Wes Matthews

AP

Giannis Antetokounmpo says he’s going to be ‘more vocal’ this season

1 Comment

MILWAUKEE (AP) Last season’s loss to Toronto in the Eastern Conference finals stung Giannis Antetokounmpo.

So much so that the NBA MVP admitted it took several days for him to be able to sleep at night after he and the Milwaukee Bucks blew a 2-0 lead against the eventual NBA champion Raptors.

Antetokounmpo said his priority during the offseason was to become a better leader, both on and off the court.

“Mostly, you just gotta be more vocal,” Antetokounmpo said. “You gotta lead by example. You gotta be able to accept criticism by your coach, by your teammates, and be OK with it. That’s what a leader does. I know that my team knows who I am. They trust me. They know I’m going to put my body and everything I have on the line for this team. By doing that, everything else will take care of itself.”

The Bucks won a league-best 60 games a season ago, and took home MVP, Coach of the Year (Mike Budenholzer) and Executive of the Year (general manager Jon Horst) honors. But their goal was to bring the city of Milwaukee its first NBA title since 1971. That didn’t happen.

Now, with both Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James out west, Kevin Durant on the shelf in Brooklyn and the core of Antetokounmpo, fellow All-Star Khris Middleton, first-team all-defensive guard Eric Bledsoe and Brook Lopez back together, anything less than another deep playoff run for the Bucks will be deemed a failure.

“The message to the team won’t be that different than what it was going into last season,” said Budenholzer, who is entering his second season in Milwaukee. “Really, our attack point is just what are we doing every day? How are we getting better every day? How are we competing every day? Are we playing unselfishly? Are we playing together? All those things that are just our core beliefs. If we’re doing those on a day-in and day-out basis, the chips will fall where they may.”

The Bucks open the season Oct. 24 in Houston.

Kyle Korver

Bucks guard Kyle Korver said his new team is like a “more organized version” of the Cleveland Cavaliers teams he played on with LeBron James.

“I think that there’s a ton of freedom here for players to do what they do,” he said. “There’s a lot of special talent – unique talent – on this team, and (Budenholzer) gives us a lot of freedom to kind of figure some things out, and we did that in Cleveland, too. Let the great players be great, and just kind of give them space, and we all find our spots to contribute and to be effective.”

Korver signed a one-year deal with Milwaukee in July. The 17-year veteran reunites with Budenholzer, who coached Korver in Atlanta in 2015, when Korver made his only NBA All-Star team and Budenholzer won his first NBA Coach of the Year award.

Korver ranks fourth in NBA history in 3-pointers made with 2,351.

BROGDON OUT, MATTHEWS IN

The Bucks lost former Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon to Indiana in free agency. Budenholzer said he thinks the additions of sharpshooter Korver and veteran two-way wing Wes Matthews will help fill the void. Matthews was the 2005 Wisconsin Mr. Basketball and played his college ball at nearby Marquette.

“Coming back home, it’s a sentimental feeling and one you can’t quite describe,” Matthews said. “To see the success, the growth of the city and the growth of the state, what this Bucks team and organization has done, I come back and I don’t even recognize some of this stuff around here. I’m excited to be a part of it.”

BAND OF BROTHERS

Milwaukee will start the season with two pairs of brothers, as Robin Lopez joins twin brother Brook, and Giannis will have his older brother, Thanasis, on the roster. Thanasis Antetokounmpo, who last played in the NBA in 2016 for the Knicks, signed a two-year contract in July.

“What a great story for Giannis and Thanasis and Brook and Robin to play together,” Budenholzer said. “There’s probably a few little things that we’ve got to be conscientious of: Make sure that they’re not always together, so on so forth. And Robin and Brook, there’s been a lot of comments about how we’re going to manage them in the locker room.”

DONTE’S PEAK

Milwaukee’s 2018 first-round pick Donte DiVincenzo will look to re-establish himself after dealing with a heel injury last season. The 6-foot-4 guard averaged 4.9 points on 40.3% shooting in 27 games a season ago.

“(I just want to) keep getting better,” DiVincenzo said. “Keep getting better every day, keep building my confidence, figure my spots because it’s a long year.”

LOOMING QUESTION

How much longer will Giannis Antetokounmpo be in Milwaukee?

