Posts Tagged ‘John Hammond’

Swift, Swat Start To Bucks’ ‘G-Bo’ Project

 

The initial plan had been to write a little on Twitter about Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Milwaukee Bucks’ roll o’ the dice, first-round draft pick. But by the time you get done with his name, his identifying information and the pronunciation guide (YAHN-iss Ah-deh-toh-KOON-bo), well, there goes your 140 characters.

So HTB it is!

To hear the Bucks’ bosses talk about their upcoming season and the need to stay competitive in a smallish market with many fans of limited means – and to maintain visibility and popularity for a new-arena pitch underway – the development of Antetokounmpo in 2013-14 figured to be a low priority. Yet the long-armed kid played 57 minutes in Milwaukee’s first two preseason games, getting force-fed on the NBA game while managing to force open a few skeptics’ or sleepers’ eyes.

The 6-foot-9 youngster scored 14 points in the opener against Cleveland, shooting 3-of 7 from the floor, 7-of-10 from the line and hitting one of his three 3-pointers. He had four rebounds, two assists, two steals and three blocks, with five turnovers and five fouls in 29:12. He was the best of the Bucks with a plus-13 plus/minus.

Against Minnesota in Sioux Falls Thursday, the fellow some have taken to calling “G-Bo” – headline writers are rooting for that to take hold – played another 28 minutes. He scored four points on 1-of-6 shooting with a couple free throws, and had seven boards, one steal, four blocks, seven turnovers and five fouls.

His minutes were due in part to Ersan Ilyasova‘s sprained right ankle. His play is expectedly raw. But the 7-foot-3 wingspan that helped generate those seven blocked shots in two games is something that can’t be coached. And Antetokounmpo already has shown glimmers of what convinced Bucks general manager John Hammond to grab him at No. 15 in the June draft.

Enough, perhaps to recalibrate some of the team’s hopes and dreams for his rookie season.

“To me, success for Giannis is, I want people to see it,” Hammond had said when camps opened. “When you see him make a play, when you see a kid 19 years old on the floor doing what he’s doing, you say, ‘I get it. I see who he can be.’ “

Hammond and Bucks VP of player personnel Dave Babcock watched Antetokounmpo work at Tim Grgurich‘s Las Vegas summer camp in August, with the GM ‘fessing up to moments when he got “giddy” over this play or that by the kid. Visions of the new guy alongside Larry Sanders and John Henson started swatting shots in Hammond’s head.

“I don’t think you’re going to see it, possibly, every night,” he said. “But just show it once in a while. To me, that’s what I’m looking for.”

Much has been written and said about Hammond’s marching orders from owner Herb Kohl. The NBA intelligentsia scoffs at the idea of a franchise getting itself “stuck in the middle,” settling for low playoff berths that generally translate into quick eliminations followed by mediocre draft position.

That’s the Milwaukee way, though, which makes Antetokounmpo a luxury of sorts. He is every inch a project player like Kwame Brown, Darko Milicic, Jonas Valanciunas and many others, but without the risk of the high picks spent on those guys. A mandate to compete, but with the permission to take a flyer on a potentially homegrown breakout talent, has the Bucks and coach Larry Drew on a dual track.

“We keep talking about him this upcoming season and what we expect of him,” Hammond said. “I would like to see him get exposed but not over-exposed. Give him an opportunity to be on the floor when it’s possible, but not have him out there too much where he would lose his confidence and those around him would lose confidence.

“At 18 years old, 19 in December, the kinds of things he’s doing on the floor are unusual to say the least. So it’s a growth curve but that curve could be extremely high.”

Higher, perhaps, even than the spelling and pronunciation curves.

Thanks But No ‘Tanks,’ Says Bucks Owner

Larry Drew (lefts) looks to turn motley crew into a surprise team in the East.

Larry Drew (lefts) looks to turn motley crew into a surprise team in the East.

ST. FRANCIS, Wis. – Milwaukee Bucks owner Herb Kohl hesitated, not entirely comfortable with the terminology. It was the kind of talk that might get frowned upon at NBA headquarters in Manhattan, after all. But it also was talk that’s been rampant since before the June draft, as various teams appeared to position themselves for something other than championship runs in 2013-14.

Finally, Kohl just went with it.

“To use the word ‘tank’ …,” the former U.S. Senator said, pausing again as he addressed reporters at his team’s Media Day Monday afternoon. “I’ve owned the team for 20-some years and never once did I go into a year saying, ‘Let’s not try and be a good team.’ I’ve always felt that way. So this year’s no different.”

This is Milwaukee, where Kohl is sensitive to his fan base and his fan base would be sensitive to any hint that his team consciously might not have quality basketball as its top priority. The Bucks made the playoffs last spring — admittedly, as the East’s No. 8 seed with a 38-44 record and first-round fodder for Miami — and there still were many nights when upper bowl at the BMO Harris Bradley Center was nearly empty. Milwaukee ranked 25th in average home attendance (15,935).

