Thursday, September 27, 2007

NBA Blog Carnival, one of the all-time premier NBA blogs, today hosted Carnival of the NBA #50.

It's a very cool collection of links that takes you all over the best from the current NBA blogosphere.

Check it out if you didn't already after True Hoop (which hosted a previous Carnival) linked to it on Thursday.

The Carnival kindly singles out the current state of Bucks blogging, linking to this blog and three other prominent ones, in addition to a ton of other great blogs.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Bucks Sign Walker

The Milwaukee Bucks have signed forward Samaki Walker.

“Originally drafted by Dallas with the ninth overall pick in the 1996 NBA Draft, Walker (6-9, 250) has spent time with six separate teams during his 10-year playing career. He wore a Dallas uniform during his first three seasons and enjoyed his best statistical season during the 1997-98 campaign when he averaged 8.9 points and 7.4 rebounds in 41 games with the Mavericks.”

So we’ve got a ten-year NBA veteran who was a lottery pick (selected a few spots ahead of Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, and Jermaine O’Neal) and started for a championship team.

That’s no guarantee that Walker will make the team though. Especially since 2000-01 was the last time he had a good year, and he didn’t even play last season.

The Bucks now have an interesting assortment of backup power forwards fighting for roster spots with Michael Ruffin, Angelo Reyes, and now Walker. While Ruffin might be the least interesting of the three, he’s also probably the most likely to make the team.

An old profile of Walker reveals some entertaining personal tidbits, not the least of which is his apparent affinity for "unusual hats," which alone makes me a pretty big fan.

His full name is Samaki Ijuma Walker

· in Swahili, Samaki means “fish” and Ijuma means “beautiful river”

· his nickname is “Mak” short for Samaki

· he is the youngest of seven children

· he has one son, Dabaji, and one daughter, Sakima

· he continues to work toward his degree in communications by taking summer classes at Louisville

· he would like to be a motivational speaker when his playing career is over

· he enjoys fishing, reading and conversing in his free time

· he lists the Dallas Cowboys as his favorite team and football and boxing as his favorite sport

· he opened a clothing store, Lady's and Gent's, in Columbus, Ohio, in September 2000

· during Christmas 1999, he purchased 400 tickets, dressed as Santa and then distributed the tickets and some gifts to underprivileged families

· he enjoys wearing unusual hats

· he lists To Kill a Mockingbird as his favorite book

· he wears a size 17 shoe."

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Suns Sign Skinner

The Phoenix Suns have signed former Milwaukee Bucks forward Brian Skinner.
Skinner, who started 44 games for the Bucks last season, is OK with the part-time role and had the Suns atop his wish list because he wanted to play for a title contender.

"This is an opportunity to be on the inside looking out," Skinner said last week.
Just Another Bucks Fan notes that Skinner’s unguaranteed $1.1 million contract with the Suns is less than what he could have gotten from the Bucks.

Skinner sounds excited to play in Phoenix and the Bucks got a comparable replacement in Voskuhl at a lower price so this may have benefitted both parties ultimately.

With the loss of Skinner, the Bucks will now have at least five different players from last year’s 12-man opening-night roster that propelled them to a teasing win over the Detroit Pistons. The recently departed Lynn Greer played an important role eventually but was not on the 12-man roster to start the season.

In gauging whether the Bucks have really improved, we should consider the roster changes.
  • Projecting this year’s team, the seven likely returnees from last year’s opening night squad are Michael Redd, Andrew Bogut, Charlie Villanueva, Mo Williams, Charlie Bell, Dan Gadzuric, and David Noel.
  • Gone are Ruben Patterson, Ersan Ilyasova, Steve Blake, Damir Markota, and Skinner.
  • Replacing them (again, projected) are Bobby Simmons, Desmond Mason, Yi Jianlian, Jake Voskuhl, and Royal Ivey.
A glance is all that’s necessary to see that the Bucks are in a lot better shape entering this season. Ivey/Voskuhl and Blake/Skinner is pretty close to a wash, but the new Bucks come out clearly ahead with Simmons/Mason/Jianlian versus Patterson/Ilyasova/Markota. That’s of course a subjective claim but one that wouldn’t be argued by many.

Most of the aforementioned returners are likely to improve as well. Bogut, Villanueva, Williams, and Noel are some of the young Bucks who are almost certain to improve. Repeat performances from Redd and Bell would do nicely. It’s difficult to predict Gadzuric’s progression after a disappointing year last season.

