Posts Tagged ‘Ersan Ilyasova’

Playoffs? Bucks Don’t Seem Interested

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Whatever lack of enthusiasm or even dread the Milwaukee Bucks might be feeling about their rapidly approaching postseason public flogging is entirely understandable. Assuming the Bucks do eventually nail down the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference bracket, their reward will be worse than a lump of coal or a Miss Congeniality award.

They’ll get to face the Miami Heat in a best-of-seven series, requiring them to endure four spankings as the NBA’s defending champions rev up for their title defense.

So yeah, we get it. It’s not much to look forward to. But the way the Bucks have gone about their business lately, you’d think Milwaukee would rather not participate in the playoffs at all. There are several teams headed for the lottery, but playing smarter and harder than Milwaukee lately, that look as if they’d appreciate the opportunity more and give a better showing than the Bucks. Orlando, for one, bad as its record is. Minnesota, for another.

Losers in seven of their past 10 games heading into Saturday’s home clash with Toronto and just 4-10 since a moderately encouraging 2-1 West Coast trip a month ago, the Bucks have been busy fulfilling all the concerns about them when the year began. And squandering what was a legit chance to move up to No. 7 by catching Boston.

The dynamic backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis is undersized and defensively challenged. On too many nights, there’s a your-turn, my-turn pattern to their offensive probes, and a disjointed or absent playmaking that has Milwaukee’s frontcourt players all too happy to come off the bench if it spares them some standing around with that starting duo.

Short-timers abound, in contract terms, and the resultant lack of cohesiveness and long-term vision predictably has followed. Jennings is headed to restricted free agency and has handled it poorly, pouting in or after games, through actions or words, more like an immature rookie than a fourth-year floor leader. Ellis can opt out of his deal and, at times in the past month, has played as if on a salary drive.

Samuel Dalembert, acquired to stem some bleeding up front, was needed less once Larry Sanders finally got traction this season. So first coach Scott Skiles and then replacement Jim Boylan warehoused Dalembert – over there on the bench next to drydocked Drew Gooden.

Dalembert’s deal is up once the Bucks head into summer, as is Mike Dunleavy‘s, as is J.J. Redick‘s, who probably will test the free-agent market and revive criticism that Milwaukee maybe gave up too soon on the small forward shipped to Orlando in that deal, Tobias Harris.

Ersan Ilyasova only recently has played up to the deal he landed last summer in free agency. Sanders reverted to some bad tossed-from-games-habits in a recent stretch. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute was hurt less and in better shape before he got paid a couple years ago. Whatever bump the Bucks got from parting ways with Skiles appears to have been temporary – they’re 20-23 under Boylan – and the defense (104.1 ppg over the past 14) hardly is Miami-ready

Meanwhile, the locker room has been light and largely unaffected by all of the sputtering. During postgame media time Wednesday, after the loss to the nowhere-bound Timberwolves, somebody kept humming the tune of “The Final Countdown,” loud enough to be picked up in audio reports. Their third-quarter collapse at New York on Friday kept their magic number for clinching the playoff spot at two.

They’ll get it soon enough. But it’s too bad the NBA has no surrogate system, in which the disinterested Bucks players could vote someone pluckier and more eager to take their place in the first round. The way they’re going, the playoffs will be an opportunity wasted on them.

Morning Shootaround — March 18

Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.

The one recap to watch: We tend to like the closer games as our nominees for the one to watch each morning, but we’re going with a game that, score-wise, wasn’t so pretty. Still, last night’s Rockets-Warriors game was worth watching for several reasons: two teams fighting it out for the right to avoid San Antonio or Oklahoma City in the first round, Golden State with revenge on its mind for the rout Houston put on them the last time at Toyota Center and a chance to see some good young talent (James Harden, Steph Curry, Omer Asik, David Lee, et al) square off. Save for a Rockets surge in the third quarter, the Warriors never really lost control of this one and won in a rout, strengthening their grip on the No. 6 seed out West.

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News of the morning

Bryant to sit out vs. Suns | Rose added 3-point shot during rehab | Lakers may be Hill back by playoffs | Ilyasova finds his groove again with Bucks | Marbury to coach in China?

