ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 Preview: Milwaukee Bucks

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Last season: The Bucks were both bad and unlucky, a combination that sent them to the NBA’s worst record.

Only the Timberwolves fell further short of their Pythagorean win total than Milwaukee, which – based on scoring margin – projected to win 20 games but actually won just 15. That 15-67 record was a franchise worst, but it’s not as if a 20-62 record would have been that much better.

Several key players – Larry Sanders, Ersan Ilyasova, and O.J. Mayo – had embarrassingly bad seasons, though injuries also played a part in Milwaukee’s historically awful run.

Just how bad were the Bucks? Their record was worse than the 76ers’.

Signature highlight from last season:

Key offseason moves:

Keys to the Bucks season:

Jabari Parker making the NBA leap: The forward from Duke was touted as the draft’s most NBA-ready player, but that might not mean much to the Bucks, who project to be lousy either way. It’s much more important Parker gets on track for hitting the highest possible peak.

Milwaukee should give him a chance to hit the ground running and play through his mistakes. How that process goes will determine not only how quickly the Bucks can turn it around, but also how high their upside is.

Giannis Antetokounmpo turning potential into production: The Greek Freak showed an extremely impressive array of skills last season. He also just wasn’t that good.

Those are not opposing ideas.

Antetokounmpo has not yet learned how to reliably translate his talent into helping his team – at least not while also avoiding mistakes that harm his squad. Essentially, it’s the difference between Antetokounmpo’s potential and his current level.

He’s just 19, so he has time to figure it all out. It’d be nice to see major signs in his second season.

Getting value for veterans: Two years ago, Larry Sanders, Ersan Ilyasova, O.J. Mayo and Jared Dudley were pretty good. All their stocks have fallen dramatically since. If the rebuilding Bucks can repair the value of those veterans, they can trade them for future assets.

Or, if everything goes incredibly well, maybe Milwaukee could even parlay those turnarounds into contending for a playoff berth this season.

Why you should watch: Jason Kidd is going to do some funky stuff.

After Brook Lopez got hurt for the Nets last season, Kidd committed immediately to an unorthodox and small lineup that proved extremely effective. In Milwaukee, it doesn’t seem he’ll slow down.

Kidd plans to use Giannis Antetokounmpo at point guard, and John Henson could start at center.

The positional revolution is happening, and the uprising is strong in Milwaukee.

Prediction: 25-57. Kidd might be creative, but I’m not convinced he’s a good enough coach to fix this mess. Milwaukee’s talent is either too tainted or too young to win right now.

After years of trying to remain relevant by staying mediocre, the Bucks seem to understand their place. They’re rebuilding, maybe even tanking. Another poor season, won’t be the end of the world. At east it will result in a prime draft pick.

Clippers reportedly plan on playing Kawhi Leonard more than Raptors did last season

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Kawhi Leonard was the poster child for load management last season.

The Raptors essentially let him set his own schedule in a return from the quadricep tendon issue that cost him the previous season (and, ultimately, helped ruin his relationship with the Spurs). Leonard played in just 60 regular season game — and it worked. He was a force in the playoffs, leading Toronto to its first-ever title and winning Finals MVP again.

So the Clippers are going to follow that same script, right? Nope. Expect to see more Leonard, according to Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times.

There are likely a couple of reasons for this. One is that Leonard may be feeling a little healthier and that he can take on more now. With a deep Clippers roster (especially once Paul George returns from his shoulder surgeries) it’s also possible the Clippers can limit Leonard’s in-game minutes, he averaged 34 a game when he played, which was top 20 in the league.

The bigger factor is the West is so deep with good teams the Clippers simply can’t have him sit as much and still get a good seed. Toronto could let Leonard rest and still won 58 games and had the two seed. That’s not how the West — with the Lakers, Rockets, Jazz, Nuggets, Trail Blazers, and Warriors — is going to go. The Clippers are going to need Leonard to win games most nights, and they certainly want to get a top-four seed and be home to start the postseason.

Leonard may play more early in the season and get more rest on the back half, once George returns to form and takes over some of the load on the wing. But he’s going to play.

The Clippers simply need him.

Did Hornets GM tell Kobe Bryant on draft night, ‘We couldn’t have used you anyway,’ as Bryant claims?

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Kobe Bryant spent 16 days as a Charlotte Hornet.

Long enough to develop resentment for the Hornets.

