Posts Tagged ‘Larry Drew’

Bucks’ Wolters Isn’t In South Dakota Anymore

VIDEO: The Prospect Profile on Nate Wolters

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MILWAUKEE – Caron Butler, a two-time NBA All-Star in his 12th professional season, did all he could to avoid looking into the stands at the BMO Bradley Center Saturday night in Milwaukee. Butler, even now, said he gets “too excited” at times and the Bucks’ home opener against Toronto was one of them, the guy from nearby Racine, Wis., playing in front of “mama, Grandma, aunts, uncles … children, all five of ‘em.”

So, imagine what it was like for Nate Wolters, Milwaukee’s unheralded rookie — the No. 38 pick in June out of South Dakota State — the guy commonly thought of as the fifth guard on Milwaukee’s roster.

Four nights into his NBA career, in this third game, Wolters was on the floor at the beginning and at the end. With Brandon Knight (hamstring) and Luke Ridnour (back) ailing — and with point guard fill-in O.J. Mayo showing up late for the team’s shootaround that day — Wolters was tabbed by coach Larry Drew for the starting role against the Raptors. He wound up on the floor longer than anyone else Saturday, playing 36 minutes that included the final 10 when Drew settled on his closing crew (at least for the night) and Milwaukee erased a 12-point lead to briefly tie.

What must have been going through Wolters’ head, running the Bucks’ offense from tipoff in front of 16,046 people after playing his college ball in a 6,500-seat gym?

“Everything,” Butler said. “He was [extremely raw] at times. I tried to continue to stay in his ear and motivate him and encourage him.

“It’s been tough. Luke’s been out and obviously Brandon. But I thought Nate did a great job filling in that role to the best of his ability. That’s a lot to ask for a first-year guy, but I thought he did a great job hands-down.”

The 6-foot-4 Wolters scored seven points, grabbed four rebounds and passed for 10 assists with one turnover in his splashy home debut. He also played well enough off the bench in his first two games staged at virtual NBA shrines — at Madison Square Garden and on the parquet floor of the Boston Celtics. He might look like an extra from “Hoosiers” running around out there, but he is averaging 10 points and 6.7 assists, while giving Drew a little of the playmaking the coach craves.

“What I like about what he did [in Boston] was he came in and got us organized,” Drew said. “We’ve had problems with that … I’ve got to have organization at the very beginning. I can’t have guys just everybody looking for their shots. He’s been in this situation before. He knows the position. And he’s starting to get more and more comfortable at the position.”

“More comfortable” as in, equally nervous regardless of level or challenge.

“Even before every game — even high school and college — you get nervous,” Wolters said after the loss Saturday. “It’s just one of those things, once you get out there playing, it’s basketball. Get used to it. Once I get going, I’m fine.”

Wolters, a high school hotshot in St. Cloud, Minn., helped South Dakota State make the first two NCAA appearances in school history. As a senior, he averaged 22.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.8 assists for the Jackrabbits and scored 53 points (with nine 3-pointers) — the top points total in Division I last season — in a game at Fort Wayne. Wolters was a third-team AP All-America selection and a finalist for the Wooden and Cousy awards.

Just a month into his Bucks experience, he’s got the “we” part down. He is developing a little on-court chemistry with Ersan Ilyasova and Larry Sanders. He knows he needs to shoot better (11-for-30 so far). And he said he feels no overload in his NBA orientation-slash-immersion.

“No, not at all,” Wolters said. “In college, I played every minute. So I’m used to these kinds of minutes. I didn’t expect to be playing anywhere near this many minutes, but it is what it is. I’m enjoying it and treating it like a learning experience. … I’ve got a good group of veterans who can help me out.”

Though the Bucks played a preseason game in Sioux Falls, within an hour of Wolters’ old campus, and Drew showcased him in the fourth quarter that night against Cleveland, he is quite aware he’s not in Brookings, S.D., anymore.

“It kind of helped that we played in the NCAA tournament, so I played in this type of atmosphere before,” Wolters said. “But obviously, the NBA’s a little different. It’s just been an amazing experience, especially going to New York and Boston, those type of places. It’s been fun.”

