk. RJ and the centers look like they’ve done well early.)

Pau Gasol’s beard makes me scratch my face. He looks like he smokes a pack of cigarettes while he’s at the club listening to techno. Not every European player has this feel, but he does. I love watching him play though, he has a Kukocian ability to make passing look fun.

Alexander is carrying himself with so much more certainty these days and it is paying off. He’s already hit a jumper and took it strong for a dunk.

DJ Mbenga has the biggest head in the NBA and if you don’t believe me get NBA 2K9 and look at his picture.

So far Milwaukee has had as much energy as they’ve had at any point in the last month. I have a hard time believing that they weren’t bringing it because they weren’t playing the Lakers or Celtics every night, I mean they’ve been in the thick of a playoff race all month. What is responsible for the sudden burst in energy the last two games?

Whatever it is that’s gotten into the Bucks it has gotten into them in a major way. Case in point: Charlie Villanueva just took a charge.

Kobe Bryant just held Luc Mbah a Moute’s arm blatantly in front of a ref – to the point both of them were looking at the ref wondering who would get the call – then caught the ball, traveled and hit a fall away jump shot. Fun.

It feels like the wheels are loosening. Seven straight from Odom and Kobe have the Lake show within three. It seems like the Bucks don’t have the necessary tools to get easy shots to continue to drop all game. Today they got off to a good start and were finishing but here we are in quarter two and some of the bunnies aren’t going down. Another question to think about: Is it a lack of talent or fatigue with a lack of depth that keeps them from consistency on the easy shots?

RJ just got fouled and they didn’t call it a shooting foul – despite the fact that it obviously was – and Skiles dropped two or three non-muffled F bombs for the cameras. He’s not afraid to voice his opinion.

57-55 in favor of the Green Guys after one half. I’ll take it. Kobe hasn’t missed yet by the way, 7-7.

Alexander with 11 first half minutes is especially pleasing. I haven’t seen anything out of him lately that makes me think he won’t be a serviceable plus NBA player; I’m thinking a Kerry Kittles type career. With that I’d be okay.

Gadz just picked up his first foul by walking onto the court at the 12:00 mark of the third quarter. He has four. Energy has been the theme in the past two games and Gadz plays a big role in the Bucks energy game. If he misses most of the second half it’ll be all bad for the Bucks.

Kobe finally misses and Gadz gets another dunk on the other end. I’m surprised Skiles has Gadz in there with four fouls. He’s usually an ardent subscriber to the foul trouble removal theory. I guess with Gadzuric he figures let him stay in there and foul out. After Gadz hits a jumper he attempts some sort of spinorama move and makes everyone cringe. To his credit he then runs the floor and gets a lay-up. That’s three straight shots out of Gadzilla.

Bucks pull back out to a six point lead after a breakaway lay-up for Ramon Sessions. Opening back up a mini-lead like that is nice after a battle right before halftime.

The Bucks aren’t giving away this lead easily; every time the Lakers crawl back the Bucks extend things back out to five or six. And I just realized Charlie Bell does not have a knee brace on today. Like no brace at all. Nada. How is that possible? He was wearing a bionic leg earlier this year! He does seem frisky on Kobe, maybe he’s feeling his best. By the time I finished typing that mini-paragraph the Lakers turned a three point deficit into a one point lead.

Elson went down off camera and no one can really say why he went down or what is wrong. Let’s hope the big man is okay.

Bucks are back ahead after a great cut and finish by Sessions and pass by Bell after Alexander did some bumbling. Sessions grabs a rebound before the quarter ends and he’s sitting at 14 points, 13 assists and eight rebounds. Bucks up 81-80 at the end of three.

Alexander starts the fourth with a three as I look up Kerry Kittles stats. Before I finish typing Kittles at he puts up a near air ball on his next three point attempt. Oh well.

Kittles: 14 points and four rebounds per game. That seems about right, give or take a few points and rebounds. I think Alexander will be more active as a shot blocker and perhaps less with regard to steals.

Another charge taken by Charlie V. Milwaukee is fired up. Unfortunately Elson has been escorted to the locker room with what Jim is calling a knee injury. Gadz is in serious foul trouble and so is Charlie V., this could be trouble in the making.

Case in point: Mbah a Moute gets absolutely DUSTED on a spin by Gasol and then fouls him on his dunk. The Lake show is up one after the throw. Gasol takes it back in on the next possession this time against Villanueva resulting in another basket.

Ugh. Kobe gets a lay-up on an inbounds play and gets fouled for the three point play, Lakers are now up six.

Gasol is abusing everyone the Bucks put on him. Gadz came back in and stopped him once but he can only do so much against Gasol. Gasol has got a plethora of post moves and is trying to foul out Gadzuric ASAP.

Kobe takes care of it on a plus one to put the Lakers up 10 with just under four minutes to go. The Lakers have noticeably turned it up on the defensive end and look like they’ve got this one wrapped up.

John and Jim are ecstatic about Sessions triple double. As they should be.

No complaints here. The Bucks played their asses off and had a lead into the fourth quarter. Against a team as good as the Lakers that is all you can ask for at this point. Alexander looked good and bad at the same time usually. Sessions popped his triple double cherry and seems to have found at least some sort of happy medium between shooting jumpers and penetrating.