Posts Tagged ‘Bucks’

Hang Time one-on-one … with Giannis Antetokounmpo

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Giannis Antetokounmpo gives new meaning to the phrase “pleasant surprise” in a league where there are usually few surprises in terms of player personnel.

There hasn’t been a legitimate Draft stunner since Tony Parker went from a promising international prospect plucked near the end of the first round to perennial All-Star, Finals MVP for the San Antonio Spurs and future Hall of Famer.

It’s probably too soon to go predicting that sort of career arc for the youngest player in the league right now, but no one can deny that Antetokounmpo is a fast-rising star and the clear steal of the 2013 Draft class. The Milwaukee Bucks snatched a potential future superstar with the 15th pick.

The “Greek Freak” joined for the  latest installment of our Hang Time One-On-One series to talk about his game, his role, what he knew about Milwaukee before the Bucks drafted him and what he thinks of comparisons to current superstars like Oklahoma City Thunder MVP candidate Kevin Durant and much more:

VIDEO: The Greek Freak is truly a rising star for the Milwaukee Bucks

Six coaches who did not step up

By Fran Blinebury,

VIDEO: Mike Woodson explains why the Knicks are playing better lately

From the end of last season through the start of training camp there were a record 13 changes in front of NBA benches. While that large turnover practically preludes a similar number of axes falling this season, the world is becoming an increasingly impatient place and there are more than a handful of head coaches that could — or maybe should — be in their last month on the job and heading toward the door. Here are a half-dozen veterans who did not take charge this season:

Rick Adelman, Timberwolves — Nobody should question the ‘X-and-O’ credentials of the the veteran coach with 1,027 wins and an offensive mind who’s been able to make wine out of water with virtually every team he’s coached. But not in Minnesota. There have been legitimate extenuating circumstances with Adelman’s wife, Mary Kay, battling an illness, causing his focus and attention to be split. For whatever reason, the Timberwolves have not sunk their teeth into his teaching and become the playoff team that the league has expected for the past several years. With All-Star power forward Kevin Love heading toward free agency in 2015 — and the needy, glamor puss likes of the Lakers and Knicks salivating over him — the Timberwolves can’t afford another season of misfiring. There’s a need for a new voice, new direction and new promise if there’s any hope of keeping Love around for the long term.

Tyrone Corbin, Jazz — It made sense at the time when veteran Jerry Sloan abruptly stepped down after more than two decades of running the show in Utah that ownership would want to try to keep the position in the family. Loyal soldier Corbin was the most logical choice for the job. There was a period of transition when the franchise was supposedly shifting from bottom rung playoff contender to laying the foundation of a youth movement. This was the season when that young lineup of Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter, Alec Burks and Trey Burke was supposed to begin sprouting. That hasn’t happened and it doesn’t seem that Corbin has a solid plan of what he wants to or a firm hand on the tiller. The Jazz rank in the bottom third of the league in offensive rating and 29th of 30 teams on defense. That could have the likes of Hayward looking to bolt as a free agent this summer, putting a dent in the building process. While general manager Dennis Lindsey can continue collecting Draft picks and adding talent, it’s now equally important to have a new leader to guide them.

Mike D’Antoni, Lakers — It is not realistic to think that Phil Jackson or the reincarnation of Red Auerbach could have made anything out of a Lakers roster that has been, for all intents and purposes, without Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash from start to finish. Yet even when Bryant was healthy a year ago, D’Antoni couldn’t find a way to make the Lakers offense a comfortable place where Dwight Howard might have wanted to stay and this season he’s been a nettle in the side of veteran All-Star and tireless professional Pau Gasol. Will a new coach be able to guarantee that a 35-year-old Bryant can recapture the magic next season or that Nash can squeeze even one more ounce out of his 40-year-old body? Hardly. But if only to send the message that to perhaps the most spoiled fan base in NBA history, it’s time for the Lakers to write off the D’Antoni era as a mistake and turn the page.

Larry Drew, Bucks – The real question should be what were the Bucks thinking by hiring Drew in the first place? It’s not like a track record of crash and burns in the first and second round of the playoffs in Atlanta made him a shooting star in the coaching fraternity. It’s not as if he’d carved out a reputation as a guy who had a distinctive, proven system for success or made a mark as a turnaround artist. Many of the Bucks’ problems run up through a front office that can’t seem to make up its mind about where it’s going and perhaps to club owner Herb Kohl‘s desire to sell the franchise that furthers a sense of instability. Larry Sanders seems to have gone off the rails and the raw talent of Giannis Antetokounmpo could be at risk if somebody doesn’t take control soon. And on top of all that, the Bucks are the worst defensive team in the NBA.

