HANG TIME, TEXAS — Coming off their impressive run to the NBA championship, LeBron James and his Heat teammates are undoubtedly in the firing line with every team from Oklahoma City to New Jersey to a pair of them in Los Angeles taking aim at that title.
The Lakers, reloaded and rejuvenated with the additions of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, are back in their familiar place in the spotlight.
The Knicks, as usual, are in the glare of the media capital and once more under the unrealistic and misguided notion that they can turn the clock back to 1973.
But as we tiptoe through the calendar toward the opening of training camps, there might not be a team sitting collectively in the heat of the frying pan as the Bucks.
Consider that point guard Brandon Jennings has not yet signed a contract extension, while coach Scott Skiles and general manager John Hammond are also entering the final year of their contracts.
“To be honest, I think everybody is (feeling pressure),” Jennings said. “We’re all on the bubble right now, because we need to win. There’s going to be a lot of pressure on all of us, not just the coaching staff or the GM. We all know this could be it so we need to turn it around right now.”
The fact that the Bucks will lead with their miniature backcourt combination of Jennings and Monta Ellis has given fuel to the fire of their skeptics. But Jennings isn’t one of them.
“I really want it to work just personally, because everybody is doubting it,” Jennings said in an interview at his youth basketball camp at Homestead High School on Sunday.
“With everybody doubting it, I think it’s important that me and him, we just work together to show everybody it can work.
“Everybody knows we both can score like crazy. But I think everybody thinks we can’t win together. That’s going to be one of our biggest challenges. I’m up for it and I know he is.”
After Ellis arrived in Milwaukee on March 14 when center Andrew Bogut was shipped to Golden State, the Bucks finished the season 12-9 with the pair in the backcourt. It was good enough to feel somewhat encouraging, but not enough to catch Philly for the final playoff spot.
They re-signed free agent forward Ersan Ilyasova and will now be playing with a pair of veteran centers in Samuel Dalembert and Joel Przybilla. Yet it remains to be seen whether this iteration of the Bucks is capable of taking the next step up.
Jennings is coming off a season in which he started all 66 games and averaged a team-leading 19.1 points and 5.5 assists and was one of only 15 players to start all 66 games in the condensed schedule. He is hoping to get a deal on an extension by the Oct. 31 deadline:
“It would be something I’d love to get done with and over with so I don’t have to worry about it,” Jennings said. “But the main thing is just to come into training camp a better player, a better leader. . . just lead the team to the playoffs.”
Jennings said he believes the Bucks can be a top six team in the Eastern Conference.
“That’s something I’m going to go into training camp talking about with the guys,” Jennings said. “Instead of saying we hope we make the playoffs, we just need to start saying, ‘We’re going to do it.’ “