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Can Mike Budenholzer lift Milwaukee to top of East?

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This is the latest of NBC’s NBA season preview stories, and we will post at least one a day on these pages until Oct. 16, when the NBA season kicks off. We will look at teams and topics around the NBA throughout the series, with today the Bucks and their new coach in the spotlight.

Jason Kidd was enshrined in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame just more than a week ago, and with that came the flood of memories (and videos) of what a legendary player he was at his peak, leading the New Jersey Nets to the Finals in the early 2000s.

Unfortunately for the Milwaukee Bucks, coach Jason Kidd’s offensive and defensive philosophies seemed stuck in that same era. The Bucks’ corner offense was run at a slow pace and lacked much strong-to-weak ball movement or shooting that would have created space for stars to operate. Kidd’s defense was ultra aggressive to the point teams turned that against the Bucks with a couple of passes, which led to quality shots. In spite of that Milwaukee kept winning because of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, and the talent on the roster, but talk to other teams around the league and they did not fear the Bucks. What they feared was the day the Bucks started using that talent in a modern way.

Enter Mike Budenholzer.

The former right-hand man to Gregg Popovich who went on to coach the Hawks to a 60-win season was brought in as an Xs and Os guru who would simplify the defense, then put Antetokounmpo and other Milwaukee players in a faster offense that worked to get their stars better looks.

How much can a coach and a system lift a team? Milwaukee is going to find out, and they are betting it’s a lot.

The Bucks don’t want to waste seasons of a top-10 player, a potential MVP such as Antetokounmpo (plus they are moving into a new arena in the heart of the city, this is win-now time in Milwaukee). Budenholzer has never had a talent like this on his roster as a head coach, and one of the first things he did was have a breakfast with the Greek Freak and talk about how together they would get him to take the next step.

“There’s a lot of reasons to be excited about coming to Milwaukee, but there’s no doubt that Giannis is one of them,” Budenholzer said at his introductory press conference this summer. “He’s so important to our success, I think he embraces his leadership role and how he needs to grow, improve and get better along with all the rest of us. So the excitement is through the roof, and how we can use and implement him defensively and offensively, it started some at breakfast and it will continue into the weight room today, tomorrow and the next day.

“And those are conversations I look forward to having with Giannis, and listening to Giannis too. I think he’s a smart player at 23, and he has an IQ and an understanding of the game. Together, I think he and I will push each other, but I look forward to pushing him. He believes it and I believe it, but he’s going to get a lot better as we watch him over the years.”

“A lot better” Antetokounmpo should scare the rest of the league.

Budenholzer’s offensive philosophy and motion offense fit better with the Bucks’ talent. He wants to run and get the ball out in transition, then use pace, misdirection, and side-to-side ball movement to create space for their stars to work in the half court. Then there’s the floor spacing, the Bucks were 25th in the league in percentage of shots from three, but a new philosophy and adding Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova this offseason should help change that. The Bucks are going to shoot threes and that should open up lanes for Antetokounmpo and Bledsoe to get to the rim. This should look like a different Bucks team.

However, the bigger changes and improvements need come on the other side of the ball. Despite the dated style under Kidd, the Bucks still had an offensive rating in the top half of the league. The defensive side, however, was the Bucks’ biggest weakness.

“The thing that probably stands out to me first is the potential on the defensive side of the ball,” Budenholzer said. “I would say that’s been always something that’s prioritized. We want to be great on both sides of the ball, and whether it be the last five years in Atlanta as a head coach or San Antonio at the end of the day has always been great defensively.”

Budenholzer has talked about simplifying the system and reads on defense, something that should be welcomed in the Bucks’ locker room. The team has good defenders on it, just put them in better positions and understanding the system should improve the Bucks on that end of the court.

Can Budenholzer make the Bucks a threat to Boston this season? Unlikely. But if everything comes together in a new system, how good can this Bucks’ team be, if Antetokounmpo looks like an MVP candidate again and the defense is improved. Philadelphia and Toronto may want to look over their shoulder and keep an eye on the Bucks.

This team might finally start living up to its potential.

Brandon Clarke named Summer League MVP, leads Grizzlies to Vegas title

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Brandon Clarke made his mark in Las Vegas.

The No. 21 pick in June out of Gonzaga, he averaged 14.6 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game in leading the Grizzlies to the championship game, and for that he was named the Las Vegas Summer League MVP.

(That award has been won by Damian Lillard, Blake Griffin and John Wall, but also Josh Shelby and Glen Rice Jr. Most winners of the award had good careers as role players — Randy Foye, Jerryd Bayless, whatever Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart become — but it’s a mistake to think it’s a precursor of NBA dominance.)