Monty Williams, Pelicans – Everybody from the New Orleans front office to his former mentor in San Antonio Gregg Popovich will swear that Williams has impeccable credentials and all the know-how to be as fine a young coach as there is in the NBA. Trouble is, he’s now finished up three seasons in the Big Easy and over the last two, there hasn’t been consistent or significant signs of progress. A team that was supposed to be at least a rising contender for one of the final playoff berths in the West has never been competitive. Sure, Anthony Davis is a fledgling superstar, but that’s based overwhelmingly on his own talent, confidence and experience. Yes, there have been a litany of injuries this season, but Williams has not been able to get the Pelicans to embrace or play with the defensive passion that he says is the foundation of his philosophy. They again rank near the bottom (27th) in the league. While GM Dell Demps has not exactly dealt him a full house, there’s a growing sense that Williams isn’t playing his cards right.

Mike Woodson, Knicks — Let’s face it. Phil Jackson didn’t take his new job as Knicks savior to come in and just make a couple of cosmetic changes. As soon as the horn ends on this dismal, underachieving season, the Zen Master pulls the lever, the trapdoor swings open and Woodson and any trace of 2013-14 vanishes. The truth is Woodson lost any real hold on his team and the locker room a long time ago and is only finishing out the season while owner James Dolan was negotiating to bring Jackson in as “The Fixer.” Are the rumors true about Steve Kerr? Could Jackson roll the dice and give wannabes Patrick Ewing or Scottie Pippen a chance? Jeff Van Gundy? Stan Van Gundy? Who knows? But if Jackson is going to have any chance of convincing Carmelo Anthony to stick around in New York because a new day is coming, he can’t try to sell him on the past.

It’s Time For New Year’s Resolutions

VIDEO: The Starters review the year so far

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Ring out the old. Ring in the new. As the calendar turns, it’s time for resolutions throughout the NBA:

Atlanta Hawks — Look Back to the Future: This was supposed to be the start of a brand new era for one of the NBA’s most moribund franchises, and things were actually looking good until Al Horford tore a pectoral muscle. With their undersized big man done for the season, the Hawks will only stay afloat because they’re in the horrid Eastern Conference. But they’re going in the right direction under GM Danny Ferry and coach Mike Budenholzer, and will get the lottery pick of the sinking Nets, so there’s reason for hope out of a draft class teeming with talent.

Boston Celtics — Move Fast on Rondo: According to the old saying, you’re either part of the solution or part of the problem. When Rajon Rondo is finally able to get back onto the court and prove that he’s close to his old self, rookie coach Brad Stevens and GM Danny Ainge have to find out right away if he’s mentally ready to anchor the rebuilding project. If not, the Celtics could reap a windfall in new pieces ahead of the trade deadline.

Brooklyn Nets — Fuhgetaboutit: OK, it was a nice little pipe dream to think that a couple of old codgers like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce could shuffle up and down the court in slippers and robes to tangle with the Heat and Pacers. Fortunately, team owner Mikhail Prokorov can afford their salaries with the kind of change he finds in his sofa cushions. Pay them off, send them away and get back to building around Brook Lopez and Deron Williams with players who aren’t signing up for Medicare.

Charlotte Bobcats — Keep Him: For the first time in who can remember how long, Michael Jordan won’t have to spend next summer looking for a coach. The merry-go-round can stop. Steve Clifford has given Charlotte a sense of purpose, respectability and a solid identity on the defensive end. Now they’ve got to work on boosting production out of that woeful offense. One thing at a time.

Chicago Bulls — Play Derrick and the Dominoes: Even Layla couldn’t have knocked the Bulls off their feet like the second straight significant injury to their All-Star, MVP guard Derrick Rose. It might be time to reshuffle the bones on a club that hasn’t even won a conference title and already has significant money locked up in Rose, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson before re-signing Luol Deng to a big contract.

