Bucks’ Neal And His Open Elevator Shaft

Gary Neal hasn't been getting the minutes he expected to get. (D. Williams/Einstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

Gary Neal hasn’t been getting the minutes he’s used to or expected to get in Milwaukee. (NBAE via Getty Images)

MILWAUKEEAnd is better than or, the commercial tells us. That’s what the Milwaukee Bucks had in mind when they signed former San Antonio Spurs guard Gary Neal to a two-year, $6.5 million contract back in July.

In Neal, Milwaukee was getting a 6-foot-4 combo guard with 3-point range capable of starting or bringing firepower and energy off the bench. It also was adding a seasoned veteran who, at age 29, had been a key rotation guy for the San Antonio Spurs with 41 games of playoff experience, including his 24-points-in-25-minutes night in Game 3 of the 2013 Finals against Miami.

A contributor on the court and off it, with skills and intangibles?

“They didn’t hire me as a coach,” Neal said Friday night, effectively slamming the brakes on and.

How ’bout neither?

Right now, that’s what the Bucks are getting from Neal, who logged the 10th DNP-CD of the half-season in their 81-72 loss to the Chicago Bulls at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Eight of them have come in Milwaukee’s past 11 games, and a miserable season for the Bucks overall has been even worse for Neal. He is averaging 10.4 points per game while shooting 39.4 percent in 20.5 minutes, missed two games in December with left plantar fasciitis and otherwise has done a whole lot of sitting.

“I don’t know what their plan is or what Coach [Larry] Drew is doing. So it’s hard to show your experience getting DNPs,” Neal said, in a calm steady voice when asked about his switch of teams prior to Friday’s game. “You can’t say anything when you don’t get in the game. I’m gonna tell somebody to do something, and I ain’t playing?”

A qualifier is in order here: Neal was sought out Friday because of the plummet he has taken in the standings and in status, from his role with a pedigreed organization that came within seconds in Game 6 of an NBA championship to a mere spectator on many nights with the league’s worst (7-28) team.

Generally, he has been a solid citizen about the experience … with the exception of last weekend in Phoenix, when some frustrations within the Bucks boiled over in plain sight of reporters. Neal and center Larry Sanders got into a loud, heated postgame argument in the visitors’ dressing room and needed to be separated. At one point, Neal took a verbal shot at Sanders, yelling, “I earn my money. Why don’t you try it?”

Trouble is, Neal might feel on many nights as if he’s not earning his keep either. Not in the manner he had hoped when he traded NBA penthouse for current outhouse.

“I thought I’d be able to get a consistent 20, 25 minutes a night. But for whatever reason, that hasn’t panned out,” Neal said. “It’s a business. I could have stayed in San Antonio on the qualifying offer, but then you miss out on $6 million. Sometimes all the cards fall in your favor, sometimes they don’t. Right now, it’s hard with the record being [7-28] and my role basically being non-existent. It’s a tough spot. You’ve just got to fight through it.”

Drew, in his first season with a team whose October roster had 11 new faces and only four holdovers, still talks of Neal as the guy the Bucks signed. Or believed they were signing, anyway.

“Any time any player comes from a successful program, I think they have something to offer,” Drew said Friday. “Certainly he’s been in that Spurs system, so he has a great deal to offer. Also from his basketball ability. He’s a shot maker. He’s a guy who can get in a rhythm, he’s a guy who can get on a roll. So whenever he comes into a basketball game, I’m looking for A, B, C and D.”

Uh, Drew might have just misspelled DNP-CD.

Milwaukee does have a crowded backcourt and an array of potential gunners, from Brandon Knight and Luke Ridnour to O.J. Mayo and Khris Middleton. One problem for Neal – for any of them at any given time – is that, other than injuries dictating the rotation, there is no real pecking order to the roster, too much evenness in skills and qualifications. So it’s about numbers and fit, with an overlap of strengths and weaknesses. That typically leads to odd men out, and right now Neal is that guy.

It hasn’t helped that, when he has gotten in games, his stints have been brief and at times he has tried to force results. Though his average minutes are down from his San Antonio days, the undrafted guard from Towson State is seeking his shot a little more – 16.3 FGAs per 36 minutes vs. 14.1 with the Spurs. His 3-point shooting (41.9 percent) has been better than on his 2-pointers (37.8).

