Posts Tagged ‘Milwaukee Bucks’

Kareem Ponders Bucks Ownership Role

Kareen Abdul-Jabbar

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was at the Bradley Center as part of a promotion he’s doing for the Wisconsin Department of Tourism.

First it was Junior Bridgeman, a Bucks alumnus who dropped by Milwaukee over the weekend and fueled speculation that he might buy a chunk of the franchise from owner Herb Kohl to keep it in town.

Now it’s Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, talking in more general terms about his interest in NBA ownership but doing so on the day he’s back in Milwaukee, too.

Abdul-Jabbar, the Bucks’ first and greatest superstar, acknowledged to the Milwaukee Business Journal on Monday that he hasn’t talked with Kohl about investing in the Bucks.

It also sounded as if his commitment — whenever, wherever and if ever — would have more to do with reputation and perhaps sweat equity than the deep pockets Bridgeman can bring to any deal. The NBA’s all-time leading scorer (38,387 points) and six-time champion talked with the Business Journal’s Rich Kirchen more about his fit as a minority NBA owner than about securing the Bucks in the city he left after six seasons.

“Being involved in the business of basketball is something I wouldn’t shy away from,” Abdul-Jabbar said in an exclusive interview with the Milwaukee Business Journal. “But it would have to be a good situation for me. It would depend totally on what the situation was.”

So what kind of situation would meet the all-time NBA scoring leader’s goals? Financial upside would be necessary, he said.

“Something where I had some equity in the team, so that what I would get an opportunity to benefit from it,” he said.

And:

If Abdul-Jabbar does invest in an NBA team, he said he would want to play a role in setting a team’s direction.

“Oh yeah, I’d have to have some say,” he told me. “I wouldn’t have to have all of it.”

Abdul-Jabbar was in Milwaukee on Monday to promote his role in a new Wisconsin Department of Tourism ad campaign that teams him with “Airplane!” co-star Robert Hays and directors David Zucker, Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams. In the retro commercial, Abdul-Jabbar reprises his role as pilot “Roger Murdock,” with he and Hays’ character marveling at Wisconsin scenery from their cockpit view.

Part of the joke is Abdul-Jabbar’s mock second-guessing of his decision after six seasons to leave Milwaukee in 1975, when he pressured the Bucks into trading him to the Los Angeles Lakers. He won five more championship rings by teaming up with Pat Riley, Magic Johnson and the rest of the “Showtime” Lakers, but the Bucks haven’t returned to The Finals since winning the title in 1970-71 with a team featuring NBA legend Oscar Robertson and a young Abdul-Jabbar.

So it rang a little hollow when the Hall of Fame center spoke with Kirchen about the challenge faced by Kohl to build and maintain a winner in a small market.

“I think he’s trying to run it the right way,” Abdul-Jabbar said [of Kohl]. “They just haven’t been able to get the talented people they need to be more successful. I don’t know where the fault there lies. But it’s all about getting, identifying and signing up the talented players.

Trouble is, Milwaukee can no more entice big-name free agents now than it could hold onto its sky-hooking superstar 40 years ago.

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 26


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 24

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Sixers, Granger mulling options | Ainge, Rondo chat delayed | Turner impresses in Indy debut | Blazers’ Robinson hurts knee in Denver | Report: Butler, Bucks working on buyout

No. 1: Report: Granger, Sixers still talking over future — Another day, another day closer to a buyout for Danny Granger with the Philadelphia 76ers? Team officials and the small forward continue to talk over what the next move will be: a buyout in the coming days or, perhaps, Granger sticking with the Sixers for the rest of the season. ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelbourne and Marc Stein have more on what may come next for Granger:

Newly acquired Danny Granger and the Philadelphia 76ers continue to discuss a possible buyout, according to sources close to the process.

Sources told ESPN.com on Tuesday that a buyout consummated before Saturday’s midnight deadline for Granger to be waived and remain eligible to appear in this season’s playoffs with any team he subsequently signs for remains the most likely outcome.

But sources also said Granger continues to weigh other options, including staying with the 76ers for the rest of the season, as the deadline draws near.

Sources said Tuesday the San Antonio Spurs and Granger share a mutual interest if the former All-Star comes to a buyout agreement with the Sixers by the weekend.

It’s believed the Los Angeles Clippers will be another leading suitor for Granger’s services should he become an unrestricted free agent next week.

***

No. 2: Ainge says Rondo chat likely won’t happen soon — As we reported in this space yesterday, Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo is expected to be called into team president Danny Ainge‘s office to explain why he didn’t travel with the team to a game in Sacramento. Apparently that conversation is still going to happen … it just won’t happen for a few more days. Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald has more on the issue:

Though Danny Ainge plans to talk to Rajon Rondo about the guard’s decision to celebrate his 28th birthday in Los Angeles last Saturday while the team flew to Sacramento for a game against the Kings, the meeting might not take place for a week.

Ainge departed on a college scouting trip before the team’s return to Boston. Though the president of basketball operations still plans to discuss the issue with Rondo, he won’t return until next week.

A team source stressed that “it’s not that big a deal around here,” though Ainge hasn’t ruled out fining Rondo for not receiving official permission. The guard, who still is not playing on the second night of back-to-back games as he returns from ACL surgery, was not scheduled to play Saturday night in Sacramento. He chose to remain in Los Angeles for a birthday celebration that was attended by his wife, children and mother.

Rondo, who rejoined the team Monday in Utah, told the Herald he had talked with management about staying behind in Los Angeles, and that there was nothing further to discuss. Ainge, however, said he planned to discuss the matter with Rondo once the team returned yesterday.