Cleveland Cavaliers — Stop Winning the Draft Lottery: Of course, that would require the Cavs to actually make the playoffs and not qualify for the lottery. This is a team that was supposed to be on the rise with enough young talent to make LeBron James think about returning, but instead has Kyrie Irving trying to do everything, Dion Waiters angry and Andrew Bynum maybe ready to give up the game. Time for an adult to take control here, coach Mike Brown.

Dallas Mavericks — Embrace Reality: It’s a bit ironic that a guy like Mark Cuban that has made a name for himself in the world of reality TV shows rarely faces up to it with the Mavs. He’s fun. He’s entertaining. He’ll say anything, such as there’s no telling whether Houston getting Dwight Howard or Dallas getting Monta Ellis was a better free agent signing last summer. Now go get yourself some defense, Mark, before Dirk Nowitzki winds up running on his tongue trying to outscore everybody.

Denver Nuggets — Respect Yourself: There shouldn’t be a decent team that breaks camp without a solid sense of its identity. A year ago with George Karl pulling the strings from the sidelines and Andre Iguodala setting the pace on the court, the Nuggets had that. Now they are often just a bunch that is stuck in the middle of the pack on offense (18th) and defense (16th) and too often can’t defend its home court.

Detroit Pistons — Say It Ain’t So, Joe: A few years ago, it was signing Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva as big-money free agents. This time GM Joe Dumars figured it would be a good idea to upgrade the Pistons by tossing the combustible Josh Smith onto the fire to light up the frontcourt. So, Smith is already calling out coach Mo Cheeks and the Pistons are backsliding from the .500 mark. Things are getting ugly early again in the Motor City. And, oh yeah, nobody is coming to watch the Pistons, who are last in the league in attendance.

Golden State Warriors — Do the American Hustle: Like the hit movie, was last year’s magical little run through the playoffs by Mark Jackson’s team just one glorious con job? Yes, they’ve played a tough schedule, but something is missing. Lack of last year’s bench? A failure to take care of the ball? You get the sense that the Warriors were just trying to pick up this season right where they left off without putting in all of the gritty groundwork.

Houston Rockets — Rebound, Then Run: Everybody loves watching the Rockets run like methamphetamine-fueled hamsters on a wheel. But for a team that has Dwight Howard in the middle, they are horrible at giving up second-chance points to opponents and it has often proved costly. It’s nice to run, but better not to turn your back and head down the court while the other guy is dropping another put-back into the net.

Indiana Pacers — Don’t Stop Believing: The Pacers came into the season convinced that they could live up to the old axiom of playing them one game at a time and that grind-it-out method would eventually deliver the best record in the league and home-court all the way through The Finals. With Paul George tossing his hat into the MVP ring and Roy Hibbert making opponents ears ring with his physical style, it’s working quite well for coach Frank Vogel’s team.

L.A. Clippers — Say Goodbye to Hollywood: The sooner the Clippers can get rid of all the extraneous things in their game — yes, you, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan — and get down to the serious business of playing some real defense around the basket, the sooner we’ll take them seriously as real contenders in the Western Conference. At this point, despite all the good work by Chris Paul, the Clips are still one of those acts that gets eliminated early on “American Idol.”

L.A. Lakers — Lock Up Kobe: Yes, we know he’s the Black Mamba. We know that he’d be the guy standing out in the rain with a fork and still believe he’d quench his thirst. But the Lakers aren’t going anywhere this season and it doesn’t help their cause for next year if Kobe Bryant returns and pushes himself to the limit again in a debilitating run that winds up far short of the playoffs. It’s time to think about the limited — and high-paying — future he has left. Oh yeah, and trade Pau Gasol.


Money Talks, Asik Doesn’t Walk

Omer Asik's "poison pill" contract may have backfired on Houston (Bill Baptist/NBAE)

The “poison pill” in Omer Asik’s contract may have backfired on Houston. (Bill Baptist/NBAE)

HOUSTON — Follow the money. It’s an adage that’s been around as long as Deep Throat whispering to Bob Woodward in a garage.

The Rockets’ efforts to trade discontented center Omer Asik by their self-imposed deadline this week have ended in large part because other teams are leery of the structure of the Turkish 7-footer’s contract and the cash payments due. As a result, even though the official NBA trade deadline is not until Feb. 20, a league source said Asik could wind up staying in Houston for the length of his deal.