Bryant doubtful vs. SunsSince injuring his ankle on a potential game-winning shot in Atlanta on Wednesday night, Kobe Bryant has played 12 minutes, gone 0-for-4 from the field and sat out one game (Sunday, a win over the Kings). It appears Bryant won’t be suiting up anytime soon, writes Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register, and that Bryant is unlikely to play in the Lakers’ next game:

Kobe Bryant’s sprained left ankle didn’t feel strong enough for Bryant even to test it on the court Sunday before skipping the Lakers’ game against Sacramento.

Bryant is considered doubtful to play Monday in Phoenix, according to a Lakers spokesman.

If Bryant doesn’t play against the Suns, he will have three more days of rest and treatment before the Lakers play their next game Friday night against Washington.

Two days after that is the Lakers’ only multigame trip left this regular season: at Golden State, Minnesota, Milwaukee and Sacramento.

Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni had expected Bryant to test the ankle in the hours before the game vs. the Kings on Sunday night, but Bryant opted to save the effort given the minimal chance he would actually play vs. Sacramento, which was shorthanded without leading scorer DeMarcus Cousins (quadriceps).

It was Bryant’s first game of the season not playing. He played one quarter on the ankle in Indiana on Friday before telling Lakers coaches: “I can’t go.”

Jodie Meeks was the replacement starter at shooting guard in Bryant’s place Sunday night, though D’Antoni said he has already learned not to count Bryant out too early.

“I didn’t think he had any chance (Friday in Indiana), and he played,” D’Antoni said.

Bulls’ Rose adds more consistent 3-pointer to arsenalEntering the 2010-11 season, Derrick Rose was a career 24.2 percent shooter from 3-point range and had made 32 3-pointers in his career. That season, the one in which Rose was named league MVP, he showed off a 3-point stroke that had him making a respectable 33.2 percent of his attempts and 128 total 3-pointers. Though he fell back a little bit last season (54 3-pointers made, 31.2 percent), Rose had become a serviceable 3-point shooter. After suffering a season-ending ACL injury in the 2012 playoffs, Rose has been rehabbing away, and, not surprisingly, adding to his game. Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports reports that Rose has put in particular work to make his 3-point shooting game as consistent as possible:

Rose hasn’t played since tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in the playoff opener against the Philadelphia 76ers on April 28. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau says the franchise is not pressuring Rose to return.

“This kid has done everything to come back,” Thibodeau told Yahoo! Sports. “When he is ready, he’ll be ready and we will know. He is getting closer. We don’t want him out there unless he’s completely comfortable. He’s handled his part great. Everyone has to remain patient, let him work through it and he’s going to be fine.”

Rose has not shot over 35 percent from 3-point range in his NBA career, but during his layoff he has spent time working on his 3-pointer and says he’s more confident in it now. The right-handed shooter also has been working on his left-handed runner shot. If Rose’s athleticism is close to what it was with his improved shooting, he can be even more dangerous offensively than he was before.

“I see his improvement each and every day,” Thibodeau said. “And as I’ve told him, we’ve waited this long and we don’t mind waiting until he is completely comfortable to play. And if that means a couple more games, five games, whatever it is. And that would be for any player, we don’t want to put someone out there that is not comfortable with being out there.”

“You can only imagine what [Rose] would bring,” teammate Carlos Boozer said. “You can’t even put that into words. If you get an MVP player like him back it changes your whole outlook.

“Remember, last year before he got hurt we were thinking we were going to be the champs. We felt we had every component to be champions last year.”

Lakers’ Hill may be back for playoffsDespite an ankle injury to Kobe Bryant that sidelined him for Sunday’s game against the Kings, the Lakers topped Sacramento to maintain their ever-so-slight lead over Utah for the West’s N0. 8 seed. The Lakers have been shackled by depth issues all season, some of which began when young forward Jordan Hill had hip surgery in early January and was thought to be done for the season. Turns out, Hill is healing up nicely and could be on the active roster once playoff time rolls around, writes Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News:

It remains a long shot, but Lakers forward Jordan Hill said doctors have told him there’s a slim possibility he could return in late April or early May after spending the past two months rehabbing from a surgically repaired left hip.

Hill said he’s been off crutches for the past three weeks has performed exercises on bike and elliptical machines. Though he’s occasionally come out to the practice court at the Lakers’ training facility dressed in basketball gear, Hill says he hasn’t performed any basketball exercises.