By refusing to “tank,” the Bucks generally have found themselves stuck somewhere in between being really good or really bad. They have drafted higher than No. 8 just twice in the past 17 years — Andrew Bogut (No. 1 overall, 2005) and Yi Jianlian (No. 6, 2007). During that same period, they have finished first in the Central Division once and advanced out of the first round once in eight playoff appearances.

What people wonder and talk about in Boston, Philadelphia and perhaps a few other markets this season regarding those teams’, er, managed levels of competitiveness, the Bucks want no part of. That’s not to say that their dramatically overhauled roster — with only four players back from last season — will win enough to avoid the appearance of at least semi-tanking. But it isn’t in the mission statement.

“There are some teams that buy into one kind of philosophy, and I’m not commenting on what other teams do,” Kohl said. “But I don’t believe in not competing. And doing everything you can to be as competitive as you can, and then looking for the breaks along the way that will give you a chance maybe to elevate to a high standard.”

Glancing over at the Bucks’ newly hired assistant general manager who will work with GM John Hammond this season, Kohl continued: “I know David Morway is standing there, he came from Indiana, Indiana’s a really good team this year. Indiana never tanked. Is that right, David?”

Morway, the new guy, wisely and quickly nodded in the affirmative.

“They’ve done it adding pieces here and there,” the owner said, “getting some breaks and so on. All of a sudden, here they are contending for the Eastern Conference championship. And they did it without using that word. And so we want to do it that way.”

Well, not exactly. There may not be a Paul George or Roy Hibbert in the Bucks bunch at the moment; Milwaukee doesn’t have an obvious All-Star selection on its roster.

What it has is some familiar relocated names (O.J. Mayo, Caron Butler, Gary Neal), some familiar faces (returning Bucks Carlos Delfino, Zaza Pachulia, Luke Ridnour) and a few young players still seeking footholds (Brandon Knight, Khris Middleton). The four holdovers all crowd into power forward/center spots– Larry Sanders, John Henson, Ersan Ilyasova, Ekpe Udoh.

Kohl, Hammond and new coach coach Larry Drew stressed character and chemistry repeatedly Monday, not-so-subtle references to some of the divisive personal agendas in Milwaukee’s locker room last season (Brandon Jennings, Monte Ellis and Samuel Dalembert, among others). Starting Tuesday, Drew’s job in his shift from Atlanta is to assemble the parts into something entertaining and plucky enough to satisfy Milwaukeeans and the Senator.

“It’s really tough when you bring in this amount of new players,” Drew said. “We’re going to force-feed ‘em. We have no choice. We don’t have a lot of time to get everything in, particularly before we play our first exhibition game.

“Obviously it’s going to come down to seeing how well these guys mesh together, gel together, play together. We’ll be looking at different combinations. We’ll be throwing guys in different positions. I have to see what I have.”

The one piece that does seem straight from a full rebuild is 18-year-old Greek forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks’ first-round pick in June. He is a gangly 6-foot-9, all wingspan, smile and potential who might be hitting his stride about the time this roster has turned over another time or two.

For Hammond, constrained by the market pressures as Kohl practices them, the opportunity to go with a project — for a franchise that isn’t an elite free-agent destination – was a rare thrill. The GM spoke about feeling “giddy” at times while watching Antetokounmpo work at Tim Grgurich‘s summer camp and hoping that fans at least see glimmers of the kid’s talent in occasional games this season.

But that learning curve won’t crowd ahead of the W-L standings, a goal of another playoff berth or, frankly, Kohl’s dream of a new arena to replace the Bradley Center. The building opened in 1988 and apparently lacks many of the features and amenities that boost the financial statements of teams in more modern facilities.

An apathetic fan base or a lot of games with empty upper bowls is no way to leverage the public subsidies that will be needed on top of Kohl’s “significant contribution.”

“Naturally you want to be as good as you can be – that helps – in moving towards an arena,” Kohl said Monday. “But I would not want to put that burden on our basketball operations.

“We’re gonna get a facility. I’m confident we’re going to get a facility because it’s an important thing, not only for basketball but for our community. And in order to keep the Bucks, we have to have a facility. And in order to get a facility, we have to keep the Bucks. So it’s like a two-fer: We’re either going to get both in the years ahead or we’re going to have neither.”

Did someone say leverage? As in, say, Seattle?

Put that way, being stuck in the middle competitively is a lot more appealing in Milwaukee than being on the outside looking in.