Asik signed a three-year, $25 million contract with the Rockets in the summer of 2012, which included a so-called “poison pill” final season salary of $15 million that was put in place to discourage his previous team, the Bulls, from matching the offer. Even though the money can be spread out evenly over the deal and applied to the salary cap at $8.3 million in the 2014-15 season, many of Houston’s would-be trade partners balked at laying out so much cash for a 25-30 minute per game player.

Asik averaged 10.1 points and 11.7 rebounds while starting all 82 games for the Rockets last season. But he has repeatedly asked to be traded ever since the club signed free-agent center Dwight Howard in July. Coach Kevin McHale tried Howard and Asik together as a Twin Towers combination in the starting lineup to open the season, but pulled the plug on the experiment after eight games when there was little chemistry or effectiveness at both ends of the court.

After Asik begged off playing on Nov. 14 at New York and then repeated his trade request, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey stepped up his efforts to make a deal, talking at times to the Sixers, Celtics, Hawks, Bucks, Cavaliers and others. A deal that would have brought Brandon Bass, Courtney Lee and a draft pick to Houston was discussed more than a week ago and rejected by the Rockets.

Evidently, the more that Morey pressed to move Asik, the more other teams expressed their reticence and began to lower their offers.

A hint that no deal was forthcoming may have come from McHale both before and after Wednesday night’s 109-94 win at home over the Bulls. On two different occasions, the head coach made reference to “when Omer gets back.” Asik has been sidelined since Dec. 2 with a severely bruised thigh that eventually caused a fluid build-up around his knee.

The Rockets would like nothing more than for Asik to accept his role as Howard’s backup, giving them a chance to keep a good rim protector on the court at all times. However, that will require a significant attitude adjustment by the 7-footer who has pouted openly and made no secret of his desire to go to a team where he could be a full-time starter.

There is nothing to stop Morey from continuing to peddle Asik around the league. And the market could percolate as the Feb. 20 trade deadline approaches. But it is that clever contract with the $15 million final year payout that landed him with the Rockets that could keep them stuck with him.

Something Special Going On With Pacers

VIDEO: Paul George leads the Pacers to another big win over the Spurs

SAN ANTONIO — Something is going on here.

The Pacers don’t take the time to stop and admire it. They don’t talk about it and they don’t let it roll around on their tongues like fine wine and savor it. They simply work at becoming more efficient on the offensive end, more suffocating on defense and more prepared for every next step along the road.

That road became a little longer and a little bumpier when their itinerary from Salt Lake City was blown away in the frozen winter storm that iced in their scheduled arrival and forced them to land instead in Houston and form a three busload caravan to reach the next stop in central Texas.

The Pacers barely noticed the hiccup, just as they barely noticed the Spurs racing out to a 13-point lead in the opening minutes of the second quarter on Saturday night.

Something is going on here.

That’s what Paul George said after another one of those splendid efforts that lets him sniff the same rarified MVP candidate air as LeBron James. You can watch him pull up and fire in one more 3-pointer that rifles into the bottom of the next, change direction more times than Shakira’s hips on a drive through the lane for a dunk or pull the defense to him like metal filings to a magnet and then find one of his teammates for an open shot and admire the sight.

Or you can be like George and the Pacers and already have a 111-100 in the rearview mirror and be looking at nothing more than the next step ahead, which just happens to be in Oklahoma City tonight.

So much for the talk of these being Paper Pacers, an 18-2 product of the wretched Eastern Conference. Since leaving home a week ago, Indiana has gone 3-1 through the West, in the process beating the Clippers and now taken a club to the decades-old yardstick of consistency in the Spurs, leading at one point by 26. That was Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili being run ragged out there, not a motley collection of Knicks, Nets and Bucks.

“For anybody to think that we didn’t play anybody, it’s bogus,” George said. “Everybody is professional in this league. Look around the league and teams lost to teams that they shouldn’t have lost to. We just go out and do our business. We handle our job. We were prepared to get a win against on the best teams in this league.”

After letting San Antonio run free and easy through the first quarter, the Pacers applied the defensive squeeze of a python, clogging the paint, contesting shots on the perimeter, putting a hand virtually everyplace the Spurs didn’t want one to be.

Just as impressive was a span from the second to the third quarter when the Indiana offense nearly boiled up right out of the pot. It was a stretch that saw the Pacers score on 17 consecutive possessions, which is sometimes difficult to do even during skeleton drills in practice.

“Our offensive execution,” George said. “That’s one red flag that we’ve have and where we can continue to get better. If we can start executing on the offensive end and not always be relying on our defense to win us games for a full season and the post season.”

