Posts Tagged ‘John Hammond’

Bucks Tunneling Way Out Of Mediocrity


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


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.

Bad Back Again Raises Questions Of Bogut’s Durability

It’s only a matter of time, sadly, before someone – either mistakenly or pointedly – refers to Golden State’s ailing Australian center as “Sam Bogut.”

As in Sam Bowie, as in the NBA big man whose career is defined more by his draft position and a series of hobbling leg injuries than the 10.9 points and 7.5 rebounds he averaged across 511 games and 10 seasons.

There was no Michael Jordan in the 2005 draft that saw Andrew Bogut selected as the No. 1 pick overall, but there was Chris Paul (No. 4). And Deron Williams (No. 3). And, deeper in, guys like Danny Granger (No. 17), David Lee (No. 30), Ersan Ilyasova (No. 36) and Monta Ellis (No. 40).

Bogut’s production in eight NBA seasons has surprassed Bowie’s – but not by all that much (12.5 ppg, 9.3 rpg). And in durability, the 7-foot native of Melbourne has only the slightest of edges: 52.5 appearances per season to Bowie’s 51.1.

So if 80 percent of life is showing up, as Woody Allen said long ago, then Bogut is putting the “aww” in Aussie the same way Bowie put the blue in Kentucky bluegrass.

The latest setback in Bogut’s injury-riddled career came Friday, when he was termed “out indefinitely” with back spasms and missed Golden State’s home overtime victory against San Antonio. The spasms in Bogut’s mid-back area began after he played in back-to-back games Tuesday and Wednesday for the first time in 13 months. After playing 15 unproductive minutes at Utah in the front end, he lasted 29 minutes back home against Phoenix, contributing seven points, 11 rebounds, five assists and three blocks.

By Friday morning, though, he was getting an MRI – something with which he and his former team, the Milwaukee Bucks, became all too familiar when Bogut missed more than half the 2008-09 season with a back stress fracture. He had minor back issues in 2009-10 and again last season.

Bogut’s inability to get and stay on the court, brutally frustrating to him, already has swamped his NBA resume and reputation. From the back issues to the gruesome arm and wrist injuries he suffered in an April 2010 fall to last season’s microfracture ankle surgery, he missed 126 of 534 with Milwaukee, 106 of those in his last three-plus seasons there. Since going to Golden State last March with Stephen Jackson in the trade for Ellis, Ekpe Udoh and Kwame Brown, Bogut has played just 12 times in 82 games.

His contributions have been meager this season, his challenge in assimilating to the Warriors’ system – and teammates to him – considerable; Golden State was 6-6 in Bogut’s 12 games vs. 26-17 without him.

And as this season’s trade deadline passed Thursday, there was ominous talk that, by the same time next season, Bogut’s greatest contribution to Golden State might be his $14 million expiring contract.

It’s a shame, because Bogut had stretches of true dominance with the Bucks and was headed toward an All-Star breakthrough when he got nudged from behind by Amar’e Stoudemire late in 2009-10 – that was Milwaukee’s “Fear The Deer” year – and landed all wrong. He never regained that form, never stayed on the floor long enough to get there, and at 28 might be too risky for teams to consider at top dollar.

Speaking of dollars, it’s worth comparing the cost of Bogut’s output with Ellis’ since the trade in which they were the principal players. Since the deal on March 13, 2012, Bogut has scored 85 points for the Warriors, grabbed 78 rebounds, dished 28 assists, had four steals, blocked 19 shots and played 270 minutes. Ellis has scored 1,340 points, grabbed 278 rebounds, had 416 assists, picked 128 steals, blocked 33 shots and logged 2,722 minutes.

Break that down according to each man’s current annual salary – Bogut at $13 million, Ellis at $11 million – and the Bucks’ bargain in that GM John Hammond-engineered trade looks overwhelming.

Golden State’s cost per stat: $152,941 per point, $166,667 per rebound, $464,286 per assist, $3.25 million per steal, $684,210 per block and $48,148 per minute.

Milwaukee’s cost for Ellis: $8,209 per point, $39,568 per rebound, $26,442 per assist, $85,938 per steal, $333,333 per block and $4,041 per minute.

