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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.

Giannis Antetokounmpo goes fully horizontal on the rim after a dunk (VIDEO)

Giannis Antetokounmpo
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The EuroBasket tournament kicked off on Saturday and Greece opened the group stage with an 85-65 blowout win over Macedonia. Greece’s highlights included Giannis Antetokounmpo throwing down this dunk and then hanging on the rim completely horizontally, the kind of display of freakish athleticism that NBA fans have grown used to in his first two seasons with the Bucks:

This should get Bucks fans excited for the upcoming season.

Report: Bucks get Westbrook (not that one)

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Russell Westbrook isn’t going to Milwaukee.

Charlie Westbrook, though?

Shams Charania of RealGM:

Westbrook went undrafted out of South Dakota in 2012 and has played overseas and in the D-League since.

He’ll give Milwaukee 17 players, but just 14 15 of them have guaranteed salaries. So, Westbrook will join Jorge Gutierrez and Marcus Landry (both of whose contracts are fully unguaranteed) in competing to supplant a guaranteed player for a  regular-season roster spot.

The Bucks already several players capable of playing Westbrook’s position, shooting guard: Khris Middleton, O.J. Mayo, Rashad Vaughn, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jerryd Bayless and even one of Michael Carter-Williams or Greivis Vasquez in bigger lineups. Without a clear need for him, Westbrook will really have to impress to stick past the preseason.

Giannis Antetokounmpo scores career-high 22 points with Greek national team (VIDEO)

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Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 22 points in 25 minutes in a friendly against the Netherlands on Friday, a career high for the Greek national team:

Going into his third year for the Bucks, there’s been talk that he’ll play some center this year. If he can put his skill set together into an effective offensive game like he’s shown at times, he could become one of the most unguardable players in the NBA. The flashes are already there.

Clippers’ owner Steve Ballmer says steps that led to $250,000 DeAndre Jordan fine were “inadvertent”

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There are times it’s clear that Steve Ballmer, though unquestionably passionate, still is on the NBA owner learning curve. There have been a few stumbles, to put it kindly.

The latest: Apparently offering DeAndre Jordan a $200,000 a year Lexus endorsement if he re-signed with the Clippers. A day after that, Jordan said he would sign with Dallas. Four days later he started to change his mind and shifted back to the Clippers, and while that likely had nothing to do with the Lexus deal, it still earned Ballmer and the Clippers a $250,000 fine.

Ballmer said this was not intentional, in a memo he sent to Clippers personnel and obtained by Dan Woike of the Orange County Register.

Today, the NBA announced it has fined the Team for violating NBA rules in our presentation to DeAndre Jordan on July 2. The League’s investigation concluded that the presentation of a potential thrid-party opportunity had no impact on DeAndre’s decision to re-sign, and having been a part of the process, I can attest to this fact.

As we, and the basketball world observed, DJ ultimately chose to stay with the Clippers because he felt it was his best opportunity to win a championship, and because of his desire to remain part of the Clippers family.

As I shared with everyone on day one of purchasing the Team, being part of the Clippers family means operating with the highest integrity. We believed we were doing this the right way, and any circumvention was inadvertent. In our effort to support our players in every way possible, we as an organization must be diligent in complying with the CBA.

Did he plan to break the rules and get fined? Obviously not, even though Ballmer probably has $250,000 in the folds of his couch. Did he just not know how to dance along that edge? Now we’re getting somewhere.

Large market teams try to use endorsement potential as a recruiting tool — the Lakers and Knicks have for years. It’s just clearly less effective now, in a world shrunk by social media. LaMarcus Aldridge and Greg Monroe spurned LA and NYC this summer to sign in San Antonio and Milwaukee, because they could win there. You build your brand as a player on the game’s biggest stages — specifically the playoffs and Finals — and what stars want to see is how they get on that stage.

It’s what the Clippers should sell the hardest — they are title contenders.