Hill said he plans to meet with team doctors in three weeks to reevaluate the possibility he’d return assuming the Lakers remain in the playoffs by then. The Lakers (35-32) have a half-game lead over the Utah Jazz (34-32) for the eighth and final playoff spot. The Lakers play their last regular-season game April 17 against the Houston Rockets. Assuming the Lakers make the playoffs, their best-of-seven first-round series would start at an away venue either on April 20 or 21st.

After having surgery Jan. 23 on his left hip, the Lakers expected Hill to stay sidelined for at least six months. Hill injured his left hip in the Lakers’ loss Jan. 6th against the Denver Nuggets. He had appeared in 29 games averaging 6.7 points and 5.7 rebounds in 15.8 minutes.

“People keep forgetting about Jordan Hill,” Lakers guard Kobe Bryant recently said. “We’re missing him. He’s a big part of our team. What he does on the glass and his ability to stretch the defense, he’s a really big part of what we do defensively as well.”

Ilyasova in rhythm again with BucksAfter a breakout campaign a season ago in Milwaukee, Ersan Ilyasova became one of the marquee free agents of the summer of 2012. Although some teams showed interest in the multi-faceted forward, he eventually re-signed with the Bucks for four years and $31.6 million. But Ilyasova struggled to regain his form from a season ago and was often on the outs with former coach Scott Skiles early in the season. In a great feature on not just Ilyasova’s season, but his overall NBA career, the Racine Journal-Times’ Gery Woelfel looks at how the Bucks’ big man has switched his fortunes:

After a sluggish start to this season, when former Bucks coach Scott Skiles shuffled him in and out of the starting lineup while reducing his minutes, Ilyasova is thriving for the 32-32 Bucks, who hold the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

While he is averaging 12.3 points and 6.7 rebounds for the season, Ilyasova has scored at least 19 points in eight of the last 13 games. That included a 29-point, 11-rebound outburst against Toronto and a 26-point, 17-rebound outing against the reigning NBA champion Miami Heat Friday night.

Jim Boylan, who promptly inserted Ilyasova into the starting lineup when he assumed the head coaching reins, is delighted with his young starting power forward.

“Ersan has been really, really consistent with his scoring, his effort, his rebounding,” Boylan said. “He’s done so much for us. When we didn’t have him for those games (against Golden State and Sacramento last week), it showed how much we missed him.

“It’s incredible the amount of progress he’s made as a player.”

Boylan is more impressed with Ilyasova’s growth off the court.

“Ers came from a foreign country into a new environment,” Boylan said. “ I played myself over in Europe. I lived in another country (Switzerland) for six years, so I understand Ers’ situation. People think it’s easy to come in and hit the ground running. It isn’t.

“So to see how far Ers has come is amazing and a credit to him.”

Marbury to help coach Chinese national team?Stephon Marbury hasn’t played in the NBA since a 23-game stint with the Celtics during the 2008-09 season (remember that?). Since then, Marbury has made a name for himself playing for the Bejing Ducks in China, leading them to a championship in 2012. His team is out of the playoffs after losing in the semifinals, but Marbury reportedly has a new gig to fulfill. According to Niubball.com, Marbury says he will serve as an assistant coach for the Chinese national team:

In an interview on BTV, the 36 year-old guard announced that he will serve as an assistant coach for Beijing as they prepare to participate in the 2013 China National Games. He will work under his CBA head coach Min Lulei, who serves the same position for the Beijing Ducks.

The National Games, which happen once every four years, are completely separate from the Chinese Basketball Association season. As a sort of intra-China Olympics, the National Games pit the country’s different provinces against each other in various athletic events, including basketball.

The two-week competition will start in late August in host-province Liaoning. However, there will be a qualifying tournament in late April for basketball. Guangdong won the basketball tournament in 2009, which was held in various cities in Shandong.

Marbury’s addition to the coaching staff comes on the heels of other big news this week. The Beijing team got a boost when it was announced that Sun Yue, who plays for Beijing Aoshen — a team that is not part of the Chinese Basketball Association — will be representing Beijing at the Games, in addition to several other Aoshen players. A longtime key contributor for the National Team, Sun will be one of the best players in the tournament.

The National Games, though technically centered around athletic competition  are the epitome of not only basketball, but sports with Chinese characteristics. With the eyes of provincial governments focused directly on their teams, the Games’ main purpose serves government officials, who can be gain status and be promoted to bigger and better positions if their teams achieve good results. Though the Olympics trump all in terms of importance, the National Games is a major event and one that places great pressure on athletes to perform for the glory of their province.