Antetokounmpo can be an unrestricted free agent next summer. At that point, the Bucks can offer him a five-year supermax extension. Horst told a crowd at an offseason fan event that he intends to offer the extension to the three-time All-Star (and was fined for saying so by the NBA).

“I’m not going to talk about it a lot,” Antetokounmpo said. “I think it’s disrespectful toward my teammates talking about my free agency and what I’m going to do. So when the time is right, we’re all going to talk about it.”

Follow Keith Jenkins on Twitter: https://twitter.com/MrKeithJenkins

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Reports: Lakers trade Beasley, Zubac to Clippers Muscala; Lakers open roster spot, maybe for ‘Melo

7 Comments

The good news is nobody needs to call the moving vans with this trade. There will be no plane flights. The players have to just walk a little farther down the hall and make sure they go into the right locker room.

The Lakers and Clippers agreed to a trade just half-an-hour before the deadline that sends two Lakers — Michael Beasley and the popular Ivica Zubac — out. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the story.

The Lakers pick up a respectable pick-and-pop big who had been with Philadelphia most of the season but went to the Clippers as part of the Tobias Harris trade. Muscala is shooting 34 percent from three this season.

What grabs the headlines, however, is this opens up a Lakers roster spot, and the reason they had used all season for not bringing in Carmelo Anthony was the lack of a roster spot. Now…

That said, it’s not a done deal.

This is expected to be a robust buyout market with some relatively big names — Wes Matthews, Robin Lopez among others — but there also will be a lot of suitors for the good players. Golden State, Philadelphia, Houston and other teams are going to be actively looking to strengthen their rosters. The Lakers will have to compete, and use the pull of LeBron James, to get a quality player for the stretch run. Of course, LeBron already said he wanted the Lakers to look at Anthony. So there’s that.

The Clipper are expected to waive Beasley and add him to the buyout market (the Lakers cannot re-acquire him under the terms of the CBA).

What the Clippers get is a young big with potential in Zubac who can be part of whatever is in the future for this team after what will be a wild summer.

Winners and Losers from Kristaps Porzingis trade

16 Comments

NBA trades don’t happen overnight, they percolate under the radar, starting as a seed of an idea and taking a lot of time and watering to take root and eventually flower into a full-on trade.

Not this one. The Kristaps Porzingis to the Mavericks trade seemed to come out of nowhere. It came together fast, according to all accounts. So fast it caught the NBA off guard when it became public Thursday afternoon.

The trade sends Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr., Courtney Lee and Trey Burke to Dallas, while New York gets Dennis Smith Jr., DeAndre Jordan, Wesley Matthews, and two lightly protected first-round picks.

Who won and lost in this trade? Let’s break it down.

Winner: Kristaps Porzingis. Having not stepped on an NBA court this season as he continues to recover from to a torn ACL — combined with the feeling David Fizdale had not been able to improve a relationship first damaged by Phil Jackson — had led to a lot of “should we really pay this guy a max?” rumblings around New York. Porzingis doesn’t exactly have the cleanest injury history in the first place, and there is a lot of uncertainty about how a mobile 7’3” guy will bounce back from this injury. Everyone is rooting for him to come back and go the full Joel Embiid, but that’s a big unknown. Hence the Knicks wanting to hedge against a max contract.

At the top of the list of things Porzingis will get out of this trade is money. And lots of it.

Dallas traded for Porzingis with plans to pay the man and keep him in town. Yes, Porzingis’ camp made threats of signing the qualifying offer and get out of Dallas, but nobody pushing near a max deal (five years, $158 million) does that and leaves almost all of that money — his first “set your family up for generations” contract — on the table. He will stay in Dallas and partner up with…

Winner: Luka Doncic. He’s got his partner for his buddy cop film, the Cagney to his Lacey, the Charles Boyle to his Jake Peralta. A partner who should fit like a puzzle piece with Doncic’s game: A big who will pop out after setting the pick and force defenders to track with him. A big he can feed in transition, either deep in the post or as the trailer at the top of the arc. A long big man in the paint who can block shots. A guy with a similar sensibility about the game.

Dallas found one star in the draft (thanks again, Atlanta), and now it has a second. Probably. Maybe.

Too early to call: Dallas Mavericks. Dallas has pushed all-in on the idea that Porzingis can return to full health, stay that way, and be everything Knicks fans had projected him to be. Dallas needs that to happen. With this trade, the Mavericks have capped themselves out this summer and will struggle to add quality around their stars. The Mavs gave up a couple of first-round picks with minimal protections, too.