And fortunately for Milwaukee, he’s been up to it.

Sanders Frustrated By Short Minutes

VIDEO: Larry Sanders might need more quality minutes for more quality work

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MILWAUKEE – It is pro sports’ chicken-or-egg quandary, setting up an eternal conflict between coaches and athletes: Does a player play more when he plays better, or does the player play better when he plays more?

Milwaukee center Larry Sanders is solidly in the camp of the latter. Bucks coach Larry Drew? Leaning more toward the former right now.

Sanders – the 6-foot-11 defensive savant whose breakthrough 2012-13 season included strong support for the Defensive Player (seventh) and Most Improved (third) awards, as well as a four-year, $44 million extension over the summer – is one frustrated shot-swatter and rebounder at the moment.

Through Milwaukee’s first three games, his production is down significantly: 2.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 17.3 minutes, compared to last season’s 9.8, 9.5, 2.8 and 27.3. After taking an average of 8.5 shots and making about half (50.6) in 2012-13, he has shot 4-for-16 so far, in a mixed bag of jump hooks, short jumpers and layups.

Sanders has been the opposite of smooth, offensively, looking at times like he’s wrestling a lawn chair. And in his view, he hasn’t broken enough of a sweat to do much better. He played 21:37 in the Bucks’ 97-90 loss to Toronto Saturday at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, contributing four points, four boards and one block.

“I feel like I’m capable of being in the game at the end and helping my team win, coming up with blocks and rebounds,” Sanders told NBA.com before exiting the locker room swiftly. “I haven’t been able to get my rhythm out there. I understand foul trouble situations, but tonight I wasn’t in foul trouble.

“Last year I finished so many games. I feel like that’s when I lock in the most. But I haven’t been able to get in the game to finish. That carries over to the next game. When you sit the last three quarters of each game, I can’t have no carryover. And it’s hard for me. I’m still a young player. It’s only my eighth year playing basketball.”

Sanders, 24, has played only 15 of his 52 minutes so far in the second half. He logged 3:12 at New York Wednesday, 5:34 at Boston Friday and 6:18 against the Raptors after the break. But then, the Bucks outscored the Knicks 52-34 after halftime and the Celtics 58-35. They had a 39-34 edge on the Raptors through 18 minutes of the second half Saturday before slipping back to lose the game by seven (and the half, 46-44).

Drew’s lineup in the fourth quarter Saturday primarly was O.J. Mayo and rookie point Nate Wolters in the backcourt, Khris Middleton, John Henson and 18-year-old project Giannis Antetokounmpo up front. That group, over the first 6:07 of the quarter, erased Toronto’s 12-point lead, getting the Bucks even at 85-85.

Drew subbed in Caron Butler for Middleton, who had missed a pair of free throws and a couple layups, over the final 3:04. Milwaukee got no closer than three.

“Throughout the game,” Drew said, “I just didn’t feel like we put a burst together, where we were really moving and flying around. So I elected to go smaller in the fourth quarter, move Khris to the four and Giannis to the three, and it got us going. At that point, I was really going to ride that group.”

Said Sanders: “That makes sense. But it’s not that group – Caron goes in. It’s about trust. Who you trust down the stretch, that’s who you’re going to play.”

If this is a trust issue, it may well be a temporary, evolving one. Drew has on his hands a roster that’s not just new to him but new to each other. He’s searching for combinations, with even his starting lineup fluid for now. His top two point-guard options – Brandon Knight (right hamstring strain) and Luke Ridnour (back spasms) – have been out, which messes with everyone’s rhythm.

Also, Drew has Zaza Pachulia as an option at center, a familiar face from the coach’s three seasons in Atlanta. Pachulia has averaged 13.0 points, 7.7 rebounds and 26.0 minutes – though it’s a small sample size and the burly veteran didn’t play in the fourth quarter Saturday, either.

Drew suggested some of Sanders’ struggle on offense and frustration overall stems from adjusting to his third coach (after Scott Skiles and interim Jim Boylan) in 10 months. “It’s him still trying to learn this system and trying to learn his teammates,” Drew said. “He had some point-blank shots right around the basket – he just couldn’t get ‘em to drop.