ICYMI of the night: Blake Griffin‘s alley-oop against the Knicks is getting the viral buzz today (and rightfully so), but don’t overlook this game of a jam from Russell Westbrook:

Blogtable: A Struggling Star

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


Week 14: Has it clicked for the Lakers? | A healthy star who’s struggling | Clips without CP3


Give me a healthy player who has not met your high standards so far?

Steve Aschburner: Rudy Gay has heard his name bandied about enough already via the trade rumors, so I’m going with Indiana’s Roy Hibbert. The big fella remains vital to the Pacers’ defense, but this is his fifth season and he was supposed to continue his onward-and-upward trajectory offensively and overall. His shooting is down (41.4 percent vs. 48.1 through last season) and 9.8 ppg and 8.2 rebounds just doesn’t cut it. Each summer, Hibbert gets a lot of attention for his intense workouts — one year tutored by Bill Walton, the next embracing an MMA regimen. It all needs to translate better to what really counts.

Fran BlineburyErsan Ilyasova has not lived up to his payday. Kawhi Leonard has not stepped up to the next level. But it’s still Deron Williams who has yet to fulfill the expectations the Nets want and need. Though he has kicked his game up in recent weeks under P.J. Carlesimo, his horrid shooting and an assist average that is his lowest since his rookie season were major factors in getting Avery Johnson fired. After complaining his way out of Utah, Williams has not shown the the maturity to be handed the keys to a playoff-contending offense and, for all intents and purposes, the Nets franchise. That’s evidenced by his being left off the Eastern Conference All-Star team when a spot on the roster practically had his named engraved on it in October.

Jeff CaplanPau Gasol‘s the easy answer here or even the continuing underachieving ways of Michael Beasley. But, I’m going to go with a guy that I thought would have a pretty good year in Dallas and that’s center Chris Kaman. He signed a one-year, $8 million deal to play next to Dirk Nowitzki — they were teammates on the German National team in the 2008 Olympics — and although his stats aren’t terrible (12.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg), he’s averaging just 23.7 mpg (fewer than only his rookie season) and has been in and out of coach Rick Carlisle‘s doghouse. Most recently Kaman was removed from the starting lineup in favor of little-used rookie center Bernard James. In a season in which Kaman, seemingly perpetually injured, missed just his third game of the season on Tuesday after sustaining a concussion during Monday’s practice, he’s finding it hard to stay on the floor due to production. Defense has been at the root of the issue for Carlisle. Kaman’s been a sieve and next to Nowitzki it doesn’t make for a sturdy combination.

Jeff Green, by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

Jeff Green, by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

Scott Howard-CooperDeron Williams. He has been much better the last few weeks, but after two underachieving months. D-Will has not shot the ball well most of the season, an obvious problem. His assists were way down for a while as well. But the biggest problem is that he hasn’t looked like a star point guard who wants the responsibility of being a franchise player. Williams has too often played like someone who didn’t want the burden of expectations.

John Schuhmann: When Jeff Green defends LeBron James as well as he did on Sunday, it just makes me wonder why he can’t make an impact like that every night. Green has all the tools — length, athleticism, a decent shooting stroke — to be a very good player on both ends of the floor. He’s shown flashes of being the player the Celtics need him to be, both offensively and defensively. And the opportunity is certainly there for him to be one of the most important bench players in the league. But there hasn’t been any consistency from game to game, quarter to quarter, or possession to possession, whether he’s playing in OKC or Boston. Maybe I’m overestimating his potential or maybe he just doesn’t have the drive to maximize it.

Sekou SmithAndre Iguodala in Denver. And he might just be a victim of my own overblown expectation of what he would do with the Nuggets. After an All-Star season and a gold medal-winning summer at the Olympics, the news of Iguodala going to the Denver in that Dwight Howard mega-deal had me thinking he’d show up there and continue his All-Star-caliber play. But he joined a team with catalysts (Ty Lawson and Danilo Gallinari) already in place. Iguodala isn’t playing poorly by any stretch. The Nuggets are rolling, too, with him playing his role. Still, he hasn’t had nearly the impact I (and plenty of other people who picked the Nuggets in the preseason as the No. 2 team in the Western Conference) expected him to have on this team.

Bucks’ Dream Comeback Is Bulls’ Nightmare Collapse

CHICAGO – Jon McGlocklin, Milwaukee Bucks guard-turned-broadcaster, got stopped courtside the last time his team played at Madison Square Garden. It was Spike Lee, the hardcore Knicks fan and occasional movie director, tugging on McGlocklin’s arm.

