Author: Matt Moore

Arron Afflalo, Chauncey Billups

Chauncey Billups says he’ll be back before the first of the year


Say what you want about Chauncey Billups, but do not question the man’s dedication.

The Clippers guard immediately got word out after his devastating Achilles injury that he would not be retiring. He’s kept that word up the entire way. He’s vowed to return this season. And at media day for the Clippers Friday, Billups revealed that while he’s not going to be around for the Clippers’ opener this season, he won’t be gone too long, and will be back on the floor before the calendar says “13.” From Sporting News:

If he had his way, Clippers guard Chauncey Billups would be back in uniform when the season tips off on October 31. He is not going to be irrational, though. Billups tore his Achilles tendon on February 15, and for many, that’s an injury that takes a year to heal. That rules out Opening Night, but for Billups, his return won’t take as long as some have suggested.

“I wish I could play opening night, to be honest with you,” Billups said. “I wish I could but I know that is really not going to happen. I don’t really have a target, I am just going to listen to my body. I heard people saying January or February but that is way out of the question. That is definitely not going to happen.”

via NBA media days: Chauncey Billups not rushing return from Achilles’ injury – NBA – Sporting News.

Billups’ intensity about this says something. He was traded to New York as a hang-on with Carmelo Anthony, amnestied to make room for Tyson Chandler, picked up against his wishes by the Clippers. He could have mailed it in at any point but the minute he went down, he started working towards getting back. He’s expressed a desire to stay with the Clippers and re-signed with them this summer. Whatever is going on in Clipperland, he believes in it, despite having the opportunity to hang out a few months then join a contender.

Billups provides a lot of what the Clippers needed last year, but with Jamal Crawford on board, and with Eric Bledsoe’s development, there’s not a burning need. He’ll be useful when he gets back. But they can make it without him.

Billups is 36 and entering his 16th season. There wouldn’t be a lot of miles on him left without the injury. But he’s kept himself in good enough condition to be helpful, even if his primary skill, shot-making, has eroded.

No matter how long it may take Billups to get back on the floor, don’t question his drive. He’s already made that part abundantly clear. Chauncey Billups is not done and he intends to prove so.

That Jazz are like “Nah, that’s cool, Raja Bell. No need to come to training camp.”

Raja Bell

Things have gone from bad to worse to apathetic in Salt Lake City as the Salt Lake Tribune reports that disgruntled guard Raja Bell has been asked by the Jazz not to show up next week when the team begins its preseason.

The Jazz announced Friday that veteran guard Raja Bell won’t attend training camp next week.

“I have spoken with Raja and his representative, Herb Rudoy, and we have mutually agreed that although Raja remains under contract, it is in the best interest of all parties that he not rejoin the team next week when the Jazz begin training camp,” Utah general manger Dennis Lindsey said in a news release. “We will now move forward focusing on Jazz basketball and our preparation for the upcoming season. We will have no further comment on this matter.”

via Utah Jazz announce Raja Bell won’t attend training camp | The Salt Lake Tribune.

That’s a pretty strong statement form the team, who continues to try and reach some sort of agreement with Bell. They’re squabbling over a buyout and much like Rip Hamilton with the Pistons, the situation is untenable, yet unsolvable. Neither side will budge and a trade is a tricky thing to pull off considering the value involved.

It never makes sense to me why the holdout over the buyout. I understand that the team agreed to pay that money and that it’s not explicitly Bell’s fault that the coaching staff clashed with him so much. But from a practical standpoint, he’s still going to get a pretty decent chunk of it back wherever he signs next. If he does get let go, look for Miami, the Wolves, the Lakers, and others to be interested in him.

The Inbounds: Ellis and Jennings and the cliff of compromise

Brandon Jennings
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Something’s gotta give in Milwaukee. (Check out our Bucks season preview here.)

The Bucks traded their often-injured-but-still-awesome-when-he-played center Andrew Bogut last season to Golden State and took on Monta Ellis. Ellis was a promising young star. Then he was the guy who got injured in the moped accident. Then he was a terrific player again. Then he was an inefficient, ball-dominant, high-usage player you couldn’t win with. So yeah, Monta’s been around. Thing is, there have been weeks, not months, certainly not years, but weeks, where the idea of Monta Ellis being an MVP candidate wasn’t completely insane over the past four years. It was kind of insane, but not really. And that’s a pretty good player.

But when the Bucks mixed Ellis with inefficient, ball-dominant, high-usage Brandon Jennings, the results were… not good. And usually you use that phrase to say things were bad. But they weren’t. They just weren’t good. The Bucks were 2.4 points worse than their opponent per 100 possessions with the two on the floor together. Overall, the Bucks were exactly even. The Bucks were exactly as good as their opponent last year, according to That in and of itself says something, but let’s get back to Jennings and Ellis.

The Bucks weren’t substantially worse with those two on the floor together, just a little bit. Maybe a more disturbing sign was that in their final 12 games of the season, they were significantly worse, over 6 points per 100 possessions worse than the opponent.

So what’s the answer? Is this something that can just work itself out with the team getting healthy and spending more time together? Will they improve with a deeper roster? Will this work itself out?