Butler Returns Home To Milwaukee, Late But No Leaded Bat Needed

 

RACINE, Wis. – When Caron Butler would be late coming home, when that tiny red flag meant that he likely was in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people, Mattie Claybrook sometimes would hop in the car and take matters into her own hands.

“I had a leaded bat,” Claybrook, mother of the 11-year NBA veteran, said Thursday. “I took it a few times, just to scare the kids. I used to go where I thought he would be with the other boys. They would say, ‘Your momma’s comin’, your momma’s comin’. So he would hide or duck, but I would find him. I’d make him come back home and run the other boys away from wherever they might be. I was trying to keep him straight and narrow.”

That big stick would rank Claybrook somewhere between Isiah Thomas‘ mother greeting gang recruiters at her front door with a shotgun and Derrick Rose‘s three older brothers shooing away bad guys as young “Pooh” ran between their home, their grandmother’s and the Murray Park playground.

But those are Chicago tales – Thomas’ on the city’s West Side, Rose’s to the south in the tough Englewood neighborhood. Butler’s street challenges played out 70 miles to the north, a city of about 79,000 people along Lake Michigan, about 20 miles south of Milwaukee.

Trouble doesn’t sweat demographics, though, and it found Butler at Hamilton Park, a gathering site of idle time and ill intentions where Butler claims to have made his first drug sale at age 11. His newspaper route, getting him up and out long before he was supposed to be in school, provided perfect cover for the bad path onto which Butler had strayed. Back in 2008, during the third and most successful of Butler’s six NBA stops so far, Michael Lee of the Washington Post wrote about that path:

Butler received newspapers at 3:30 each morning, delivered them and then hit the corner of 18th and Howe to sell crack before the sun rose.

“You can take a kid to school all day; he’s in school for eight hours, he [doesn’t] see the immediate impact,” Butler said. “You can stay out [on the corner] for four, five hours and make $1,500.”

By his estimation, Butler appeared in juvenile court 15 times by age 15. He served stints at two correctional institutions and had friends who were gunned down in the street. He narrowly avoided doing serious time himself when police found crack cocaine in the garage of the house where he and his family were living.

But basketball was speaking to Butler too, at the Bray and Bryant community centers in Racine, at Washington Park High and eventually at the Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield, Maine. He had been steered there by Jameel Ghuari of the Bray Center, Butler’s AAU coach and, over time, his mentor. That’s where Butler finished school and attracted the attention of Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun.

The rest, as they say, is history. Butler starred for two seasons with the Huskies and was picked 10th in the 2002 Draft by Miami, his first NBA stop. He spent a year with the Lakers after being dealt in the Heat’s trade for Shaquille O’Neal, made the East All-Star team twice in four-plus seasons with the Wizards, then joined Dallas in February 2010.

He was part of the Mavericks squad that beat Miami for the 2011 NBA title but he was a spectator, too, after rupturing his right patellar tendon in January of that season. The Clippers signed Butler out of rehab to a three-year, $24 million free-agent contract, and he averaged 11.1 points in 26.6 minutes the past two seasons.

And now, he’s home, acquired by Milwaukee last week for guard Ish Smith and center Viacheslav Kravtsov from Butler’s temporary stop in Phoenix (he was part of the Eric Bledsoe-Jared Dudley-J.J. Redick transaction in July). On Thursday, that meant a combination news conference-welcome event-pep rally for Butler in the fieldhouse at Park High. Students filled the bleachers at one end of the big gym, while family and extended family beamed from seats on the floor.

It wasn’t just safe for Butler to be back in Racine Thursday. It was proper.

“I’m not going to let you guys down,” Butler, 33, told them all. The event barely had begun and already his voice was growing thick, his eyes turning red. He ticked off thanks to a long list of folks and called the Bucks “a contending team.”

“I’m a little emotional,” Butler said. “I always am – y’all see me crying at press conferences all the time. But this is a different emotion now because this is a dream come true. This is something … I never thought it would happen.”

Two years ago, Milwaukee and Chicago both were possible destinations for Butler until the Clippers’ fat offer settled that. This time, a call from Butler to his mother brought it home.

“I started screaming and shouting and jumping all around the house like a little kid,” Claybrook said. “I said, ‘Thank you, God, in the name of Jesus’ about 20 times. I was so overwhelmed, so blessed.”

For the Bucks, adding Butler was the latest and nearly final move in a summer full of them. Fourteen of the 18 players who suited up for them in 2012-13 are gone. The roster has 11 new faces, including Butler, O.J. Mayo, Brandon Knight, Carlos Delfino, Zaza Pachulia and others, to be knitted into a team by a new head coach, Larry Drew.

For all the turnover, there still was a hole at small forward, which meant either overloading Delfino’s minutes or playing someone from the big-heavy front line out of position. Now Butler might start, with general manager John Hammond persuaded that the veteran’s recent spate of injuries (the knee in 2011, a broken hand in 2012, back and elbow issues last season) won’t scuttle that plan.