If Dallas has gotten itself the full Unicorn back for that price, if Porzingis can play 72 games a season and be the All-NBA player he projected to be — and he re-signs long-term — then Dallas is a winner. But if Porzingis is not quite the same, and is a guy who plays 60 games a season at a borderline All-Star level, they will have lost. It’s a gamble worth making, but it is a gamble.

Too early to call: New York Knicks. The Knicks front office had to get a back-channel nod from Kevin Durant’s camp saying he was coming, right? They wouldn’t trade the potential of Porzingis, the fan favorite, and everything else thinking they “could” land a superstar or two, right?

Well, this is James Dolan’s Knicks, so….

The buzz that Durant and Kyrie Irving are coming to New York is all over the league now, and while there are some reasons to doubt that entire story (Irving’s decision is more in flux than that, he is not leaving Boston for sure, I’ve heard) clearly the Knicks know something and are confident. They think they are getting at least one household name player. Also on the bright side for New York, moving the nearly dead money contracts of Tim Hardaway Jr. and Courtney Lee plus getting two first-round picks in the deal makes this a lot more palatable, whatever happens in July.

Loser: Boston Celtics…. maybe. If this trade gives Kyrie Irving serious thoughts about taking his talents to Madison Square Garden to partner with Durant, then Boston should be worried they will end up losers in this deal. There’s a lot of moving parts to that last sentence, but Boston’s pitch to keep Anthony Davis after a possible July trade (another moving part) was always pairing AD and Irving with good role players on a team that can contend right away. If Irving is wearing blue and orange — or any team’s colors other than green — then Boston loses.

Winner: Los Angeles Lakers.…. maybe. If Kyrie Irving leaves Boston, maybe Danny Ainge scales back is potential trade offer, and the Laker offer looks better to the Pelicans. Again, a lot of “ifs” between now and that outcome, but it seems more likely than it did 24 hours ago.

Winners: DeAndre Jordan and Wes Matthews. Two veterans on a non-playoff team led by a rookie will spend a couple of weeks in New York then be bought out and become free agents. Houston, Golden State, Philadelphia are just a few of the teams that will come calling. By the third week of February, these guys likely are playing meaningful minutes for a team headed to the playoffs.

Winner: Dennis Smith Jr. He simply did not fit next to Luka Doncic and was getting squeezed out in Dallas. In New York is the best guard they have now, the ball will be in his hands and it will be an all he can eat buffet. Smith showed flashes last season in Dallas, in New York he will get to flash his athleticism again and make his case to be part of whatever the Knicks future is.

Loser: Frank Ntilikina. Phil Jackson loved him, picked him one spot in front of Smith, but now Phil has his feet up on the ottoman out in his ranch in Montana, and Ntilikina is about to lose his job to the guy picked after him. This feels like the end of the Ntilikina era in New York, such as it was.

Mavericks reportedly working to trade Dennis Smith Jr.; Suns, Magic interested

Getty Images
7 Comments

Dennis Smith Jr. just does not fit next to Luka Doncic.

Dallas’ most used and regular starting lineup most of the season — Smith, Doncic, Wes Matthews, Harrison Barnes, and DeAndre Jordan — struggle to get buckets, scoring less than a point per possession. However, sub rookie Jalen Brunson in for Smith and the offense improves by 16 points per 100 possessions.

Smith showed flashes as a rookie last season with the ball in his hands, and he’s still on his rookie contract, which means he has trade value. The Mavericks are exploring that, according to Adrian Wojnarowski and Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

The Dallas Mavericks are escalating talks to trade guard Dennis Smith Jr., pushing to end a partnership that has run its course for both the franchise and former first-round pick, league sources tell ESPN.

Two teams in pursuit of a point guard — Phoenix and Orlando — have been active in talks with the Mavericks, league sources said.

Dallas has also searched for deals that would include veteran Wes Matthews, who is making $18.6 million in the final year of his contract, league sources said.

Don’t be so sure Phoenix is a potential destination, according to the well-connected John Gambadoro.

How good a full-time point guard Smith would make is up for debate. He is unquestionably a fantastic athlete (which is why he dominated Summer League fresh out of college in 2017), he has a tremendous first step, can get to the rim and has finished well. However, his decision making had a long way to go — as it does with a lot of young players, but Smith frustrated coach Rick Carlisle — and his outside shot was bad enough that teams played off him and dared him to shoot.