That’s value that Bucks owner Herb Kohl has to be pleased about. And costs that has to have the Warriors wondering with Bogut’s latest veer into the trainer’s room.

Winners, Losers In Deadline’s Big Chill


The Big Chill.

If Thursday’s NBA trade deadline was a movie, the audience would have walked out in the middle from boredom. This freeze came straight from the script that is the league’s new collective bargaining agreement — with its harsher luxury tax penalties and diminished roster flexibility for tax offenders — it put the clamps on a stunningly uneventful deadline day.

The big names were on the opening credits: Josh Smith, Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Eric Gordon, Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis.

Yet, when the curtain closed at 3 p.m. ET, Orlando Magic sharpshooter J.J. Redick stole the show as the lone player of significance to switch teams. The Milwaukee Bucks acquired the career 39.8 percent 3-point shooter in a six-player deal that involved five other relatively anonymous NBA names.

Only one potential blockbuster deal percolated, but ultimately died on the vine with the Atlanta Hawks going the distance in an attempt to strike a deal with the Bucks for Smith before pulling back. One reason so few big deals were discussed was simply because there wasn’t much talent realistically in play, a point that goes beyond any ramifications of the CBA.

The CBA that took effect in December 2011, and begins to smack tax-paying teams with stiffer fines next season, has clearly put franchises on the defensive. Teams that were once willing to add salary to consummate a deal no longer are. Teams that once didn’t think twice about sweetening a deal with a first-round pick, suddenly guard them with their lives.

“Cap room and draft picks, which are usually the currency of how these [big] deals get done, were at a huge premium and are something that everyone wants to have,” said Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, who steered the most active club at the deadline with a couple of lower-tier deals.

There’s really no greater example of the effect of these changes than the Dallas Mavericks and their braintrust, owner Mark Cuban and president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson. Chronic and strategic over-spenders and tax payers under the old CBA, Cuban, who took on salary in deadline deals for Jason Kidd in 2008 and Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson in 2010, analyzed the new rules and reversed field last year.

He dismantled the 2011 championship team, choosing to covet cap space and the roster flexibility granted to teams that remain under the tax threshold, as well as newfound valuing of first-round draft picks as low-priced labor and trade assets.

It’s a strategy that no longer has the Mavs on speed dial of teams looking to make a deal and dump salary.

“It’s definitely a factor,” Nelson said of the CBA’s chilling effect Thursday after the deadline expired. “There’s no question that folks have their eye on the inevitable, and there’s no question that people are getting their collective houses in order.

“There’s some teams that see that on the horizon and act early, and other teams that will procrastinate and pay a dear price. But I think we’re right in the middle of that. It’s not brand-new news and so, yeah, I think you’re going to see a lot of teams try to correct themselves financially.”

The so-called “repeater” tax really has teams scared. Several clubs tried to deal away lost-cost players to avoid the repeater tax, which will whack franchises with an additional fine if they go over the tax line in three of four seasons. Golden State was successful in this venture. Chicago was not and will pay a luxury tax for the first time since its implementation.

This “repeater” penalty deterred teams from making deals that would have pushed payroll even slightly over the tax line, deals they might have normally green-lighted in the old days. So, is this the way of the future under the current rules?

“I can’t predict the future,” Morey said, “but I think the trend is more this way.”


Rockets: Morey’s stockpiling of assets the last couple years has been questioned, but he’s turned it into quite a haul starting with James Harden prior to the start of the season. The day before the deadline, Morey acquired the No. 5 overall pick, Thomas Robinson, from Sacramento. Morey’s dealing didn’t damage an abundance of cap space next summer that will be used to pursue a top free agent such as Dwight Howard and Josh Smith.

Bucks: GM John Hammond didn’t get his big fish in Smith, but he pulled off the deal for Redick, who should really help a club that’s been skidding down the East standings and needs a boost. Hammond held onto Jennings and Ellis and will have room to maneuver in the summer to add more pieces.

Thunder: GM Sam Presti continues to make shrewd moves. The acquisition of Ronnie Brewer from the New York Knicks for a second-round pick gives OKC another strong perimeter defender to help Thabo Sefolosha.