“I don’t think he’s made many concessions [to age or injury],” Hammond said. “I think he wants to do more – we don’t have Chris Paul or Blake Griffin like the Clippers do. … I talked to [Dallas coach] Rick Carlisle about Caron and he said, ‘I’ve never seen a guy work as hard as Caron did to come back from that [knee] injury.’ “

Hammond did those sort of background checks years ago on Butler, too, prior to the 2002 draft when the word “criminal” still was floating around. After 11 NBA seasons, that has been replaced entirely by praise for Butler’s character, personality and charity in the cities where he has played and, of course, in Racine.

“I always wanted to prove people wrong,” Butler said. “Everybody put this stigma on you like ‘You’re not going to make it’ or ‘You can’t do it because…’ “

“Always,” in his case, being from about age 16, anyway.

“I just always wanted to prove doubters wrong. and be a good example for the kids that watch me. My children, children in my family,” the father of four said. “Because the examples that I had, the role models, were different people, people who were running the streets doing different things.

“It’s real rewarding to see people say, ‘I look up to you. Because you did that, I feel I can do this.’ That’s special to me and means a lot.”

There was a fieldhouse full of people telling Butler that Thursday. He had joked that the Bucks, the high school and the neighbors couldn’t hold the news conference “at 18th and Mead,” on the corner of Hamilton Park. But in a way, they did.

Neal, Bucks Agree To Two-Year Deal





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

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

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

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

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

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


Sprained Ankle Sidelines Bucks’ Sanders



LAS VEGAS – Just as he was getting comfortable during USA Basketball’s mini-camp for the Men’s Senior National Team, Milwaukee Bucks center Larry Sanders was sent to the sidelines with a sprained left ankle.

Sanders spent the bulk of the Tuesday’s workout on the trainers’ table with his ankle elevated and Bucks general manager John Hammond and head coach Larry Drew hovering the entire time.

“He just sprained it and it blew up on him a little bit,” Drew said. “It’s s tough pill for him to swallow because you know how bad he wants to be out there. All of these guys do. But it’s just a freak thing that happened.”

With further evaluation needed, Sanders’ will miss the mini-camp and Thursday night’s intrasquad scrimmage at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center.

Sanders, who finished second to Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka in blocks last season, injured himself doing what he does best. He went up to contest a shot under the basket and came down on the foot of Houston Rockets swingman Chandler Parsons and crumpled to the floor holding his ankle.

Sanders had a towel wrapped around his head for much of the day, the frustration no doubt eating him as the action continued without him. In such a competitive environment, an injury can cost a player the time on he needs on the floor to impress not only the USA Basketball brass, but also the general manager and coach who made the trek here to observe him as well.

“There are a lot of eyes on us in this environment,” said fellow big man Derrick Favors of Utah. “It’s tough to see anyone go down in this situation. Larry was all over the place out there before it happened, too. I saw him over there with that towel over his head and I just told him to keep his head up.”

Options Dwindling For Bucks, Jennings

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If someone could shove a stick into the machinery of free agency right now – and the Milwaukee Bucks could bring back point guard Brandon Jennings on the one-year qualifying offer price of $4.3 million – both the team and the player would be well-served.

Of course, the gears will keep turning, teams will assess and re-assess, someone will panic, someone else will blink and Milwaukee general manager John Hammond probably will be faced with matching a multi-year deal for Jennings. Hammond’s preferred choice at point guard, Jeff Teague, was snatched back Saturday by the Atlanta Hawks, who chose to match the restricted 25-year-old’s four-year, $32 million offer sheet from Milwaukee.

As eager as Teague was to continue playing for former Hawks coach Larry Drew in his new gig with the Deer, Atlanta wasn’t willing to lose an asset such as Teague for nothing in return. As the proprietor here at HTB, Sekou Smith, notes, the Hawks’ backcourt is too thin and Teague is too consistent a performer to have picked off, especially by a middle-of-the-pack rival in the Eastern Conference.

That leaves the Bucks and Jennings staring at each other, perhaps to make nice now that their options are dwindling, perhaps to glare a little and scramble like mad to avoid what might be less than a warm-and-fuzzy reconciliation.

It didn’t sound as if Hammond and Jennings would be running slow-motion through a sun-drenched meadow to embrace, in the immediate aftermath of Atlanta’s Teague decision, as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Charles F. Gardner reported it:

Bucks general manager John Hammond got the news after his flight landed in Las Vegas, where Milwaukee plays its first NBA Summer League game on Saturday night.

“Now we have to move forward with the job before us,” Hammond said. “We have some work to do.”

