Tag: When the lockout ends

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.

What the Pistons should do when the lockout ends

Toronto Raptors v Detroit Pistons

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

Last Season: Other teams lost more games. Other teams had worse injuries. Other teams dealt with worse schedules, worse luck, worse in-game coaching, worse management and worse personnel. No one had a season as bad as the Pistons.

With a few rare, glorious exceptions, nearly every fan, coach and player will endure a few terrible seasons. Ones you just want to forget. Losses pile up, injuries, bad chemistry. But the kind of locker-room disasters that the Pistons organization and their fans sat through last year are the stuff of legend. It started with head coach John Kuester, who lost the locker room nearly the minute he entered it. There’s not a definitive story. But the players bristled and revolted at his leadership from the start, and last year it became unbearable. The veterans on the Pistons, the guys who had been part of championship teams and who knew the ropes of how to be a professional, came unhinged under Kuester. One player acts ridiculous, it’s a personal issue. But when an entire team of guys who coaches have raved about in the past go haywire, there’s a problem at the top.

It doesn’t excuse the behavior, particularly the midseason revolt by several players of boycotting practice. Regardless of your circumstance, you need to be professionals and set an example for the younger players and the league. That’s the same for any job in the country. But if you’re senior management and you have that many employees exhibiting that kind of behavior under one supervisor, you can’t just toss them out as rogue elements. Something drove them there. And so, Kuester was fired after the season, eventually.

The situation was exacerbated by two elements. Rip Hamilton, one of two Pistons who had remained in Detroit the whole time since the championship team, wanted out. Badly. It was time to move on, he could go join a veteran contender (Chicago would have eaten their left arms, or Kyle Korver, to get Hamilton after the deadline). But he didn’t want to give up any of his remaining salary, or at least not a reasonable amount. He wanted his cake and to eat it, too. After what he’d done for the Pistons through the years, after how he was treated (in his mind) by Kuester, maybe he thought he was owed. The fact remains that multiple reports indicated a deal was on the table for Hamilton to walk away, and he declined over the money. Instead, he facilitated a revolt.

Which would have been fixable. Ownership could have likely spit off the money to get rid of him, it would have made the team better, opened some room for the younger guys, been the best thing for everyone. Except the Pistons were locked. Ownership was in the process of selling the team, and as such, movement was restrained. Finances needed to be settled and options were put on hold.

Unhappy players, a failing coach, a struggling team, a withering fanbase in an area leveled by the economy (over the past thirty years, not just the most recent downturn), a dysfunctional locker room and a frozen ownership.

So, no, the Pistons did not have a very good year.

Since we last saw the Pistons: New owner! With the untold riches of a Los Angeles (Laker fan!) owner, comes the promise of hope. Off the bat, Lawrence Frank was hired, a defensive minded coach with good experience who is a hard-nosed guy but someone the players will likely respect, at least more than Kuester (granted, they’d respect an actual pizza guy more , but still).  Those have been the big changes, and the rest will come after the lockout’s over, when Joe Dumars and management can start to get the house in order. Because clearly, there’s a realization that things have gone awry in Denmark.

Whether that means paying off Hamilton, trading Tayshaun Prince, trading Ben Gordon, trading Charlie Villanueva, or some combination will have to wait to be seen. But we do know that the Pistons acquired Brandon Knight in the first round, a scoring point guard, which could pave the way for Rodney Stuckey’s departure. Signs seem to indicate major changes are coming, but we’ve sensed that for two years with no consummation. Waiting is not fun.

When the lockout ends, the Pistons need to: Cut bait.  It’s time for a new era, and the crazy part is, if the Pistons will commit to it, they have a really exciting future ahead of them.

In the summer of 2009, the Pistons signed two big free agent signings. Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva. Villanueva, despite being a worse player, actually made quite a bit of sense. The Pistons needed a power forward with range who could score. They needed scoring, pretty badly. Gordon? Gordon was mystifying. They had Rodney Stuckey. They had Rip Hamilton. They had Will Bynum. The last thing they needed was an undersized two-guard pure scorer. Yet, there went $55 million.