That shot improved this season — 12.6 points a game shooting 37.5 percent from three — but Smith struggled to find a comfort level working off the ball.

Orlando and Phoenix aren’t going to surrender equal value here — Dallas isn’t getting a No. 9 pick back, which is where Smith was drafted — but both are desperate for a point guard (meaning maybe they overpay), and they can provide salary relief plus an asset or two.

Expect this trade to get done in the next few weeks, before the Feb. 7 deadline.

Three Things to Know: C.J. McCollum will kill you from the midrange, just ask the Bucks

Associated Press
6 Comments

Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) C.J. McCollum destroys from the midrange with 40, Portland shows up big with a win over red-hot Milwaukee. Under new coach Mike Budenholzer’s simplified, clear system the Milwaukee Bucks have become an outstanding defensive team, allowing just 102.1 points per 100 possessions (third best in the NBA). They have done it by protecting the rim (bigs dropping back on the pick-and-roll to take away the drive) while trying to run teams off the arc. The goal is simple: force teams into less efficient midrange shots.

That works until you run into a guy who can drain midrange shots all night long.

Meet Portland’s C.J. McCollum. He was 10-of-12 between eight feet out and the arc on his way to dropping 40 on the Bucks and leading Portland to an impressive 118-103 win at home.

McCollum has gotten off to a rather “meh” start to the season — the Blazers were 7-3 coming into this game because Damian Lillard has been playing at a “you better throw my name in your too-early MVP talk” way, while Zach Collins and Evan Turner have sparked a surprisingly strong Portland bench. Tuesday night, it was McCollum’s turn to break out — and break the ankles of rookie Donte DiVincenzo.

It wasn’t all midrangers, these teams combined to chuck up 85 three-point attempts.

The Bucks were doing Bucks things. Giannis Antetokounmpo had nine — nine! — dunks and was putting up numbers with 23 points, nine rebounds, and six assists. Brook Lopez drained six threes.

Milwaukee played its defensive system well, it’s just that dropping the big on the pick-and-roll opens up the midrange and some guys will destroy you from there. McCollum is one of those guys, and it showed on Monday night. Especially in the second half Portland made McCollum the pick-and-roll ball handler with Lopez’s man Jusuf Nurkic setting the screen, so when he dropped back McCollum could find his midrange shot. As Milwaukee adjusted, the Blazers got Nurkic and others shots at the rim. That was your ballgame.

2) Poster Dunk: Hornets rookie Miles Bridges gets up high and Dewayne Dedmon isn’t going to stop him. This is how you attack the rim.

Kemba Walker loved it in a gif worthy way.

3) Luka Doncic continues to put up numbers, make an early Rookie of the Year case. It’s far too early to have a serious Rookie of the Year conversation — that award, in particular, is often won in the second half of the season, with the player who adjusts and improves racking up votes. That said, already Atlanta’s Trae Young and Phoenix’s Deandre Ayton have put up impressive numbers.

As has Dallas’ Luka Doncic, who had 23 points, six rebounds, and three assists to lead the Mavericks past the early season pinata that is the Washington Wizards Monday night, 119-100. On the young season, Doncic is averaging 19.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 4.4 assists. Doncic reads the play and attacks like a veteran.

It wasn’t just Doncic in this game, Wes Matthews had 22 and Dallas had a well-rounded night.

There feels to be a weird transition going on in Dallas with not all the veterans comfortable having Doncic as their best player (DeAndre Jordan going over Doncic’s back for a rebound recently is a perfect example). Just being around the team for a day you get the vibe that some of the veterans on this roster want Doncic to earn his status a little more, not just walk in the door as the Golden Boy. Okay, but watch him play and to me he is earning it.

• Bonus Thing To Know: Russell Westbrook’s nasty looking ankle sprain from Monday night turned out to not be that bad. After some rest and treatment, the Thunder are calling it a regular sprain, and while Westbrook is out Wednesday night he’s not going to miss extended time. There’s never a good time to have an injury, but if there was this is a good spot for OKC to be without Westbrook — Cleveland, Dallas, Phoenix twice, and Sacramento are six of the team’s next seven games. The Thunder have hit a soft spot in the schedule, where they can still get some wins without the former MVP.