***

No. 3: Turner fares nicely in Indy debut — Before last night’s Pacers-Los Angeles Lakers game from Indianapolis, coach Frank Vogel said newly acquired swingman Evan Turner would come off the bench and play roughly 20-25 minutes in his Indiana debut. For the record, Turner played 26 minutes and 11 seconds and finished with 13 points and six rebounds in the Pacers’ 118-98 romp over the Lakers. The feeling after the game, according to Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star, was that Turner’s debut went about as well as it could:

Turner had the green light to be himself in the Pacers’ 118-98 win over the Los Angeles Lakers. During an offensive torrent when the Pacers (43-13) created season highs in field goal makes and attempts as well as bench points, Turner finished with 13 points on 6-of-12 shooting.

“He’s just a good basketball player,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “He has good savvy, good IQ. He understands his teammates. He picks things up quickly and like I said, he looked comfortable.”

Turner, whom the Pacers received in a last-minute trade deadline deal last week for Danny Granger, took as many shots as starter Lance Stephenson. He played 26 minutes of mostly offensive-oriented basketball while still working through the details of the Pacers’ league-best defense. However, as seven Indiana players finished in double digits – led by Paul George’s 20 points – Turner fit right in with a bench unit that produced 50 points.

Turner was admittedly nervous before the game, and even when he heard the applause from many of the 18,165 fans – in spite of their team’s woeful record, many Lakers (19-38) fans still showed up. And he started out looking like a new kid in class. In his first action, Turner set a solid screen that aided in the Pacers’ score off the inbounds play. Then on his first run through a half-court set, Turner stretched the floor and raced back on defense even before a shot went up from the inside. A West moving screen foiled his first touch, then Turner grew confident.

Of all people, Turner understands Indiana’s offensive principle – the man with ball creates the score and when help comes, he shares it – because with the 76ers, his role was to be that man with the ball.

“In Philly,” Turner said. “I could (pass) the ball at the rim.”

So, yes, Turner knows how to shoot. He took those opportunities whenever he caught smaller defenders like Jodie Meeks or MarShon Brooks and backed them down for turnaround midrange shots on the baseline.

“He’s still got to adjust,” David West said. “He’s got to figure out how to play with us. He’s going to have to figure out on the fly here. He’s smart, heady, composed.

“He’s got to get used to the level of talent we have. Guys he can defer to as opposed to feeling he has to do too much.”


VIDEO: Evan Turner discusses his first game as a member of the Pacers

***

No. 4: Blazers’ Robinson suffers minor knee injury — Portland’s frontcourt depth has already been thinned by a recent minor injury to All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge and ones to Joel Freeland (MCL, out several more weeks) and Meyers Leonard (ankle, out 2 more weeks). It wasn’t a great sign last night, then, when one of the last few healthy big men, Thomas Robinson, suffered a knee injury in Denver. Luckily for the Blazers, reports Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com, Robinson merely has a left patella strain:

Thomas Robinson suffered a knee injury in the first half of Tuesday’s game between the Portland Trail Blazers and Denver Nuggets.The team is listing it as a left patella strain and says he is day-to-day.

Robinson, 22, sustained the injury when he went up for a dunk attempt. Something occurred on his way down. He was only able to play three second half minutes due to severity of the pain.

“I tried to go back in there but I couldn’t,” he told CSNNW.com. “It was something I’ve never experienced before on this knee.”

His diagnosis is good news, considering how defeated Robinson looked in his locker room stall after the Trail Blazers won 100-95.

Robinson scored 2 points and pulled down 5 rebounds in 14 minutes of action against the Nuggets.

“I’m worried, he said before finding out the results. “I’m just going to rest and put some ice on it and get some rest and hopefully I’ll be able to go tomorrow.”


VIDEO: The Blazers hold off the Nuggets in Denver

***

No. 5: Report: Bucks on verge of buying out Butler — Wisconsin native Caron Butler was plenty excited in the offseason to return to his home state and play for Milwaukee’s squad (as this great video documents), but things haven’t worked out how Butler or the Bucks have hoped. With the team in the midst of a clear rebuilding season, Butler is expected to be bought out of his deal so that he can sign with a contender before the March 1 deadline. ESPN.com’s Marc Stein has more: 

Milwaukee Bucks swingman Caron Butler is scheduled to complete a contract buyout Wednesday that sets him up to become an unrestricted free agent by the end of the week, according to sources close to the talks.

Sources told ESPN.com that Wisconsin native Butler, who is earning $8 million this season on an expiring contract with his home-state Bucks, is on course to be released by Milwaukee on Wednesday and thus clear waivers Friday, well in advance of the Saturday midnight deadline by which time he must be set free to be eligible to play in the playoffs with another team.

The two-time defending champion Miami Heat, sources said, will be at the front of the line to sign Butler, who spent his first two seasons in the league with the Heat and is expected to verbally commit to a team before clearing waivers.

Gery Woelfel of the Racine Journal-Times also confirms that the Bucks and Butler are working on a buyout:

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Jason Collins’ No. 98 jersey was reportedly a top seller at both the NBA Store and its website … The Knicks are set to sign ex-Cavs forward Earl Clark and ex-Lakers and Suns guard Shannon Brown to 10-day deals … According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, ex-Bucks star Junior Bridgeman has shown interest in investing in a part of the team … Speaking of Mr. Bridgeman, Pistons guard Chauncey Billups explains how Bridgeman’s off-the-court business savy has influenced him

ICYMI(s) of The Night: The Raptors’ Tyler Hansbrough looked like one of the poor guys trying to stick with “Uncle Drew” (aka Cavs All-Star guard Kyrie Irving) during one of his forays to the court for a game of pickup hoops …


VIDEO: Kyrie Irving crosses up Tyler Hansbrough en route to a layup

Ilyasova Stays Put In League Of Change

Milwaukee's Ersan Ilyasova (Joe Murphy/NBAE)

Milwaukee’s Ersan Ilyasova (Joe Murphy/NBAE)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2014 Trade Deadline Wrapup


VIDEO: Trade Deadline: Pacers and Sixers Trade

The Indiana Pacers provided a little excitement at the end of what was an underwhelming deadline day. There was a flurry of action on Thursday, but none of it all that meaningful. But then, after the 3 p.m. ET trade deadline had passed, news broke that Indiana had acquired Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen for Danny Granger and a second round pick.

