Posts Tagged ‘John Hammond’

Wiggins vs. Parker, season 1, episode 1


VIDEO: Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker generated plenty of buzz in their first pro matchup

LAS VEGAS – It wasn’t LeBron James showing up unannounced or anything on the first night of Summer League action here, but it was close in terms of crowd and buzz and curiosity.

Cox Pavilion, smaller sidekick to the Thomas & Mack Center on the UNLV campus, was crammed to its modest 2,500 capacity and beyond. Some fans were standing against the wall behind the top rows – and they were the lucky ones. Others couldn’t get in at all, and when they were shooed from the two congest entrance/exit bottlenecks, they were offered refunds on their $25 tickets.

Which isn’t nearly the same as being able to say, years from now, that you witnessed the first NBA clash of Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker.

Sure, it was played in the desert, the rules were different (10-minute quarters, for instance) and the scores, stats and standings largely were immaterial, surely forgotten 10 days out. But when the No. 1 pick in the Draft goes head-to-head with the No. 2 pick, when the two have been linked since their high school days and when there was genuine mystery – right up until NBA commissioner Adam Silver read Wiggins’ name — which one might be selected first, it ranks as a showdown, a matchup, something special to cap an NBA day full of same.

“It was crazy,” said Wiggins, the rookie from Kansas, said of the Cox Pavilion atmosphere. His new team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, had learned during shootaround Friday morning that James was headed back to the franchise. But Wiggins’ and Parker’s debuts stirred imaginations on their own.

“Our game was probably the most packed,” Wiggins said, no offense to the other five Friday. “It was crazy. The fans were excited, which made the game more fun than if you didn’t feel them.”

Wiggins’ team won the game but the battle with Parker, happily grabbed second by the Milwaukee Bucks, was essentially a push. Wiggins scored 18 points in 31 minutes on 7-of-18 shooting. He was 1-of-8 on 3-pointers, including an air ball. Parker shot 5-of-11 scored 17 points He was 7-of-11 from the line and grabbed nine rebounds. They guarded each other occasionally, but the sturdier Parker – 6-foot-8 and 235 pounds to Wiggins’ 6-8 and 194 – more often squared off with power forwards, including Anthony Bennett, the 2013 No. 1 pick.

The two rookies enjoyed the encounter without dwelling on it, just as they shrugged off a few mistakes. Parker talked of communicating more with the other four Bucks on the floor and gave himself a grade of “B-minus.” Wiggins looked forward to the opportunities in Cleveland’s upcoming games and enjoyed the moment with his rival/cohort.

“It was a great feeling,” he said. “On the court, we just have to battle. But off the court, we’re good friends. He’s a great player, able to score in multiple ways, very smart, intelligent player. It’s always good to play against him.”

Each lived up to his pre-draft evaluation: Wiggins showed his natural athletic ability merely running up and down the court, but pushed it into gear when soaring for an errant alley-oop pass or draining a nifty step-back jumper. Parker carries a more-ready-to-contribute label that was evident in some of his post-ups and his aggressive rebounding. The one-and-done Duke player also unsheathed a slick pass or two.

“He showed that he is somewhat of a ready player, that he can step into the league and play,” Bucks general manager John Hammond said. “Neither one of those guys surprised me. Both of ‘em have a chance to be special players in this league, and what Andrew showed tonight was a total glimpse of that.”

A pair of soon-to-be-sophs showed flashes, too. Bennett, who has lost weight and looks more serious after his disappointing first season, seemed driven to make an impact. He had one monstrous dunk and seven rebounds, but he also shot 6-of-16 and racked up eight fouls (summer rules).

For the Bucks, it was last year’s find, lanky 19-year-old Giannis Antetokounmpo (playing at 6-foot-11 after another growth spurt), pushing the pace and loping around the court with boundless energy. “The Greek Freak” scored 17 points and hit a couple 3-pointers, to go with seven fouls and five turnovers.

As closely as Wiggins and Parker have been linked – in case you didn’t already know it, both are the sons of former NBA players, Mitchell Wiggins and Sonny Parker – their shared path might have diverged some Friday.

James’ arrival changes the Cavaliers’ dynamic from merely a young and promising team – Wiggins might find himself a few less opportunities but a whole lot less pressure. Parker continues as a Bucks’ cornerstone, his learning curve assumed to be shorter and steeper.

But that’s OK, because his self-critique afterward showed a young guy driven to improve.

“It’s been a pretty good transition because Coach K [Mike Krzyzewski] has prepared me,” Parker said. “A lot of the language, a lot of the stuff we did with Duke has helped me so far.”

His early NBA lessons? “That games are won on the defensive end and there are going to be a lot of runs. You’ve got to keep your composure and play on both sides of the floor, and you can’t have any sense of complacency.”

Forget complacency. In what’s looking suddenly like a Central Division on steroids, there figures to be lots of NBA competition and more than a few comparisons between Wiggins and Parker in the coming years. This was the start.

Bucks’ Drew stays classy on way out


VIDEO: GameTime: Kidd to Milwaukee

Given what was done and how it happened, Larry Drew – freshly minted former head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks – would be within his rights to take a few parting shots at the team’s co-owners who abruptly fired him and the fellow who lobbied for Drew’s job while his warm rump still was in the seat.

It surely would feel good, after the wringer through which he was put in a span of 72 hours last weekend, to vent in the direction of Marc Lasry and Wes Edens, the co-owners, and Jason Kidd, the Bucks’ new coach thanks to his friendship with Lasry.

Of course, that might somehow gum up the delivery of the checks Drew will continue to receive — $5 million due to him for the final two years of his coaching contract. Here at Hang Time HQ, we know fired head coaches who wound up inviting the mailmen to their daughters’ weddings, based on the friendships they struck up loitering by the mailbox each month, awaiting the checks owed them. Nothing to gain in making those a day late or a dollar short.

The fact is, Drew handled the ham-handed firing-and-hiring with the same grace he showed in enduring the Bucks’ 15-67 plunge to the NBA’s basement last season. Milwaukee swapped its “Fear The Dear” bumper stickers from a few years back for a “We Don’t Tank But We Sure Do Stank” motto en route to another seat at the lottery.

