Thon Maker

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Three Things to Know: Jason Kidd out in Milwaukee, now what for Bucks?

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Milwaukee fires Jason Kidd as coach. It’s the right move, but now what? It’s a move that caught the players in Milwaukee off guard, a move that will be trashed by some of the NBA’s old boy network, but something expected by many officials from other teams and league observers (although most thought it would be an offseason move).

Jason Kidd was fired as coach of the Milwaukee Bucks Monday.

It was the right move. Individual players grew under Kidd — Giannis Antetokounmpo blossomed into a superstar with the ball in his hands, and he was so unhappy with the move he offered to intervene and try to save Kidd’s job — but the team did not. Last season the Bucks went 42-40 in the regular season and were up 2-1 in their first-round playoff series against Toronto before ultimately losing in six, but as had happened too much with this team it was two steps up and one step back. The Bucks didn’t grow from there. The team entered this season with players talking of 50-win season and a top four seed (Las Vegas oddsmakers set the wins under/over at 47.5), and the expectation was the defense would finally come around. It didn’t. Kidd blamed the team’s youth to everyone — the media publicly and team management privately, asking for more veterans — yet he made some, shall we say, “interesting” end of game coaching decisions that left everyone bewildered. Kidd eventually backed off some on the ultra aggressive, trapping defensive style this team played — a style teams figured out how to beat with ball movement — but it wasn’t enough. The Bucks are 25th in the NBA in defense. With that they are 24-22, but with a negative point differential that suggests a 20-26 team, not one clinging to a playoff slot (currently seventh in the East, 1.5 games up on ninth-seed Detroit and missing the playoffs all together, fivethirtyeight.com gives them a 68 percent chance of making the postseason).

Now what?

For the rest of this season, long-time assistant Joe Prunty will run the show, and he will get the chance to Frank Vogel his way into the job if the team excels under him (and the moved was timed as the Bucks enter a soft part of the schedule, they can rack up some wins right now). However, more likely is a big off-season search where the biggest names in coaching without a job will come calling. Already two names bandied about are Jeff Van Gundy and former Pelicans coach Monty Williams. David Fizdale has to be considered. Every coach without a job will want this one — with Antetokounmpo, Eric Bledsoe, Khris Middleton, and a host of long, athletic, quality role players (such as Thon Maker, Jon Henson and others) this team has a world of potential. It should be talked about with Minnesota and Philadelphia as the teams who have next in the NBA.

The Bucks have been rumored to be interested in DeAndre Jordan, is that still the case or will they try to make their moves in the off-season (when they can’t afford to sign Jordan or much of anyone else of consequence without shedding salary)? My guess is now the team now waits, it will want to consult with whoever is hired as coach.

Also, how will the Bucks at times feuding ownership play into all of this? New Yorkers Mark Lasry and Wes Edens have had their differences — Jon Horst is the GM now because the two sides could not agree on a candidate so they compromised on him, someone farther down on both lists. On the court this team is seen as one of the league’s best jobs with the most potential, but the coach may need to navigate ownership landmines along the way.

The Bucks move into their new arena next fall and there will be pressure on the new coach to bring the team up to the level of the building — the Bucks have the pieces to be one of the top teams in the East (a conference that could open up depending on what LeBron James chooses to do next summer). It’s a coveted job, but not an easy one.

2) DeMarcus Cousins has the kind of night nobody has had in 46 years. All-Star starter DeMarcus Cousins went off on the Bulls Monday night — 44 points, 24 rebounds, and 10 assists in the Pelicans’ double OT win against Chicago. These were not meaningless points, Cousins picked up seven of them in the second overtime.

The last time somebody had a 40/20/10 night in the NBA Elton John had just released “Rocket Man” — Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did it in 1972 when he was still playing in Milwaukee.

3) Locker room issues bubble up in San Antonio and Cleveland, but will it matter? Two things that can lead to locker room dissent in the NBA? Struggling teams on losing streaks pointing fingers, and guys with lingering injuries that were expected back.

We saw both of those creep up Monday, in San Antonio and Cleveland. The question is, will it matter to either organization come the playoffs? Probably not.

In Cleveland, losers of 8-of-11 and heading into a tough stretch of games, they held an emotional team meeting Monday’s practice, and Kevin Love became the whipping boy. Because the more things change, the more it’s still always Kevin Love’s fault. Other players questioned the illness that Love said he suffered that forced him to sit out much of Saturday’s blowout loss to the Thunder (he left the building before the game was over) and then miss practice Sunday. The meeting got heated, but Love spoke to the team to explain himself and that seemed to calm things down, mostly. For now. These team meetings make headlines, but most of the time prove to be meaningless on the court. Are the Cavaliers going to start to care and at least give some effort on defense after this? We’ll see. I wouldn’t bet on it lasting, it almost never does, but we’ll see.