Gordon’s still a decent player. His drops can be attributed to coaching, system, and personnel changes. (That’s right, Vinny Del Negro to John Kuester was a step down. I’m not trying to kill Kuester here, I think he’ll be a great assistant in this league and possibly a better head coach next time out, bu the facts, they are not comforting.) He also suffered a wide variety of injuries. Villanueva was pretty much what was expected. He’s actually surprisingly not dramatically overpaid. He makes between $7.5 million and $8.5 million over the next four seasons. Bench role player who can score some, not bad. Not great, but he didn’t sign a $13 million per year deal.

But both of these players have to go. Along with Tayshaun Prince (unrestricted free agent) and Hamilton ($12.5 million guaranteed left on his deal), Rodney Stuckey (restricted free agency), and Tracy McGrady. It’s time to blow it up and start over. Thing is, they’re already halfway there.

Very quietly, Dumars has drafted exceptionally well over the past few years. Austin Daye, Jonas Jerebko, Greg Monroe, and Brandon Knight. You throw in a superstar wing after a year of spectacular sucking (hello, Harrison Barnes!) and you’ve got something cooking there. Fill it out with free agency after a purge and you have a real shot at building something.

It should be noted I have a soft spot for most of these guys which belies their production. I see a higher ceiling than they’ve shown, and I always tend to catch their better games on League Pass. Daye is a 13.0 PER player who shot .518 TrueShooting% and doesn’t rebound or assist well. So naturally, my confidence in him is a little nuts. But really? He’s got the tools to get there under the right leadership. Monroe has already shown he can be a top flight center in this league. Whether that’s because of the abject void of quality centers outside of the top five or his actual ceiling is yet to be determined, but he’s a safe bet for a quality starter. Jerebko lost most of last season due to injury, but he’s a hustle junkie who thrives on contact and makes all those plays you want him to make. Knight has a terrific jumper. He’s going to turn the ball over so much it will make you cry, but there’s an ability there to develop into the guard of the future.

There’s a core, buried beneath all the veterans mistakenly assembled for a late-seed playoff run. The Pistons just have to commit themselves to it. When the lockout ends, there’s work to be done. But it’s not a total detonation, not a house cleaning. Just a severe remodeling.

What the Hawks should do when the lockout ends

Chicago Bulls v Atlanta Hawks - Game Six
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Last season: Same old, same old? Progress and a step back? Stumbling backwards into success? There’s got to be some sort of ridiculous phrase to describe the Hawks’ 2011 season. Their offense took a serious step back, despite all the talk of getting out of Mike Woodson’s system. Larry Drew took over, and the Hawks plummeted from 2nd in offensive rating to 2oth. They were an afterthought, a peaceful reminder that there were some teams out there who didn’t have trios of superstars, just trios of very good ones.

Then the playoffs. The Magic, who should have wiped the floor with them. But the Hawks and newly acquired at-the-deadline Kirk Hinrich had different plans. They disrupted, confused, and chortled the Magic’s perimeter attack while telling Dwight Howard, “do what you must, freak.” Howard did, but it wasn’t enough, especially when Jamal Crawford went gonzo. So despite taking a step back in games won, despite looking terrible on offense even in the playoffs, despite no significant improvement on defense, the Hawks made it as far as they have with this core of players.

Go figure.

Then the Bulls came, and despite a good showing, the Hawks exited rather quietly.

Since we last saw the Hawks: The Hawks have nine players left on contract. Jamal Crawford’s gone to seek somwhere more fun to throw up threes without a conscience (and hit them in huge moments I might add). Kirk Hinrich’s entering a contract year. At nine players, the Hawks have $66 million committed in salary. That’s with Jason Collins, Josh Powell, Etan Thomas and Hilton Armstrong all gone in free agency, presumably. Yes, the two words here are “Joe Johnson.”

