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Archive for June, 2011

I can’t believe the volume of rumors flying around the Milwaukee Bucks right now. They were supposed to do something at the trade deadline–they sat still. They weren’t supposed to be in this lottery, and their tenth pick wasn’t even supposed to be that valuable in a down draft–suddenly the mid/late lottery is where everybody wants to be.

In actuality, it’s not a bad situation to find yourself in if you’re John Hammond. This is a team that feels confident it can compete in the Eastern Conference when healthy, and I’m inclined to agree. It’s a top-10 defense that can at least be average on offense if guys just hit open shots. I wouldn’t characterize the roster as one with major holes as much as small depressions. That means you can afford to roll with the punches as the picks fall. But it also means deciding whether you want to continue building around the pieces in place or maximize the assets you currently have. And you have to be confident in that choice.

Milwaukee is going to be supremely influenced by what happens ahead of them in the draft. Anytime the plan revolves around a “best player available” approach, you always have to consider what happens if a highly-ranked prospect falls. There’s also a ton of potential trades on the radar. For these purposes, I’m going to imagine that all of these trades are on the table for Milwaukee to sign off on. As such, I think the best way for me to suss out my ideal Milwaukee Bucks draft scenario is through a priority-style explanation. Here we go:

Priority #1: Draft Jonas Valanciunas if available

I’d pretty much completely talked myself into Colorado SG Alec Burks with the #10 pick until a day or two ago, when it was revealed that Valanciunas’s buyout situation was a minor mess. If that kills his 2011 stock to the point that he drops all the way to 10, I don’t know if he can be passed up. We’re talking about a true 7-footer who rebounds well, loves running pick & roll, and hits his free-throws like a point guard. Even if you don’t see him for a year, isn’t that worth it, especially if this season is truly in jeopardy due to the lockout? You’re also given the option of dangling him out for the highest bidder, and there are sure to be interested parties. I think the value of getting this guy at 10 is just too great.

Priority #2: Maximize first-round picks in this draft

If Valanciunas isn’t there, my first instinct is to say, “just grab Burks and be done with it.” But I can’t help feeling like there is a way to maximize the value of a suddenly-popular tenth pick and still grab Burks a few spots later. My favorite rumored deal for doing so would have Milwaukee sending the 10th pick and Ersan Ilyasova to the Houston Rockets in exchange for the 14th and 23rd picks plus Patrick Patterson. I’d love this deal, as I don’t think Ilyasova has much production in him beyond what the Bucks have already seen, whereas Patterson could be a very productive (if non-star) player for many years. The Bucks (and I) wanted him in last year’s draft anyway.

The other option that has been tossed around would send the 10th pick and Drew Gooden to the Knicks for the 17th, Ronny Turiaf, and Toney Douglas, but it’s contingent on Jimmer Fredette being available at 10. I’m not so hot on this for a few reasons: 1) I think the current trade climate is a good market for Milwaukee to acquire assets, not dump debts, which is what this is (the only reason Milwaukee makes this trade is to get rid of Gooden’s bad contract), and 2) I still think Gooden can be a reasonably productive player, and have no problem with a Gooden/Larry Sanders/Patterson PF rotation. Speaking of which…

Priority #3(a): Trade Ersan Ilyasova for a first-round pick this year or next

If Ersan isn’t moved in the Houston trade described above, I’d love to see him flipped for a first-round pick. This could go a number of ways, including independent of a straight pick swap with Houston in which Milwaukee trades 10 for 14+23, then packages the 23rd pick with Ersan to move back into the teens. If nobody’s biting on a deal in this year’s draft, there’s always the video-game strategy: try to predict who’s gonna be bad next year and grab their first-round pick. With the 2012 Draft supposedly stacked with talent, any such pick is likely to be top-10 or lottery protected, but even if you land a pick in the teens, it could be a huge boost.

Priority #3(b): Get Alec Burks…somehow

If any deal involving Ersan eventually nets the Bucks Alec Burks, I’ll be happy. I don’t know if the Bucks are totally sold on Burks, but I am. I talked myself into him a week ago, for better or worse, and I don’t think I can be talked out of him now. Until the Valanciunas news dropped, I was on board with him over anybody else likely to be available at 10. But while I think Jonas’s value is too great to pass up if available, I still want the Bucks to make an aggressive play on Burks. Maybe you can get him at 14 if Houston does the pick swap, but I could see Golden State, Utah, and Phoenix all snagging him depending on how the board played out ahead of them. If it means swapping 14 and 40 to move up with one of them, I think I’d do it, and I might consider 14 and 23 if something else came back. Either way, I just want Alec Burks.