The best thing for both sides, it says here, would be to re-up with each other for a year on that $4.3 million qualifying offer. That would allow Jennings to become unrestricted in 2014, freed from the Bucks forever if he truly wants a bigger market or bigger money (and can find someone to offer either or both). It would benefit Milwaukee, too, because they would have a highly motivated point guard, presumably eager to address some of the significant flaws in his game. Like his shot selection. Like his shaky work facilitating teammates. Like his poor percentages finishing at the rim. And like his deteriorating defensive play.

Obviously it would be risky for Jennings to forsake guaranteed money over multiple years if someone offers it. Then again, he has taken the road less traveled before, heading to Europe for a season rather than spending one year at a college campus in the U.S. prior to the 2009 Draft.

His development on the court has stalled because his maturity off it has been playing catch-up. Yet it’s unlikely Hammond and Drew want to go through the season with only newly-added Luke Ridnour, O.J. Mayo as a combo option and raw backups Ish Smith and rookie Nate Wolters at the point.

Jennings, almost as a tease but also in response to a talk last season with interim head coach Jim Boylan, produced a striking month’s work just after the All-Star break. Over 13 games, he averaged 15.5 points and 9.9 assists while shooting 44.8 percent from 3-point range (while reigning in his attempts a bit). Six of his 13 double-double games and seven of his 13 double-digit assists performances came during those 13 games, and the Bucks went 7-6.

It seemed like a salary drive, only it didn’t last. Over Milwaukee’s final 15 regular-season games, Jennings averaged 14.4 points, 5.1 assists and shot 35.9 on 3-pointers, jacking them up at a higher rate again. The Bucks closed 5-10.

Milwaukee, if it’s going to bring him back at all, needs the good Jennings, the motivated Jennings, for most or all of its 82 games, not just 13. Jennings needs to demonstrate his market value, because the gap between what he think he’s worth and what he’s being offered at the moment scarcely could be greater.

Going all in for one year would be best for both sides. Even if it’s unlikely to happen.

Bucks Tunneling Way Out Of Mediocrity

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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — When Milwaukee fans finish flipping through their “Half-Season In Review: 2012-13″ to relive their favorite J.J. Redick moments with the Bucks – it won’t take long – they can start calculating the true haul from trading away promising young forward Tobias Harris, guards Doron Lamb and Beno Udrih along with cash to Orlando not quite 4 1/2 months ago.

That won’t take long, either. With Redick headed to the Los Angeles Clippers along with Phoenix’s Jared Dudley, per Yahoo! Sports’ report Tuesday afternoon, and the Suns acquiring Clippers guard Eric Bledsoe and forward Caron Butler in the deal, the Bucks’ participation in the sign-and-trade portion with Redick earned them two second-round picks.

That’s it.

Which means that the package of players and money sent to Orlando in the deal that delivered Redick leaves Milwaukee now with guard Ish Smith, forward Gustavo Ayon and 28 games in which Redick, employed for his shooting, was about as inaccurate as at any point in his career.

He shot 40.3 percent for the Bucks, second only to his 39.1 in 2008-09 with Orlando, and his 31.8 percent from 3-point range dragged his career mark down to 39.0. Never getting into rhythm in a backcourt that already had issues with Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, Redick’s game slipped across the board. He also chafed with Bucks interim coach Jim Boylan near the end of the eighth-seeded team’s odd spit-out-the-bit season (4-16 after March 19, including the first-round sweep by Miami).

Even if Redick had thrived, he wasn’t returning to the Bucks. He wanted more money, and more opportunity to win, than they would or could offer. So salvaging two second-round picks was, well, something.

But it continued a week in which the Bucks are waving a white flag on their recent history of plucky mediocrity. The Jennings-Ellis backcourt is kaput; one or both of the shoot-first guards will be gone via free agency, Ellis after opting out of an $11 million deal for next season, Jennings if the offer sheet he signs runs too rich for Milwaukee’s blood.

Also, general manager John Hammond just took the youngest player in last week’s Draft, grabbing 18-year-old Greek forward Giannis Antetokounmpo at No. 15. Hammond raved about Big G’s almost limitless upside but no one expects him to help much on the floor next season. Center Samuel Dalembert will play elsewhere next season – he was in coach Scott Skiles’ doghouse before Skiles exited in January – and so will swingman Mike Dunleavy, a veteran backup who hit almost 43 percent of his 3-pointers in 2012-13 but is headed to the Bulls.

In drafting Antetokounmpo, Hammond talked of what really is a reality check for a team such as Milwaukee. “How are we going to get our next All-Star?” the GM said. The implication was that, no, the Bucks aren’t going to land marquee free agents. So they’ve got to rely on drafts and trades.