“I thought that Larry played with some energy though. That’s the thing that, in my conversations with him, I want him to bring on a nightly basis. The other stuff will fall into place.”

Henson – the second-year forward who has had to scrape for his own minutes amid the newness, despite his strong summer in Las Vegas – said he has tried to calm Sanders, whose emotions sometimes outstrip his maturity.

“I talk to Larry, because he’s one of my best friends on the team,” Henson said late Saturday. “I told him, ‘You’re going to close 90 percent of our games.’ He’s just frustrated right now.”

Henson thinks Sanders might be pressing to show the world he’s worth the fat contract extension he received in the offseason. Sanders doesn’t feel that way, though. And Drew said, even if he did, he shouldn’t.

“Yeah, I’ve had that conversation,” the coach said. “There’s no need to press now. He’s in a good position. I know a lot of guys who get in that position of not knowing what their future holds, they do have a tendency to press. But for him, nah, there’s no need to press. Just go out there and play.”

And there’s the rub. Sanders puts the emphasis in that sentence on “go out there.” Drew, at the moment, is focused on the “play.”

This isn’t so much Larry vs. Larry as it is one Larry seeing things differently from the other Larry while serving separate agendas. One man’s chicken to the other man’s egg, with 79 games to go.

Too Much Or Too Little? Bucks’ Butler Walks Fine Line Late In Career

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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Caron Butler still can do it. But can he still do it every night? Or, more realistically at this point, on as many nights as the Milwaukee Bucks seemingly are going to need?

When Butler landed in Milwaukee from Phoenix thanks largely to a “gentlemen’s agreement” trade to deliver him close to his roots in nearby Racine, Wis., it was a feel-good gesture. So good, in fact, that the news conference introducing him was held in his old high school gym.

Nostalgia’s nice; warm-and-fuzzies are better. But the real key for Butler and the Bucks is how much he’s able to plug a hole that – so deep into in his career, owing to the miles and the dings if not the years – looks to be rather sizeable.

New coach Larry Drew was being both complimentary and optimistic when he spoke of a role for Butler far more pivotal than what he had the past two seasons with the Los Angeles Clippers. And he still is, considering Butler’s recent injury history (knee surgery in 2011, hand, back and elbow issues since).

“In fact, I’m counting on him having enough in the tank,” Drew said earlier this week in Chicago. “You look at the Clippers, they had a lot of guys they could go to for scoring. We’re counting on him a little different here because we do have a need at that ‘three’ spot and he’s a guy who can provide some scoring and some leadership.”

Drew looks at Butler and sees a relatively healthy body, which is more than the coach could say for a number of Bucks in the preseason. Carlos Delfino, Ersan Ilyasova, Gary Neal, Zaza Pachulia and Ekpe Udoh all have missed time with injuries, and O.J. Mayo was out the other night for personal reasons. Milwaukee was punchless, trailing Chicago by 23 points by halftime while getting abused on the glass (28-10) at intermission.

Drew craves leadership within his locker room of role players and youngsters almost as much as he needs offense. At 33, as a half-duty player the past two seasons, Butler has been merely average (combined PER: 12.1) and he managed to play 78 games thanks in part to averaging a modest 24.1 minutes.

That’s why the 24 points Butler scored two nights later against New York in Green Bay, Wis., sparked skepticism same as his October nights of three, four and two points had; Butler logged 37 minutes against the Knicks, something he won’t be able to do – or at least, something it won’t be wise to ask – on a regular basis in 2013-14.

The injuries prompted Drew to use Butler some at power forward, clearly not home for the 6-foot-7, 217-pounder. That had something to do with the performances that looked off, as did Butler’s veterans prerogative this month while learning new coaches and teammates.

“I’ve been picking and choosing,” he said. “See what guys like doing out there. Some games I come out and I’ll be extremely aggressive and I have my scoring games. Some games I just play position and try to get other guys involved, and see ‘How do they play in certain situations?’