In San Antonio, reports came up that the always quiet Kawhi Leonard has become “disconnected” from the team while dealing with the thigh injury that has let him play just nine games this season. Leonard and Popovich have always been on the same page, is this just frustration with a rehab on a quad injury that is just not healing as fast as anyone hoped and expected? Is it more than that? Both GM R.C. Buford and Leonard’s uncle denied any rift.

What happened with LaMarcus Aldridge shows us how this likely plays out. Aldridge demanded a trade last summer, but rather than panic and ship him out (for less than fair market value) Popovich sat down with Aldridge, figured out why he was frustrated, adjusted how he used him, and now Aldridge is happy — he signed an extension — and is having an All-Star season. Expect Popovich to figure out how to work with Leonard, too.

Lonzo Ball on first triple double: “We took a loss, so, it doesn’t really mean nothing”

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Lonzo Ball grabbed a piece of NBA history Saturday night when he grabbed the rebound on a Thon Maker airballed three — it was his 10th rebound of the game, making him the youngest player in NBA history with a triple-double. Ball finished with 17 points, 12 rebounds, and 12 assists on the night, he shot 7-of-12 and 3-of-5 from three, and his decision making while playing fast was the best it has been all season.

Just don’t think he was impressed.

“I really don’t care. We took a loss, so, it doesn’t really mean nothing,” Ball said in his televised press conference postgame.

The Lakers, like the rest of the league, had no answer for Giannis Antetokounmpo, who scored 33 and led the Bucks to the 98-90 win. The Lakers didn’t shoot well (6-of-22 from three) and turned the ball over on 21.8 percent of their possessions, and that did them in against a young and improving Milwaukee team.

That left Ball frustrated.

“No, it don’t matter to me, to be honest,” Ball said of his triple-double record. “I just wanted to win tonight. I thought we put ourself in a good position to get it, but it didn’t happen.”

For Lakers fans, that’s another good sign from the night — Ball puts winning in front of personal stats.

He did a good job pushing the tempo in this game — as he has done all season — but when playing fast he has struggled some with his decision making this season. He has great vision, something especially dangerous in transition, but in the half court he drove into trouble and too often chose ill-advised shots instead of passes to open teammates. Saturday he was making good decisions — nine of his assists were either for threes or dunks. He was getting teammates efficient shots.

Keep doing that and the wins will come eventually. Then he can enjoy his big nights and bits of history.

Winners, losers from the Eric Bledsoe trade to Milwaukee

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Eric Bledsoe got his wish — he is no longer a Phoenix Sun. He has been traded to the Milwaukee Bucks in exchange for Greg Monroe, an oddly-protected first-round pick, and potentially a second rounder. Who came out on top on that deal, and who didn’t? Let’s make some flash judgments (which could look foolish in a few months) and say who won and lost in Tuesday’s trade.

WINNER: Eric Bledsoe. He asked for a trade, he wanted out of Phoenix and to play for a team headed to the postseason where the games would matter — he got his wish. Bledsoe landed in a spot at the top of his wish list in Milwaukee, a team with a top-five NBA Greek Freak player, but one who could use a secondary playmaker to take the next step. Bledsoe can be a good defender when he cares, he just hasn’t cared for a couple of years now. Can he still flip that switch? Either way, he forced his way out of a bad situation into a potentially very good one, that’s a win in any book.

WINNER: Milwaukee Bucks. Losers of three in a row before the trade and four in a row now (after a Tuesday night loss to Cleveland), it quickly became clear this season that the Giannis vs. the world offense was not going to be enough. Now the 4-6 Bucks have gone from “can they make the playoffs” to “can they contend in the East?” Probably not yet, but this trade certainly fills a need and creates the potential.

LOSER: Phoenix Suns. This isn’t a “Bucks trade Dirk Nowitzki to the Mavericks for Robert Traylor” level disaster, but they gave up the best player in the trade and when that happens you don’t get to call it a win. I’d grade them a “C” on this trade, really. Phoenix gets a very oddly protected pick (my guess is it doesn’t convey until 2020), maybe a second rounder, and Greg Monroe, who the Suns will try to flip again. It’s a trade that gets them a piece or two for their rebuild, but not true value back for a quality player.

