Brandon Jennings

What the Bucks should do when the lockout ends

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This is the final installment of PBT’s series of “What your team should do when the lockout ends.” Our final team is the Milwaukee Bucks. You can also check out our thoughts on other NBA teams here as we work our way through all 30 squads.

Last season: I, and the other eighteen to twenty bloggers who recommended the Bucks as a league-pass must last season would like to apologize for subjecting any readers who followed that advice and were subsequently forced to watch the Bucks’ offense.

The Bucks plummeted in 2010-2011. Not so much in record, they only lost eleven more games. But there was a phenomenal drop in performance. Andrew Bogut never really recovered from “the injury which shall not be mentioned,” Brandon Jennings fought injuries and regressed, all of the free agents the Bucks brought in that people were worried they overpaid for somehow managed to underperform low expectations. It was bad, all over. The “has Skiles lost this team?” meme is already taking shape, ready for an explosion if the Bucks don’t get things right next year.

The defense held, though. The Bucks were fourth in defensive rating in 2010, they were fourth in defensive rating in 2011. But nothing else developed for them, they didn’t get the contributions they needed, they didn’t make the playoffs.

Since we last saw the Bucks: The biggest change for the Bucks was their draft day trade. They moved down to pick up Tobias Harris, traded their higher pick in the three-way deal with Sacramento and Charlotte, and moved Corey Maggette for Stephen Jackson. Jackson for Maggette isn’t much of a switch outside of Jackson’s superior defense and leadership. They also added Beno Udrih. Still, it might have been nice to see the Bucks make a more substantial move forward. Michael Redd’s finally off the books so they may have cap room under the new system, except for owing Drew Gooden a ton more money over nearly a half decade. Ersan Ilyasoava returned to Turkey with no opt-out, which is just depressing. (Update: Frank Madden of BrewHoop informed me he has an NBA opt-out but is hoping the Bucks won’t make him return. Which is almost more depressing.)

When the lockout ends, the Bucks need to: Stay aggressive in improving. The Bucks have questions to answer and elements to improve.

Brandon Jennings holds the key to their future. Jennings has illustrated a significant commitment to improvement this summer, both in his personal branding and on the floor. The former may seem immaterial, but if it translates to confidence and maturity, that will help Jennings. Of course, what would be more helpful would be lower turnover rates and a higher field goal percentage. Jennings has to become more than a highlight reel; he has to learn the value of efficiency.

From there, the Bucks have to hope Bogut gets his health back. Bogut’s immovable if not, and he’s their guy. When right, Bogut is a defensive player of the year candidate with some great offensive skills. The Bucks can’t do much if he never recovers from the elbow thing we’re not going to talk about because I get queasy just thinking about it.

Moving Gooden and Jackson would be in their best interest, but given Skiles’ need for veterans and the size of the money left on their contracts, it’s unlikely (though one will probably be used on the amnesty). There doesn’t seem to be a plan in Milwaukee given the step backwards last season. Perhaps the team simply feels that if injuries had been different, they would have made the playoffs. But if the Bucks want to really build towards a championship, they need to get a core of players that can stick and not fill-in veterans.

The Bucks could move substantially forward in free agency and through trades. Or they could simply stay in the middle of the pack and hope for lightning in a bottle. So many ifs for Milwaukee at this point.

Four Things to Watch in two Game 7s Sunday

during game six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Time Warner Cable Arena on April 29, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  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.
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It’s what the playoffs are all about — win or go home Game 7s. Pressure, drama, unlikely stars Sunday is going to have it all. Here are a few things to watch:

1) Can Miami’s jump shooters have another hot game? Dwyane Wade got the headlines (and he earned them) for his Game 6 performance (everyone except purple shirt guy was impressed), but the real key for the Heat to force a Game 7 was they were hitting their jumpers — or at least enough of them. In their three losses, Miami shot 33.7 percent from 3 feet out to the arc, but in Game 6 the Heat shot 43.5 percent in that range, plus knocked down eight threes. The Hornets have packed the paint all series, when the Heat hit their jumpers they win. It’s that simple.