“Playing the ‘four’ position, I was more of a facilitator, swinging the ball from side to side and trying to get the offense to move a little bit, because we get stagnant at times.”

The Bucks need his experience and leadership, same as from fellow veterans Pachulia, Delfino and Luke Ridnour, but Drew will have to balance Butler along that line between too many and too few minutes. Overdo it and he might get hurt again. Under-utilize him and he won’t have the necessary impact. Either way, a veteran’s locker-room voice tends to rise and fall with his production on the floor.

“I feel like I can really help them with scoring,” Butler said, “And the more time out there, I think I’ll be really productive. Right now, playing ‘four’ because guys are down, it’s a little different. But I definitely can fill it up. Rhythm guy, I can score the ball. I’m just waiting for the opportunity.”

The Bucks want to provide it, but in just the right amount.

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.

Coaches Divine The Carousel, NBA Cycle

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CHICAGO – There was a little mix-up in the traffic pattern as NBA coaches made their way through a circuit of stops, from trouser fittings and photo shoots to sit-down interviews with NBA Entertainment, on the ballroom level Monday of a downtown hotel. The two-day annual coaches’ meetings were under way and Jason Kidd, the new coach of the Brooklyn Nets, was like a kid at freshman orientation, compliantly going where he was told, even if it meant jumping a line on Milwaukee’s Larry Drew.

As point guards in their respective playing careers, the pecking order would have been simple: Kidd played 19 seasons, was a 10-time All-Star and retired at age 39 this spring ranked second all-time list in assists, second in steals and third in minutes. Drew, 55, was a part-time starter for five teams who spent one of his 11 pro seasons in Italy, averaged 11.4 ppg and 5.2 rpg and logged about a third as much time on NBA courts as Kidd.

But now, in their current positions, Drew has Kidd beat 230 NBA games coached to none, with a victory edge of 128-0. So when someone noted the very-minor lapse in protocol Monday afternoon, Kidd quickly deferred. “You go ahead, coach. I’m just a rookie,” he said.

Then, while the Hall of Fame-bound player and absolute question mark of a coach waited his turn, he talked rather excitedly about his new gig.

“Oh, I’m a rookie,” Kidd said. “It’s still basketball but I am a rookie at the coaching level.”

The Chicago meetings Monday and Tuesday were merely the latest step in his run-up to working his first game as an NBA coach. There was summer league, of course, in Orlando, assorted preparation over the past two months and, last weekend, a coaches/general managers clinic in Los Angeles in which Kidd participated. He played sponge to a group that included the Clippers Doc Rivers, Indiana’s Frank Vogel, retired legend Phil Jackson and former Lakers, Knicks and Heat coach (and Heat president) Pat Riley.

“It was like going to school, like going to class, where I got to listen to the best in 24 hours,” Kidd said. “I took away their stories, them at their beginnings, not being afraid to change but having to stand for what you believe in. And the biggest thing is be yourself. Be true to yourself and stick with your principles.”

It’s a message that’s especially timely this season, with nine — count ‘em, nine — men who will be working their first training camps, preseasons and regular seasons as NBA coaches in 2013-14. Besides Kidd, they are: Mike Budenholzer (Atlanta), Brad Stevens (Boston), Steve Clifford (Charlotte), Brian Shaw (Denver), Dave Joerger (Memphis), Brett Brown (Philadelphia), Jeff Hornacek (Phoenix) and Mike Malone (Sacramento).

As if that weren’t enough turnover for one offseason, four more familiar faces will be blowing whistles in new, or renewed, places: Mike Brown (Cleveland), Maurice Cheeks (Detroit), Rivers (L.A. Clippers) and Drew (Milwaukee).

It’s a dramatic upheaval. It’s also, as some see it, the NBA’s circle of life. (more…)

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.

New Coaches: Heat Is On Already

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bucks’ Coach Drew Breaks Down 2013 Draft Pick Antetokounmpo

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

But this was about Giannis Antetokounmpo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: How do you mean?

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

Q: Have you done that yet?

A: No I have not.

Q: You would like to?

A: Possibly.

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

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

Neal, Bucks Agree To Two-Year Deal





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

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

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

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

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

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