WINNER: Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak has been a one-man show in Milwaukee in part out of necessity — they didn’t have another playmaker. Jabari Parker can create shots for himself, but he’s out injured, Malcolm Brogdon at the point is not a shot creator, and so it was all Antetokounmpo. No longer. Bledsoe is a good playmaker for himself and others, and it will take the load off and give Jason Kidd more options in calling plays and going after mismatches. Antetokounmpo could see his raw counting stats go down a little with this trade, but he should be able to be more efficient.

LOSER: Greg Monroe. The Bucks leaned on him in the playoffs a year ago, but he was never part of the future (especially with the emergence of Thon Maker). Now Monroe goes to a genuinely bad team in Phoenix, one that will use him as an asset to trade at the deadline for another pick. He shouldn’t unpack his bags, he’s just a pawn in the salary moving chess match that is the NBA.

WINNER: Jon Horst (the Bucks GM). Milwaukee’s young new GM saw a team once again stumbling and not taking a step forward — this has been a “two steps up, one step back” team for years — and he did something about it. The Bucks gave up very little and got a quality point guard and shot creator who can also defend. The most valuable asset surrendered was the future first-round pick, and it is so heavily protected it’s not a problem. The new guy did well.

LOSER: Matthew Dellavedova. He has been genuinely terrible this season — shooting 34.8 percent from the field with a PER of 5.9 — but coach Kidd played him because he didn’t have a choice. Now, he does. Soon Bledsoe will start, Brogdon will back him up at the point, and the feisty Dellavedova will be reduced to playing only garbage time.

GUY NOW FEELING THE PRESSURE: Jason Kidd. Milwaukee is a team that needed to take a step forward this year, and the 4-6 start they got off to is certainly not that. This trade means the Bucks have the talent to make the postseason in the East (and maybe even do some damage there), but if Kidd’s gambling defense and older-school offense doesn’t get them there he’s the one that pays the price. The Bucks have their GM in Horst, and he didn’t hire Kidd, which already put the coach on shaky ground. Now he has to get this team some wins or start polishing his resume.

Bucks’ Greg Monroe out two weeks with calf injury

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As the Bucks find that Thon Maker is the five fo the future for them at the five spot, Greg Monroe has seen his minutes dip a little this season, down to 15 a night.

Actually, they are going to drop to zero for the next couple of weeks, and the reason they are down overall is a tweaked knee he has battled all season. Now he will get a chance to rest it. Via Matt Velazquez of the Journal Sentinel.

That means more John Henson, which is not a bad thing (the Bucks are deep at the five), and the best part is we will get to see a little more Giannis Antetokounmpo at the five, which will be fascinating.

Rumor: Suns want Malcolm Brogdon, Bucks offering Matthew Dellavedova in Eric Bledsoe trade

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Some teams have tried to paint the Suns as unreasonable in their asking price for Eric Bledsoe – and maybe they are.

But that doesn’t mean Phoenix has gotten reasonable offers, either.

The Bucks, who start Malcolm Brogdon at point guard, are a logical suitor to upgrade to Bledsoe.

Gery Woelfel of Woelfel’s Press Box:

The scuttlebutt is, if the Suns got their way, they’d acquire Brogdon and either veteran big man John Henson or former Suns forward Mirza Teletovic.

But sources claim the Bucks are somewhat reluctant to trade Brogdon, whose all-around game, unselfishness and maturity have meshed nicely with Antetokounmpo and Middleton.

But sources said the Bucks are, at least for now, dangling veteran guard Matthew Dellavedova, who started 54 games last season and averaged 7.6 points and 4.7 assists, instead of Brogdon. The Suns are balking and appear adamant on wanting Brogdon.

I, for one, am shocked that the Suns have pulled the trigger on trading Bledsoe for Dellavedova – who’s far worse, only a year younger and guarantee more money (albeit over three years instead of two) than Bledsoe.

Bledsoe for Brogdon and Henson seems about fair. Though the Bucks want to build around 22-year-old Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bledsoe would be an immediate upgrade. With Antetokounmpo already playing like an MVP candidate and the Cavaliers and Celtics not exactly impressing, the present matters, too. Bledsoe is just three years older than Brogdon. Though Bledsoe has a troubling injury history, so does Brogdon. Brogdon is far cheaper, but he’ll be up for a raise in two years, when Bledsoe – on a reasonable salary for his production – also hits free agency. Until then, Milwaukee unloading John Henson – well-paid and stuck behind Thon Maker and Greg Monroe at center – is a big deal. To be fair, so is the fact that Brogdon will be a restricted free agent and Bledsoe unrestricted.

The Bucks might be fine with their status quo. They’re on the right track, and a trade – rather than a non-trade – brings far more scrutiny. But if they want Bledsoe, they’ll have to give up valuable assets – not Dellavedova.