Sure, he was the coach, but injuries, flaws in a roster with 11 new faces, underperformances by the likes of O.J. Mayo, Gary Neal and Ersan Ilyasova, and Larry Sanders’ misdeeds conspired to drag down Milwaukee’s results. Besides, a few more victories would have cost the Bucks the No. 2 spot and thus Jabari Parker, their ready-to-go cornerstone draftee.

Anyway, Drew issued a statement through the Bucks Thursday and kept it classy:

THANK YOU MILWAUKEE

“I would like to thank Senator Herb Kohl and [general manager] John Hammond for giving me the opportunity to coach the Milwaukee Bucks this past season. Although my tenure was brief, it will forever be memorable.

“Thank you to all of the great Bucks fans for your love and support, you truly are some of the best fans in the NBA.

“My swift termination did come as a surprise to me, but I accept new owners Wesley Edens’ and Marc Lasry’s decision that they’ve made. I wish the entire Bucks organization and the great city of Milwaukee nothing but the best in the future.”

Bucks, Kidd move on from clumsy hiring, claim one job’s enough now


VIDEO: Kidd, Bucks discuss how decision came about

MILWAUKEE – When you’re committing the basketball future of your new $550 million toy to Jason Kidd, a fellow who dished 12,091 assists in his 19-year career, it’s no wonder that you might cop an attitude of this too shall pass.

That was the tone of Kidd’s introductory news conference Wednesday as head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks, held midday at midcourt of the BMO Harris Bradley Center. It was by the numbers – strictly “business,” a word Kidd used a few times in a “Godfather”-like way – and something to move on from as quickly as possible.

Questions were limited (one reporter counted a total of 15), follow-ups were discouraged and then it was over. No customary huddles immediately afterward for 1-on-1 interviews, TV stand-ups or idle chatter. This had the feel of a business meeting – once the CEOs were finished, the employees were expected to disperse and return to their cubicles.

Certainly, Bucks management had valid reasons for not wanting to linger too long in the moment. Kidd’s hiring (and Larry Drew‘s firing as predecessor) had been botched badly. A reported power play by Kidd in Brooklyn – the head coach with one year’s experience allegedly angling for personnel control and a lofty title, only to be rebuffed – was followed by some power flexing in Milwaukee that rewarded Kidd and the guys who hired him, despite what looks like clumsy, sneaky or pushy behavior.

Marc Lasry and Wes Edens, the Bucks’ new co-owners, sought and asked for permission to talk with Kidd about their head coaching position while they still had a head coach (Drew). Lasry’s personal relationship with Kidd predates their purchase of the franchise in April, back to his time as a Nets minority owner and work as the former All-Star point guard’s financial advisor.

Only after Lasry and Edens had decided to hire Kidd, as news of the front-office intrigue was breaking in a New York Post story, did they cut GM John Hammond into the loop. His task? Negotiate compensation with the Nets for a guy who, for all anyone knows, might have designs on his Hammond’s job too.

Things moved quickly from there: Drew was fired (taking with him $5 million owed over the next two seasons). Kidd’s departure from Brooklyn was made official. The Bucks announced his hiring. And by Wednesday, the only remaining chore was to sell it. Or at least wait impatiently for everyone to swallow.

One of the questions for the new owners was whether this was a rookie mistake in a business very different from where they made their hedge-fund billions, or an indication of a new, heavy-handed, smartest-guys-in-the-room approach to Bucks basketball decisions.

“I’m going to tell you it was very much newness,” Lasry said. “We’ve learned a lot in this process. Our view hasn’t changed from the beginning, that all the basketball operations and everything goes through John. And I think in this process we learned we made a mistake. And I think we’ve learned that pretty well.”

Lasry and Kidd, after about 15 minutes, did come back to the court to meet with media types individually or in small clusters. Still, they shed little additional light on the timeline.

Here are two possibilities: Kidd wanted power in Brooklyn, got told no, then turned to his friend Lasry for a back door. Or Kidd and Lasry had kicked around the idea of them working together in Milwaukee – the Bucks did finish 15-67, after all, so a coaching change had to cross someone‘s mind – and the eventual Hall of Famer ruffled his Nets bosses’ feathers to earn his freedom.

Lasry said he couldn’t recall which day it was last week that Kidd’s agent, Jeff Schwartz, made the first contact to gauge their interest in working with Kidd. Kidd wasn’t clear on whether he pushed so hard in Brooklyn because he knew he already had a Plan B waiting.

But they both admitted that Milwaukee considered no other coaching candidates and Kidd considered no other strategies, including mending a bridge in Brooklyn.

Instead, it was as if they wanted to sell a bridge in Brooklyn.

Kidd even disputed the alleged origins of the shenanigans, questioning countless reports that he wanted to usurp Nets GM Billy King. He even dodged a question about taking heat for that, and for chasing another coach’s job, by talking about the criticism that all coaches face for losing or having the wrong player take a game-winning shot.

Later, Kidd said: “It’s not about power. You guys [reporters] ran with that. It’s not about power. As I think [I said when] I was introduced, I’m the coach, so I’m the coach and I was the coach in Brooklyn. And I’m going to be the coach here. So it’s not about power. It’s about the guys getting better and here in Milwaukee that’s what I’m going to do.”

He is right from that standpoint.

People can wring their hands and cluck disapproval all they want over the style of Kidd’s job switcheroo, but the substance is what matters: Lasry and Edens have the guy they want on Milwaukee’s sideline and Kidd has to show that whatever he contributed to a veteran-laden team with lofty playoff hopess can translate to a rebuilding club on training wheels. The Bucks send a group, including draft prize Jabari Parker and last year’s phenom Giannis Antetokounmpo, to the Las Vegas Summer League Monday for practices in advance of the July 11 opener.

“For me, it’s about who I was as a player,” Kidd said. “My job was to make the guys around me better. I take the same approach as a coach. I want to make those 15 guys better.

“The one thing I told the guys last year, trust me and respect me. That’s what I had. I got to see a lot last year as a rookie coach. When you see the Shaun Livingstons of the world have the season he had, Alan Anderson got better, and they’re being rewarded [in free agency]. I feel like I can do the same thing here.”

Hammond praised Kidd as the ultimate “coach on the court,” the ideal for point guards. He mentioned working Doc Rivers and Mark Jackson in their playing days, before the two former NBA guards found success as head coaches without serving as assistants.