These things will help, but the Bucks also need to get one of them to make a compromise. Either Ellis is going to have to play off-ball, or Jennings is going to have to be more of a distributor and playmaker. The fact that neither seems likely or sustainable is a problem. Ellis feels more comfortable creating off the dribble, even if his numbers are better in the pick and roll and spot-up (he’s also a monster in the post, this has been the same over the last few years; Skiles needs to use him more there). And Jennings is much the same.

At some point, there has to be compromise by one of the players. We saw in Miami what happens when you try the “let’s take turns” offense. It results in a stagnant offense that always seems to be trying to figure it out every possession. There’s got to be an integration of both players. It’s not that a scoring point and a shooting guard can’t coexist, it just becomes difficult when they both feel they need the ball in their hands. This only gets trickier when you factor in, you know, the other three guys on the floor.

Ellis’ re-trade value may be the best thing the Bucks have going for them. A versatile scorer who can initiate the offense, he could be whipped at the trade deadline for a rebuilding package. But if they are in a position to need a replacement player to get them into the playoffs, are they going to be able to move for a better player than Bogut? That’s the trick.

So instead, the Bucks have to figure out how to negotiate the two. It’s not entirely different from what the Knicks have going on in New York with Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire. The two have been disastrous on the floor together, but they have too much invested in them to do anything about it. You have what you have, and they risk alienating one or both of the players by forcing adjustments they’re not comfortable with or that take away their numbers especially with Jennings in a contract year.

It’s not even so much that one player or the other refuses to make sacrifices. It’s that there’s no real clear answer as to how you would integrate these two. You can be successful with either player, but the combination of the two presents a conundrum that would really be best solved by the presence of a superior player down low. That would create a natural hierarchy. But without it, the two continue to be just kind of “there” with the talented and athletic frontcourt trying to pick up the slack.

This is where the Bucks’ season will be decided, and as a result, the future of the franchise.

NBA Season Preview: Milwaukee Bucks

Milwaukee Bucks' Ersan Ilyasova   goes up for a shot against Toronto Raptors' Alan Anderson during the second half of their NBA basketball game in Milwaukee Wisconsin

Last season: Abort the mission! New plan! New plan!

The Bucks slammed on the parking brake, wrenched the wheel and Tokyo Drifted in a new direction last season, abandoning the “all defense all the time” team built around Andrew Bogut and giving up on the fleeting hope Bogut will ever, ever be healthy. They swapped him to Golden State for Monta Ellis and Ekpe Udoh, getting a promising young big man with great advanced metrics and, you know, Monta Ellis.

The results were mixed. They almost made it into the playoffs before their wheels exploded and flew off into the Wisconsin countryside, and while their defense didn’t capitulate with Ellis, their offense continued to run into the gutter.

They limped their way out of a playoff spot and entered the offseason with a huge number of questions about their head coach, front office, and the direction of the franchise.

Key Departures: The Bucks kind of surprisingly traded Jon Leuer, after he’d had a pretty solid year. They also traded Shaun Livingston, who, again, was pretty good last year. They let Carlos Delfino go after hemming and hawing over his contract for three months.

Key Additions: When the Bucks drafted John Henson, it was largely a perplexing move. Another athletic big man with questionable post skills? Really? Really? That’s what you thought you should pull off the pile?

But then Summer League came and Henson showed off a better mid-range jumper than expected and a good ability to flow in the offense. He has great court awareness to go with all that athleticism and could see significant playing time.

They elected to trade for Samuel Dalembert, pushing Udoh, who honestly needs the minutes, to the bench and giving them approximately all of the big men, ever. They added Joel Przybilla just in case the other 1,700 of them fail out, and-re-signed Ersan Ilyasova for the offensive repertoire.

Doron Lamb was quietly a very good second round pickup.

Three keys to the Bucks season:
1) Solving the riddle wrapped in a puzzle disguised as a mystery covered in subterfuge that is Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings. The two are just too similar. Ball-dominant, low-playmaking, moderate-efficiency volume scorers who didn’t develop an immediate chemistry. Sometimes these things can work themselves out, but in a lot of cases, it’s evident from the start if it’s going to work. If this thing doesn’t get solved and start to work by January, it might be time to start thinking about another move in another direction. The two were -1.9 on the floor together last year, giving up 107.7 points per 100 possessions. That is not good. They can’t just raise the 105 offensive rating, they have to get the defense sorted out. The Bucks could be looking at a situation not dissimilar to what the Knicks face with Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony.

2) Get the young guys to make some noise. Ekpe Udoh and John Henson need to become the Milwuakee version of Gibson and Asik. Or maybe the more athletic version of that. Either way, they need to make an impact, because the Bucks can’t look at their long-term build as involving Sam Dalembert. Doron Lamb needs to add some value as a shooter. Tobias Harris needs to come up. They need some big jumps from the project guys.

3) Avoid the Skiles Effect. When Skiles takes over a team, there’s a clock that starts. It’s a countdown to when the team tunes him out. It’s happened in his previous stops, and it very well could happen again. If Skiles can manage to massage, not render, the best out of this team, they could very well be a playoff team. But if he loses them, the season, the roster, his job and John Hammond’s will likely be over in Milwaukee.

