John Salmons takes aim for the fourth seed


Thumbnail image for salmons.jpgThe Milwaukee Bucks were an immensely successful team last season relative to expectation, and there’s no reason why they can’t be even better in the coming year. There aren’t a lot of young pieces on the roster set to grow, but the internal development of Brandon Jennings and Andrew Bogut combined with the numerous moves Milwaukee has made to shore up their offense should put the Bucks firmly in the East’s quasi-elite.

They’re not even close to Miami. They’re still a long way away from Orlando. But the Bucks were good and have gotten better, and that counts for something. While it’s never a sound long-term strategy to shoot for merely being competitive, the Bucks have taken steps, even if there’s not evidence of a durable plan to elevate Milwaukee to championship contenders.

Still, for now, the Bucks are good. Good enough for John Salmons to make public note of his expectations for the coming season, via the Sporting News:

“For me, I prefer having expectations. I have usually played under the
radar, and I always struggle with people not recognizing how good we
are as a team. But we should be good right from the beginning. I think
last year we were a surprise team, but we are not going to be a
surprise team this year. I think we can finish among the top four in
the East.”

There’s no question that the Bucks will be right there in the thick of things, but top four? Miami and Orlando are locks, the Bulls should be up there, and the Celtics and Hawks are definitely in the mix. All of those are fine regular season teams, so fine that Milwaukee could easily be locked into the sixth seed for the second straight year. Fourth is well within Milwaukee’s reach, but it’s early, yet.

Maybe the Bucks will pick up in the ’10-’11 regular season in the same ridiculous fashion that carried them through the tail end of the ’09-’10 campaign, or maybe they’ll look sluggish as Scott Skiles integrates the new offensive cogs. Either way, it’s entirely too early to make predictions; training camp isn’t even upon us, and with so much left to be determined, Salmons’ expectations will have to be left lingering in the air for now.

Pizza and soccer on agenda for Celtics on trip to Italy

Perry Jones III, Malcolm Miller, James Young, Jordan Mickey
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MILAN (AP) — After a couple of days in Milan, Isaiah Thomas‘ Italian experience is still lacking a certain something.

“I’m waiting on some pizza,” said a laughing Thomas, who used to do commercials for a regional pizza franchise when he played for the Sacramento Kings. “The place we went to last night didn’t have no pizza so hopefully tonight we go somewhere I can order some pizza for real.”

This trip isn’t just about culinary experiences, though. The Celtics are in Milan to play an exhibition game against Olimpia Milano on Tuesday before traveling to Spain to play Real Madrid as part of the NBA Global Games.

Ahead of the team’s practice session on Sunday, Thomas was also looking forward to his first soccer match, as the Celtics headed to San Siro later for AC Milan’s home match against Napoli in the Italian league – after an afternoon trip to nearby Lake Como.

“That’s going to be fun,” Thomas told The Associated Press at the Celtics’ first practice in Italy. “I’m excited about that. I’ve never been to a soccer match, to have my first soccer match be in Italy is going to be nice.”

Teammate Marcus Smart said the trip was also an important bonding experience for a young roster with plenty of new pieces. They went for a players-only meal in Milan on Saturday night.

“We had a good time with each other,” Smart said. “No phones, so everyone was talking to one other. It was good overall fun.

“We understand the severity of this trip, it is a business trip but at the same time not many people get this chance to travel like we do so we understand its business but we’re here to have fun at the same time.”

Coach Brad Stevens has overseen plenty of rebuilding since taking over the Celtics in 2013 but still led the team to the playoffs last season after trading point guard Rajon Rondo – the only remaining player from the 2008 championship team. After being swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team is aiming higher this season. For Stevens, it all starts here in Italy.

“These sessions are really important to get something accomplished in practice and to make sure that we’re continuing to progress,” Stevens said. “It’s still very much a part of our training camp, and so you’ve got all of the great things about being a tourist – getting a chance to see new things and experience new things – and at the same time we’re 24 or 25 days away from our season opener.”

And after spending so many hours in the gym during the offseason, Thomas is ready to start playing actual games again – even if its just preseason.

“We’re ready to beat up on somebody else, we’re tired of beating up on each other,” Smith said.

Kings’ Karl admits mistakes in DeMarcus Cousins trade controversey

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In the NBA, elite players have the leverage. It is just simple supply and demand.

DeMarcus Cousins is an elite player — and a favorite of owner Vivek Ranadive. He is not going anywhere.

Which made this summer’s “George Karl wants trade Cousins” a battle the coach couldn’t ultimately win — the owner wasn’t going to sign off on it, and the fans are going to side with Boogie. Remember Karl said he never had a player that was untradable, and that spiraled into reports Karl probed trade options with other teams, much to the frustration of management and Cousins himself.

Karl owned up to some of his mistakes in an interview on Comcast Bay Area, as reported by James Ham at

“To be honest with you, I apologized to DeMarcus for making the trade comment that I’ve never coached a player that’s untradeable,” Karl told Christensen. “That was wrong for me to say, because you all (the media) took it and blew it up into crazy.”

“But it’s my responsibility to be smart enough to not say things like that,” Karl continued. “So I did apologize because I thought that was the only thing, maybe some other things, but really the only thing that got us separated was that comment that then everybody wrote the we’re going to trade [Cousins].”

The relationship between Cousins and Karl — not to mention Rajon Rondo and other veterans — is the biggest key to the Kings’ season. Karl and Cousins say their relationship is solid now, but what happens when that is put under stress at some point during the season?

In talking to people around the team, the Kings players seemed to have formed a tight bond — even if part of the glue of that bond is a distrust of Karl that can work for them. This is a team that has the talent to compete for the bottom couple playoff seeds in the Western Conference, but everybody needs to be pulling on the rope in the same direction. We will see pretty quickly if the Kings can do that.