“He said ‘Jon, I want to talk to you about that game!’ ” McGlocklin recalled Monday night in the bowels of United Center. “I didn’t even know he knew who I was. I told him, ‘Aaargh, I don’t want to talk about that.’ ”

The game in question: New York’s comeback from an 86-68 deficit deep into the fourth quarter, convulsed into an 87-86 victory when the Knicks scored the final 19 points on the night of Nov. 18, 1972. Pulled off against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson and the rest, it generally is considered the most famous regular-season NBA game in Knicks history, ranking right behind the two championship clinchers for lifelong fans like Lee.

McGlocklin recalled it anew Monday, after the Bucks wound up on the other side of something equally improbable: A comeback from 27 points down deep in the third quarter, 78-51, engineered by an all-bench crew that outscored the Bulls 42-14 over the final 14:29. On the road. With McGlocklin there to flash back.

“You’re flailing around like in a dream,” he said of his Bucks way back when and the Bulls just moments — nightmarish moments — earlier. “You can’t quite reach the ball. You try to take a step, and it’s like an out-of-body experience.”

That was the Chicago side of things Monday, as the Bulls starters saw what had been a cushy lead cut to 17 points by the start of the third quarter. Then — whoosh! — to 10, 80-70, just 96 seconds into the fourth on Beno Udrih‘s 3-pointer. Another Bulls turnover, a run-out dunk by Ekpe Udoh and it was 80-74.

A jumper by little-used rookie Doron Lamb, whose defense on Rip Hamilton was equally important; A 3-pointer by Ersan Ilyasova, moved to the bench after 11 starts as coach Scott Skiles searched to spark him; And another one from the arc, this one by Mike Dunleavy, after Chicago let a defensive rebound bounce and wind up back in the Bucks’ hands.

That made it 82-82 with seven minutes left. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau already knew what was coming.

“In an NBA game, you can lose 10 points in a minute,” Thibodeau said, his sideline growling over for the night. “Everyone says that doesn’t happen, but I see it all the time. If you don’t play tough with the lead, this is what happens.”

Said Dunleavy: “When it was 27, it was like, ‘This is almost physically impossible.’ But when we got it to [17] at the end of the third, we felt, ‘This has happened before.’ ”

Chicago had gone through something like this three years ago, when Sacramento came from 35 points back to win at the UC. Even though Udrih was a part of that epic comeback, few of the Bucks could recall being involved in something similar — and so satisfying.

“I was in a game once with Phoenix where we came back from 27 down, I believe it was to start the fourth,” Skiles said. “It was at Miami and [Dan] Majerle hit a 3 for Miami with like 50 seconds left. We came all the way back but got beat. … You know, this doesn’t happen that much. It’s hard to do. You’ve got to play perfectly, and then you need some help from the other team. Kind of both things happened for us tonight.”

Several things, frankly, happened for the Bucks Monday. They put behind them the sour memories of their loss Saturday to Chicago, a game in which they got pounded on the boards while Skiles played bigs Samuel Dalembert, John Henson and Drew Gooden a total of 1:18.

They got a performance for the ages from the bench crew, outscoring their Chicago counterparts 56-10. They shook off the rust or whatever it was hindering Ilyasova’s game since his return from free agency. His fourth quarter — 12 points on 5-for-8 shooting, four boards, an assist, a steal and a block — seemed better than his first 47 quarters this season combined.

“There’s a little bit better flow with that unit,” Dunleavy said. “That probably enabled him to relax a little bit — make his shots, make his plays. It didn’t feel like he was having to find his way as much.”

In other words — ahem — that dynamic offensive backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, which does tend to dominate the basketball, was nowhere to be found over the final 15:26 as Skiles swapped subs for starters. Ilyasova found some rhythm, while Lamb was more active than any of the other Milwaukee defenders against Hamilton, who had his best night as a Bulls player but missed a 10-footer in the lane as time expired.

“[Ilyasova] is new to it, but that group plays together every day in practice and we more than hold our own,” Dunleavy said. “We know how to play. We share the ball. Whoever’s open takes the shot. That’s how you beat a good defensive team like this.”