2) Does Kemba Walker have one more big game in him? Walker was fantastic in Game 6 (37 points), and he’s been very good in the Hornets’ victories. He’s going to penetrate and get some shots inside eight feet, but will he be able to finish? And, more importantly, will he hit his threes when they pack the paint on him? If Walker has a huge game, Charlotte very likely moves on.

3) Is Toronto too far into their own head? No team has more pressure on them to advance out of the first round than Toronto after two previous years of getting bounced in the first round, and they will feel that weight at home in Game 7 against Indiana. Will Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan step up with big games in the biggest moments of their careers, or will they succumb to the moment and the Pacers defense? For all the Xs and Os that do matter in this game, how the Raptors handle the pressure will be key.

4) Can the Pacers again get a few quality minutes when Paul George sits? In the Pacers comfortable Game 6 win, George got a rest in the second quarter and the Pacers were +5 while he sat. That was a huge step up from Game 5, where the Pacers were -18 when he was out for less than 7 minutes. If Indiana — by playing some starters such as Myles Turner — doesn’t have a huge bench drop off when George rests a few minutes their odds of winning go way up. We know Paul George can handle the moment.

Spurs demolish Thunder to take Game 1 of second-round series

SAN ANTONIO,TX - APRIL 30: LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the San Antonio Spurs scores over Steven Adams #12 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during game one of the Western Conference Semifinals for the 2016 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center on April 30, 2016 in San Antonio, Texas. 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 Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
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The second round was supposed to be when things got exciting. Instead, the San Antonio Spurs put on an absolute clinic at home, blowing out the Oklahoma City Thunder, 124-92 to take a 1-0 series lead.

Just about everything went in for San Antonio, particularly for LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard, who combined for 63 points. How dominant were they?

Aldridge in particular got anything he wanted against the Thunder. Oklahoma City’s stars were quiet, with Kevin Durant scoring just 16 points and Russell Westbrook 14. San Antonio controlled the game from the start and Oklahoma City never recovered from the opening punch.

It’s hard to imagine Durant and Westbrook are this ineffective again, and hopefully the rest of this series will be a little more competitive. But the Spurs did what the Spurs do, and did nothing to shake the feeling that they’re the favorites to win the west, now that Stephen Curry‘s status is unknown.

Hawks get another playoff shot at King James and Cavaliers

at Philips Arena on April 1, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  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.
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ATLANTA (AP) A year ago, Atlanta’s magical season ended with a resounding sweep by Cleveland in the Eastern Conference final.

Now, the Hawks have another shot at LeBron James and the Cavaliers.

Feeling confident after an opening-round victory over Boston, the Hawks returned to practice Saturday to begin preparations for the best-of-seven series.

Game 1 is Monday night in Cleveland.

The Hawks were the top-seeded team in the East last season after a record 60-win campaign. It didn’t do them much good against the Cavaliers, who steamrolled Atlanta in four straight games.

Even though they slipped to 48 wins and fourth in the conference, the Hawks actually sound a bit more confident heading into this matchup, largely because of their improved defense and rebounding.

Report: Warriors to replace Luke Walton from outside the organization

MILWAUKEE, WI - DECEMBER 12: Interim Coach Luke Walton of the Golden State Warriors talks on the sideline during the second quarter against the Milwaukee Bucks at BMO Harris Bradley Center on December 12, 2015 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 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 Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)
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For the second consecutive year, the Warriors have lost their lead assistant to another team. When the Pelicans hired Alvin Gentry during last year’s playoffs, Steve Kerr promoted Luke Walton to associate head coach and added former journeyman big man Jarron Collins to the bench. Now that Walton is headed to the Lakers as their next head coach, the Warriors will go outside the organization to find a replacement, according to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein. And one name that will likely not be in the mix is David Blatt, who very nearly became an assistant under Kerr in 2014 before being offered the Cavaliers’ head job.

Given Walton’s success this season as interim head coach while Kerr recovered from back surgery, this will undoubtedly be the most attractive assistant job in the league.