Despite the rock-solid reasons for optimism, what remains to be seen is how much the Bucks improve. Ten more wins after all won’t result in a playoff spot.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Greer Leaves Bucks For Olympiacos

Guard Lynn Greer is leaving the Milwaukee Bucks to play for Olympiacos in Greece, according The Philadelphia Inquirer.
"Greer would have been paid $770,610 this season in Milwaukee. He will be making close to $7 million over the next two years in Greece, according to a source."
Olympiacos is the club team that Charlie Bell flirted with just a couple weeks ago.

Like Bell, Greer has already played in Europe, so he knows what he’s getting himself into. After a distinguished college career at Temple, he bounced around Europe and improved his stock enough to make the Bucks. Even after realizing his NBA dream, Europe clearly tempted Greer with passionate fans, big money, and a starring role, just as it tempted Bell. The difference is this time the Bucks have actually lost a backup guard to that temptation.

Also from the Inquirer article:
"One of my concerns was that the role I had last year with Milwaukee wasn't going to change," Greer said. "The Bucks didn't give an impression it would change much, so I think this is a great opportunity for me."
With a healthy team, Bell resigned, and added point guard competition in Royal Ivey and Ramon Sessions, it would have been generous to think that Greer’s role on the Bucks wouldn’t have changed much from last year.

The Bucks’ recent summer maneuvers clearly show they are trying to develop a defensive identity, particularly coming off the bench. In that regard, Ivey fits the mold better than Greer. Offense is another story, but the Bucks are perhaps rightfully less concerned about that.

This also means one less difficult cut to make for the 12-man active roster. Ramon Sessions has a better shot to make the team now, although the Bucks could still go with just Mo Williams, Ivey, and Bell as point guards.

And good luck to Greer, who I always liked. And with the money and minutes available overseas, he should enjoy his new basketball home.

Update: The Bucks actually waived Greer, though his sudden signing with Olympiacos indicates the two sides mutually agreed on the terms.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Trade Ideas From Utah

The Salt Lake Tribune’s Steve Luhm recently wrote about a trade proposal sent in by a reader involving the Jazz and Bucks.

This is not to be confused with an actual trade offer. Still, the writer points out that the deal would work financially and personnel-wise, so it’s worth considering just for fun.

The scenario:
“Utah gets Charlie Villanueva, Bobby Simmons and Damir Markota (a throw-in). Milwaukee gets AK-47 and Ronnie Brewer."
Andrei Kirilenko wants out of Utah.

He doesn’t consider himself a good fit with the Jazz anymore, and has even indicated he would consider playing Europe, where he played and starred before coming to the NBA.

From the ESPN article:
He says he would like to play in Russia, although as long as he is under contract with Utah, that cannot happen as NBA and FIBA teams must honor each other's contracts. Kirilenko starred for CSKA Moscow in the Euroleague before coming to the NBA, but he says he'd also consider other European teams.

"I would like to be where I am needed and right now I feel that my country needs me," Kirilenko told Sport Express. "But I cannot exclude some European clubs. Trust me, I really am prepared to leave NBA. It certainly does not mean that I'm dying to go to Europe. I'm just ready."
This of course draws some parallels to the Charlie Bell situation. The difference being Kirilenko’s discontent apparently is based more on in-game issues. Whereas Bell's problems with the Bucks were business-focused, Kirilenko’s decreasing minutes and shots are seemingly the important factors. He also doesn’t feel suited for the club’s more methodical pace, and doesn’t exactly see eye-to-eye with coach Jerry Sloan.

If a more wide-open offense is what Kirilenko wants, then Milwaukee is a great fit. Kirilenko’s defensive ability also would benefit the Bucks.

He’s certainly a better player than his numbers from last season indicate. However, it’s a little worrisome that he was seemingly fine when he was the starring on a non-contending team and only became upset after a down individual year in which his team succeeded.

Luhm does make a decent case for why the Bucks would make the deal.
“As a result of this trade, the Bucks would get a starter who could battle every season for the Defensive Player of the Year award and would also contribute some offense. Their lineup would be Michael Redd, Mo Williams, AK, Yi and Bogut with Dan Gadzuric, Charlie Bell, Brewer and some other decent role players. All of their big-money contracts would belong to guys who start or play a lot of minutes. They would have a nice blend of offensive skills, and AK would head up the defense.”
He neglects to mention Desmond Mason as one of the key role players, but his point is made: The Bucks would gain a player many consider one of the most talented forwards in basketball and improve defensively.