“You could see they had that ability to see the game, know the game,” Hammond said. “And you saw then, if they wanted to do it someday, they can be a coach and be a great coach. I feel exactly the same way about Jason Kidd.”

Maybe Kidd can, if he stays focused on coaching, rather than career-climbing or comparing contracts (he is believed to have a three-year deal worth $4 million to $5 million annually, putting him in Steve Kerr’s and Derek Fisher‘s neighborhood). He has left a trail of bad exits and hard feelings dating back to his college years at Cal, but he said Wednesday he hopes to find something positive even in the shaky stuff.

“When you look at my career, 19 years, I can look back at going to Dallas as a 19- [or] 20-year old,” Kidd said. “Being surrounded with talented players like Jimmy [Jackson] and Jamal [Mashburn]. High expectations. There might have been a couple of controversial things about being selfish or unselfish.

“But those are things that I can draw back from as a player and share with these players first-hand. There are going to be some growing pains, but they can always be looked upon as a learning experience and that we get better each time we take the floor.”

Then Kidd talked about the biggest lesson from his one season in Brooklyn. He and his new bosses seemed not to pick up on the irony.

“Patience,” Kidd said.


VIDEO: Kidd discusses the Bucks’ roster

Milwaukee owners owe apologies for sorry tactics in Kidd’s hiring


VIDEO: Bucks bring Jason Kidd on board as its next head coach

The first thing Marc Lasry is going to have to do is apologize.

Apologize, not for his actual hiring of Jason Kidd to be the Milwaukee Bucks’ new head coach – though that might be in order soon enough, based on the NBA’s time-honored W-L standards – but for the manner in which he did it.

That is to say, the abrupt, secretive and unprofessional way Lasry, one of the team’s new co-owners, went courting his buddy Kidd, trampling all over business etiquette and even ethics by filling one job that wasn’t vacant and throwing several more held by longtime respected basketball executives into immediate limbo.

Lasry, who bought the Bucks this spring with hedge-fund partner Wesley Edens, already has apologized to Larry Drew, NBA sources confirmed, for the public undercutting that played out over about 48 hours. Actually the process took a little longer: Drew was in the Bucks’ war room on Draft night Thursday in suburban Milwaukee while Lasry and Edens were at the event at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. Drew was at No. 2 pick Jabari Parker‘s introductory news conference Friday while the owners clandestinely interviewed Kidd in New York. The ham-handed maneuver leaked out Saturday and finally, on Monday, the Bucks and the Nets agreed on compensation in the form of two future second-round draft picks.

Drew still has about $5 million coming over the next two seasons, which could soothe bruised feelings from rude treatment for a lot of us. Still, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do things, and Lasry, the point man on the hire, botched this badly. He rewarded Kidd for all the wrong reasons – the former All-Star point guard wanted more money and power within the Nets organization but got rebuffed, so he turned to his former financial adviser with the shiny new team – and he violated an unwritten code against hiring before firing by which even sports’ most ruthless power brokers abide.

Lasry might claim ignorance on that, being new to this fish bowl, but then Kidd should have informed him. Frankly, Kidd owes Drew an apology too because crossing the informal but well-understood line among coaches.

Lasry needs to come with some fat, sincere mea culpas to Bucks general John Hammond and front-office execs David Morway, Dave Babcock and Billy McKinney. They all might find it harder to work this season, constantly glancing over their shoulders, than it was enduring last season’s 15-67.

Contract extensions, along with the apologies, might help. You say Kidd has been hired only as the head coach? That’s what the Nets thought they were doing 12 months ago, and look where we are.

For all we know, plans already are in place for a more complete coup. But it would be nice if Kidd – looking like a me-first person after a Hall of Fame-worthy career as a pass-first point guard – proved for a couple more seasons that he can do one job well before grabbing at a cpuple more. Ditto for staying out of trouble in the domestic abuse and DUI categories. (It’s between him and his bosses, meanwhile, whether he gets an escalator clause in his contract guaranteeing him a raise every time some other team hires an ex-point guard as a coach.)

Parker probably is good without an apology. The forward from Duke and Chicago native has been so gracious and humble since the Bucks selected him that he’ll no doubt let Lasry off the hook for squashing the excitement of his arrival, the franchise’s giddiest point since the spring of 2010’s “Fear The Deer” playoff run.

But Lasry and Edens should reserve their biggest, gooiest admissions of wrongdoing for Bucks/NBA fans in Milwaukee. As much as the two private-equity billionaires have done in securing the team in the community – purchasing it for a price ($550 million) that’s whopping by anyone’s but Steve Ballmer‘s standards and moving ahead with new arena plans – this was a stylistic faux pas of the highest order.

And hopefully, only that. If this is indicative of the way the co-owners plan to operate going forward – pushing into basketball decisions simply because they can – the Bucks likely are headed sideways more than up. That’s been proven time and again as owners across all sports try and fail to replicate the George Steinbrenner model.

The Bucks are Lasry’s and Edens’ toy. They can do what they want. No one questions the chain of command. But this isn’t a board room, executive suite or trading floor, the venues where they amassed their fortunes. There’s a huge public trust and ownership involved, from season-ticket holders in VIP seats and the folks who dig deep to attend one Bradley Center game each season to the lowliest concessions worker. Milwaukee mixes in a little bit of paranoia, too, and simple expectations.

The fans deserve to know, in making their Bucks buy decisions, whether this is going to be standard operating procedure for two exuberant owners, or a hard lesson learned that won’t soon be repeated.

A few “I’m sorry” remarks delivered in a sincere, timely and public fashion – perhaps at Kidd’s introductory presser in the coming days – could smooth this over, along with some time and a sense that Kidd is focused on coaching rather than career-climbing.

Otherwise, the Bucks situation simply will remain sorry.

Bucks risk vibe, goodwill reset with Kidd


VIDEO: Draft review: Jabari Parker’s potential impact

Jabari Parker should ask the Milwaukee Bucks for a trade. Today.

If it’s buzz kill the Bucks want, that’d give them buzz kill. Why stop at the reports of buddy ball about to be played between new co-owner Marc Lasry and Jason Kidd, the Brooklyn Nets’ soon-to-be former head coach angling for power and money atop the Milwaukee team’s food chain? Go straight to Parker and remind him that, in the business of the NBA, things he talks about such as loyalty, humility and gratitude are but a rube’s game.