Celtics: Jordan Crawford might not be Jamal Crawford, but he can score in bunches and Boston was desperate to bolster its injury-ravaged guard backcourt. Boston fans are the winners here, too, with the team’s heart and soul, Garnett and Pierce, staying put.

Mavericks: Sure, on the surface, picking up 3-point specialist Anthony Morrow for defensive-minded guard Dahntay Jones doesn’t sound like much. But then reminded us of this Dwight Howard interview in Russia when he named Morrow as one of a handful of players he’d like to have as a teammate.

Blazers: The team with the leanest bench in the NBA finally got some help in a minor deal that netted OKC guard Eric Maynor, who lost his job early on to Reggie Jackson. Maynor will help Rookie of the Year frontrunner Damian Lillard reduce his 38.5 mpg workload.


Hawks: They didn’t get the deal done to ship out Smith and now it seems they will lose him for nothing in free agency. On one level, however, it’s hard to say that this is a definitive loss. They’ll keep Smith (who might or might not come away from this experience deflated) for the rest of the season, and, with any luck, try to keep him while recruiting friend and fellow Atlantan Howard next summer. If GM Danny Ferry wasn’t pleased with the deals presented, it doesn’t always pay to take something, anything just because in the end you could be left with nothing. If Smith leaves, the Hawks will take the cap space and look to spin it in their favor.

Magic: They deal away a useful player and one they drafted in Redick and hand over his Bird Rights to the Bucks. There was no guarantee that Redick would re-sign with Orlando, but he at least had said the door was open to a return.  The Magic’s Josh McRoberts to Charlotte deal for Hakim Warrick is a head-scratcher.

Knicks: They didn’t upgrade at any position and gave away a solid defender in Brewer, who was starting for the club during their hot start out of the gates, but had slipped out of the rotation. New York did use the roster vacancy to sign veteran power forward Kenyon Martin.

Nets: They failed to land another high-priced player in Smith and failed to unload one of their own, Kris Humphries.

Skiles, Milwaukee Part By ‘Mutual’ Decision

Head coach Scott Skiles and the Milwaukee Bucks have parted ways, apparently in a mutual decision, according to various sources and NBA media outlets.

The move, reported first late Monday by USA Today, was confirmed to by a person close to the situation who was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter. The Bucks are expected to make an official announcement Tuesday.

Skiles was working in the final year of his contract — as was his staff, as is GM John Hammond, as are several key Milwaukee players — and’s David Aldridge reported Monday that the coach informed the Bucks that he would not be returning next season. Team management or Skiles did not comment for the report, but there were obvious differences of opinion between the coach and the front office over the make-up of the roster and Skiles’ playing rotations.

For example, the Bucks’ lack of size last season sparked personnel moves that significantly beefed up the frontcourt: Hammond traded for center Samuel Dalembert, drafted power forward John Henson, retained free-agent forward Ersan Ilyasova and signed free-agent center Joel Przybilla. Yet with that logjam and the emergence of third-year big man Larry Sanders, Skiles used Dalembert and Henson sporadically and rarely activated Drew Gooden, who logged most of Milwaukee’s minutes at center last season.

Meanwhile, he grappled with a thin backcourt, with only Beno Udrih as a reliable backup to scorers/starters Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis.

In five seasons with Milwaukee, Skiles, 48, posted a 162-182 mark. The Bucks reached the playoffs once, extending Atlanta to seven games in the first round in 2010 despite playing without center Andrew Bogut. Bogut had suffered a gruesome wrist-and-arm injury late in the regular season, and his setbacks and inconsistency led to last season’s trade with Golden State and the resulting remodeling of the roster.

The business decision by Bucks owner Herb Kohl not to offer contract extensions beyond this season to Skiles or Hammond was not appreciated by the coach, a person with knowledge of the situation said. Skiles allegedly had talked with Kohl about a release after last season, when he might have been a candidate for one of several NBA coaching positions. One of those jobs was in Orlando, where he enjoyed his greatest success as a player and where, unlike the Bucks, the Magic were committed to a full overhaul.

Still, Milwaukee keeping the coaches and the GM in the final seasons of their deals at least was consistent with the Bucks’ decision not to extend Jennings’ contract. They opted to let the point guard test the market as a restricted free agent this summer. Ellis has an opt-out clause in his contract.