Now, Turner’s per-game numbers are somewhat inflated by the Sixers’ pace. They lead the league at 102.5 possessions per 48 minutes. He’s generally been a disappointment as a former No. 2 pick in the Draft. And though his efficiency has increased *this season, he still ranks 161st of 196 players who have attempted at least 300 field goals with a true shooting percentage of just 50.4 percent. His free throw rate has gone up, but is still below the league average, and he has shot 29 percent from 3-point range.

* Over the summer, we pointed out Turner’s ridiculous mid-range-to-3-point attempt ratio of 3.1 last season. It’s down to 2.3 this year. Still pretty bad (James Harden‘s is 0.5), but not quite as mind-boggling.

As much as Granger has struggled in his return from almost a full season off, he’s shot better (49.5 percent effective FG%) than Turner (47.1 percent) on catch-and-shoot opportunities.

But Turner can’t hurt the Pacers’ bench offense, which has struggled again this season. While Indiana’s starting lineup has scored a solid 106.4 points per 100 possessions, all other Pacer lineups have scored just 99.5. And with C.J. Watson (better suited to play off the ball) as their back-up point guard, they could certainly use another guy who can create off the dribble.

A few other contenders and next-level squads made moves at the deadline, but they were relatively minor. The Warriors added bench help, the Spurs added depth at the wing, the Rockets added some athleticism, the Clippers shed salary, and the Heat created an open roster spot. Nobody made a move that will move the needle all that much. Omer Asik, Luol Deng, Pau Gasol and Rajon Rondo are still where they were 48 hours ago.

And that’s good news for Miami, Indiana, San Antonio and Oklahoma City, who remain the clear big four in the NBA hierarchy.

– John Schuhmann

Below is a live blog of how things went down on deadline day.

Highlights: Pacers swap Granger for Turner | Spurs get a wing | Clippers shed salary | Nuggets and Rockets make minor trade | Andre Miller to Washington | Bucks, Bobcats make deal | Kings sticking with McLemore | Heat unload Mason | Hawes to Cleveland

Brooks approves move to Denver, 3:55 p.m.

Aaron Brooks had the ability to veto his trade to Denver, but he’s agreed to the deal.

Pacers swap Granger for Turner, 3:33 p.m.

Spurs get a wing, 3:09 p.m.

Clippers shed salary, 3:00 p.m.

Will Brooks approve trade?, 2:30 p.m.

From our Fran Blinebury

Aaron Brooks would have to approve any trade and said yesterday that he wouldn’t. He wanted badly to stay in Houston.

The Rockets have reportedly agreed to send Brooks to Denver for Jordan Hamilton, but because Brooks signed a one-year contract and his early Bird rights would disappear upon being traded, he can veto the deal.

Clippers anxious to deal, 2:10 p.m.

More from Scott Howard-Cooper

The Clippers continue to be very proactive in hopes of closing a deal before noon in Los Angeles, with Reggie Bullock turning into a name of the moment around the league.

This is no surprise. For one thing, Bullock is one of the few available Clippers trade chips. For another, Bullock has a real future for a No. 25 pick, a rookie averaging just 8.5 minutes a game because he is a young wing on a team in win-now mode but a 6-7 guard-forward who improved his shooting every year at North Carolina and can defend. He is not an All-Star in waiting, but he is a legit prospect who can bring something in return when L.A. is not expecting to add a starter.

The quest is to bolster the rotation for the playoff push. The Clips are anxious to make a move. If they leave today empty, the next step will be to hope a player of value is bought out and can be signed as a free agent. That is one reason the basketball operations headed by Doc Rivers has kept the roster at 14.

Nuggets and Rockets make minor trade, 1:40 p.m.

Jack should have his bags ready, 1:10 p.m.

More from Scott Howard-Cooper

Still a strong sense from teams that Jarrett Jack, while not the big name of Luol Deng or the medium name of 2012 first-rounder Tyler Zeller, is the most likely Cavalier to be on the move today.

Jack has two more full seasons left at $6.3 million per, a big number for someone shooting 39.3 percent and probably a backup wherever he goes. But he has playoff experience, loves the big moment (sometimes wanting it so much that he forces it) and has the additional value of being an available point guard. There is also the versatility that Jack can play shooting guard.

The 39.3 percent? He was at 45 the last two seasons, in New Orleans and Golden State, and 40.4 on threes in 2012-13 with the Warriors. Interested suitors now have the easy explanation to write off the current troubles: He plays for the Cavaliers, so of course there’s going to be problems.

Andre Miller to Washington, 12:40 p.m.

The Washington Wizards’ offense falls off whenever John Wall goes to the bench. They’ve scored 104.5 points per 100 possessions with Wall on the floor and just 92.8 with him off the floor. So they were in the market for a back-up point guard, and they got one…

Bucks, Bobcats make deal, 12:37 p.m.

Kings sticking with McLemore, 12:35 p.m.

From our Scott Howard-Cooper

Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro, bothered to an extreme by the rumor, took the unusual step of going out of his way to speak to media members to shoot down a rumor, insisting they had not offered rookie Ben McLemore to the Celtics as part of a package for Rajon Rondo. In what has been a rough transition to the NBA, with McLemore shooting 36.5 percent and unable to hold the starting job earlier in the season, management didn’t want him to start wondering about the team’s commitment.

More than McLemore’s availability could have been shot down, though. Not only are the Kings fully invested in McLemore and rightfully see a high ceiling despite the slow start, there is no way a rebuilding organization gives up two first-round picks, their 2013 lottery selection and Isaiah Thomas, the reported offer, for Rondo early in the comeback from knee surgery and with one full season left on his contract. Whether bad rumor or Celtics dream, it was never going to happen.

