51 Q: No longer a surprise, can the Bucks sustain success?


The Milwaukee Bucks have completed the first step — they’re now a competitive team. But with that comes expectations. Their out-of-nowhere success last season, even in spite of No. 2 pick Jabari Parker‘s season-ending knee injury, was a testament to Jason Kidd’s coaching and the growth of their core of young players at the defensive end. Even as they were a surprise playoff team, the Bucks never had much offense. They beat you with their length, athleticism and peskiness. Things are different now: they have Parker back, and the addition of Greg Monroe gives them a legitimate first option on offense. But they’re in a period of growing pains, after losing some key veterans this summer.

The Bucks gave away Jared Dudley and Zaza Pachulia in the offseason, both important pieces. They added Grievis Vasquez, who will be a nice safety valve at point guard in case Michael Carter-Williams shoots himself out of a game (which will happen often).

The addition of Monroe changes the Bucks’ identity in the frontcourt. For the first time, they have someone they can dump the ball into in the post to get a basket whenever they want. Theoretically, he’s a great fit, because the Bucks’ other bigs can mask his defensive weaknesses. John Henson and Miles Plumlee will have plenty of opportunities to play in Pachulia’s absence. Kidd will also likely use Parker as a smallball power forward in some lineups, but he’s a defensive liability at this point and nobody knows how long it will take him to return to form on offense. All signs from the preseason have been encouraging about his health, but ACLs are always a major unknown.

These aren’t the only questions the Bucks have. After a breakout season, Khris Middleton signed a five-year, $70 million deal to re-sign in Milwaukee. Now he has to prove that season wasn’t a fluke. He was their best shooter last season after they traded Brandon Knight, and he should thrive going from the first to the third option on offense. Carter-Williams still can’t shoot. Nobody knows what Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s long-term potential is, or when he’ll harness all of his raw talent. It’s going to happen eventually, but he has no defined position and a lot to learn at the NBA level still.

The Bucks have all the pieces to be a very good team. But they overachieved last season relative to their talent level, and expecting a similar leap in year two of this core could be setting fans up for disappointment. They’re likely a playoff team still, but the idea that they can be a contender this early is a little unrealistic.

Lakers, DeMarcus Cousins reportedly may talk new contract next summer

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Sunday, the Lakers waived DeMarcus Cousins to clear out a roster space for Markieff Morris. Cousins was signed last July to be the team’s starting center, but he tore his ACL in training and has not stepped on the court this season. It wasn’t personal, it was business, and under the terms of the CBA Cousins can continue his rehab in the Lakers’ practice facilities.

Cousins may be officially gone, but he could return next season to the Lakers, reports Joe Varden at The Athletic.

But the Lakers could re-sign him this summer, something both sides have expressed interest in pursuing, sources said.

This would be another one-year minimum contract deal, and it makes sense for both sides. Dwight Howard is a free agent and, after a resurgent (but not elite) season in Los Angeles, likely will get offers for more than the Lakers can pay him. JaVale McGee has a $4.2 million player option. Whatever McGee decides, the Lakers will be looking for another big man (and maybe two). Cousins could step right in.

What he can offer on the court coming off a torn Achilles and ACL remains to be seen, but the Lakers will not ask a lot of their centers. Cousins is a two-time All-NBA, four-time All-Star player who should still be able to give the Lakers some solid minutes in the paint.

The Lakers will keep their options open, but don’t be surprised if the two sides reunite.

Vanessa Bryant suing helicopter company after crash that killed Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant, Vanessa Bryant and Gianna Bryant
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Ever since Kobe Bryant and Gianna Bryant died in a helicopter crash last month, we’ve been seeking answers about what went wrong during the flight piloted by Ara Zobayan. After all, Kobe Bryant had made helicopter rides such a normal part of his life.

Now, Vanessa Bryant – Kobe’s wife and Gianna’s mother – is suing the company that operated the helicopter for wrongful death.

Nathan Fenno of the Los Angeles Times:

The complaint in Los Angeles County Superior Court against Island Express Helicopters and Island Express Holding Corp. alleged that pilot Ara Zobayan, who also died in the crash, failed “to use ordinary care in piloting the subject aircraft” and was “negligent.”

“Defendant Island Express Helicopters’ breach of its duty and negligence caused the injuries and damages complained of herein and Plaintiffs’ deceased, Kobe Bryant, was killed as a direct result of the negligent conduct of Zobayan for which Defendant Island Express Helicopters is vicariously liable in all respects,” the lawsuit said.

Report: Ben Simmons back injury “isn’t a day-to-day thing”

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ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports that the back injury for Philadelphia 76ers All-Star Ben Simmons “isn’t a day-to-day thing”.

Simmons missed the Sixers first game following the All-Star break on Thursday. He then left Saturday’s game in Milwaukee after playing just 4:44.

Over the weekend, Philadelphia ruled Simmons out for Monday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks and said he would undergo further evaluation. Per Wojnarowski’s report, that evaluation is ongoing and a course of treatment is yet to be decided upon.

Expect Philadelphia to lean on Raul Neto, Alec Burks and Shake Milton as primary ballhandlers while Simmons is out. None possess the size and skill combination of Simmons, but all have had moments throughout their careers. Neto drew the start in place of Simmons on Thursday. Burks was acquired at the trade deadline to give the team much-needed bench depth. Milton has flashed at time in his second season, after beginning his NBA career on a Two-Way contract.

Philadelphia loses Simmons while in a battle with the Miami Heat for homecourt advantage in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The fifth-place 76ers are 1.5 games behind the Heat for the fourth seed, and two games ahead of the sixth-place Indiana Pacers.

Pacers: Jeremy Lamb suffers torn ACL, torn meniscus, fracture

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Kobe Bryant making two free throws after tearing his Achilles was one of the greatest moments of his legendary career.

On a day Bryant was honored, we learned Pacers guard Jeremy Lamb made a similarly gutsy pair of free throws during Indiana’s loss to the Raptors yesterday.

Pacers release:

During the second quarter of the Pacers game at Toronto on Sunday, Indiana Pacers forward Jeremy Lamb sustained a torn left anterior cruciate ligament, a torn lateral meniscus and a lateral femoral condylar fracture.

He will undergo surgery on a date to be determined. He will be out the remainder of the season. Any further updates will be provided after surgery.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Lamb misses all of next season. This is just a devastating set of calamities.

At least Lamb has a guaranteed $10.5 million salary each of the next two seasons.

Indiana (sixth place, 33-24) will have an even tougher time winning a playoff series now. The Pacers could challenge in the first round, but they’ll almost certainly be significant underdogs.

They have depth at shooting guard, for what that’s worth. Victor Oladipo just returned. Justin Holiday is a solid reserve. Finding his lane at point guard, Malcolm Brogdon can move off the ball when T.J. McConnell or Aaron Holiday plays point guard.