How it likely works out: I want to belive in Milwaukee. They deserve it, honestly, they do. They’ve had more than their fair share of bad luck and still haven’t been horrible over the past decade. We blame luck on a lot of the awful franchises, but the Bucks have somehow managed to deal with Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut’s injuries and still float within range of the last playoff spot.

And this team has talent. And it’s got a lot of good efficient things going for it. But it needs so many players to make such huge jumps and for Jennings-Ellis to magically solve itself. That simply may not be possible.

I loathe this, but it really looks like another 9th spot in the East year for the Bucks.

Prediction: 40-42. Is there any better representation of “almost… but not quite?”

NBA Season Preview: Indiana Pacers

Roy Hibbert, Tim Duncan

Last season: The Pacers made moves to become a top-tier team in the East and they worked out. Roy Hibbert and Paul George both took some big steps forward, while David West added the consistent scorer they were looking for and George Hill provided balance with Darren Collison, though the two didn’t work well together.

The playoffs were kind of a proving grounds: Could this team, as constructed, compete? The answer was yes, to a point. The Pacers managed, in part on the back of the injury to Chris Bosh, to go up 2-1 over the Heat. They had them right where they wanted them.

Then LeBron James and Dwyane Wade took over and that was that. But the Pacers learned a lot, and established themselves last year. The question is if they can take that to the next level this year.

Key Departures: The Pacers traded Darren Collison to the Mavericks in a suprise move. Collison had been the better guard offensively than George Hill. But attempts to play the two together drew disappoinging results. With Collison headed for a big extension and Hill locked up at five-years, $40 million, it made sense to move Collison, but there may be a drag on the Pacers’ offense if Hill can’t become more of a playmaker and distributor.

Dahntay Jones was underused in Indiana and was sent off as a tag-along in the Collison trade. The Pacers also elected to let A.J. Price go, a pretty surprising move considering Lance Stephenson’s boneheadedness and Price’s underrated production in limited minutes.

Key Additions: Miles Plumlee, anyone? No? No? OK, then.

The Pacers traded Collison and Jones for Ian Mahinmi, a center who saw time behind Brendan Haywood as backup center in the Mavs’ championshp run and who actually played a big part in those Finals. Mahinmi gives the Pacers another true big to throw at Miami, and a better replacement center for Roy Hibbert, something crucial when the big guy gets in foul trouble.

They brought in D.J. Augustin on a cheap deal, getting a starting point guard (yes, it was the Bobcats) for a discount. Augustin will provide more of a pure-shooter point gaurd and can work with the second unit to help bridge the gap. Augustin’s also not a bad defender.

Gerald Green showed that he’s learned how to play last year and had a fantastic half-season with the Nets. The Pacers added him and he gives them an athletic three to bring off the bench, something that was missing last year. They have a fast, sleek second unit now, the opposite of last year’s reserve crew.

Three keys to the Pacers season:
1) Finding something that works offensively. The Pacers are yet another East team with a terrific defense and a horrid offense. They’re also yet another team with a lot of versatile, young talent and no superstar. Danny Granger keeps regressing in a distressing manner, Paul George is still a complimentary player, and David West is no longer at an age or health to carry a team. They need to find something consistent to turn to offensively they can rely on, and that may wind up having to be Hibbert. That idea is met with a lot of chair-squirming across the league.

2) George Hill has to figure out who he is. He was a jack of all trades in San Antonio and did a little of that last year. But the Pacers need him to be excellent in some regard. It can be defense, it can be off the dribble scoring, it can be perimeter shooting, but he’s going to have to give them consistent, excellent play in some regard. They need something to spark them and Hill may have to be it. They’ve committed to Hill as “the guy” at point guard. He has to play like it.

3) Let the big dogs eat. David West is a cold blooded assassin. Roy Hibbert had several games last year that he absolutely dominated the opponent. Too bad no one saw them. They have Mahinmi for depth, a more veteran Tyler Hansbrough, they’ve got some muscle. The Pacers are one of the few teams in the East with legit size. They need to rely on that and not be a team of perimeter wing jump shooters. They’ve got to create more efficient offense, and they’re without a real playmaker. So that means high-percentage buckets close to the rim. The bigs have to get possessions.

How it likely works out: This is the second best team in the East going into the season. Not Boston with its new bench or the Nets with their deficit-buster payroll or the Knicks with their drama. It’s quiet, consistent Indiana, and there is no reason going into the season that they shouldn’t make the Eastern Conference Finals. They landed third last season and wound up with the unfortunate second-round match-up with Miami. They need to get the second seed, make the ECF, then see what they can do against a tired Miami team. No more growth. No more development. The Pacers have arrived. Sink or swim time.

Prediction: 56-26. There’s no reason the Pacers can’t play at a higher level with a more versatile roster and less of a dropoff on the bench. Superstars may dominate the postseason, but great team defense and size advantages help you win any ballgame. The Pacers should be the No.2 team in the East.