And now their head coach will be out there as well, unrestricted.

Jim Boylan, Skiles’ top assistant coach in his stints as head coach in Phoenix and Chicago, will step in immediately. Coincidentally, he’ll slide one seat over just in time to face the Suns Tuesday at BMO Harris Bradley Center and the Bulls Wednesday in Chicago.

Delfino Makes Milwaukee Return ‘Special’


MILWAUKEE – Fine, so it wasn’t as big or as triumphant as Jeremy Lin‘s return to Madison Square Garden. Emotions weren’t raw and racing just below the surface the way they were for James Harden and the Houston Rockets when he went back to Oklahoma City just a month after being traded.

But Carlos Delfino enjoyed his time with the Milwaukee Bucks, wasn’t eager to leave and wound up taking some real satisfaction from his first trip back Friday at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.

“It’s always special going against your old team,” said Delfino, the eight-year NBA veteran who spent the past three seasons in Milwaukee. The 6-foot-6 swingman stuck the Bucks for 22 points – nine in the second quarter to whittle down an 18-point deficit, then 13 in the fourth to seal the comeback in a 115-101 victory.

Delfino averaged 10.6 points and 4.5 rebounds for the Bucks, starting 159 of his 178 appearances. He helped them reach the playoffs in his first season, then was badly missed in 2010-11 when he sat more than two months with concussion symptoms and neck strain.

Last summer, after a second straight lottery appearance, Milwaukee headed in a non-Delfino direction, counting on Mike Dunleavy and young Tobias Harris at small forward while committing to Monta Ellis alongside Brandon Jennings in the backcourt. Delfino was on the market until late August, his work for Argentina (15.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg) in the London Olympics done.

It wasn’t Bucks GM John Hammond ringing his phone, it was the Rockets’ Daryl Morey instead.

“I was sad in the moment. I thought I was staying in Milwaukee,” Delfino said. “I had a good feeling with everybody in the city, after you’ve been defending the colors for three years. Then when I didn’t have any offer, I didn’t get sad about that or blame anyone. It’s a business. But I was feeling more about the personal stuff. Getting a call. … I was more sad about that.”

What the Bucks and Bradley Center fans saw Friday was classic Carlos: Not his rousing, somewhat unexpected, one-handed driving dunk but his 8-of-11 shooting, including 6-of-7 on 3-pointers (while the rest of the Rockets were going 7-of-26 from the arc). Houston is 9-2 this season when Delfino makes at least three 3-pointers in a game; the past two seasons, the Bucks were 20-10 on those nights.

“When Carlos makes a couple, he’s got a beautiful shot,” Houston coach Kevin McHale said afterward. “I watch him in practice sometimes just shoot. When he’s relaxed and guys are rebounding for him, he goes for long, long stretches without missing.”

Delfino, who is 29 but seems to have been on the NBA scene much longer, also is a helpful veteran on an extremely young roster. “Carlos has no agenda,” McHale said. “He’s a pro. … It’s the same thing I felt about Luis Scola last year – these guys have been playing pro ball since they’re, like, 14. They have such a relaxed feel, they’re fun to be around.”

The Bucks aren’t having much fun at the moment. They have dropped three in a row and four of six, heading into their game at Indiana Saturday. Coach Scott Skiles, his staff, Hammond and half the locker room are working in the final years of their contracts.

The roster is heavily tilted toward the frontcourt, with only Beno Udrih as a reliable backup at guard. The guy they acquired to plug Andrew Bogut‘s hole last season, Samuel Dalembert, doesn’t play these days. Neither does Drew Gooden, who did what he could to plug that spot last season.

As the Bucks threw the ball away 19 times and shot 38.9 percent in the second half, they could have used someone exactly like Delfino. But he was working from the other end, in road colors, making sure his trip back to town stayed special.

Sanders Adds To Bucks’ ‘Fear’ Factor


MILWAUKEELarry Sanders has sent basketballs into the fifth row. He has had sequences in which he thwarted one, two – boom! – even three shots in rapid succession, essentially hanging a “Closed For Business” sign on the rim for that possession anyway.

