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

16 Comments

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.

President Donald Trump awarding Medal of Freedom to NBA star Bob Cousy

Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
1 Comment

WASHINGTON (AP) President Donald Trump is set to present basketball legend Bob Cousy (KOO’-zee) with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The award is being handed out Thursday. It celebrates individuals with a wide range of achievements and is the nation’s highest civilian honor.

The 91-year-old Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame member played for the Boston Celtics from 1950 to 1963. He won six league championships and the 1957 MVP title.

Cousy is also known for speaking out against racism. He was an ardent supporter of black teammates who faced discrimination during the civil rights movement.

Cousy will be the second person to receive the award this year from Trump. Golfer Tiger Woods received the honor in May.

Report: Shelly Sterling, members of Clippers organization heard Donald Sterling audio in advance and didn’t act

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
7 Comments

In 2014, published audio of a racist rant by then-Clippers owner Donald Sterling rocked the country.

It shouldn’t have. Sterling’s racism and sexism were well-established by then. But few cared. The audio poured gasoline on the fire and moved people to act. I wish it didn’t require that. But it did.

What if the audio didn’t become public through TMZ? Apparently, there might have been opportunity for another outcome.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

The fact is Shelly and several people in the Clippers organization heard the recording and decided not to act on it or weren’t appalled enough to act on it. Maybe they didn’t understand how big a splash this tape could make.

It’s unclear when Shelly Sterling (Donald’s wife) and other members of the Clippers organization heard the audio. Maybe it was while TMZ was doing due diligence. If so, it was probably too late to change the course of history.

But perhaps it was when V. Stiviano – Donald’s girlfriend who made the original recording and was being sued by Shelly – was still the only one in possession of it. Stiviano was clearly upset with how things were going financially between her and the Sterlings. For the right price, maybe the audio would have gone away before becoming public.

I’m glad it didn’t happen that way. The world is better off knowing exactly who Donald Sterling is.

Yet, this leads to an incredible “what if?” What if the people who heard the audio in advance understood the magnitude, acted in Sterling’s best interest and paid to have the audio kept secret? Would Sterling still own the Clippers today?

Kyle Kuzma scores on own basket in Team USA-Australia game (video)

3 Comments

The Lakers are desperate at center. They might even need Kyle Kuzma to play the position. He’ll have to work on, among other things, rebounding.

At least it usually won’t go as poorly as this play in Team USA’s exhibition win over Australia.

Rockets betting on talent of James Harden and Russell Westbrook, everything else be damned

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images
2 Comments

NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

There is a tried-and-true method for winning an NBA championship: Get two recent MVPs. It has worked every time.

The Celtics paired Bill Russell and Bob Cousy. Won a title.

The 76ers paired Moses Malone and Julius Erving. Won a title.

The Warriors paired Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. Won a title.

By acquiring 2017 MVP Russell Westbrook to join 2018 MVP James Harden, the Rockets are testing the limits of this plan.

Houston upgraded from Chris Paul to Westbrook in its trade with the Thunder. There’s certainly logic to that. Harden is in his prime, so this is the time to push in. It’s almost impossible to win a championship without stars. Stars are also hard to come by. Sometimes, you must just get whichever stars you can and hope for the best.

But Westbrook came at a significant cost.

Houston had to send Oklahoma City top-four-protected first-round picks in 2024 and 2026, a top-four-protected pick swap in 2021 and a top-10-protected pick swap in 2025. By the time most of those picks convey, the Rockets could be far worse.

The trade is salary neutral for the next three seasons, which partially explains why Houston gave up so much. Most teams would require a sweetener for taking Paul’s contract. But Westbrook’s contract runs a season longer, and the Rockets will owe him $47,063,478 at age 34.

There will be diminishing returns with Harden and Westbrook, two ball-dominant guards. They have the talent to figure it out offensively, though it will require major adjustments to how they’ve played lately. The defensive concerns are far bigger. Both players have frequent lapses on that end.

Westbrook, 30, has also declined the last few years. He remains quite good. But the way he relies on his athleticism, he could fall rapidly.

Based on name recognition on both sides, this is the most monumental trade in NBA history. In Houston, it will likely define the rest of Harden’s prime then – with those picks outgoing – the Rockets’ next phase.

Beyond that, Houston did well to build depth on a budget. The Rockets re-signed Danuel House (three years, $11,151,000 million), Austin Rivers (1+1, minimum) and Gerald Green (one year, minimum) and signed Tyson Chandler (one year, minimum). Most of the mid-level exception remains unused with the free-agent market largely dried up. But hey, luxury tax. Houston could still re-sign Iman Shumpert through Bird Rights.

The Rockets look pretty similar to last year – except Westbrook replacing Paul. That’s the enormous move.

I’m not even sure it will help next year, though. Houston could’ve kept Paul and fit squarely into a wide-open championship race. At least on paper.

The big unknown: How toxic was the relationship between Harden and Paul? Several Rockets denied a problem, but there was plenty of evidence to the contrary.

Westbrook is better than Paul. The two stars will likely get along better.

But will Westbrook add enough value to justify the high cost? All those draft considerations could have gone toward addressing other needs. Really, just needs. Houston didn’t need another ball-dominant guard one bit.

I support the Rockets prioritizing the present. Westbrook could propel them to a championship.

But given the fit concerns, the cost was too steep for my liking.

Offseason grade: C-