Priority #4: Dump Gooden, Salmons, or Maggette’s contracts

I don’t think getting rid of these contracts should be a particularly high priority, and I’m glad to see that John Hammond has emphasized upgrading the team over dumping salary. With Michael Redd’s massive contract coming off the books, the Buck’s cap situation is very unlikely to be a serious issue in the next few years, especially considering they aren’t going to make any big plays in free-agency. Still, if Milwaukee’s options disappear, likely due to any desired players getting selected in front of them, there’s no reason to not explore options of trading back and unloading a contract. If a capable 4 can be acquired, Gooden is probably the most pertinent guy to move, but it would be tough to do so without some sort of contingency plan on the roster–otherwise we’re likely headed for additional time with Mbah a Moute starting at PF, which minimizes his value.

The truth is, John Hammond could absolutely crush this draft if he plays his cards right. Milwaukee could walk away with a very nice core of young players to develop. The bad contracts remain an issue, but Milwaukee’s roster has the talent to compete in the Eastern Conference next year. They’re not championship contenders just yet (and Hammond would be wise to acknowledge that), but Milwaukee has the chance to come out of this summer in much better shape than they went in.

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By popular account, the Lakers got obliterated in the playoffs this year because their defense fell apart, their stars didn’t perform at star levels, and because they had no trust in each other. Those reasons all seem plausible, though perhaps in different ratios than suggested in the screenplay that is so often Lakers coverage. The stories are easier to believe when plainly visible on the court: Dallas averaged an excellent 113.8 ORtg during the second-round series; Kobe and Pau Gasol were inefficient and ineffective. But the trust issues? Those were more subtle. Scowls and body language don’t always get picked up by television cameras; sound bytes get taken out of context and overblown. Still, I don’t doubt that they exist–the personalities and relationships of the Lakers are well documented.

So did we see the same thing out of the Miami Heat? In Game 2 of the NBA Finals? Smart basketball minds had little difficulty spotting the disaster they were creating for themselves even as it was happening. “Hero ball” took over and the points stopped coming. There was no chemistry, no semblance of order or purpose, just basketball players (albeit a few very very good ones) telling everyone and each other, “I got this.” What resulted was one of the most stunning collapses/comebacks (I suppose it depends on which camp you’re in) in Finals history.

Is there writing on the walls? If so, I’d warrant the paint is still wet.

LeBron James has stirred his fair share of controversy in the NBA, and not just in the past 10 months. But trust issues? Was there ever an inkling of dissension in the ranks, at least among the players, that threatened to derail a team of his? I’ve always imagined issues on or off the court being easily remedied by each player sticking his friendship ring into a circle and giving a loud, “huzzah!” It was so visible in Cleveland. The elaborate handshakes, the choreographed introductions and celebrations, it all pointed to a tight-knit basketball commune, bearing serious resemblance to the teams of the old Soviet Union who basically grew up together. It’s a departure from Jordan’s fiery intensity that is oh so relevant in the Great Debate. LeBron is praised for his distribution as much as his scoring; he elevated players to levels hitherto unknown (if you’ll forgive the narrative standby). It was still LeBron & the rest as far as talent and responsibility were concerned, but one man does not a basketball team make.

Unfortunately, that saying still holds true for three people–two if you trust Carlos Boozer. Yet that’s exactly what the Heat turned into Thursday night. It was subtle, again, but it was amplified by its results. What was first hinted at with Dwyane Wade refusing to give the ball up to Mario Chalmers during a two-on-one (he scored anyway, for the record) rapidly evolved into a me-against-the-world approach to basketball. And it failed, miserably. Chris Bosh was essentially frozen out of the offense in the last few minutes, and while he’d had an awful offensive game to that point, he remains the Heat’s third-best player by a wide margin. LeBron and Wade mixed dribbling with stepbacks and long threes. Even on the last play of the game, Chalmers–the guy who was 6 percentage points better from behind the arc than Wade this season, and had tied the game a possession earlier–was left largely uncovered just a step behind the arc. Time constraints obviously limited his involvement, but even if there was another second or two on the clock, is anyone confident Wade would’ve given that ball up?

The top guns of the Miami Heat seemed convinced that they were the only ones who could deliver victory in Game 2. These are the same guys that won just about every game for the Heat to this point, but it didn’t come off as confident in Game 2. It came off as stubborn, arrogant even, if you prefer to read that far into things. The supporting cast in Cleveland wasn’t great, but they certainly eclipsed their Miami counterparts. Maybe that talent disparity is enough to discourage the kind of cooperation that formed the norm in Ohio? Or maybe it borne solely of confidence, perhaps overblown by the very heroics that carried Miami to where they are now. It shouldn’t matter. The Heat are headed to Dallas with a “1-1” scratched into the whiteout covering the spot where “2-0” was penned in. They’re in this situation because of something that had previously been a non-issue. That’s enough to be worried about.

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