He says it all and they do it all matter-of-factly, though quite adroitly with a one through five starting lineup that has no real holes and a bench that is capable if not spectacular. In less than a calendar year the Pacers have gone from a group traveling on a path of discovery to one that’s found an identity, a method and a purpose.

“Last year was a year of a lot of uncertainty, just not being fully together,” George said. “This year we understand what we want to get to and what’s the main goal. That’s winning it all. We won’t go so far as to say it’s a win-or-bust year or anything like that, but we really want to win it all and we’re in a position to do so.

“All last year we felt like we could be one of the elite teams in this league and were going to take the league by storm. But it’s one thing to say it and the next thing is to go out and prove it on the court. I feel like we’ve done that, we’re still doing that and now people have to take us seriously.”

The difference is a year ago they were a group trying to demonstrate to the world and themselves they believed and now they’re simply showing night in an night out they belong. The last time the Pacers had won in San Antonio (2002), the Spurs had hung only one of their four championship banners from the rafters and that was in the Alamodome.

“So yeah, it means a lot,” George said. “Something is going on here.”

New Coaches: Heat Is On Already


HANG TIME, Texas – It’s not very often that 13 different teams decide to change coaches during one offseason. It’s a sign of these impatient times in which we live, especially when six of those teams finished last season with winning records.

It used to be “what have you done for me lately?” Now it’s “what have you done in the last 10 minutes?”

Of course, not every new coaching situation is the same. No one expects a pair of newcomers like Brad Stevens in Boston and Brett Brown in Philly to perform water-into-wine miracles with stripped-down rosters.

Doc Rivers goes coast-to-coast to show a 56-win Clippers team how to take the next step while Mike Brown returns to Cleveland with a roster full of young talent ready to bloom.

However, not everybody gets to settle in comfortably. Here are the five new coaches who’ll find that seat warm from Day One:

Dave Joerger, Grizzlies – Sure, he’s paid his dues and learned his craft in the minor leagues and as an up-and-coming assistant coach in the NBA. All he’s got to do now is take over a club that is coming off the best season in franchise history, including a run to the Western Conference finals. While that means the Grizzlies have a contending core in Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Mike Conley and a supporting cast to repeat their feat, it also means that every decision, every move that Joerger makes from the first day of training camp through the end of the playoffs will be judged against his predecessor Lionel Hollins, who evidently could do everything except make his stat-driven bosses appreciate him. In a Western Conference that just keeps getting stronger, it will be tough enough survive, let alone thrive with a ghost on his shoulder.

Larry Drew, Bucks — After spending three seasons in Atlanta, where he always had a winning record but could never get the Hawks past the second round of the playoffs, Drew moves to a Bucks franchise that overachieves if it climbs into the No. 8 seed to play the role of punching bag for the big boys in the Eastern Conference. Milwaukee has turned over its backcourt from an inconsistent pair of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis to a spotty trio of Brandon Knight, O.J. Mayo and Gary Neal. Rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo has size, athleticism and a bundle of talent. But he’s only 18 years old and the question is whether Drew will be given the opportunity to stick around long enough to watch him grow. The Bucks are one of two teams with plenty of space under the salary cap, but have no real intention of spending it except to get to the mandated league minimum. This is a Bucks franchise that doesn’t have a sense of direction and that hardly bodes well for a coach. It’s not even a lateral move for Drew and could make getting the next job that much harder.

Brian Shaw, Nuggets – After waiting so long to finally get his opportunity to become a head coach, Shaw steps into a situation that is almost the opposite of Joerger. The Nuggets let 2013 Coach of the Year George Karl walk along with Masai Ujiri, the general manager who built the team, and then blew a gaping hole in the side of the 57-win, No. 3 seed in the West roster by letting Andre Iguodala get away, too. Shaw still has Ty Lawson as the fire-starter in the backcourt, but one of these seasons 37-year-old Andre Miller has got to run out of gas. As if the rookie coach didn’t have enough to juggle with the mercurial JaVale McGee, now he’s got Nate Robinson coming off his playoff heroics in Chicago with that ego taller than the Rockies. It’s never a good time to be stepping into a new job when management seems to be pulling back.