Clarke wasn’t done, he had 15 points and 16 rebounds in the championship game, leading the Grizzlies past the Timberwolves 95-92. Memphis is your 2019 NBA Summer League Champions.

Memphis raced out to a 15-point lead early in the title game.

In the end, it was a balanced attack that won Memphis the game. Grayson Allen led the way 17 points, but Clarke, Bruno Caboclo, and Dusty Hannah’s all had 15 points, while Tyler Harvey added a dozen.

Minnesota was led by Kelan Martin with 19 points.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban fined $50,000; Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta $25,000

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The first rule of NBA ownership: Don’t talk about NBA ownership.

Or the business you do as an owner until it becomes official, even if by then everyone else has known for days and already moved on from the topic.

Monday was an expensive day for two of the NBA’s owners of teams in Texas. Mark Cuban was fined $50,000 for leaking information from the league’s Board of Governor’s meeting about the new coach’s challenge  — even though everybody knew what was going to happen — before the meeting officially ended. Tim MacMahon of ESPN reported this story and had maybe the best quote of the summer to go with it.

The NBA office fined Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban $50,000 after he admitted to leaking information from last week’s Board of Governors meeting to a reporter, sources told ESPN…

“I appreciate the irony of your reporting on a fine that someone should, but won’t, get fined for leaking to you,” Cuban told ESPN.

Sources said Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadive expressed concern that information about the vote to allow coaches’ challenges was being reported while the meeting was still in session. Cuban immediately admitted that he had leaked the information, sources said.

Well played, Cuban.

This is a letter of the law fine, but was it a big deal that this got out? The vote was all but assured, a formality, but Cuban gets fined for telling people? Thanks, Vivek.

From the same “is this really a big deal” file we have the fine Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta got on Monday, $25,000 for talking about the Russell Westbrook trade before it was official. Even though everybody was talking about it. From Mark Stein of the New York Times.

Here is the oh-so-damaging quote:

Again, I get Fertitta crossed the official line because the trade had not gone through yet, but does that line really need to exist in these cases? It feels like the silly hat thing at the NBA Draft.

Damaging or even interesting information was not divulged in either case. The fines were not steep because of it, but the NBA’s process of what is and is not allowed around trades and free agency — and the odd Board of Governors meeting — seems behind the times.

 

Report: Clippers, Rockets both still interested in Andre Iguodala, but both at stalemate

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The Memphis Grizzlies don’t want to just waive veteran Andre Iguodala, they want to get something back in return. That is just turning out to be challenging.

The Clippers and Rockets are still interested, but both teams are at a stalemate, something Shams Charania of The Athletic broke down in a new video.

The story in a nutshell:

• The Rockets are interested, but Iguodala’s $17.2 million would take the team deep into the luxury tax (Houston is currently just shy of the tax line). Charania says any deal likely would involve a sign-and-trade, which implies Iman Shumpert, probably with a draft pick attached.

• The only Clippers’ salary that lines up cleanly is Mo Harkless (with some other players), but Los Angeles doesn’t want to give him up.

Memphis can afford to be patient and say they will just bring Iguodala into training camp, that they are willing to start the season with him.

This may take some time to get done and could ultimately involve a third team. Maybe Dallas gets back in the conversation, or other teams look at their roster and decide they want the veteran wing. This also could be something that drags into training camp, there are no easy answers lined up or the deal would be done already.

Warriors GM on D’Angelo Russell: “We didn’t sign him with the intention of just trading him”

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From the moment the Warriors acquired D'Angelo Russell in a sign-and-trade deal that cleared the path for Kevin Durant to go to Brooklyn, speculation about fit and an eventual trade cropped up. Does Russell’s game really fit with Stephen Curry and, eventually, Klay Thompson‘s, in a three-guard lineup? If not, how fast will they trade him? February at the trade deadline? Next summer?

From the start the Warriors have shot down the idea that they just planned to trade Russell, and on Monday Warriors GM Bob Myers repeated the same thing.

The Warriors plan has been to play Russell and Curry next to each other — they got an All-Star guard to soak up the minutes until Thompson can return (likely sometime after the All-Star break, if at all next season). Maybe the fit works, maybe it doesn’t, but the Warriors aren’t putting limitations or preconceived notions on the possibilities.

If it doesn’t work out, the trade option will still be there.

The Warriors do not head into this season the same juggernaut to be feared, but sleep on them at your own risk. As Meyers said, they believe they have a team that can compete with anyone.