Bucks offseason homework: Figure out what kind of team they are

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There is a dump truck full of questions the Milwaukee Bucks need to answer this offseason — what to do with interim coach Jim Boylan, should they expend a lot of energy to keep Monta Ellis and/or J.J. Redick, how much to offer Brandon Jennings, and many more.

But the answers to all of those questions start with the answer to another question:

What kind of team do the Milwaukee Bucks want to be?

Because the past couple seasons they have looked like a collection of mismatched parts with no overarching plan. They have two ball-dominating backcourt guards (that when paired on the court had the team -2.7 points per 100 possessions compared to their opponents) and they threw J.J. Redick in the mix, but that mesh was up and down. The Bucks played fast but were a bottom 10 offensive team, it all didn’t work.

So pick a style, Milwaukee. If you want to be defense-first then great, slow the pace down and get some better defending role players on the roster. Want to be a running team? Great, you need a roster that starts with guards who mesh better.

My guess is they stay up-tempo (the Bucks played at the third fastest pace in the league).

Once you pick a style, then get a coach that fits it — if that is a Jennings led up-tempo style Boylan is not your guy. Boylan took over the job mid-season after Scott Skiles left (they were .500 when he did). There are a host of good top assistants out there, each bringing a different feel and style to the dance (there is Mike Malone in Golden State, Brian Shaw in Indiana, but the rumor is the leader would be Kelvin Sampson of the Rockets).

Then the Bucks need to figure out the backcourt — do they want to make a big offer to Monta Ellis and let Brandon Jennings go, or watch Ellis leave and match any offer (short of a max deal) for Jennings? And what about J.J. Redick? Both Ellis and Redick are unrestricted free agents — they have the freedom to sign anywhere. Jennings is a restricted free agent, the Bucks can match any offer he gets — which makes him the most likely of the trip to stay.

Let me just note this for fun: As mentioned, when the backcourt was Jennings/Ellis the Bucks were outscored -2.7 points per 100 possessions. Ellis and Redick were +6.2; Jennings and Redick were -10.5. So you may seriously want to rethink plans for a Jennings/Redick backcourt.

The Bucks will have Ersan Ilyasova back, as well as Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Larry Sanders and Drew Gooden. Mike Dunleavy is a free agent but said he would be open to staying.

The result of all tis is likely the Bucks take a step back next season. That’s fine if there is a solid plan being followed to move forward after that.

What I fear for Bucks fans is another roster made up of whatever guys they can grab, with little concern for how it all fits together. We’ve seen that movie, and how it ends.

Report: Knicks to discuss coaching vacancy with Hawks’ Mike Budenholzer

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Mike Budenholzer is restless in Atlanta, seeing a rebuild coming and looking at other jobs (something Hawks management is fine with). He went down the road a ways with the Suns before pulling out of that process, but he’s still looking around.

The Knicks are casting a wide net in their search, talking to virtually everyone looking for coaching jobs.

So, this seemed inevitable, right? Budenholzer and the Knicks are going to talk, according to Michael Cunningham of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

This will be very preliminary. The Knicks have already had some level of conversation with Mark Jackson, David Fizdale, Jerry Stackhouse, David Blatt, Mike Woodson, and TNT analyst Kenny Smith (Jackson and Fizdale are the rumored early leaders). Budenholzer has established a style and culture in Atlanta, giving the franchise a path forward. New York could certainly use that.

However, the Knicks job comes with real challenges, too. That starts with James Dolan as owner and the erratic, at times paranoid culture he has created there. Also, expectations in New York are always high, but the team will be without Kristaps Porzigis for at least half (maybe all) of the upcoming season as he recovers from an ACL injury, and that puts a ceiling on the team in the short term. Is all that worth leaving Atlanta for?

 

Stephen Curry to begin “modified” practices with Warriors

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Golden State has flipped the switch in the first round, going up 3-0 on overmatched San Antonio. The Warriors have been outscoring the Spurs by 20.2 points per 100 possessions in the series, allowing less than a point per possession on defense and scoring when and where they want. Kevin Durant is averaging 27.3 points per game, Klay Thompson is shooting 63.3 percent from three and scoring 25.7 points per game, and the Warriors are clicking.