But the blocked shots the Milwaukee Bucks’ one-man SWAT team likes best, the ones that bring adrenaline and satisfaction in equal doses, are when the ball winds up in his hands. Or better still, batted or shuttled quickly to Brandon Jennings or Monta Ellis for two points before the snuffed shooter can even finish griping to a ref or picking himself up off the floor.

“I love it when it starts the break. That’s my favorite,” said the 6-foot-11 Saunders, in his third season out of Virginia Commonwealth. “When they go out of bounds, that’s all well and good. The fans get excited by those. But keeping them in play, those are my favorite ones.”

That, clearly, is straight out of the Bill Russell handbook, a defensive/rebounding/shot-blocking role model if only Sanders, 24, had been born 30 years earlier. As it was, he spent his Wonder years watching and eventually emulating not the Boston Celtics’ fabled No. 6 but the fellow who now wears that team’s No. 5, Kevin Garnett.

No one is equating Sanders, even in this breakout season of his, with the Hall of Fame specialness of either Russell or Garnett. But there have been nights these past two months when Sanders at least seemed to be auditioning for the tribute band.

There was his triple-double game at Minnesota Nov. 30 — off the bench — when he scored 10 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked 10 Timberwolves shots (tying Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 39-year-old franchise record for blocks in a game).

There was his 16 boards and five swats the next night against Boston and a seven-block effort against New Orleans on Dec. 3 that even topped Kareem (20) for most blocked shots in a three-game span.

And if you squinted a little bit on Dec. 21, Sanders’ lanky frame and facial hair — against the backdrop of the parquet court at Boston’s TD Bankgarden — made him look eerily like Russell when he had 17 points, 20 rebounds and four blocks in the Bucks’ overtime win against the Celtics. He made YouTube that night by finishing an alley-oop dunk over Garnett late in the fourth quarter.

Before that game, Celtics coach Doc Rivers compared Sanders to Oklahoma City’s shot-attacking Serge Ibaka. “We should probably stop shooting when he’s right there,” Rivers said. “I honestly told my son, Austin, when they played the Bucks, I said, ‘Hey Austin, be careful with Sanders, you get a step deep and he’ll get you.’ I think his first two shots were blocked, so I was thinking, ‘Nothing changes. No one listens.’ “

Many, however, are noticing. Sanders has emerged as a candidate for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award only a few months after slipping down — some might say nearly off — the Bucks’ depth chart. Frankly, they’re as surprised by his work this season as half the unsuspecting wing players whose shot attempts he has rejected.

Drafted at No. 15 in 2010, Sanders was raw, a project player who came to the game late as a skinny sophomore at Port St. Lucie (Fla.) High. He was all elbows, cockeyed jump shots and potential (4.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.2 bpg in 14.5 mpg) as a Bucks rookie and, unprepared when the lockout ended, there was no step forward last season.

Even Sanders’ progress this season snuck up on Milwaukee. General manager John Hammond worked overtime to add size last spring, trading for veteran center Samuel Dalembert and picking UNC’s John Henson on draft night. Then he signed 7-foot-1 free agent Joel Przybilla, too, with the plan of bulking up around Ekpe Udoh and Drew Gooden, who shouldered most of the “big” burden once Andrew Bogut got hurt and then dealt. (more…)

Pressure Growing For Jennings, Bucks

HANG TIME, TEXAS – Coming off their impressive run to the NBA championship, LeBron James and his Heat teammates are undoubtedly in the firing line with every team from Oklahoma City to New Jersey to a pair of them in Los Angeles taking aim at that title.

The Lakers, reloaded and rejuvenated with the additions of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, are back in their familiar place in the spotlight.

The Knicks, as usual, are in the glare of the media capital and once more under the unrealistic and misguided notion that they can turn the clock back to 1973.

But as we tiptoe through the calendar toward the opening of training camps, there might not be a team sitting collectively in the heat of the frying pan as the Bucks.

Consider that point guard Brandon Jennings has not yet signed a contract extension, while coach Scott Skiles and general manager John Hammond are also entering the final year of their contracts.

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

“To be honest, I think everybody is (feeling pressure),” Jennings said. “We’re all on the bubble right now,  because we need to win. There’s going to be a lot of pressure on all of us, not just the coaching staff or the GM. We all know this could be it so we need to turn it around right now.” (more…)