Or maybe just drafts, because this trade stuff – Harris was given all of 70 games to develop and still won’t turn 21 until July 15 – is looking a little shaky now too. The level-headed product of Tennessee averaged 17.3 points and 8.5 rebounds in 36.1 minutes in 27 games for the Magic.

If there’s a silver lining in Milwaukee aligning itself with Philadelphia, Boston and others already focused on the 2014 draft, it is this: Those rumors over the weekend about the Bucks’ interest in New York free agent J.R. Smith should stay mere rumors. Even if Milwaukee were ready to challenge for a top seed in the East, Smith would be a bad idea, a flashback through John Salmons, Corey Maggette, Stephen Jackson and even Bobby Simmons rolled into one.

For a fellow such as Smith, Milwaukee surely holds no appeal, either for where it is located or for where it is headed.

Hawks’ Drew Left On Coaching Carousel





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Every time the music stops in this latest game of NBA coaching musical chairs, former Atlanta Hawks coach Larry Drew finds himself looking for a seat.

And yes, he is now officially a “former” Hawks coach as of Tuesday afternoon. That’s when the Hawks announced that they hired Mike Budenholzer, the longtime assistant to San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, to take over Drew’s old job. Budenholzer joins Jeff Hornacek (Phoenix) and Steve Clifford (Charlotte) as assistants who move over to the first chair next season. And there are still several more big-name assistants — Indiana’s Brian Shaw is the biggest, and he is not being allowed to interview for other jobs during the Pacers’ run — who could be in line to move up.

There are still vacancies in Milwaukee, Detroit, Brooklyn, Philadelphia and Los Angeles (Clippers) that need to be filled. Drew is a candidate in Milwaukee (he’ll interview for a second time this week) and is interested in the Clippers’ opening.

But as of this morning he’s still twisting in coaching no-man’s land after the Hawks filled his job without ever officially severing ties with the man who led them to three straight playoff appearances during his tenure. Drew was a Hawks assistant for six seasons before that, the final three of those culminating in playoff trips under then-coach (and now-Knicks coach) Mike Woodson.

Drew’s contract expires June 30 and he went into this process with a complete understanding of what Hawks GM Danny Ferry was doing. It’s not like someone snatched the rug from underneath him. Ferry is going for the complete franchise makeover, complete with 12 or 13 roster spots to fill in addition to Budenholzer and whatever staff he can put together.

Ferry made it clear that while he didn’t mind dancing with the coach he inherited last summer when he took over Atlanta’s basketball operations, he was going to keep an eye out for his own guy. His history with Budenholzer, both as a player and executive with the Spurs, was an obvious connection.

Drew understood that the chance of him returning to the job he did so well the past three seasons was slim at best. He fielded questions about his status all season, never once bristling at a process with an outcome that many of us saw coming the day Ferry was hired. All that said, it’s still bizarre for some to see a coach under contract, at least for another month, replaced by someone whose current job (at that time) required him to help prepare the Spurs for another long playoff run.

Bucks general manager John Hammond has to make the next move where Drew is concerned. His pool of candidates to take over in Milwaukee shrinks every time the music stops. Clifford and Budenholzer were reportedly on Hammond’s short list before being taken off of the market. And now Drew and Houston Rockets assistant Kelvin Sampson are believed to be the finalists.

Drew has 128-102 record as a coach and those three playoff appearances in three seasons working in his favor … not that it served him very well in whatever attempt was made to keep his job with the Hawks. Sampson has history with the Bucks, having worked as an assistant under former coach Scott Skiles for three seasons.

Drew’s coaching experience is going head-to-head with Sampson’s connection and the trend of assistants being elevated to top jobs. How much longer Drew remains on the coaching carousel depends on the which set of factors carry more weight in Milwaukee and perhaps elsewhere.

The coaching vacancy landscape can change in an instant — just ask former Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro. The Memphis Grizzlies have to decide what they’re going to do with Lionel Hollins, whose contract is up. He’ll be a hot candidate for several of these remaining openings if he and the Grizzlies decide to part ways.

That’s why if you are Drew, you want a seat now … before that music stops again.

Six Sensible Picks For Coaching Success



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Raise your hand, you twisted souls, if you’re ready for another episode of the Dwight Howard-Stan Van Gundy show.

Even Hawks fans, a group starved for both star power on the roster and stability with the coaching staff, are wary of the potential pairing of these former Orlando Magic stalwarts in the ATL. Their deteriorating relationship marred their final season together in a situation that was anything but magic in Orlando.

But when the coaching carousel kicks up this time of year, and a half-dozen or so different teams are picking over the same small pool of elite coaching candidates, all things are possible.

Van Gundy, and his brother, Jeff Van Gundy, are going to be on short lists everywhere, along with Phil Jackson, Jerry Sloan, Larry Brown and whoever the assistant coach(es) du jour might be.