Charlotte drafted Bryant No. 13 in 1996 to trade him to the Lakers for Vlade Divac. Divac threatened to retire, but eventually relented on joining the Hornets. After the moratorium, Bryant went to Los Angeles, where he had a Hall of Fame career.

He hasn’t let go of draft night, though.

Bryant on the Knuckleheads podcast:

You get drafted, you get on the phone with the GM of the team that drafted you and all this stuff. So, I get on the phone with the Charlotte GM. He just tells me, “Hey, you know what’s going on.” Like, “Yeah. Yeah, yeah.” And you’ve got media in front of you and all that. And he goes, “Well, it’s a good thing we’re trading you, because we couldn’t have used you anyway.” You motherf. OK. OK. Alright. So, that’s what happened on draft night. So, I was already triggered. I was triggered. I was ready to go to the gym. Like f— the media. I don’t want to do any more interviews. I’m trying to – what are you telling me that for? I’m 17. What are you telling? OK. Alright.

The Hornets’ general manager was Bob Bass. He died last year, so he can’t tell his side of this story.

However, in previous tellings, Bryant said Charlotte coach Dave Cowens delivered that message. Cowens denied it.

Did Bryant forget whether he talked to the general manager or coach? Forget which position Cowens held? That’d be perfectly understandable decades later.

Or maybe both Bass and Cowens were on the call. Perhaps, Bryant initially thought Cowens said it and more recently learned it was Bass. That could explain Cowens’ denial.

But…

Stephen A. Smith of The Inquirer at the time:

On Wednesday, the Hornets took Bryant with the 13th pick of the NBA draft. Within minutes, there was talk of Bryant’s going to L.A. Dave Cowens, the Hornets’ new coach, was among those who raised the possibility, dismissing Bryant as “a kid” who would have a hard time playing for Charlotte.

That was a reasonable expectation. Bryant was just a teenager. Charlotte had veteran wings like Glen Rice and Dell Curry.

But Bryant was that special. He quickly became a contributor with the Lakers then developed into an all-time great.

In part because he fanned his competitive fire with perceived slights like this one.

Bryant is right: Who would say that to a 17-year-old? It just sounds cruel. Of course, Bryant would want to avenge being treated that way.

Here’s my guess: Someone from Charlotte – either Cowens or Bass – tried to comfort Bryant in a chaotic situation by saying the trade would work out for the best because the Hornets wouldn’t have played him much. It was supposed to be nice. Bryant took it as an insult.

But that’s just a guess. It was a private conversation many years ago. We’ll probably never know exactly what was said, let alone what was intended.

Report: Rockets signing Thabo Sefolosha

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The Rockets’ minicamp has produced a signing – Thabo Sefolosha.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

This is surely for the minimum. It’s unclear how much is guaranteed.

Houston has just 10 players with guaranteed salaries, including Nene’s dud of a deal. So, there’s room for Sefolosha to make the regular-season roster.

Sefolosha should fit well in Houston. He’s a smart, versatile defender and can knock down corner 3s. James Harden and Russell Westbrook will allow Sefolosha to concentrate on his strengths in a limited role. The biggest question is how much the 35-year-old Sefolosha has left in the tank.

NBA to better define traveling rule, increase enforcement, explain rule to players, fans

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Gather and two steps.

That is how the NBA has defined the traveling rule for many years now. A player can take a step if he is in the process of “gathering” a dribble or pass, then has two steps. Players such as James Harden have stretched that to the limit, frustrating opponents and non-Rockets fans, but it’s legal.

Now the NBA is looking to better define that “gather” step, then crackdown on enforcement of the rule. With that will come an education program for everyone from players to fans. All of this was approved at the NBA’s Board of Governors’ meeting in New York on Friday.

“One of the most misunderstood rules in our game is how traveling is interpreted and appropriately called,” Byron Spruell, NBA President, League Operations, said in a statement. “Revising the language of certain areas of the rule is part of our three-pronged approach to address the uncertainty around traveling.  This approach also includes an enforcement plan to make traveling a point of emphasis for our officiating staff, along with an aggressive education plan to increase understanding of the rule by players, coaches, media and fans.”

That “aggressive education plan” should be interesting.

At the meeting, the owners also made gamblers everywhere happy by saying that starting lineups now need to be submitted by coaches 30 minutes prior to the start of the game. In past years that had been only 10 minutes (and road teams complained that was not evenly enforced between home and road teams all the time).

This is a good bit of transparency by the league, as have been some of the recent changes in requirements of announcing injuries. But make no mistake, this rule change is all about gambling.