Miller to Washington?, 12:15 p.m.

Clippers and Cavs talking, 11:50 a.m.

Sessions for Neal swap?, 11:45 a.m.

Heat unload Mason, 11:20 a.m.

Deng is available, 11:15 a.m.

Earl Clark, Henry Sims heading to Philly, 10:45 a.m.

Clark is technically under contract for $4.25 million next season, but that doesn’t become guaranteed until July 7, 2014. Sims’ $915 thousand salary is also non-guaranteed. So the Sixers are basically getting back two expiring contracts. Anderson Varejao‘s health was a reason for the trade…

Zeller on the block, 10:00 a.m.

Hawes to Cleveland, 9:55 a.m.

Cleveland is over the cap and doesn’t have an exception that can absorb Hawes’ $6.6 million salary, so there has to be a player or two heading back to Philadelphia.

Teams after Andre Miller, 9:45 a.m.

Jimmer on the block, 9:35 a.m.

Ainge talks, 9:30 a.m.

The Race For Jordan Hill, 8:50 a.m.

The Los Angeles Lakers have the fourth highest payroll in the league and are 18-36 after getting waxed at home by the Rockets on Wednesday. Dumping Jordan Hill for nothing can lower their luxury tax payments quite a bit, and there are a couple of teams willing to take Hill off their hands. As we wrote yesterday, the Nets are looking to strengthen their bench, and have a disabled player exception that can absorb Hill’s $3.5 million salary.

But so does New Orleans, whose frontline has been decimated by injuries.

The Gary Neal deadline, 7:50 a.m.

Gary Neal makes just $3.25 million and the Bucks don’t want him. Yet somehow, trading him is a complicated process.

UPDATE, 6:09 a.m.

Report: Rockets making push for Rondo: Like many teams in the league right now, the Houston Rockets are interested in acquiring Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo. And, like a lot of teams in the league right now, the Rockets are having a hard time coming up with the framework for a trade that is to the Celtics’ liking. ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reports that Houston’s potential unwillingness to give up Chandler Parsons is what may be hanging up a deal.

Report: Kings eyeing Cavs backup guard Jack: A day after sending shooting guard Marcus Thornton to Brooklyn for veterans Reggie Evans and Jason Terry, Sacramento might be looking to make another trade. According to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, the Kings have expressed interest in working a trade for Cavaliers reserve guard Jarrett Jack.

Thibodeau would be surprised if Bulls make deal: Echoing the words of GM Gar Forman and team president John Paxson a little less than a week ago, Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau tells the Chicago Tribune‘s K.C. Johnson he’d be stunned to see the team make a trade today.

Saunders shoots down talk of Love on trading block: A smattering of Kevin Love stories came out yesterday, from a snippet from a new GQ interview in which he talks about having fun playing for the Timberwolves to a tweet from Peter Vescey that made it seem as if the All-Star wants out from Minnesota. But Wolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders shot down all that talk with one tweet last night, writes Andy Greder of the Pioneer Press.

Report: Lakers’ Young safe from being dealt: ICYMI last night, the Lakers shipped veteran point guard Steve Blake to the Golden State Warriors for youngsters Kent Bazemore and MarShon Brooks. In short, L.A. is continuing in its rebuilding efforts, but according to BasketballInsiders.com, it seems unlikely that the team’s No. 2 scorer, Nick Young, will be dealt today.

Players discuss their trade deadline-day experiences: The folks over at BasketballInsiders.com caught up with a couple of notable players — including Dwight Howard, Kyle Lowry and Chris Kaman — to have them share what it’s like for a player to go through trade deadline day. Nice little read here this a.m.

The Real Story Of Caron Butler

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – When you hear NBA players talk overcoming adversity to reach the highest level of their profession, you have to know that there are different types of adversity.

Some challenges are greater than others. Some obstacles are much larger than others. And then there is the unbelievable saga that is the life and times of Caron Butler, one of the league’s most respected veteran players. Butler almost threw away his opportunity to reach this level as a youngster growing up in Racine, Wisconsin.

A drug dealer at the age of 11, Butler had been arrested 15 times before his 15th birthday. He didn’t discover his love for the game until he was forced to embrace it while serving time in a detention center. He turned his life around, of course, becoming a the Big East Player of the Year at Connecticut, a lottery pick in the 2002 Draft, a two-time All-Star and NBA champion with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011. His story has come full circle with him now wearing the uniform of his (near)hometown team.

However, his humble beginnings and how fortunate he was to overcome them remain the most compelling part of the truly unbelievable real story of Caron Butler (courtesy of Fox Sports Live) …


VIDEO: The real story of Caron Butler of the Milwaukee Bucks

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 15


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for All-Star Friday

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bucks falling apart? | History of basketball in New Orleans | Good news for Knicks | Pistons take one to gut

No. 1:  Do Ilyasova, Neal want out? –Milwaukee has dealt with injuries, rough transitions to new players and the new coaching staff, and losses. A lot of losses. Now the Bucks could be confronted with Ersan Ilyasova being frustrated to the point of wanting to be traded, the Racine (Wisc.) Journal Times reports, and the possibility that Gary Neal already wants out as well:

lyasova is arguably the Bucks’ best trading chip and several teams are believed to be interested in him. According to multiple sources, Ilyasova has expressed a desire to be traded, apparently having had his fill of the Bucks’ continual rebuilding project.

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

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

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

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

***

According to league sources, Bucks veteran backup shooting guard Gary Neal and his agent, David Bauman, have talked to Hammond in recent weeks about the possibility of a trade.

The Bucks signed Neal to a three-year, $9.75 million contract over the summer. While Neal played a key role off the bench in helping San Antonio advance to the Finals last season, he has had a roller-coaster season with the Bucks, averaging 10.2 points.