What looks good on paper and sounds sweet in theory, however, doesn’t always hold up in reality. Multiple reports of Stan Van Gundy being pursued by the Hawks, who have announced that they will explore all options in determining who replaces Larry Drew (if they replace him), make perfect sense. Hawks GM Danny Ferry is in the process of rebuilding his roster and needs a coach on board before the Draft.

“I have great appreciation and respect for Larry and how he led our team this season,” Ferry told Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Saturday. “At the same time, it is my responsibility and in the best interests of the Hawks organization to consider all of our options, and talk with other potential head coaches before making a decision about who will lead our basketball team. Larry and I have had open communication about this approach. If Larry and I continue to work together, we ultimately will be a stronger organization because of our discussions and this thorough process.”

That’s an eloquent way of stating the obvious: that the Hawks plan on moving on from the past nine years (Drew was an assistant under current Knicks Mike Woodson during his six seasons with Atlanta before Drew spent the last three season its coach). And it’s understandable. No one will blame Ferry for making a clean break from the Hawks’ recent past, provided he upgrades the coaching situation and the roster with all of that $33 million in cap space and the four Draft picks the Hawks will be armed with this summer.

The burning question remains, then, is Stan Van a legitimate upgrade?

He did take the Magic to The Finals in 2009, the Miami Heat to the Eastern Conference finals (2005) and did the same with Orlando (2010). But he was shown the door in both places after his star players grew tired of his grinding ways. Weighing the pros and cons of Stan Van being the face and voice of your franchise heading into a huge free-agent summer is a risky proposition for the Hawks, one that Ferry is surely aware of as he continues to sort through the process of finding the right coach.

There are five other current openings around the league, with another one (Los Angeles Clippers … ?) still looming. With a bevy of candidates, we take a look at who fits best where and why …

Atlanta Hawks: Mike Malone, assistant coach Golden State Warriors

In a realm where it’s often who you know as well as what you know, Malone can check those boxes with the Hawks. He’s done stellar work with the Warriors, helping guide them into a prime time position this postseason under Mark Jackson. He also worked under Mike Brown in Cleveland when Ferry ran that franchise. Malone is a nuts-and-bolts coach who won’t come with the baggage of some of the more recognizable candidates for the job. He’s universally respected and will likely be on the interview list for every opening out there.

Brooklyn Nets: Jeff Van Gundy, ABC/ESPN analyst

No available coach has a better handle on the rigors of guiding a team in the New York area. Van Gundy’s Knicks history, along with his work on ABC and ESPN broadcasts, has kept him in the forefront of a lot of people’s minds. He’s got the coaching chops required to manage a complex and talented roster that clearly needs a guiding force to reach its potential. His former partner in the booth, Mark Jackson, has done wonders in his first coaching stint in Golden State. Van Gundy could work similar magic with a Nets team that underachieved this season.

Charlotte Bobcats: Larry Drew, coach Atlanta Hawks

Drew worked alongside Bobcats owner Michael Jordan when they were both in Washington, so there is plenty of familiarity there. He also impressed many around the league with the work he did in an impossible situation in Atlanta the past three seasons. Even with constant changes on the roster and in the front office, Drew coached the Hawks to three straight playoff appearances. He would walk into a situation in Charlotte that looks a lot like the one he walked into with the Hawks nine years ago. That blueprint for thriving in the face of adversity could come in handy for the Bobcats.

Detroit Pistons: Jerry Sloan, former coach Utah Jazz

The Pistons have a roster filled with talented young players in need of guidance and direction. That’s the idea fit for a disciplinarian like Sloan, who could work wonders with bigs Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond in particular. Sloan’s Jazz teams were known for being the model of consistency. He won with superstar talent (Karl Malone and John Stockton) and kept on winning after they retired. The Pistons have had their greatest success in recent years under another veteran coach, Larry Brown, and could return to relevance under Sloan.

Milwaukee Bucks: David Fizdale, assistant coach Miami Heat

With the Big 3 in Miami, most of the attention has been strictly on the players. But Erik Spoelstra‘s key hire since taking over as coach in Miami was luring Fizdale away from the Hawks. He’s considered one of the brightest up-and-coming coaching candidates in the league and has done fantastic work with the continued development of both Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. Luring him away from a championship situation in Miami won’t be easy for the Bucks or anyone else. But Fizdale has designs on running his own team and working with Bucks GM John Hammond would be a good place to get that first shot.

Philadelphia 76ers: Stan Van Gundy, former coach Orlando Magic

After the emotional roller coaster that was the Doug Collins experience, Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young, Spencer Hawes and the rest of the Sixers’ young core need a savvy veteran to deal with, not a first-time coach who would have to transition to a new gig in a city known for chewing up the strongest of personalities.  Stan Van gives the Sixers a bold personality to lead the way and an absolute technician of the game to help push the right buttons for a team that needs the sort of stewardship he tried to provide in Orlando.