Then the classy kid taken No. 2 Thursday in the Draft, the franchise’s latest and greatest hope, can appropriately approach his livelihood with the necessary cynicism, ruthlessness and selfishness.

You know, like the unclassy Kidd.

Bad enough that Kidd, after one middling season as the Nets head coach, would attempt a power play within that organization to grab more authority – and allegedly a sweetened contract from the four-year deal he signed just 12 months ago – over the man (general manager Billy King) who hired him. The New York Post was first among several outlets reporting Kidd’s Machiavellian maneuver Saturday, a coup apparently snuffed by Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov.

Worse, though, is that Lasry – the private-equity billionaire described as a “past financial partner” with Kidd, possibly as an advisor – would entertain installing Kidd as the Bucks’ president of basketball operations. That’s the lofty position for which Milwaukee apparently has sought permission to interview him. Talk of compensation (second-round draft pick?) already is in play, should Brooklyn release Kidd from the final two years of his deal.

It is a bad idea on so many levels.

First, the Bucks are full-up, their front office and coaching jobs staffed by highly competent individuals. GM John Hammond is fresh off his most rewarding Draft night ever, on the heels of a stellar 2013 move in drafting below-the-radar phenom Giannis Antetokounmpo and second-round point guard Nate Wolters. And lest Lasry or anyone else think that the Bucks merely did the no-brain thing Thursday – grabbing the best available player once Andrew Wiggins went to Cleveland – he’d be overlooking the rapport Parker already seems to have with Hammond, coach Larry Drew and their staffs, seeded in pre-draft workouts and conversations and growing toward a bond.

As for Drew, he’s a proven head coach – more proven than Kidd – after three playoff appearances in Atlanta (with smaller payrolls and less talent than Kidd’s Nets) and his grace under fire during last season’s 15-67 tanking mission.

B-b-b-but Kidd only wants to be Hammond’s and Drew’s boss? Right. Kidd wants what he wants when he wants it. He is a Hall of Fame-bound point guard with one spotty season as a coach, zero experience as an executive and chronicled flaws in his people skills. It requires no great leaps to imagine Kidd blowing out both Hammond and Drew in short order – which would be wrong even if his name were Jason Popovich.

[UPDATE, 6/30: Multiple outlets, including the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, reported later Sunday that the Bucks were talking with Kidd only about coming in as head coach. Again, Milwaukee already has a head coach, so dangling his job while he's still in it is horrible management form for Lasry -- while interviewing for it is a serious breach by Kidd of the NBA's unwritten "coaches' code." Also: Kidd was hired "only" as a coach 12 months ago. That didn't stop his power grab in Brooklyn, did it?]

The New York- and New Jersey-based media accounts of Kidd’s attempted power play within the Nets were rife with tales of Kidd’s clubhouse lawyering, coach undercutting and ego-driven antics, both in his playing days and since. Last season, after pushing for veteran coach Lawrence Frank to be hired at big money as his right-hand man, Kidd turned on Frank early in the season and got him banished from the bench.

The antithesis off the court, it seems, of the pass-first playmaker he was on the court, Kidd also has a domestic abuse charge on his resume and a guilty plea to drunk driving, hiccups that – for all of Wisconsin’s taverns – aren’t dismissed as easily in a smaller, image-conscious market such as Milwaukee.

Then there’s this bonus of a bad reason: Kidd reportedly grew envious of the bigger coaching paychecks of fellow former NBA point guards Steve Kerr and Derek Fisher, similar newbies to the sidelines who signed five-year, $25 million deals recently with Golden State and New York respectively. Heck, in an offseason of coach/owner madness – Tyronne Lue as the highest paid assistant in league history, management titles spliced on almost perfunctorily – it’s feasible that Kidd grabbed at the Nets’ personnel reins with the intent of having things blow up. Then he could shake free to link up with Lasry.

Unfortunately, Lasry and his partner Wesley Edens were at the Draft in Brooklyn Thursday night, not in St. Francis, Wis., at the Bucks headquarters or down on the Lake Michigan lakefront for the team’s fan party. The co-owners missed out on the vibe that carried the night and that Milwaukee so desperately needed. With Parker’s selection and his appreciative reaction, the Bucks hit a good team/good guy reset button, a shared sense of renewal that runs from the front office to the newest, most special rookie.

They’re now at risk of turning the franchise into Kidd’s private ATM and personal preening mirror. Parker hasn’t scored a point or swiped a pass, but already he deserves better.

Milwaukee gets its night to shine


VIDEO: The Bucks nab arguably the 2014 Draft’s best player

ST. FRANCIS, Wis. – October belongs to everybody – no one’s lost a game yet, every team’s roster seems shiny and full. Springtime is owned by the big dogs, the contenders and the wannabes, established teams already or on their way up.

July is for the glamour markets and the legacy franchises, the destinations with tradition, night life or both. That’s where free agents want to play, those are the places media folks love to talk about and, maybe, even live.

But for one night in June, it was about – first and second, first and foremost – Cleveland and Milwaukee. A pair of small, largely unloved NBA towns were in no-lose situations early Thursday evening – it was going to be Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker, Parker or Wiggins, one or the other – and there was nothing the rest of the league or its followers could do about it.

That feeling was palpable at the Bucks’ draft headquarters in the moments after general manager John Hammond grabbed Parker with the No. 2 pick overall. And given how thick with emotion Hammond’s voice sounded as he talked about the pick, the player and the person, it was a feeling Milwaukee desperately wants to last.

Parker likes the Bucks. He likes Milwaukee. He really, really likes them.

“We’re really excited about the fact that he wants to be here,” Hammond said of the Duke forward, a 1-2, flip-a-coin certainty to wind up with the Cavaliers or the Bucks according to most draft projections. “I talked to him a couple moments ago and he’s thanking us for the opportunity. That’s something you really appreciate.

“I think he has a chance to be a great long-term fit for us.”

Lots of teams say that about lots of guys on Draft night, but it resonates a little more with Milwaukee. This is a team that spends most of the year, particularly during free agency, hearing all the snide stuff about Podunkville.

No one wants to play there. No one would choose to live there.  Even as the TV panelists coughed up a few kudos in the Bucks’ direction for the talented young man they’d just corralled, folks in Milwaukee were wise to them; given the chance, those suits would slit the franchise’s throat if a relocation could have gotten them a few business trips each year to Seattle.