“If you look at the stats, I’ve always been a scorer,” Neal said. “I mean, I’m not shooting the ball as good as I would like. But it’s always harder to get in a rhythm when you play those type of, y’know, six or seven spot minutes. The defense has a chance to focus in on you, the shots are harder.”

Again, Neal was talking about his well-compensated humbling because he was asked about it. He said several times he wasn’t trying to tell Drew or Bucks general manager John Hammond how to do their jobs. If that rumor out of the D-League Showcase in Reno proves true – that Neal is being shopped in advance of the February trade deadline, ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reported – the player knows he is just that, a player with a job to show up for every day.

“You don’t want to be a distraction. We have our share of distractions just by losing games,” Neal said. “When you look at [the limited opportunities] and you’re the only guy, coming from a situation where you’ve been on a winner the last three years and you were playing 30 minutes in The Finals, and the team is struggling and you haven’t been told a reason why you haven’t been given those extended minutes, y’know, it can be mind-boggling at times.

“But at the end of the day, you are a professional and you don’t want to be a distraction. So you just show up and hopefully the worm will turn and you’ll get minutes.”

11 Comments

  1. dustydreamnz says:

    Well said Bigmatta.

  2. ash says:

    shoulda stayed with spurs the only team that show up at the playoffs every season

  3. BIGMatta says:

    I dont think Larry Drew is doing a good job at all, his rotations and substitution patterns are all over the shop. Similar to D’Antoni, guys go from playing 20-25 a game to not playing for a long stretch. makes no sense and is the root cause of most of the chemistry and locker room problems. There is the makings of a good solid team here, somethings got to give though. Bring back Karl or get Hollins. Drew has been a failure.

  4. Bucks4Life says:

    If we played Neal, he wouldn’t make as much a difference in determining us winning games. After years of trying to “win now” ending with last summer’s sweep in the first round, it finally caught up with us. We’re starting over, new players, new coaches, new office personnel. His not getting playing time is result of our team not playing well at all together to get everyone solid minutes distribution.

  5. Mike says:

    I hope Neal gets more minutes. He’s an excellent perimeter shooter (one of the only guys in the league capable of consistently nailing turnaround, fadeaway 3s). He also has a handy mid-range jumper, and good ball-handling and decision-making skills. A pure shooter with the ability to play at a back-up PG position. Plus, being a product of the Spurs, he plays good team basketball.

  6. okc2014 says:

    I watched the Bucks last night against OKC. They don’t appear to have good chemistry, many of the player have anger issues, and coach Larry Drew looks, well “constipated”. Correct, there doesn’t seem to be a real star or “leader” here, a player that can inspire, elevate himself and his players, to be the best they can be. I really don’t know what the future will be for the Bucks, except that they will most likely have first lottery pick. And even this has not proven to sprout a better team. Too bad, sooooo sad.

  7. dustydreamnz says:

    I agree, Wolters and Neal deserve more minutes. Henson, Knight and Middleton have been very good. Radjulica has looked good with limited minutes.

  8. RLO says:

    Living in West WI and watching a number of TV games this year, it is disgusting to see this entire org decline as it has. Both Neal and Wolters deserve better. Wolters led them to a 2-2 record and now sits DNP-CD just like Gary. Get a new owner, GM, coaches, and advertisers. Then remove deadwood like Butler, Mayo, Ridnour, and Udoh. Wish Gary and Nate well when they get new teams. Lose weight via nausea right now.

  9. ChrisTx says:

    Best wishes Neal, you should have stayed in SA and may have gotten a ring, with you and Manu and Marco would have been amazing.

    GO SPURS GO

  10. Bersem says:

    Like Sacramento (SF, PG, SG) I really don’t know why Milwaukee signs several players at the same position… quantity instead of quality? There’s no chemistry… The Bucks are fare away to make good results: too many wing players, no “star” able to hire the team to the top. Does Sanders earn his tremendous salary? Is Knight a true orchestrator as a PG? They should try a multitrade player to reorgonize a heavy rooster and bring one or two good players at PG and PF…unfortunately, Milwaukee is a small market and it won’t be easy to attract valuable players

  11. Unkle Daddy says:

    It’s easy to look good with a bunch of hall of famers around you because nobody is watching for you, the game changes when your a good/ok player and your one of the better players on your team. They don’t have a lot of talent and a at best – average coach, what do you want…