When the lockout ends, the Hawks need to: All of my answers are implausible. Amnesty Joe Johnson? Give up a huge chunk of your offense and a very underrated defender. Trade Joe Johnson? No takers. Fire Larry Drew? He just took them to the second round semi-promised-land. Feature Al Horford in the offense more? His efficiency would drop with the usage increase. Strap a device that sends an electrical surge through Josh Smith whenever he shoots from further than 12 feet? Illegal in most states.

The Hawks are who they are. The most likely scenario has them ditching Josh Smith to try and get multiple pieces to build around Horford and Johnson, which will then of course coincide with Smith “realizing his potential” on a bigger stage. Clearly Jeff Teague is the future at point guard, which means that Hinrich is a very expensive backup at this point, despite his excellent play in the playoffs (a contender would benefit from adding Hinrich’s defensive experience). They should keep Magnum Rolle because his name’s awesome. Other than that, their options are limited.

Finding an offensive system that works in any capacity should be the top priority. Everything after that can get figured out. But the Hawks better pray that Larry Drew has more than he had last season, because the playoff run felt awfully player-inspired rather than coach-devised.

What the Pacers should do when the lockout ends

Pacers' head coach Vogel reacts during the first half of Game 1 of their NBA Eastern Conference first round playoff basketball game against the Bulls in Chicago

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


Last season: What a start! Oh, things fell apart. Oh, but they’re better! Oh, but they fell apart again. Oh, but we fired our coach! Oh, hey, things were pretty good. Oh, no, we’re against the Bulls! Oh, hey, we actually held our own despite losing in five games.

So it went for the Pacers.

Such an up and down season, but there was no way to walk away from 2010-2011 and not feel a little hopeful about the future. They finally started building around a young core, with the veterans helping instead of holding promising players back. Roy Hibbert came out like a man on fire and then was promptly extinguished, languishing in “Will he ever become the franchise center?” land again. Darren Collison was awful quiet for most of the year and then bam, turned into a beast in the playoffs. While everyone was gushing about Derrick Rose, Collison was blowing by Rose on subsequent possessions before the Chicago defense could get set, until Thibs put the handcuffs on him with help defense.

Paul George looks like a great all-around contributor, defensively and from the perimter. Tyler Hansbrough continues to impress as a starting-caliber forward, and Brandon Rush is still nowhere to be found.

There’s hope for the future, but things have to go right for Indiana when the lockout ends, or they’re going to stumble backwards like Philadelphia, or your drunk uncle on the treadmill.

Since last we saw the Pacers: The biggest news was the Pacers trading their draft pick (Kawhi Leonard who inexplicably dropped to 15) to San Antonio for George Hill. Hill gives the Pacers a competent combo guard and someone who can decently play the 2 for the first time in six years. Leonard would have been redundant with George and Granger both combo forwards, and Hill’s playoff success and upside make the deal a solid win for Indiana.

The Pacers also brought on Frank Vogel as their head coach, finally, after making him sweat a while. Vogel’s not locked in as the guy with just a three-year deal, but he’s getting his chance, which he earned in the second half of the season and in the Bulls series.

The Pacers will look different when the lockout’s over. Mike Dunleavy, Jeff Foster, Jamal Tinsley, T.J. Ford, all are off the books. Even if some return, the Pacers will have quite a bit of money for free agency and extensions of their young players.

When the lockout ends, the Pacers need to… not rush into anything. There’s a lot of talk about the Pacers pursuing either David West or Nene in free agency, to capitalize on the momentum they had going in. Adding a veteran sub-star with a massive free agency contract in a comparatively weak year is not the smartest way to go about it. The Pacers have star potential in several spots and a valuable, tradeable star in Danny Granger if they want to get hyper-aggressive. Gunning for the moon now is only going to trap them in purgatory. Good enough to make the playoffs as a six seed, not good enough to keep all the young talent or improve. Compare that with 2012 when the agents after the max stars (who will either stay home or go to bigger markets) will be value gets because of the money spent on the top guys. 2012 is when the Pacers should swing for the fences. 2011 needs to be about developing chemistry, seeing just how good their guys can be, and filling in with role players. The veterans they’re losing didn’t play a big enough part last season to need replacement with a high-profile signing, and they still managed to impress.

