NBA Season Preview: The Milwaukee Bucks

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andrew_bogut_milwaukee_bucks.jpgLast season: The Bucks flew through the home stretch to finish with a 46-36 record, but the train carrying deer to be feared was derailed by a season-ending injury to Andrew Bogut.

Head Coach: Scott Skiles, who lived up to his reputation as an excellent defensive coach by making the Bucks’ D the second best in the league last season. He also lived up to his offensive reputation by having his team hoist up a ton of mid-range jumpers, but hey, he is who he is, and his teams are who they are.

Key Departures: Luke Ridnour, Kurt Thomas, Jerry Stackhouse, Dan Gadzuric, Charlie Bell, and any illusion that Michael Redd will play for them this year.

Key Additions:
Corey Maggette, Drew Gooden, Larry Sanders, Keyon Dooling, Jon Brockman, Chris Douglas-Roberts, and plenty of fans jumping on the bandwagon.

Best case scenario:
The Bucks again manage to surprise, this time by leaping from mid-tier playoff certainty to out-and-out contender.

For that to happen: Milwaukee will need to combine what they did well last season (defense, taking care of the ball) with what their new personnel suggest they should do well this season (scoring, getting to the line, offensive rebounding). Skiles will need to walk the fine line between relying on the players that got him this far without neglecting Maggette, Gooden, and the new Bucks.

There’s a pretty delicate balance here. Worst-case, the Bucks should be about as good as they were last season. However, should Skiles manage to find that perfect balance between offense/defense, this team has the potential to be remarkable. Milwaukee may not have a name for the marquee, but they have a real star in Andrew Bogut, a talented young point in Brandon Jennings, and now a cast of both useful defenders and skilled scorers.

On paper, Milwaukee has the personnel to make for a fantastically balanced team. For every Drew Gooden, they have a Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. For every Corey Maggette, they have a Carlos Delfino. I’m not sure any NBA roster boasts a more interesting yin and yang of talented players, but I am sure that Skiles will face plenty of pressure to make everything fit just so.

More likely the Bucks will: Show notable improvement, but not enough for them to storm the East’s top tier. They’re good. No doubt about that. Still, it’s hard to put Milwaukee into the same class as Miami, Orlando, and Boston just yet, especially considering how awkward this mix of players could be initially.

Skiles can be trusted to figure things out, and given the players he has to work with, it’s hard to imagine things going too badly. That said, the far more likely outcome is the moderate one, in which the Bucks get better, but still have room to grow. There’s not necessarily an issue of player maturity, but roster maturity. This is the type of roster that needs time to cultivate, and they’ll get better and better as the season goes on.

The Bucks have made moves to directly resolve their weaknesses, but now its time to see if that approach still allows Milwaukee to function as a cohesive — and now comprehensive — whole.

Prediction: 53 wins and a tough out in the playoffs. I see the Bucks as the early favorites for the fourth seed in the East, but a lot of that depends on the health of the top three and the specifics of what’s sure to be an interesting race between Milwaukee, Chicago, and Atlanta for home court advantage and a chance to survive the first round.

Whether or not the Bucks can end up in either the 4th or 5th seed will clearly impact their playoff lifespan. If they can dodge the East’s elite in the first round, they give themselves a shot to lock down a more fitting opponent and make it to the conference semifinals. If not, they’ll fight for their lives against a more talented club, and make things as difficult as possible on their way out.

Really? Online petition started to change name of Durant, Oklahoma, to Westbrook.

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 30:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder stands on the court in Game Seven of the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on May 30, 2016 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Durant, Oklahoma, is a city of just more than 15,000 people in the southern part of the state. It is the capital of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, and it was named after its Choctaw founder, Dixon Durant.

But some people in Oklahoma are not high on the name Durant, lately. Kevin Durant decided to bolt the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Golden State Warriors this summer, and some Thunder fans feel betrayed. Understandably. Durant was well within his rights, but if you’re a Thunder fan and you’re not hurt by this it would be strange.

Still, you have to hope what follows is satire. It reads like it.

Oklahoma’s Ryan Nazari created a Change.org petition asking the city of Durant be renamed the city of Westbrook. As in Russell Westbrook. The guy who signed a contract extension to stay in Oklahoma (for just one extra year, but still). Read the petition below and tell me it doesn’t sound like satire.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the great state of Oklahoma has been betrayed. As many of you know, Kevin Durant has left our state, torn out our hearts, and left our beloved Oklahoma City Thunder in depleted shape. All of this after even being offered a cabinet position for the State of Oklahoma. It is because of this heinous action that I believe the State of Oklahoma has a responsibility to change the name of the City of Durant to Westbrook, the man who is loyal, whom we believe in, and who will lead our team to glory. Yes, it is understood that the city Durant was not named after the evil Kevin Durant, but it is just another hideous reminder of what happened to our community.”