But things are changing, whether the national media like it or not. The league’s collective bargaining agreement was remade in 2011 to spread talent around. The Bucks just got sold to a pair of hedge-fund impresarios, Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens, who pledged to keep them right where they are – eventually in a new arena. And now they have a prized young player thanking them and saying he wants to have a one-team career.

“They gave me the say-so right [away], and I didn’t get any conclusions from any other teams,” Parker said of the Bucks’ pledge they would take him if the Cavs didn’t. “I’m just so glad they were men of their words.”

As for being happy going to a place so many NBA veterans snub or scoff or sneer at, Parker – a Chicago native who gave a shout-out to Lake Michigan immediately after being selected – said: “That’s up to the player.”

Said Hammond: “You look at this and think, ‘Is there a perfect storm, a perfect synergy, where this all works together?’ [Lasry and Edens] purchase the team, a few months later we get the second pick in the draft and we get the chance to draft a guy like Jabari Parker.”

Everyone knows about Parker the player, the NBA-ready scorer who can bookend with last year’s precocious prospect, Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Bucks are thrilled to have that guy, regardless of his preferred ZIP or area code.

“You hate to go with ‘comps,’ but we do that,” Hammond said. “We talk about a Paul Pierce comparison and a Carmelo [Anthony] comparison.”

The Bucks GM said he caught some SportsCenter the other day when the topic was Anthony’s opt-out from New York, and the stock footage they ran of Melo had Hammond thinking about Parker.

“The way he moved with the ball, the kinds of things he was doing, the way he was scoring,” he said. “We had a chance to spend part of the time with Jabari and watch him work out individually, and I’ve got to say there were some real similarities there as far as how he looked on the floor and the kind of things Melo was doing.”

That’s quite a comparison for any young player, Hammond conceded. But then he launched into another one, equally lofty, that fits the person he’d just drafted.

“You hope the next comp, as a person, might be a Kevin Durant going to a small-market team like Oklahoma City and obviously his feelings about being there,” Hammond said. “Those guys are special people. But [that organization has] done a special job, too, of putting [him] in position where [he] can be successful.

“Now it’s our job to put him in a position where he continues to feel good about this city and this organization.”


VIDEO: Relive Jabari Parker’s selection slow-mo style

Five teams already looking ahead

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

The start of the playoffs is just over the horizon and there will be plenty of unexpected bounces before the 2014 NBA champ is crowned in June.

But you can’t blame a handful of teams from already taking an early peek at what will surely be better times ahead next season:

 


VIDEO: Joakim Noah joins Arena Link after a recent Bulls win

Chicago Bulls – There’ s still plenty of havoc to be made by Joakim Noah and his “no tanking here” gang. Sitting in the No. 4 spot in the East, the Bulls are already shuffling their hooves at what could be another rip-snorting first-round series against the Nets and possibly a chance to put a few bruises on the Pacers or two-time champions from Miami down the line. But while it’s unrealistic to think Chicago can go all the way this season, the title hopes are back in view next October. Starting, of course, with a healthy return by Derrick Rose, the Bulls get their former MVP and most talented player back onto the court to supplement a lineup that has Noah, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler.

While the dealing away of Luol Deng didn’t sink the Bulls in the standings, it brought a first round draft choice that the Cavs had picked up from Sacramento. They saved $20 million on Deng’s contract next year, can amnesty the vastly overpaid Carlos Boozer and be at the front of the line to make a recruiting pitch to head of the class free agent Carmelo Anthony. The lure of Phil Jackson‘s zen magic will probably make it tougher to get him out of N.Y., but if he really wants to make a run at a title instead of just being hero-worshipped, Melo would jump at the chance to join the Bulls where a recuperated Rose gives them the 1-2 punch that is almost necessary these days to be elite. As much fun as they’re having now, the real excitement could return next season.

 


VIDEO: Thaddeus Young, Jarvis Varnado discuss the progress and potential of Nerlens Noel

Philadelphia 76ers — It can’t get worse than losing a record-tying 26 games in a row, can it? It will still be only Year Two in general manager Sam Hinkie‘s long-term building project for the future. But at least next season the Sixers will be able to put a team out on the floor that has more than just Michael Carter-Williams, Thad Young and Tony Wroten as real NBA talent that could be part of something positive down the road. Hinkie has cleared out the payroll, but it’s far too early for the Sixers to even give a thought to luring free agents to Philly. They’ll have two lottery picks — their own and the Pelicans’ spot from the Jrue Holiday trade — and go digging for bargains with another pair of picks in the second round.

Of course, there’s the big bonus of finally getting big man Nerlens Noel into the lineup, after he sat out all of this season with a torn ACL. Noel has been champing at the bit to play now, but the team will hold him back till summer league and then turn him loose. Hinkie is positively giddy about what a bulked-up, more physically fit Noel will be able to do. The Sixers are not even dreaming of playoffs, just putting the building blocks in place.

 


VIDEO: Andrew Nicholson talks about staying positive in Orlando

Orlando Magic — Two years ago, Rob Hennigan dealt away Dwight Howard and the instant reaction from many corners was that the rookie GM had been fleeced. Of course, the way things turned out in L.A., Philly and Denver, it seems that Hennigan was the one doing the fleecing, picking up Nic Vucevic, Maurice Harkless and Arron Afflalo, who are now main parts of a young roster on the rise. Mix in last year’s top draft pick Victor Oladipo with Tobias Harris, Kyle O’Quinn and Andrew Nicholson and while the Magic are again near the bottom of the standings with the third-fewest wins in the league, there has been a method to Hennigan. The jury is still out on making Oladipo a point guard, but he’s clearly a talent.

Hennigan is following in the footsteps of his mentor Sam Presti in OKC, constructing a roster that is flexible in terms of both talent and salary. The Magic are not beholden at this point to a single individual and are willing to be in the trade market for any upgrade that makes sense at any position. Then toss in the potential of adding an Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker to the lineup and the Magic are suddenly a team back in the spotlight with a new franchise star and a future that could lead back to chasing the playoffs maybe even as soon as next year in the Eastern Conference.

 


VIDEO: Giannis Antetokounmpo is adjusting to life in the NBA and U.S.