Steve Clifford, Bobcats – He’s another one of the longtime assistant coaches that has paid his dues and was ready to slide down the bench into the boss’s spot. But Charlotte? That’s more like the ejector seat in James Bond’s old Aston Martin. The Bobcats have had six coaches in the seven years that the iconic Michael Jordan has been head of basketball operations and then majority owner. From bad drafting (Adam Morrison) to bad trades (Ben Gordon, Corey Maggette), through constant changes of philosophy and direction, the Bobcats simply go through coaches faster than sneakers. Now it’s general manager Rich Cho calling the shots, but that didn’t stop the firing of Mike Dunlap after just one season. Clifford gets veteran big man Al Jefferson to anchor the middle of the lineup, but he’d better have his seat belt fastened tight and watch out for those fingers on the ejector button.

Mike Malone, Kings — Not that anyone expects Malone to be under immediate pressure in terms of wins and losses. What the Kings need now that they have a future in Sacramento is to re-establish a foundation on the court. Of course, the multi-million-dollar question is whether that base will include the talented and petulant DeMarcus Cousins. Everybody knows that he’s physically got what it takes to be a dominant force in the league. But the jury is still out when you’ve played three years in the league and you’re still getting suspended for “unprofessional behavior and conduct detrimental to the team.” Paul Westphal and Keith Smart couldn’t get through to Cousins to make him somebody the Kings can rely on and were spat out. Now as the big man heads toward a summer where he could become a restricted free agent, the franchise needs to know if sinking big bucks in his future is an investment or a waste of time. That’s the intense heat on Malone and the clock will be ticking immediately.

Bucks’ Coach Drew Breaks Down 2013 Draft Pick Antetokounmpo


HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – New Bucks’ coach Larry Drew was most of one continent, an entire ocean and a large portion of another continent away from Milwaukee’s Summer League team. That’s an unusual itinerary for most coaches with a team in Las Vegas in mid-July, and certainly a coach about five weeks on the job and wanting to familiarize himself with the roster.

But this was about Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Antetokounmpo is the No. 15 pick in the draft, the small forward with ball-handling skills but practically no experience against anything better than the equivalent of Division II in the United States colleges. He’s an intriguing prospect who recently arrived in Milwaukee with little connection to anyone outside Europe. He was a high-risk, high-reward choice by Milwaukee. And when he couldn’t join the Bucks for Summer League because of a commitment with one of the Greek junior teams, the Bucks went to him.

Drew watched Antetokounmpo play for Greece in the European under-20s championships is Estonia and, just as important, got the kind of bonding time that was not available before the draft. The updated read was valuable and realistic: Antetokounmpo may not be ready to contribute as a rookie with the Bucks trying to remain in the playoff pack – an opinion echoed by many around the league that he has real potential but needs a lot of time – but there is an emotional toughness that should carry him through the transition.

Here’s the full Drew perspective after returning from Estonia and with Antetokounmpo now in Milwaukee, where he sat down with Hang Time:

Question: What did you learn that you did not already know?

Answer: I didn’t know much about Giannis, I didn’t know much about his game. I watched a lot of tape on him, just trying to get a feel for who he was as a basketball player. Sometimes watching on film, you don’t get the true essence. It’s not like being there. When I heard that he was going to be playing in the 20-and-under tournament, I had to make a decision on whether to miss our summer league or to go over and watch Giannis, get a chance to watch him in person. I really thought that would be more valuable, at least for me, to go and see him face to face, live and in person, to get a real feel for who he was as a ball player. In going over there, I really didn’t know what to expect. From all the things that I saw on film, he seemed to be a really unselfish player, a really good passer. Watching him on tape, I thought his shot was a little funky. But watching him in person, he’s got a nice shot. It’s just a little bit of a slow release.

Q: Personality is obviously going to play a big role in this. He’s going to be facing challenges on and off the court he never has before. What did you learn about his attitude?

A: He’s going to face some hard moments. That’s part of the growth process.

Q: But more than a player coming from a U.S. college after a freshman or a sophomore year. Is it a bigger issue with him because he never faced anything close to this level of competition.

A: I agree with you on that. But I think this kid is pretty driven. He wants it. He hasn’t faced this level of competition, not where he’s from. That’s why it’s going to be important, especially with our team, our organization, that we nurture him along the way and that he understands that there’s going to be some peaks, there’s going to be some valleys. Players are going to come at him. No doubt about it. But he is the type of kid who embraces a challenge. He doesn’t shy away from a challenge. Physically, he’s got to get bigger, he’s got to get stronger. But it’ going to our job, our responsibility, to nurture him along and help him through those difficult times.