However, Neal has played quite well in the last two games, having scored 18 and 17 points, respectively. In those two games, he connected on 14 of 23 shots from the field.

***

No. 2: Rich basketball history in New Orleans — Before the Pelicans of today, there were the Hornets and the same franchise with a different name. But before that, New Orleans had the Jazz and the ABA’s Buccaneers and the Hurricanes of the Professional Basketball League of America. Fran Blinebury of NBA.com goes down memory lane:

The American Basketball Association was the young, defiant upstart league that burst onto the scene in 1967 with a red-white-and-blue ball, a 3-point shot and a wide-open, slam-dunking style of play that challenged perceptions and authority.

And what better place to do that than rowdy Bourbon Street and New Orleans?

The Buccaneers were coached by the legendary Babe McCarthy with his honey dew Mississippi drawl and his pocketful of down-home sayings:

“Boy, I gotta tell you, you gotta come at ‘em like a bitin’ sow.”

“My old pappy used to tell me, the sun don’t shine on the same dog’s butt every day.”

McCarthy’s team was loaded with talent. The first player signed was Doug Moe, the talented forward out of North Carolina who had been connected to a college basketball betting scandal. Even though nothing was ever proven, Moe, along with Connie Hawkins, had been banned from the NBA for life.

The Buccaneers then added Moe’s good buddy Larry Brown, the 5-foot-9 point guard who’d been dismissed by the NBA for simply being too short.

***

It was four years later when the NBA finally came to town with an expansion team. The aptly named Jazz fittingly brought in the greatest improvisational artist in the game in “Pistol” Pete Maravich, who’d played college ball at Louisiana State in Baton Rouge and made music with a basketball like Louis Armstrong did with his trumpet.

Avery Johnson, who won an NBA championship with the Spurs, coached the Mavericks to The Finals and is now an ESPN analyst, grew up on the streets of New Orleans’ Sixth Ward, within walking distance of the Superdome. He joyously recalls watching the show.

“As a young kid, the Jazz really sparked my interest in basketball,” he said. “Growing up, my two favorite guys to watch were Nate ‘Tiny’ Archibald and ‘Pistol Pete.’

“Since the Jazz were playing at the Superdome and had all those seats to fill, they were practically giving tickets away. So my friends and I were going to as many games as we could, even on school nights.”

“All the kids in our neighborhood wore our [floppy] socks like Pistol and anytime we saw him make a great shot or an amazing pass, we’d all be out there on the schoolyard or playground the next day trying to do it. For a kid my age, it really didn’t get any better than that.”

Trouble was, most of the NBA was always better than the Jazz. In five seasons, the Jazz never finished with a record of .500 record. When Maravich was beset by a series of knee injuries and couldn’t play, the big show lost its headline attraction.

***

No. 3: Melo offers to take pay cut for Knicks — Whether it actually happens in July remains to be seen, but for now, free agent-in-waiting Carmelo Anthony is saying he would take less money from the Knicks in the next contract if it meant the team would be in better position to add pieces to the roster. That was part of Anthony reiterating that his priority is to re-sign with the Knicks, as Scott Cacciola explains from New Orleans in the New York Times:

“I tell people all the time: If it takes me taking a pay cut, I’ll be the first one on Mr. Dolan’s steps saying, ‘Take my money, let’s build something stronger,’ ” said Anthony, who was referring to James L. Dolan, the team’s owner, who surfaced here earlier in the day at an off-the-record summit about N.B.A. technology.

Anthony added: “As far as the money, it don’t really matter to me. If I go somewhere else, I’ll get paid. If I stay in New York, I’ll get paid. So as far as the money goes, that’s not my concern. My concern is being able to compete on a high level, at a championship level, coming at this last stretch of my career.”

The Knicks, of course, are not competing at that level — at least, not this season. They lurched into the All-Star break with a 20-32 record, and the Los Angeles Clippers’ Chris Paul said he could tell that Anthony was still fuming over the Knicks’ loss Wednesday to the Sacramento Kings when they met Thursday night in New Orleans.

***

No. 4: Barkley rips Pistons — The Pistons found no escape from ridicule during the All-Star break. Charles Barkley took them to task during the TNT broadcast of the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge on Friday, a game that included Andre Drummond piling up 30 points and 25 rebounds. From Brian Manzullo of the Detroit Free Press:

Barkley, now an “NBA on TNT” analyst, ripped Drummond’s Pistons during a break in action.

“He’s a terrific player who’s playing with those other idiots up in Detroit. And they’re not going to win,” Barkley said.

When the rest of the “NBA on TNT” panel, including Ernie Johnson and Kenny Smith, questioned that statement, Barkley continued: “They’ve got some idiots on that team. They’ve got some talented players who are not going to ever get it.”

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 11


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Paul will play in All-Star Game | Evans, Williams mum on tiff | T-Mac solid in Sugar Land practice | Bucks’ Sanders out indefinitely

No. 1: Paul confirms he’ll play in All-Star Game– The Los Angeles Clippers finally got Chris Paul back in their lineup on Sunday night and while his stat line against the Philadelphia 76ers wasn’t overly impressive, his presence meant a lot to the squad. The Clips and their fans got some more good news Monday when Paul confirmed that he will take part in the 2014 All-Star Game in New Orleans this weekend and is looking forward to the game for both sentimental and on-court reasons, writes Eric Patten of Clippers.com:

After returning to the court from a separated right shoulder in a 123-78 victory over the76ers Sunday, Chris Paul announced Monday that he will play in this weekend’s All-Star Game at New Orleans Arena.

“It was all about me getting healthy,” Paul said. “It was more important for me to get healthy and be there for my team and my teammates. The All-Star Game is an honor and a privilege, but being healthy is the most important thing. The All-Star Game was second, but it feels good to be ready to go.”