After four consecutive defeats that Milwaukee felt it could have, maybe even should have, won — tight ones to Boston and at Charlotte, an overtime loss at Miami and the first Bulls clash, a one-possession until the final half-minute — it tucked one away Monday that it had no business winning.

No business, but more than a little fun.

Ilyasova Still Searching For His Game

In spite of can be a good thing, if the outcomes are happy even when the inputs are sad. And for a while, the Milwaukee Bucks were doing just fine in spite of Ersan Ilyasova.

But Milwaukee’s 6-2 start was turned into a 6-4 mark after road losses this week at Charlotte and at Miami. Now the Bucks face a home-and-home test against their Central Division rivals, the Chicago Bulls. And Ilyasova is running out of cover, it not quite time.

He was, after all, a big-expenditure guy for a team that doesn’t make big expenditures readily. Milwaukee re-signed Ilyasova when he hit free agency, committing to the 6-foot-9 forward in a five-year, $40 million deal. It was based as much on potential as performance, earned by what Ilyasova did last season (enough of a bump in scoring, rebounding and 3-point accuracy to finish second in Most Improved balloting) and by the promise that held with him in a bigger role.

Trouble is, Ilyasova’s role so far in 2012-13 is smaller, not bigger. His impact is too, according to Charles F. Gardner’s story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Ilyasova’s numbers are way down across the board through the first 10 games, all as a starter. He is shooting 31.3% overall and just 25% from three-point range and 42.9% on his free throws. He is playing 22.5 minutes per game and averaging 6.3 points and 4.7 rebounds.

In 60 games last season he played 27.6 minutes per game and averaged 13 points and 8.8 rebounds while shooting 49.2% overall.

“The main thing is I can’t find my rhythm yet,” Ilyasova said. “We’ve got a lot of big guys. Coach has tried a lot of rotations. It’s not the same as it was last year.

“We had just three or four guys last year and we knew our minutes. It was kind of stable.”

The Bucks, particularly coach Scott Skiles, aren’t about to apologize for stiffer competition up front. They were seriously undermanned last season after center Andrew Bogut got hurt in January and traded in March, and with added size have boosted their rebounding and shot-blocking production. Larry Sanders, Samuel Dalembert, Ekpe Udoh and rookie John Henson have pushed Drew Gooden, the veteran thrown into duty at center in Bogut’s absence, completely to the bench. Meanwhile, Ilyasova shooting and bouts of tentativeness have him spending more time there, too.

It’s early still, and Ilyasova – never the most forceful at asserting himself – might grow his game with a few encouraging stats lines. For the moment, though, he is in that funky class of player such as Chicago’s Carlos Boozer and Indiana’s Roy Hibbert (to name only two) who gets paid more yet produces less. The season unspools too quickly to wait around for guys like that, and even when their coaches seem to forget about them, their team’s fans generally don’t.

And if the team falters, in spite of can become an ugly because of rather quickly.

Pressure Growing For Jennings, Bucks

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.

None of those facts have gone unnoticed on a team that has missed the playoffs the past two years, as Jennings noted to Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

“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.” (more…)

Report: Bucks To Keep Ilyasova




The Milwaukee Bucks didn’t make the playoffs last season, but their offseason has already been a success. Sources confirmed a report on the basketball Web site HoopsHype Sunday afternoon that the club was close to a deal that would keep forward Ersan Ilyasova in Milwaukee on a five-year, $45 million deal.

Ilyasova was one of the top free agents on the market at power forward, a “stretch four” who finished tied for second in the league in three-point percentage last season (.455) with Warriors guard Stephen Curry. But he also averaged 8.8 rebounds to go with his 13 points per game, posting 20 double-doubles for the Bucks and finishing second to Orlando’s Ryan Anderson in voting for Most Improved Player.

The Nets had significant interest in signing Ilyasova, particularly if they were unable to make a trade for Magic center Dwight Howard. But one source said Sunday that Milwaukee had never been very concerned about Brooklyn, surmising that the Nets couldn’t create enough cap room to make an offer that Ilyasova would have to seriously consider. The Raptors also were reportedly interested, and Ilyasova had offers to play in Europe as well.

(more…)

Reports: Sixers To Sign Clippers’ Young; Plan To Part With Williams, Brand





Just as Philadelphia’s notorious sports boo-birds began clearing their throats for a little un-brotherly love over their NBA team’s offseason inactivity, the Sixers made some noise of their own.