Q: What is realistic for this season? You guys are trying to make the playoffs. Is he someone you can count on right away or are we looking at more of a project?

A: That remains to be seen. A lot depends on how fast he develops. A lot depends on is he equipped, is he built for the NBA when the season opens? We’re going to bring him along slowly. We’re going to see just where he ends up. We’re not going to try to force him or push him into anything. I want this to be a real graceful process for him, a graceful process for us. We have to allow him to develop. If he develops at a good pace, maybe he is somebody that will get some playing time. But right now it’s really hard to say. We’re in the infancy stage of this thing. He’s here now working out, lifting weights. We’re trying to put a little more weight on him. We’ll just have to wait to see how this whole thing unfolds.”

Q: So it’s tough to say at this point whether you can get a dependable 18 or 20 minutes a game from him as a rookie?

A: I couldn’t honestly say that will be the case as far as him getting 15 to 20 minutes. That’s a hard question to answer right now.

Q: With his unique skill set, how do you as a coach envision using him?

A: He’s a terrific ball-handler for his size. He handles the basketball very well. When I first watched him play, the first thing I said is he’s a point forward because he has size (6-9) and he handles the ball in the open court. If he continues to improve there, I could see him being somewhat of a point forward. Somebody that can initiate an offense, somebody that can be in the middle of a fastbreak. He certainly looks comfortable doing that. He hasn’t done it on our level yet, though. That’s something that we’re going to have to nurture along. He certainly has the tools. He certainly has the skills. One thing I did notice about him, when he is in the open court with the basketball, he’s not just a gifted passer, but he’s a willing passer. He doesn’t try to over-dribble. He gives it up in a timely fashion. His skill is very unique and what he does for his size. I see him as a guy you can possibly put at the top of the floor, somewhere he’s allowed to handle the basketball, because he certainly, for his size, does a good job with that.”

Q: Could you ever see him as a full-time point guard once he gets the experience, once he gets stronger, or is that unrealistic?

A: Right now I would say that’s unrealistic. I would probably go as far as just calling him a point forward. With his size, with his ability to handle, he does a good job in his decision-making and delivering the basketball. I would classify him closer to being a point forward.

Q: Does Giannis compare to anybody or remind you of anyone?

A: Not really. I think when you watch him play and when you look at his size, his body frame, particularly when he’s in the open court, I see a little bit of (Kevin) Durant, sort of. Just because he’s thin, has long arms, 6-9, and the way he gracefully moves into the open court. I’m not saying he has Durant’s game. But just the way he moves in the open court, I see some similarities.”

Q: You played with a tall point guard with the Lakers. Do you reach out to Magic Johnson and say, “Can you have a conversation with Giannis?”

A: Not at this point. Earvin and I, we still maintain contact. Not necessarily for the individual. Maybe for our team as a whole, but not for the individual.”

Q: How do you mean?

A: Just have him come in and talk to the players, our entire team.

Q: Have you done that yet?

A: No I have not.

Q: You would like to?

A: Possibly.

Q: What do you see Magic brining in a conversation?

A: A winning attitude. He’s experienced winning at the highest level. I know players do look up to him in the highest regard. To have a guy like that speak to your team, I think that speaks volumes.

Neal, Bucks Agree To Two-Year Deal

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – It took a little while, but Gary Neal has finally found a comfortable landing spot. The former San Antonio Spurs’ sharpshooter agreed to a two-year deal with the Milwaukee Bucks worth a reported $3.25 million per season, according to the Journal Sentinel.

With their point guard situation still in flux, they extended a qualifying offer to Brandon Jennings making him a restricted free agent this summer, Neal gives bucks coach Larry Drew another seasoned offensive weapon to work with at shooting guard. The Bucks added O.J. Mayo earlier this summer. They also presented restricted free agent point guard Jeff Teague with a four-year, $32 million offer sheet that the Hawks matched.

Neal’s most recent and perhaps best career highlights came last month in The Finals, during the epic seven-game series between the Spurs and Miami Heat. He scored a playoff career-high 24 points in a Game 3 blowout of the Heat, nailing six 3-pointers in that contest as he and Danny Green combined for 51 of the Spurs’ 113 points.

Neal, 28, averaged 9.7 points and shot 40 percent from beyond the 3-point line in three seasons with the Spurs.