But they are not yet whole — they need Stephen Curry back. Not for this round, but before the Western Conference Finals for sure.

Curry was re-evaluated Friday and will begin practicing with the team in a limited — or “modified” to use the team’s term — way.

The target has always been a return somewhere during the second round, and that still seems to be on track. That is also a little faster than traditional for a Grade 2 MCL sprain, which can take up to two months to heal (not the 4-6 weeks of the Warriors timeline), but the Warriors are being cautious here for now.

Eventually, the Warriors will need him back — their offense is built around Curry and his ball movement and movement off the ball. Curry’s gravity to draw defenders, even when he doesn’t have the ball, opens up the floor for others. Put simply, if he’s 28 feet from the bucket on the weak side defenders still have to watch and be near him, and help defenders need to be aware, which pulls the defense to wherever he is. Without Curry and the Warriors take more midrange jumpers, it’s just in the first round series against the Spurs they are hitting them.

 

Kenyon Martin: I once played high

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Former NBA commissioner David Stern said the league began testing for marijuana because players complained of other players playing high. Chauncey Billups said he knew teammates who played better high.

But Stephen Jackson is the rare former NBA player who admitted to playing high.

Now, he has company.

Kenyon Martin – who played for the Nets, Nuggets, Clippers, Knicks and Bucks in a 15-year career – via Bleacher Report:

We were playing in Indiana one day. I wasn’t feeling well. I had a hamstring, a hip or something. So, I smoked. I wasn’t going to play originally. So, we got to the arena, and I’m like, “I feel good.” I went and told the trainer, “I’m going to go today.” I went out there and had a great game.

If you want to guess which game this was, here are the possibilities.

This was part of a great feature on marijuana in the NBA and NFL. Matt Barnes, Al Harrington and Gary Paton also participate. I highly recommend (pun intended) watching it in full.

Nuggets president Tim Connelly: Next season playoffs or bust

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The Nuggets have steadily improved over the last four years – 30-52 to 33-49 to 40-42 to 46-36.

But even 46 wins weren’t enough to get Denver into the playoff this season, extending the postseason drought to five years.

Nuggets president Connelly, via Gina Mizell of The Denver Post:

On if next season is “playoffs or bust”:

“I think we’re there. How many times can you be the bridesmaid? Our young core, three of our best players are 23 (Gary Harris), 22 (Jokic) and 21 (Jamal Murray), and they’ve proven they’re capable of doing it at the highest level. I think all of us are, quite frankly, sick of this time of the year having a press conference.”

There’s certainly something to be said for injecting urgency. The Nuggets are already good enough to make the playoffs. They just happened to play in a historically deep Western Conference. But that doesn’t mean they can’t take more responsibility.

Denver lost to the Hawks (twice), Grizzlies (twice without Mikey Conley), Mavericks, Kings and Nets this season. Flip any of those games, and the Nuggets would have made the playoffs.

But I’m not sure what “or bust” means.

Connelly said Michael Malone would return as coach next season. If Denver misses the playoffs, would he get fired? Would Connelly come on the hot seat? What if the Nuggets again produce a record that typically qualifies for the postseason?

Even if Denver misses the playoffs next year, the 2019-20 team would have a 22-year-old Jamal Murray, 25-year-old Gary Harris and probably a 24-year-old Nikola Jokic under contract. That’s still a pretty good place to be.

Because of Jokic’s rapid ascent, the Nuggets are trying to accelerate the timeline. They most notably signed Paul Millsap last summer. (Injury cost him most of the season and contributed to Denver falling short.) They could also emphasize the present by re-signing Will Barton this offseason.

But playoffs or not next year, the Nuggets have a bright future. Connelly just doesn’t want them leaning on that excuse, though following through on his edict could create complications if Denver again narrowly misses the postseason with a good record.