There were a myriad of reported items for the Sixers on Friday, starting with an agreement on a one-year contract worth approximately $6 million for shooting guard Nick Young. Then the Sixers made even bigger news, making clear their plan to use the CBA’s amnesty clause on veteran power forward Elton Brand, as ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reports:

Brand will still collect the full $18 million that the Sixers owe him next season, but he will first be offered to teams under the salary cap through the waiver process, with under-the-cap teams able to lodge bids for him.

Sources tell ESPN.com that the Dallas Mavericks, under the salary cap after being foiled in their pursuit of marquee free agent Deron Williams, have interest in claiming Brand through the waiver process.

In the event that he goes unclaimed on waivers, Brand would then be free to sign as a free agent wherever he chooses.

They also will not be bringing back combo guard Lou Williams, a free agent who – off the bench – was Philadelphia’s leading scorer last season (14.9 ppg in 26.3 mpg). Williams removed any uncertainty about his Philly future by going the D-Will route and tweeted the news himself:

Philly, I appreciate you all. Unfortunately I will not be coming back, as an organization they decided to move in a different direction. (more…)

Rick’s Tips: Waiver Wrapping





The time for waiver watching is over, but we’re back to wrap up this season’s blog with my All-Waiver team — plus, my picks for the reality awards.

All-Waiver Team

CNikola Pekovic: Pek proved he’s a legit NBA center, averaging 13.8 points and 7.3 rebounds in 26.9 minutes, while shooting 56 percent from the floor and 75 percent from the line.

PFRyan Anderson: The NBA leader in threes by a mile over second-place Jason Terry, Anderson was the Pickup of the Year.

SFErsan Ilyasova: Andrew Bogut’s broken ankle and eventual trade opened up 27.4 minutes per game for Ilyasova, who averaged 13.0 points and 8.8 rebounds with a shade under 1.0 in blocks, steals, and threes.

SGNicolas Batum: Speaking of fantasy gold, Batum was one of two players in the NBA this season to average at least 1.0 in blocks (1.0), steals (1.0), and threes (1.8). The other wears #35 for OKC.

PGJeremy Lin: Lin’s meteoric rise might go down as the top story of the 2011-12 regular season, and had he not gotten hurt, he might have passed Anderson for Pickup of the Year.

Fantasy Awards

MVP LeBron James: I’m going with LeBron over Durant for two reasons: the Heat are 14-1 without Dwyane Wade (as of Sunday) and LeBron shot a career-high 53 percent from the field.

ROYKyrie Irving: The moment Ricky Rubio went down, this was Irving’s trophy, thanks in large part to sharp shooting from the field (.468), line (.872), and three-point line (.398).

MIPGreg Monroe: I looked hard at Anderson, Roy Hibbert and DeMarcus Cousins, but settled on Monroe for upgrading in virtually every category, including scoring (9.4 to 15.5), rebounding (7.5 to 9.7), and free-throw shooting (62 to 74 percent), despite a meager minutes increase of 27.8 to 31.6.

DPOYSerge Ibaka: Ibaka dominates the league at 3.7 blocks per game, while #2 is Javale McGee at 2.2. C’mon…the dude had a triple-double with blocks!

Sixth ManJames Harden: Duh…

COYLionel Hollins: I thought the Grizzlies were done when Zach Randolph went down in the first week, but thanks to Hollins’ leadership the Grizz have challenged for home-court advantage in the West all season.

Thanks for the eyes, basketball fans. See ya on the air and on the road during the playoffs, what a wild ride it’s gonna be…


Who Is Your MIP?





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — We’ll get back to our MVP debate later this week.

While we wait to decide between LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant for the top award, today we get an early look at the frontrunners for the Most Improved Player award.

Our West Coast bureau chief Scott Howard-Cooper weighs in today with something of a surprise pick in Jeremy Lin of the Knicks. And he overlooks the fact that Lin played just 53 percent of the Knicks’ game this season and instead focuses on the impact Lin had and the seismic rise in production for the undrafted Lin from his rookie season to this one.

H-C makes the case:

Twenty-seven games, 25 starts, 17.9 points, 7.4 assists and 44.5 percent shooting in 33.1 minutes. The season-long numbers: 35 games, 25 starts, 14.6 points, 6.2 assists, 44.6 percent shooting and 26.9 minutes.

But yes. Playing barely more than half the season, the equivalent of 43 games in a season with an ordinary calendar, is enough to earn Most Improved.

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