Milwaukee Bucks – As bad and depressing as things got for the Sixers during their 26-game losing streak, the fact is they were never able to drop below the Bucks in the standings. This is the worst team in the league, but it doesn’t have to be this way in 2014-15. For one thing, it’s about timing in the draft. The Bucks have been fortunate enough to win the lottery twice in the past, getting Glenn Robinson with the No. 1 pick in 1994 and Andrew Bogut in 2005. “Big Dog” had had his moments and Bogut is playing nicely these days for the Warriors, but neither was ever the kind of game-changer than can take a franchise to the top.

Now with the deepest lottery in a while, it seems that Milwaukee is in a can’t-miss position. GM John Hammond is said to be setting his sights on center Joel Embiid, who could anchor the middle of a lineup with exciting rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo and Larry Sanders, who hopefully can get his head back into the game and save a career that could go off the rails. Hammond unloaded the contracts of Luke Ridnour and Gary Neal at the trade deadline and would probably like to jettison O.J. Mayo. Brandon Knight has been up and down, but shows that he can score. Rookie Nate Wolters has probably exceeded expectations and creates optimism for the future.

It’s Antetokounmpo who creates the most excitement with his raw talent and potential. Whether they go with Embild with their first pick or Wiggins, Parker, Julius Randle or Dante Exum, this time the Bucks could get the game changer they need at a time when owner Herb Kohl is trying to sell the franchise. This could be a lineup worth buying and watching next season.

 


VIDEO: Dwight Howard explains why he likes it in Houston

Houston Rockets — Yes, yes, yes. The Rockets are already a top four seed in the rugged Western Conference and have flexed their speed and muscles and shooting prowess against some of the best teams in the league this season. The pairing of Dwight Howard with James Harden has given Houston the 1-2 All-Star punch that was expected. Yet even with some folks tabbing the Rockets as a dark horse threat when the playoffs begin, the truth is their best days are still ahead. Wheeler and dealer GM Daryl Morey knows that his job is not yet done and that’s why he’s played the payroll and salary cap like a Stradivarius and will again have the Rockets in position to make a run at at the biggest names on the free agent market this summer. If he deals Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik ($15 million each next season), the Rockets could offer close to the max.

Howard and Harden are still getting to know each other and this team might need to experience the pain of a playoff loss to get recommitted and take things to the next level. The Rockets could also use another scorer/defender on the wing to go toe-to-toe nightly with the elite contenders. LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony? Let us saddle you up as part of the posse, pardner. Of course, it’s unlikely that James is going anywhere. But Anthony would have to have give long and serious thought to Houston if he decides that the magic of Jackson isn’t going to turn the Knicks around in the next year or two. Put Melo in a lineup with Howard and Harden and the 145 points the Rockets rung up the other night against the Lakers could become a nightly occurrence. If not Anthony, Bosh could return home to Texas. The Rockets made a free agent pitch for him several years ago and his adaptable skills could fit in nicely on the front line.

The Rockets will be different next season. They always are. And with Howard and Harden as anchors, now different means better. The start of next season can’t come soon enough in Houston.

Pool of talent exists beyond 1-and-dones


VIDEO: Damian Lillard has enjoyed the Blazers’ quiet rise to contention this season

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – On the one-and-done issue, second-year All-Star point guard Damian Lillard has no issue with commissioner Adam Silver‘s desire to raise the minimum age to enter the league from 19 to 20.

After all, the Portland Trail Blazers’ No. 6 overall pick in 2012 turned 22 a few weeks after the Draft. He played four seasons at little-known Weber State in Ogden, Utah. Lillard’s rookie teammate, guard C.J. McCollum, turned 22 a few months after the Blazers made him the No. 10 pick in the 2013 Draft. McCollum played four years at tiny Lehigh in Bethlehem, Pa.

“I definitely don’t think guys should be able to leave [for the NBA] after high school,” Lillard said during the All-Star break. “Back in the day there were guys like LeBron James coming out, Kevin Garnett. I don’t think you have that anymore, guys that can come in and do what they do. As far as college, it’s different situations. My freshman year in college, I wasn’t ready to be an NBA player. What was best for me was to play four years of college. Some guys, Anthony Davis, 6-foot-10, great defender, it was perfect for him, it was time for him to be an NBA player.”

Every few years there will be a special talent such as Davis, who was the top pick in 2012. He seemed ready to enter the big leagues at age 18 or 19. But would it have benefited Davis’ Kentucky teammate, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, to spend another season with the Wildcats rather than go No. 2 overall (at 19 years old) to the Charlotte Bobcats in 2012?

“A lot of it is mental and having that college experience helps because I was in that situation so many different times when my team depended on me to make a play, to make a shot, bring us back, stuff like that,” said Lillard, who has hit four game-winners this season. “Just having that experience over and over and over those four years helped prepare me for whenever that came up in the NBA.”

Of course that’s the overriding argument for raising the age limit. The NBA wants players entering the league to be more physically and emotionally prepared for life on and off the court. Coaches at major programs crave more continuity for their programs.

But is the one-and-done issue really a problem?

Of the 18 first- and second-year players at last month’s Rising Stars Challenge game during All-Star weekend, 16 of them attended college (two were international players). Twelve played beyond one season. Six played two seasons and three each played three years and four years.

Only four were one-and-done: Davis, Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal, Pistons center Andre Drummond and Thunder center Steven Adams.

One-and-done hasn’t exactly opened the floodgates to players declaring for the Draft after one college season. Still, the blue-blood collegiate programs, with such small windows to compete for a championship with top recruits, are on the hunt for high school players physically prepared to play as freshmen. It leaves a large pool of talented players to fall through the cracks and land at smaller, so-called “mid-major” programs.

Once there, they tend to stay for multiple years, allowing for maturation and development in bridging the gap from 18 years old to 21 or 22.

“We have a better understanding of everything because we’ve been through a lot,” said McCollum, whose rookie season was stunted by a broken foot late in training camp. “Going to small schools, not being recruited, you go through a lot, having to earn everything, having to work really hard, and you have to take advantage of moments because at a small school you don’t play a lot of big teams so you have to capitalize on a small window of opportunities.”