Patience is a virtue, and one the Pacers need to exercise when the lockout ends.

What the Bobcats should do when the lockout ends

2011 NBA Draft
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This is the latest installment of PBT’s series of “What your team should do when the lockout ends.” Up next is the Charlotte Bobcats. You can also check out our thoughts on other NBA teams here as we work our way through all 30 squads.

Last season: Hope that four-game sweep in the playoffs was fun/worth it, Charlotte! The Bobcats plummeted back to Earth last season. No. Plummeted isn’t fair to objects that plummet. The Bobcats rocketed back to Earth. No. That’s insulting to rocket ships. The Bobcats were instantly teleported back to Earth last season after their first playoff run in 2010. There we go. The whole season fell apart nearly instantly.

Larry Brown was fired, Paul Silas was brought on. D.J. Augustin flourished, but the team could not, would not get out of its funk. Despite progress from Gerald Henderson and a surprisingly competent season from Kwame Brown, the Cats were dreadful. But the awfulness lead to some good things, actually. The Bobcats finally, mercifully agreed to blowing the team up and building towards the future. Gerald Wallace, the team’s biggest star, their All-Star, was sent to Portland for Dante Cunningham and draft picks. They still managed to win 34 games. For perspective, that’s only three games fewer than the 8th seed Indiana Pacers. While, yes, this does tell you how crappy the East continues to be, it still shows the the Bobcats weren’t wretched. Just awful. Bright side!

Since we last saw the Bobcats: Everything is different. Rich Cho was brought on in June, and subsequently oversaw a draft day deal that sent Stephen Jackson, the other pillar of the playoff appearance to Milwaukee and picked up Corey Maggette, but more importantly added the seventh pick in the draft, giving them two in the top ten. The result?

The Bobcats have a… young core? Where did this come from?

D.J. Augustin, Gerald Henderson, Bismack Biyombo, Kemba Walker, Tyrus Thomas, Dante Cunningham. That’s a six-man rotation of 25-years of age younger, with Thomas the oldest (depending on your Biyombo impression). All of a sudden the Bobcats are looking like one of the most hopeful teams in the league after being the most hopeless for the past few years. Just shows what committed management and ownership can do. The Bobcats begin having a shot at Portland’s first-rounder in 2013 and while their 2012 pick could be held by the Bulls from the Tyrus Thomas trade, it’s lottery protected in 2012, then protected in various forms all the way to 2016.

The Bobcats are headed in a new direction, and while it could be rough for fans, they’ll have Kemba Walker as a bonafide star to bet excited about.

When the lockout ends, the Bobcats need to: continue the process. They’ve started a true rebuilding process. They’ve begun to move away from veteran contracts and towards younger players. They’re building a core of rookies through the draft. They’ve still got some flotsam in the pool, however.

Desagana Diop is reason No.1 why the Cats need the amnesty clause. From there, Maggette should be on the block for cheap for any team looking to add a wing. If Maggette can bounce back from a downright bad 2011, he might pull in interest. He is an efficient scorer (18.3 career PER), and shot 36 percent from 3-point range last season in a down year. Tyrus Thomas needs to have a heck of a year to justify keeping him and his salary around, especially with a deep draft of power forwards hanging round.

But the young guys bring a lot of promise. D.J. Augustin’s improvement means Kemba Walker can develop at his own pace, likewise with Thomas and Biyombo. They’ll need to work out the point guard confusion eventually, but that’s the luxury of rebuilding. They’ve got time, as long as they’re patient.

So yeah, 2012 will probably be a struggle for Charlotte. But if they take on the right identity, they could be the young team that loses but is fun to watch every game. And that’ll be a real first in franchise history.