The Bucks, who lost J.J. Redick (to the Los Angeles Clippers) and Mike Dunleavy (to the Chicago Bulls) in free agency, were in need of a someone who could provide an offensive spark off of the bench. Neal is the sort of fearless, big-game performer Bucks general manager John Hammond was looking for.

There is still business for the Bucks to tend to, of course. They have to figure out what to do, if anything, with Jennings. As it stands, he’s set to return to his starting point guard spot for the 2013-14 season. He would then become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2014.

Hawks Match Bucks’ Offer To Teague


HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Jeff Teague won’t be leaving Atlanta for Milwaukee after all.

The Hawks matched the Bucks’ four-year, $32 million offer sheet before the midnight deadline, keeping their starting point guard, who was a restricted free agent.

The Hawks had no choice but to match the offer sheet Teague signed Wednesday, a move first reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Even with Teague expressing his desire to play elsewhere to Hawks general manager Danny Ferry, the Hawks had to match the offer.

They didn’t have an experienced backup that could take over for Teague if he was allowed to go to Milwaukee. Veteran combo guard Lou Williams is coming back from a season-ending knee injury. First-round Draft pick Dennis Schroder is a prospect and not ready for a starting role as a rookie. And free agent guard Devin Harris, who started games in the backcourt with Teague last season, had already agreed to a three-year deal with the Dallas Mavericks (before both sides backed out of that deal when it was discovered that Harris would need surgery on his toe and be out of action potentially through training camp).

First-year Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer will have enough of a transition to deal with after coming over from the San Antonio Spurs, trying to make that move without an experienced point guard would only have made that process more difficult.

In Teague, Budenholzer has an experienced but still relatively young (25) point guard to run his system. Teague averaged 14.6 points and a career-high 7.2 assists during the 2012-13 season, guiding the Hawks to their sixth straight playoff appearance under former Hawks — and now Bucks — coach Larry Drew.

Drew and the Bucks have a restricted point guard of their own to deal with in Brandon Jennings. There were rumblings that the Hawks and Bucks were engaged in discussions about a restricted free agent point guard swap of sorts, but those talks clearly never reached the serious enough stage for the two teams to work anything out.

While the Bucks continue to ponder what they’ll do with Jennings, the Hawks’ decision on Teague has been made. He’ll continue in his capacity as the starting point guard for the team that selected him with the 19th pick in the 2009 Draft.

Report: Teague Signs Bucks’ Offer Sheet

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – First it was Larry Drew, then Zaza Pachulia and perhaps now Jeff Teague, who will leave Atlanta for Milwaukee.

Drew, the former Hawks head coach, no doubt played a significant role in the Bucks adding Pachulia in free agency and certainly instigated the Bucks’ presenting Teague, a restricted free agent, with a reported four-year, $32 million offer sheet that has been signed already, a deal first reported by Yahoo! Sports.

The Hawks have three days to either match the offer or Teague will rejoin his former coach and teammate in a Bucks uniform. The Bucks have a restricted free agent point guard of their own in Brandon Jennings. The two teams had discussed possible sign-and-trade deals involving the two players, and veteran free agent guard Monta Ellis, but those talks never produced a substantive deal.

A two-year starter, Teague averaged 14.8 points and a career-high 7.2 assists this season for a Hawks team that made a sixth consecutive trip to the playoffs. While he doesn’t carry the household recognition that Jennings does, due mostly to the way Jennings entered the league (after a year of post-high school work in Italy), he’s every bit the athlete and arguably a more polished player at this stage of their respective careers.

Teague, 25, is also two years older and certainly sturdier at 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, nearly 30 pounds heavier than Jennings. The fact that the Bucks and Hawks explored trade opportunities says something about the value both franchises placed on their incumbents. You can debate which one of them is the better player right now, as plenty of fans and pundits have already, but Teague is the only one with a signed offer sheet today. And the fact that it’s from the team Jennings has started for the past four seasons speaks volumes not only about that debate but also about what sort of market there is for restricted free agent point guards this summer.

While neither one of them is considered to be among the elite at one of the most crucial positions in the league, the Bucks’$8 million a year offer to Teague indicates they believe he’s more than capable of replacing Jennings and providing an upgrade at the position. His familiarity with Drew’s system also gives the Bucks an inside advantage that wouldn’t be there otherwise.