Since Blazers general manager Neil Olshey used consecutive top 10 draft picks on two four-year, mid-major players, it wasn’t surprising to find him in the stands at the University of Texas at Arlington on a bitterly cold early February night. He was there getting a first-hand look at a junior point guard in the Sun Belt Conference.

Elfrid Payton,” Lillard said, totally aware of the 6-foot-3 Louisiana-Lafayette prospect, a potential late first-round, early second-round draft pick.

Olshey wasn’t alone as Bucks general manager John Hammond also made the trip. In addition, 20 other NBA teams dispatched scouts to the game as front offices canvas smaller programs more than ever.

“I think there’s always been talent [at smaller schools], I just think guys like Steph Curry, Paul George, myself, Rodney Stuckey, I think that as guys are successful in the NBA, they’re [front offices] starting to pay closer attention to mid-majors,” Lillard said. “I don’t think it’s new. I think there’s probably been a lot of guys that just got overlooked, that didn’t get the opportunity. The good thing is the guys that I just named are opening up doors for guys like Elfrid Payton.”

Curry played three seasons at Davidson. George spent two years at Fresno State and Stuckey played two years at Eastern Washington. Lillard could have also named Kawhi Leonard (two years at San Diego State), Kenneth Faried (four years at Morehead State) and Gordon Hayward (two years at Bulter).

The few sure-fire one-and-done players at the marquee schools get the lion’s share of attention. But players are everywhere, players you’ve never heard of, but maybe should have and perhaps will.

Like Damian Lillard.


VIDEO: After a long wait, Portland’s C.J. McCollum got to make his NBA debut

Ilyasova Stays Put In League Of Change

Milwaukee's Ersan Ilyasova (Joe Murphy/NBAE)

Milwaukee’s Ersan Ilyasova (Joe Murphy/NBAE)

MILWAUKEE – Some players are the socks. Ersan Ilyasova is the feet. But the end result is the same: Change, constantly.

If you’re Nate Robinson, Mike James, Chucky Brown, Joe Smith and dozens of others who leave forwarding addresses as often as most of us leave gratuities, you know the drill: Signed here, traded there, employed, waived, paid, packaged and dumped time and again back into the hamper.

If you’re Ilyasova, you don’t go anywhere, yet everything around you changes. Argyle, tube, crew, silk, solid, patterned, support – the Milwaukee Bucks’ 6-foot-10 forward from Eskisehir, Turkey, has gone through a veritable sock drawer in his NBA career.

Consider: Of the 60 players taken in the 2005 NBA Draft, Ilyasova (No. 36 in the second round) is the only one still with his original team. All the big names that night – former Buck Andrew Bogut, Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Raymond Felton and so on – have moved at least once, as have the sleepers (David Lee, Monta Ellis, Marcin Gortat). Indiana’s Danny Granger was the last of the “originals,” besides Ilyasova, until he got dealt to Philadelphia on Thursday at the league’s trade deadline. Many have dropped off the NBA map entirely.

And because there is no one from the 2004 Draft still with the team that selected him and, from 2006, only Portland’s Joel Freeland remains with the team – he’s an asterisk case who came over from Great Britain prior to last season – Ilyasova’s specialness spans three drafts and 179 others whose names got read by David Stern or former second-round maestro Russ Granik.

Had Ilyasova, 18 when he was picked, played for the Bucks immediately (he spent 2005-06 in the D League with Tulsa), he would have been a teammate of Ervin Johnson and Toni Kukoc, who were 20 and 19 years older than him that season. He stayed overseas for a year, dipped his toe into the NBA in 2006-07 at 19, then went back to play in Spain for two years.

By the time Ilyasova returned for 2009-10, only four players remained from his first NBA roster (Charlie Bell, Dan Gadzuric, Michael Redd and Bogut). After Bogut was traded to Golden State during the 2011-12 season, all four of them were gone, too.

Now it’s two years later, the Bucks are on their fifth head coach since Ilyasova was drafted – he missed the Larry Krystkowiak era entirely – and he’s one of just four players left from last year’s roster. He has been supplanted as the team’s resident Euro phenom by 19-year-old “Greek freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo, the youngest player in the NBA.

He has had 67 Milwaukee teammates, by the team’s count, from the start of 2006-07 till now.

The irony in all this is that Ilyasova, that rare individual who has been spared the endless uncertainty of role players and journeymen everywhere, actually might be better off had he been forced to relocate a time or two.

Staying with the Bucks has been easy on the wardrobe and his friends’ contacts lists. He met his wife Julia in Milwaukee. And his early Bird rights with the Bucks made him eligible for the five-year, $40 million contract he signed in July 2012.

But he has sniffed the air of a winning season just once, in 2009-10, and is a cumulative 72 games under .500 while general manager Larry Harris first and John Hammond second have re-painted, laid new carpeting and moved the furniture around him.

Worse, Ilyasova has regressed as a player. Mostly starting yet struggling – first from an ankle injury in camp, then in coach Larry Drew’s new system – he is putting up the shakiest numbers of his career: 10.5 points and 6.0 rebounds a game, 38.5 percent shooting, 29.6 percent on 3-pointers. Per 36 minutes, he’s about where he was as a nervous teenager. Better paid but more frustrated.

Ilyasova, who watched as NBA vets Luke Ridnour and Gary Neal were freed at the deadline from the NBA’s losingest team (via their trade to Charlotte), talked recently with Gery Woelfel of the Racine Journal Times about his Groundhog Day permanence in Milwaukee:

Ilyasova downplayed talk about him wanting out of Milwaukee and declined to comment on whether he or his agent, Andy Miller, had requested a trade.

Ilyasova made it clear, though, the Bucks’ revolving door policy with players has irritated him.

“The thing I’m upset about is each year, each season, we go through the same thing,” Ilyasova said. “Last year, we make the playoffs and now we start all over again. That’s really frustrating.

“Hopefully, we’ll find right pieces for the team. Hopefully, we’ll turn it around.”

Then the deadline passed, Ramon Sessions and Jeff Adrien came aboard as possible (though minor) pieces and Ilyasova stayed put. Ilyasova reportedly is a favorite of owner Herb Kohl, who remains enticed by Ilyasova’s potential.

Ilyasova is a complementary player who constantly has had to adapt to another new crew and new vision. The things he does best – 13.0 points a game, 5.6 rebounds, 45.5 percent 3FG the year before he got his contract – have slipped.