As of this writing, he had reached his goal of having more than 1,000 people sign on.

Maybe it’s satire, but it’s more creative than burning a jersey.

Obviously, the name of the city is not changing. If people want to live in Westbrook, they should move to Maine.

Way too early look: Who could make up USA’s 2020 Tokyo Olympic basketball team?

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 21:  Jimmy Butler, Kevin Durant, DeAndre Jordan and Kyle Lowry #7 of United States stand on the podium after defeating Serbia in the Men's Gold medal game on Day 16 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on August 21, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Let’s start with the obvious: This is an exercise in futility. There is no way to predict accurately what the 2020 USA men’s basketball team headed to the Tokyo Olympics will look like. There will be injuries that sideline guys. There will be contract situations where key guys decide it’s in their best interest to sit out. Plus, there could be a guy just now entering his junior year of high school who we don’t know well yet but in four years will be a clear choice for the team.

Now that we’ve gotten through the tedious disclaimer, let’s have fun:

What will the 2020 USA Basketball team look like?

First, it will have a bit of a business attitude — Gregg Popovich is coaching now. Not that Mike Krzyzewski ran a college party Team USA, far from it, but with Popovich’s demeanor and the scare put into the 2016 team (and some improving world powers, such as Canada), expect the USA to be a little more focused next time around.

For the roster, who from the 2016 gold medal team in Rio returns for more gold? At the top of the list: A 31-year-old Kevin Durant will be back for one more run (and to climb on top of the USA Olympic scoring list). He will be the unquestioned team leader. The alpha. It will be his team.

After that? Young stars who want one more go at it such as Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins, DeAndre Jordan, and Klay Thompson will seriously consider a return. Maybe Jimmy Butler. Those guys will have a leg up having Olympic experience and a commitment to the program.

After that, some big names that passed on Rio are going to suit up in Japan. There will be far less defection of top talent this time around — the fears around Brazil will be gone, and NBA players wanting to sell more shoes in Asia will be eager to sign up. I expect you will see Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook, and maybe James Harden decide they are in for the next round. LeBron James said he felt left out and may consider a return, but he will be 35 years old with 17 NBA seasons on his body by that point, does he want to put his body through an international curtain call? Probably not.

Rounding out the roster, expect a few guys from this year’s USA Select Team — the team the Olympic squad practiced against in Las Vegas at the start of camp — to make the leap up (as Kyrie Irving and others did this year).

Who? That’s the hardest thing to predict, it depends on development. Guys to watch include Victor Olidipo, Justise Winslow, Devin Booker, Brandon Ingram, and Jabari Parker — some of them will be ready to make the leap.

One clue to the 2020 roster: Players that you see in China for the 2019 FIBA World Cup will be more likely to make the 2020 team. (Yes, the World Championships are now the year before the Olympics, welcome to more of FIBA’s wisdom, as is the fact the Cup qualifiers fall during the NBA/Euroleague seasons.) Guys from the select team now that head to China in three years and perform well in that setting will likely have the USA across their chest in Japan.

Whatever team we send will have the most talent in those games. The question is will that be enough?

Check out the Cleveland Cavaliers Top 10 plays from last season

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With athletes such as LeBron James and Kyrie Irving on the team, you know the Cleveland Cavaliers Top 10 plays of last season were going to have some special moments.

Yes, the block by LeBron and the stepback three by Irving that sealed the first Cleveland title in 52 years are on top of the list.

But there are some other ridiculous Irving handles and even a Timofey Mozgov dunk in there (a $64 million dunk, apparently).

Watch Spurs’ Dejounte Murray throw off-the-backboard alley-oop to himself in pickup game

Washington guard Dejounte Murray, center, dribbles the ball past Mount St. Mary's center Taylor Danaher (50) as Washington forward Marquese Chriss, right, watches duirng the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
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Just a suggestion for rookie Dejounte Murray: Don’t do this in front of Gregg Popovich. You may not like his reaction.

That said, the Spurs needed to get more athletic this off-season — landing Pau Gasol certainly didn’t help that cause — so enter first-round pick Murray, who pulled this off in a recent pickup game.

Murray is going to be brought along slowly in a backcourt where Tony Parker and Patty Mills will be splitting time at the point. Murray is more of a combo guard and is going to have to shoot a lot better than he did in college (28.8 percent from three) to get some run. But this is a situation where the Spurs can groom him, bring him along slowly, and see if they have another draft steal.

He’s certainly got the athleticism.