The Inbounds: Ellis and Jennings and the cliff of compromise

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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 NBA.com. 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.

Pelican’s Green says Zion ‘dominated the scrimmage pretty much’

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The Zion hype train keeps right on rolling. First were the reports he was in the best shape of his life, then he walked into media day and it looked like he is.

Now Zion has his own hype man in Pelicans coach Willie Green, who said he dominated the first day of team scrimmages. Via Andre Lopez of ESPN.

“Z looked amazing,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said on Wednesday afternoon. “His strength, his speed. He dominated the scrimmage pretty much.”

“What stood out was his force more than anything,” Green said. “He got down the floor quickly. When he caught the ball, he made quick decisions. Whether it was scoring, finding a teammate. It was really impressive to see.”

Reach for the salt shaker to take all this with — it’s training camp scrimmages. Maybe Zion is playing that well right now — he’s fully capable, he was almost an All-NBA player in 2020-21 (eighth in forward voting) before his foot injury — but we need to see it against other teams. In games that matter. Then we’ll need to see it over a stretch of time.

If Zion can stay healthy this season, if his conditioning is where everyone says it is, he could be in for a monster season. Combine that with CJ McCollum, Brandon Ingram and a strong supporting cast in New Orleans, and the Pelicans could surprise a lot of people — and be fun to watch.

 

PBT Podcast: What’s next for Celtics, Suns? Should NBA end one-and-done?

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NBA training camps just opened and teams have yet to play a preseason game, but already two contenders are dealing with problems.

The Celtics have the suspension of coach Ime Udoka as a distraction, plus defensive anchor center Robert Williams will miss at least the start of the season following another knee surgery.

The Suns have the distraction of a suspended owner who is selling the team, plus Jae Crowder is out and demanding a trade, and Deandre Ayton does not seem happy.

Corey Robinson of NBC Sports and myself go through all the training camp news, including the wilder ones with the Lakers and Nets, breaking down what to take away from all that — plus how good Zion Williamson and James Harden look physically.

Then the pair discusses the potential of the NBA doing away with the one-and-done role and letting 18-year-olds back in the game — is that good for the NBA?

You can always watch the video of some of the podcast above, or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

Report: Price tag on Phoenix Suns could be more than $3 billion

Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Clippers - Game Six
Harry How/Getty Images
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In 2004, Robert Sarver bought the Phoenix Suns for a then-record $401 million.

When Sarver sells the team now — pushed to do so following the backlash prompted by an NBA report that found an 18-year pattern of bigotry, misogyny, and a toxic workplace — he is going to make a massive profit.

The value of the Suns now is at $3 billion or higher, reports Ramona Shelburne and Baxter Holmes of ESPN.

There will be no shortage of bidders for the team, with league sources predicting a franchise valuation of more than $3 billion now that revenue has rebounded following the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and with a new television rights deal and CBA on the horizon. Sarver purchased the team for just over $400 million in 2004.

Saver currently owns 35% of the Suns (the largest share), but reports say his role as managing partner allows him to sell the entire team (the minority owners have to comply, although they would make a healthy profit, too). Sarver also decides who to sell the team to, not the NBA or other owners.

Early rumors of buyers have included Larry Ellison (founder of Oracle), Bob Iger (former Disney CEO), Laurene Powell Jobs (widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, she has a 20% share of the Washington Wizards), and others. There have been no reports of talks yet, and Sarver does not need to be on a rushed timeline.

Meanwhile, a contending Suns team tries to focus on the season despite the owner selling the team, Jae Crowder not being in training camp and pushing for a trade, and Deandre Ayton does not sound happy to be back with the Suns.

Steve Nash on his relationship with Kevin Durant: ‘We’re good’

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In an effort to gain leverage for a trade this offseason, Kevin Durant threw down a “either the coach and GM are gone or I am” ultimatum.

Now coach Steve Nash (and GM Sean Marks) are back in Brooklyn, on the same team and trying to build a contender together. Awkward? Not if you ask Nash, which is what Nick Friedell of ESPN did.

“We’re fine,” Nash said after the Nets’ first official practice of the season on Tuesday. “We’re good. Ever since we talked, it’s been like nothing’s changed. I have a long history with Kevin. I love the guy. Families have issues. We had a moment and it’s behind us. That’s what happens. It’s a common situation in the league.

“We all were hurting, seething, to go through what we went through last year, not being able to overcome all that adversity. Sometimes you lose perspective because you expect to win, but the reality is we were able to talk and discuss what we can improve on from last year. And also keep perspective. We went through a ton of stuff.”

First off, what else was Nash going to say? He knows the power dynamic in the NBA, and Durant has far more leverage than he does — not enough to get Nash fired this summer, but still more than the coach.

Second, Nash could be telling the truth from his perspective. NBA players and coaches understand better than anyone this is a business and things are rarely personal. Grudges are not held like fans think they are (most of the time). Nash saw Durant’s move for what it was — an effort to create pressure — and can intellectually shrug it off, reach out to KD and talk about the future.

What this brings into question was one of the Nets’ biggest issues last season — mental toughness and togetherness. Do the Nets have the will to fight through adversity and win as a team? Individually Durant, Kyrie Irving, Nash and others have shown that toughness in the past, but as a team it was not that hard to break the will of the Nets last season. Are their relationships strong enough, is their will strong enough this season?

It feels like we will find out early. If the wheels come off the Nets’ season, it feels like it will happen early and by Christmas things could be a full-on dumpster fire. Or maybe Nash is right and they are stronger than we think.