Paul was the 2013 All-Star MVP and was selected as an All-Star for the seventh time in his nine-year career when he was named as a reserve two weeks ago. But there was still some doubt about whether or not he would be ready to play in time for the game.

Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said there may not be a more perfect situation for Paul to get court time than a game that is traditionally bereft of defense.

“I like him playing in the All-Star Game, personally,” Rivers said. “I think this is a rare case where he’s ready to play and the All-Star Game is probably the safest venue for him to play because it’s such a defensive struggle. Guys are taking charges and diving on the floor. I think it will just be a good thing for him to just go up and down. It allows him to go up and down in NBA game with really good players that don’t play defense in the game.”

Paul’s appearance in New Orleans will come seven years after his first All-Star Game in the city. Of course, Paul also played six seasons with the Hornets, making his return to New Orleans a momentous occasion.

“For me in 2008, it was an unbelievable experience,” said Paul, who had 16 points, 14 assists and four steals in that game as a 22-year-old. “It was our first year back in New Orleans [after Hurricane Katrina], everyone on our team was excited to be back there and we had me and [David] West plus Byron [Scott] as the coach in the game. I am not sure what the NBA knew to expect coming to New Orleans, but once everyone got there, no one wanted to leave. It was one of the funnest times of my career and a game that I will never forget.”

***

No. 2: Evans, Williams mum on situation in New Orleans Former Rookie of the Year winner Tyreke Evans has had an up-and-(mostly) down first season with the New Orleans Pelicans as he has more or less struggled as the team’s sixth man. Perhaps the lowest point came Sunday night against the Brooklyn Nets, when Evans was a healthy scratch from the game and coach Monty Williams refused to offer up why he benched the swingman. Evans played Monday night in the Pelicans’ road loss to the Toronto Raptors and finished with 23 points, but both he and Williams remain quiet on what caused the Sunday benching, writes John Reid of NOLA.com:

Unlike Sunday night’s game against the Brooklyn Nets, New Orleans Pelicans swingman Tyreke Evans played Monday night against the Toronto Raptors.

And he finished with a game-high 23-points on 10-of-14 shooting in the Pelicans’ 108-101 loss to the Raptors.

But for the second-straight day, Pelicans coach Monty Williams would not elaborate other than to say it was an unspecified internal matter on why Evans was benched the previous night.

Evans declined comment before Monday night’s game about not playing against the Nets.

But he did say there is not a communication problem going on between Williams and him as been speculated.

“I just want to help the team anyway I can,’’ Evans said.“The media can put whatever they want to put. But I know what was said and here for my teammates. I want to help them win. I’m still hurting, but I’m out there still battling and fighting.”

Evans said he’s still experiencing pain from a cartilage tear between his ribs. But a team source said, Evans’ injury had nothing to do with why he was benched Sunday night.

Unable to shake injuries, Evans has not made the type of impact that was expected before the season started. In Monday’s game against the Raptors, Evans came off the bench but started the game by badly. Evans started slowly Monday night. He airballed a jump shot before getting cal for an offensive charging foul when drove the lane while crowded with Raptors defenders.

Throughout the season, Evans has shown ability to beat defenders off the dribble,but he has struggle to finish around the rim. Evans is averaging 12.4 points, but has made just 40 percent of his shots from the field.

Last week, Williams urged for Evans to become a better jump shooter.

“ I certainly feel like I’ve had to learn his game, learn how to use him and I’m still working on that,” Williams said earlier this week. “He’s also got to learn how we play basketball. He’s got to be a willing passer and understand that he doesn’t have to do it all by himself.

“For Tyreke to be an effective player, he has to play consistent on both ends. We know he can attack the basket, but he’s going have to become a better jump shooter.”

***

No. 3: McGrady solid in first minor league pitching task As our good friend Lang Whitaker covered a few weeks ago on the All Ball Blog, retired NBA All-Star Tracy McGrady is more than just pondering a career in baseball … he’s awful serious about trying to get into the big leagues. McGrady has been trying out with the independent Atlantic League’s Sugar Land Skeeters and threw to stand-in hitters yesterday. Mark Berman of KRIV-TV has more on McGrady’s debut and reports that T-Mac was impressive in his own right on the mound:

McGrady threw to hitters for the first time during a 20-minute bullpen session on Monday at Constellation Field, the home of the Sugar Land Skeeters.

The hitters did not swing, but they got a good look at what McGrady can bring.

“He’s so tall and his arms are so long. His downward slope, you’re not going to see that too often,” said Barrett Barnes, a minor league outfielder in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, in an interview with FOX 26 Sports.

“When you have a presence like that on the mound, it’s really hard to settle in and be comfortable hitting.

“Say his velo is 87, but with his arms and his body, it feels like it’s 90-91 (MPH),” Barnes said.

“His velo might by lower, but it feels like it gets on you way faster.”

Kansas City Royals minor league outfielder Daniel Rockett said it felt like McGrady could almost reach out and touch him from the mound.

“With a dude that big it’s like he’s in the box with you,” Rockett said.

McGrady, who is hoping to land a spot with the Skeeters, an Atlantic League franchise, is working with Arizona Diamondbacks pro scout Scipio Spinks, and seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens.

“(Spinks) taught me a lot, mechanics, and just a lot of things I didn’t know about pitching, and I’m using that to my advantage,” McGrady said.

“I also have Roger Clemens out here. What better person to have teaching you some things about pitching than Roger Clemens.”