Still, he is the last man standing in the same spot from that June night nine years ago. Too often, though, you’d have a hard time proving it by his impact. He and the Bucks are due for a change.

Bucks’ Antetokounmpo Keeps Eating Everything He’s Force-Fed


VIDEO: Giannis goes high to block Durant

As bad as it’s been, lugging around the albatross of the NBA’s most miserable W-L record, the Milwaukee Bucks can take solace in knowing that the 2013-14 schedule is nearly half over and they’ve only been caught using the word “tanking” in a few sentences, each time in close proximity to “not” or “no.”

Regardless of what might or might not be unfolding before our eyes, coach Larry Drew and general manager John Hammond have stirred enough new faces through the new system and into plucky moral victories to obfuscate the onerous. Staking out the higher ground of continued mid-level competitiveness, while tunneling toward the draft lottery, might earn somebody Exec of the Year consideration.

And so might this: Hammond and the Bucks, drafting from the first non-lottery spot (No. 15) last June, landed a player who has had a bigger impact than the No. 1 pick overall. A player, 19-year-old Giannis Antetokounmpo, who – if that draft were redone tomorrow – probably would be chosen before most of the 14 guys in front of him, certainly in the top five and definitely ahead of the pole-sitter, Cleveland’s Anthony Bennett.

Giannis Antetokounmpo (Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE)

Giannis Antetokounmpo (Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE)

Antetokounmpo has been the Bucks’ great Greek hope, the biggest reason (besides elbow room) to drop by the BMO Harris Bradley Center. On the right nights, Antetokounmpo’s coltish potential and unbridled enthusiasm turn the town into a Kentucky horse farm; sunshine, bluegrass and thoroughbred greatness in the making.

He has arms that reach till next Tuesday, hands like jai-alai cestas. The Bucks produced a Giannis growth chart for a giveaway and it was obsolete almost immediately; the kid reportedly has grown 1 1/2 inches since he was drafted, his warm-up pants starting to look like Capris.

Antetokounmpo’s stats are solid – 6.9 points, 4.8 rebounds, 45.6 percent shooting, 23.1 minutes – given his age, his experience, the players around him and the malaise, too. Which makes you nervous that someone so tender, so fragile, might get knocked off course through a lousy season for his team.

Is Antetokounmpo being force-fed too much too soon? Might all the losing and lack of foundation hurt him? Is there anyway to sequester him from Larry Sanders, Milwaukee’s spirited but stormy center who has been setting the don’t-do-this examples lately?

Antetokounmpo seems to be answering the questions affirmatively with his performances and a resilient personality.

As expected, he’s had some roller-coaster stats lines – double-doubles at Brooklyn and Oklahoma City the past couple of weeks, sandwiched around a 50-minute, three-game stretch against Phoenix, Golden State and Chicago in which he shot 1-for-10 with two points, eight rebounds and eight turnovers. He has broken plays on the Bucks, his halfcourt game way behind the havoc he can wreak in transition.

But Antetokounmpo has played 30 minutes or more in 11 games; Bennett, Otto Porter, Cody Zeller and Alex Len – four of the 2013 Class’ top five – have combined for zero such nights. The NBA’s youngest player has started 13 times, the Bucks have been about 10 points better when he’s on the floor and he has averaged more minutes in the fourth quarter (7.5) than in any of the first three.

“I think he’s earned it,” Drew said the other day. “When he’s on the floor, the thing that really intrigues me about him is, he does not have to score necessarily to impact the game. He’s rebounding, he can block shots, he gets in the open court, he makes plays. He’s energy – that’s something we need more than anything. I think besides Larry, he may be the most energetic guy on our team.”

Said the rookie: “I’m very happy that my coaches and my teammates are not forcing me to come in slowly, that I can come in and play. I’m very happy that the team trusts me to throw me in there. I love what I’m doing. Of course it’s my dream, and I’m just having fun. I try to learn from each game as much as possible.”

Drew and his staff are trying to fold Antetokounmpo more into the offense, drilling him in his “attack areas.”

“Right now, I can see he’s a lot more comfortable just spotting up at the [3-point line],” the coach said. “I don’t want him to fall into that type game, because he’s just too long and too athletic. … Anything on the perimeter, he’s a bounce away from the basket. Once he develops his mid-range game where he has consistency in his shot, it’s going to open up the other parts of the game.”

Antetokounmpo, the most tireless chaser in the game who doesn’t play for the Miami Heat, hasn’t wilted from all the losing or picked up bad habits from any unhappy souls in Milwaukee’s locker room. Good thing for Bucks fans: He’s still two years from accompanying anyone to nightclubs.

One area in which Antetokounmpo has been tested has been the traditional hazing that goes on by established opponents. He didn’t play well against the Suns earlier this month but handled the banging he got from P.J. Tucker. Against big names such as Carmelo Anthony and Vince Carter, Antetokounmpo has shrugged off physical and mental challenges.

“I enjoyed seeing that. If Giannis is going to take that next step, he’s going to have to learn how to balance,” Drew said. “He’s got to find ways how to play against them. I think he’s figured it out against the finesse guys. … but physical [small forwards], the strong ‘threes,’ he’s going to have to figure that out.”

Guard Gary Neal added: “I’ve seen guys bump him and he’ll bump ‘em back. The one I remember, him and Carmelo were going at it a little bit. And with Carmelo being an All-Star and challenging him, he didn’t back away from that. That’s big. … If you thought about it, there probably are some guys who folded it up and went home. We just don’t know ‘em because they’re not around anymore.”

Asked about intimidation by certain stars’ reputations, Antetokounmpo said: “Aw, no. Most of the players in this league, I don’t even know them.”

That’s not entirely true. Antetokounmpo recently lauded Kevin Durant, a player to whom he’s been compared in build, as his “idol” for his drive and focus more than his skills. By the time their meeting Saturday was over, with the kid logging 13 points and 11 rebounds, Durant was returning compliments.

“He’s just sneaky athletic; he’s quick,” the Oklahoma City star said. “He plays extremely hard. I can definitely roll with a player like that.”

Milwaukee can, too, if it is careful. The road to the draft lottery and a brighter future is bumpy, narrow and long, with nasty ditches on either side. But given Antetokounmpo’s reach and stride, he looks to be about a bounce away.