Kareem Interested In Filled Bucks Job?

Headed toward the playoffs for the first time in three years and only the second time in seven, the Milwaukee Bucks have won four in a row. That includes overtime thrillers vs. Toronto and Utah in the past two and, before that at Dallas and Houston, the franchise’s first multi-victory Texas trip since 1986.

Monta Ellis was named the East’s player of the week – he’s averaging 26.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 7.5 assists and 4.8 steals in the winning streak – and Brandon Jennings has put up 18.0 ppg and 9.5 apg over the past eight. At 30-28, the Bucks woke up as close to the No. 2 spot in their conference (Indiana, 38-22) as they were to the falling out of the bracket to No. 9 (Philadelphia, 23-35).

So naturally, it’s time to bandy about possible coaching hires.

Actually, no, it’s silly. Jim Boylan, taking over after Scott Skiles‘ abrupt exit in early January, has calmed down and pulled together Milwaukee’s locker room. He’s getting good production from his undersized, offensive-minded backcourt and better results from the likes of Samuel Dalembert and Ersan Ilyasova. But he has that “interim” tag in front of his title, so options remain open.

Standard fare for talk shows and Internet boards, the Bucks’ head coaching gig was a topic on the airwaves when longtime Milwaukee sportswriter Dave Begel tuned in the other day. That’s when the light bulb went on over Begel’s head:

One name I didn’t hear, and one that I think should move to the very head of the line is a man I talked with last week who said he’d jump at the chance to coach the Bucks.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

I asked him flat out if he would be willing to be the head coach of the Bucks.

“Of course,” he replied.

Gotta like that phrase-ology. Asked if he’d be willing to coach the Bucks, Abdul-Jabbar said “Of course.”

Abdul-Jabbar, of course, is part of the franchise fabric in Milwaukee. He was their No. 1 draft pick in 1969 before their second season, a prize conveyed by a coin flip with Phoenix that delivered not only a young superstar from UCLA – “Lew Alcindor” back then – but an NBA championship two years later. Milwaukee made it to The Finals again, its last, three years later.

A year after that, in 1975, Abdul-Jabbar wanted out of town, pushing for a trade either to New York or Los Angeles. The deal with the Lakers replenished the Bucks’ talent base with quality, at least, but the 7-foot-2 center was the one who won five more rings and played 14 more seasons to become the league’s all-time leading scorer.

Few ever have questioned Abdul-Jabbar’s basketball pedigree, which Begel got him talking about in presenting his credentials to be an NBA head coach.

But besides his reputation, what else would he bring to the Bucks?

“I know how to prepare for a season as an individual and I know what that means in terms of team commitment,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “I can get all the right people together that have some chemistry and care about each other and they love the game. That’s where teams are made or not made successful.

“That’s very hard for GM’s to figure out. They know talent when they see it. But that ability to connect with your teammates, that personal chemistry is a hard thing to see in people. I can help players learn how to develop that chemistry. We had Pete Newell out here (in Los Angeles) and he was a master at understanding the personal fire within each player. I’d be a coach who can provide respect and keep the guys on the same page for a whole season.”

Lindsey Hunter is working the Phoenix Suns’ sidelines with a lot thinner resume than Capt. Sky Hook. Lots of career pluggers – lifetime coaches – have gotten two or three shots simply by climbing a coaching ladder, then lingering near a microphone.

But Abdul-Jabbar will be bucking a couple of trends if he winds up getting serious consideration from Milwaukee GM John Hammond and owner Herb Kohl.

First, there’s an apparent bias against centers among NBA head coaches. Bill Cartwright got a shot for a spell and, though he always was listed as power forward, Houston’s Kevin McHale certainly ranks among the league’s great big men. But others such as Patrick Ewing and Bob McAdoo have been waiting for years. Something about their specialness as players – seeing the game from about seven feet up – seems to work against them.

Second, there’s an apparent bias in the NBA against prickly sons of guns. The fraternal order of coaches and the league overall tends to rewards the regular Joes, the fellows who mix and blend and get along. Abdul-Jabbar came across for years as aloof and distant – a late Milwaukee Journal sports columnist said, “I interviewed his back for six years” – and more recently has seemed like one of those who “learn to say hello when it’s time to say goodbye.” The PR value of bringing the big fella back to a city he once fled would be mixed, possibly negligible.

Third and most important – the job is filled. If the Bucks indeed make the playoffs, even if it means a first-round collision with Miami, Boylan should be at the top of management’s list to stay on. He will have earned an offseason of prep time and a real training camp, at least. Abdul-Jabbar has him by 38,387 career NBA points, but this should not be about that.