***

No. 4: Bucks’ Sanders out indefinitely with eye injury — Whatever the opposite of a breakout season is in the NBA, that’s what Bucks big man Larry Sanders has experienced in 2013-14. After bursting onto the national NBA scene and becoming a Twitter (and Bucks fan) favorite last season, Sanders’ season has gone through a series of fits and starts that began with him missing six weeks of action after a bar fight in Milwaukee early in the season. Sanders has played in 23 games of the Bucks’ 51 games and had been coming into his own in February, but after suffering a hit to the right in Saturday’s loss to Houston, he’ll be out for a while, writes Andrew Gruman of Fox Sports Wisconsin:

Larry Sanders’ turbulent season has hit another bump in the road, as the Bucks center will be out indefinitely with a fractured right orbital bone.

The Bucks did not give a timetable for a potential return, saying Sanders will see a specialist Tuesday. Sanders suffered the injury when he took an inadvertent elbow from Rockets guard James Harden early in Saturday’s loss to Houston.

Bucks coach Larry Drew said Sanders is still experiencing blurred vision and will be out at least through the All-Star break.

“That’s really unfortunate because the kid has been play well,” Drew said. “He was starting to play with a rhythm and played two of his better games this year. It’s just real unfortunate that he sustained the injury.”

Sanders was beginning to regain form of late, averaging 14.3 points, 11.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks while shooting 63.3 percent from the field in three February games before having to leave just four minutes in on Saturday.


VIDEO: Larry Sanders suffers an eye injury in Saturday’s loss to Milwaukee

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson (rib) won’t play again until after the All-Star break … Warriors center Andrew Bogut has a shoulder injury and coach Mark Jackson‘s comments about it irked the Golden State big manEvan Turner‘s production has fallen off immensely since his hot start to the season … “Surgery” is planned for New Orleans Pelicans mascot Pierre the Pelican … Bobcats coach Steve Clifford has gotten Charlotte to buy-in on defense and one of the biggest contributors has been Al Jefferson … An SUV belonging to ex-Pistons star Ben Wallace was reportedly involved in a hit-and-run accident in Virginia …

ICYMI(s) of the Night: Officially, the Pacers play at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. But there are times when you could call the arena “Rucker Park Midwest” with the kind of fancy dribbling moves Lance Stephenson is known to show off …


VIDEO: Lance Stephenson shakes free from Jordan Hamilton with some fancy dribbles


VIDEO: Stephenson puts some more moves on Hamilton en route to a layup

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


VIDEO: Giannis goes high to block Durant

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

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

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

Giannis Antetokounmpo (Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE)

Giannis Antetokounmpo (Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bucks’ Neal And His Open Elevator Shaft

Gary Neal hasn't been getting the minutes he expected to get. (D. Williams/Einstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

Gary Neal hasn’t been getting the minutes he’s used to or expected to get in Milwaukee. (NBAE via Getty Images)

MILWAUKEEAnd is better than or, the commercial tells us. That’s what the Milwaukee Bucks had in mind when they signed former San Antonio Spurs guard Gary Neal to a two-year, $6.5 million contract back in July.

In Neal, Milwaukee was getting a 6-foot-4 combo guard with 3-point range capable of starting or bringing firepower and energy off the bench. It also was adding a seasoned veteran who, at age 29, had been a key rotation guy for the San Antonio Spurs with 41 games of playoff experience, including his 24-points-in-25-minutes night in Game 3 of the 2013 Finals against Miami.

A contributor on the court and off it, with skills and intangibles?

“They didn’t hire me as a coach,” Neal said Friday night, effectively slamming the brakes on and.

How ’bout neither?

Right now, that’s what the Bucks are getting from Neal, who logged the 10th DNP-CD of the half-season in their 81-72 loss to the Chicago Bulls at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Eight of them have come in Milwaukee’s past 11 games, and a miserable season for the Bucks overall has been even worse for Neal. He is averaging 10.4 points per game while shooting 39.4 percent in 20.5 minutes, missed two games in December with left plantar fasciitis and otherwise has done a whole lot of sitting.

“I don’t know what their plan is or what Coach [Larry] Drew is doing. So it’s hard to show your experience getting DNPs,” Neal said, in a calm steady voice when asked about his switch of teams prior to Friday’s game. “You can’t say anything when you don’t get in the game. I’m gonna tell somebody to do something, and I ain’t playing?”

A qualifier is in order here: Neal was sought out Friday because of the plummet he has taken in the standings and in status, from his role with a pedigreed organization that came within seconds in Game 6 of an NBA championship to a mere spectator on many nights with the league’s worst (7-28) team.

Generally, he has been a solid citizen about the experience … with the exception of last weekend in Phoenix, when some frustrations within the Bucks boiled over in plain sight of reporters. Neal and center Larry Sanders got into a loud, heated postgame argument in the visitors’ dressing room and needed to be separated. At one point, Neal took a verbal shot at Sanders, yelling, “I earn my money. Why don’t you try it?”

Trouble is, Neal might feel on many nights as if he’s not earning his keep either. Not in the manner he had hoped when he traded NBA penthouse for current outhouse.

“I thought I’d be able to get a consistent 20, 25 minutes a night. But for whatever reason, that hasn’t panned out,” Neal said. “It’s a business. I could have stayed in San Antonio on the qualifying offer, but then you miss out on $6 million. Sometimes all the cards fall in your favor, sometimes they don’t. Right now, it’s hard with the record being [7-28] and my role basically being non-existent. It’s a tough spot. You’ve just got to fight through it.”

Drew, in his first season with a team whose October roster had 11 new faces and only four holdovers, still talks of Neal as the guy the Bucks signed. Or believed they were signing, anyway.

“Any time any player comes from a successful program, I think they have something to offer,” Drew said Friday. “Certainly he’s been in that Spurs system, so he has a great deal to offer. Also from his basketball ability. He’s a shot maker. He’s a guy who can get in a rhythm, he’s a guy who can get on a roll. So whenever he comes into a basketball game, I’m looking for A, B, C and D.”

Uh, Drew might have just misspelled DNP-CD.

Milwaukee does have a crowded backcourt and an array of potential gunners, from Brandon Knight and Luke Ridnour to O.J. Mayo and Khris Middleton. One problem for Neal – for any of them at any given time – is that, other than injuries dictating the rotation, there is no real pecking order to the roster, too much evenness in skills and qualifications. So it’s about numbers and fit, with an overlap of strengths and weaknesses. That typically leads to odd men out, and right now Neal is that guy.

It hasn’t helped that, when he has gotten in games, his stints have been brief and at times he has tried to force results. Though his average minutes are down from his San Antonio days, the undrafted guard from Towson State is seeking his shot a little more – 16.3 FGAs per 36 minutes vs. 14.1 with the Spurs. His 3-point shooting (41.9 percent) has been better than on his 2-pointers (37.8).

“If you look at the stats, I’ve always been a scorer,” Neal said. “I mean, I’m not shooting the ball as good as I would like. But it’s always harder to get in a rhythm when you play those type of, y’know, six or seven spot minutes. The defense has a chance to focus in on you, the shots are harder.”

Again, Neal was talking about his well-compensated humbling because he was asked about it. He said several times he wasn’t trying to tell Drew or Bucks general manager John Hammond how to do their jobs. If that rumor out of the D-League Showcase in Reno proves true – that Neal is being shopped in advance of the February trade deadline, ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reported – the player knows he is just that, a player with a job to show up for every day.

“You don’t want to be a distraction. We have our share of distractions just by losing games,” Neal said. “When you look at [the limited opportunities] and you’re the only guy, coming from a situation where you’ve been on a winner the last three years and you were playing 30 minutes in The Finals, and the team is struggling and you haven’t been told a reason why you haven’t been given those extended minutes, y’know, it can be mind-boggling at times.

“But at the end of the day, you are a professional and you don’t want to be a distraction. So you just show up and hopefully the worm will turn and you’ll get minutes.”

With Horford, Hawks Were Most Improved This Month


VIDEO: NBA Action: One-on-One with Al Horford

The List

Most improved teams, NetRtg, Oct-November to December

Team Oct.-Nov. Rank December Rank Diff.
Atlanta -1.1 16 +8.1 2 9.2
Brooklyn -6.9 27 +0.7 11 7.7
Cleveland -8.8 28 -2.5 21 6.4
Milwaukee -11.1 29 -5.7 26 5.3
Oklahoma City +6.0 5 +11.3 1 5.3

NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

The Context

This would be an encouraging stat for three of the five teams on the list had they not lost All-Stars to serious injuries during the course of the month. Brooklyn lost Brook Lopez for the season as it was playing its best offense of the season, Atlanta lost Al Horford indefinitely as it was beginning to pick up some steam, and Oklahoma City lost Russell Westbrook until after the All-Star break as it was establishing itself as the best team in the league.

The Hawks are just 7-4 in December, but have the league’s second-best point differential in the month, mostly because they beat the the Cavs, Lakers, Kings and Jazz by an average of 20.8 points. But they do have a win over the Clippers and had a huge offensive game in Miami.

Atlanta’s improvement has been all about the offense. They’ve scored 9.6 more points per 100 possessions in December (110.6) than they did in October and November (101.0). They’ve played some bad defensive teams this month, but they’ve scored more points per 100 possessions than their opponent’s season average in eight of their 11 games.

The biggest difference in the Hawks’ offense has been 3-point shooting. Not only have they been shooting 3s better, but they’ve been shooting them more often.

Hawks 3-point shooting

Month 3PM 3PA 3PT% Rank %FGA Rank
Oct-November 138 390 35.4% 16 27.0% 11
December 126 302 41.7% 1 31.3% 2

%FGA = Percentage of total field goal attempts

A healthy Lou Williams has given Atlanta an additional threat from long range, but Paul Millsap has also been a big part of the improvement. Millsap shot 7-for-10 from 3-point range in that overtime loss to the Heat, and 27 percent of his shots in December have been 3s , up from 13 percent in October and November.

Millsap is shooting 46 percent from downtown, so he should keep launching them if he can. Horford’s absence will put more of the defensive focus on Millsap, but thus far, Millsap has actually taken a greater percentage of his shots from 3-point range with Horford off the floor (33/116) than he has with Horford on the floor (37/252).

Overall, the Hawks have actually been a slightly better offensive team (105.4 points scored per 100 possessions vs. 104.4) with Horford off the floor, but they’ve been much worse defensively (105.5 points allowed per 100 possessions vs. 100.7). Basically, they’re a top-10 defensive team with Horford and a bottom-five defensive team without him.

While their offense has been the reason for their improvement, they wouldn’t have the third best record in the East without a solid defense. And now, they will likely struggle to get stops consistently.

Brooklyn is in a similar situation. Their improvement is mostly about their offense, which received a huge boost when Deron Williams returned from his ankle injury and has scored 107.4 points per 100 possessions in the nine games he’s played in December. But they’ve been much better defensively with Lopez on the floor and aren’t likely to climb out the bottom 10 in defensive efficiency without him.

The Video

Here are Millsap’s 10 3-point attempts against the Heat on Dec. 23, here are Jeff Teague‘s 15 assists against the Kings on Dec. 18, and here’s Teague’s game-winner in Cleveland on Thursday.

The bottom of the list

The Spurs have been 8.7 points per 100 possessions worse in December than they were in October and November. The drop-off has come on defense, where they rank 17th this month after ranking second through Nov. 30.

The Pacers still rank No. 1 defensively, but have fallen off quite a bit on that end as well. Maybe they just set too high a standard in the first month, because they’ve allowed 11.1 more points per 100 possessions in December. They’ve improved offensively (+4.0), but their NetRtg difference of minus-7.1 points per 100 possessions has them 29th on the list.

Above the Pacers are the Sixers (minus-7.0), the Rockets (minus-6.8) and Lakers (minus-4.9).