In the end however, the Bucks aren’t likely keen on giving up Villanueva. Not only because they want to make good on trading away T.J. Ford for him, but because it would force Yi Jianlian or Jake Voskuhl into the starting lineup.

In addition, the Jazz would surely be hesitant to trade away someone they recently considered their franchise player for a couple players coming off injuries in Villanueva and Simmons.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Bucks Sign Ruffin

The Milwaukee Bucks have signed forward Michael Ruffin.
"Michael has made a career out of being a high-character, high-energy player who does the little things to help his team," Bucks general manager Larry Harris said. "He is a very good rebounder and excels on the defensive end of the court."
Ruffin is indeed a defensive-minded player who is very low on offensive ability.

He’s also the guy who threw the ball up in the air a little too early in a game last year, costing the Washington Wizards a win in the thick of the playoff race:
“The Wizards appeared to have a victory secured until Michael Ruffin's celebratory heave toward the rafters landed in the hands of Raptors guard Morris Peterson, whose 3-pointer from 31 feet tied the score at 109 as the horn sounded ending regulation.”
His assist to Peterson was one more assist than he had to his own team in that game. He also managed to not score in 26 minutes.

To be fair, that’s not exactly a fair representation of a typical Ruffin game.

For an end-of-the-bench type, he’s a solid player, because like Harris said, he can rebound and play defense. Particularly on the Bucks, those are valued, all-too-often missing attributes.

However, considering the Bucks already signed Jake Voskuhl this summer, there won’t be many minutes available for Ruffin. In fact, he’s probably on the outside looking in at an active roster spot.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Offseason Evaluation

ESPN’s Marc Stein ranked all fifteen Eastern Conference teams “based on who has done the East's finest shopping and trading” this offseason. He rated the Milwaukee Bucks a very respectable fourth.

An excerpt from the article:
“Is Mo Williams really a $52 milion player? Was Yi Jianlian worthy of the sixth overall pick in the June draft? You have to believe "yes" to like what Milwaukee did this summer.

Yet you can understand why the Bucks feel victorious no matter what skeptics say. For awhile there, it looked as though they were going to get neither of their top two offseason targets, with Williams threatening to bolt for Miami because the Bucks' initial offer wasn't close to where it ended up ... and with Yi seemingly determined to hold out well into the season in an attempt to force Milwaukee to trade him.

To have secured both signatures by Sept. 1? A dream double for Milwaukee.”
At a time when most fans feel refreshingly optimistic about their team’s chances, Bucks fans are sure to feel a little worn out as summer nears its end, following the nonstop drama of negotiations. In times like this, it’s important to look at the bottom line, and what happened rather than how it happened.

Another way to think about this is to ask yourself what priorities you had for the team entering the offseason and reflect on whether or not they fulfilled those priorities.

When you think in these terms, you see the team added more than subtracted, and retained the important parts. While simplistic, this much is not terribly debatable.

As intense followers, sometimes we are prone to overly critical views. It’s difficult to take a step back from the situation. In this case, Stein offers a more removed perspective, and finds a lot more that went right than wrong. That’s not to say he’s correct, but it’s a view certainly worth considering after an exhausting summer.

Villanueva Interviewed

HoopsHype interviewed Charlie Villanueva, who said his shoulder is “100 percent ready.”

That’s obviously very encouraging news, as the Bucks aren’t yet good enough to fight through another injury-plagued season

Also from the interview:
“Do you think Michael Redd will take most of the shots this season again or do you expect a more balanced attack?

CV: Mike is the best player on the team and everybody knows he's one of the best shooters in the NBA. He's our leader and will take a lot of shots. But I'm expecting a more balanced attack this season, with Mike leading us. We have enough talent on the team so that other players can take responsibility. We have Maurice Williams out there, Charlie Bell too... A lot of guys.”
Perhaps a question about commitment to team defense would have been more discussion-worthy than one about how the Bucks are going to score, after allowing 104.1 points per game last season.

In any event, adding Desmond Mason, Bobby Simmons, and Yi Jianlian and losing Ruben Patterson should spread the offense around a little more. Michael Redd might not average 26.7 points again, but the team has a good shot to eclipse last year’s mark of 99.7 points per game.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Bucks Match Heat's Offer For Bell

Charles Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports the Milwaukee Bucks have matched the Miami Heat’s offer for guard Charlie Bell.
Bell's agent, Mark Bartelstein, said he talked with Bell today and that the 6-foot-3 guard was "kind of digesting it."

"This is all part of the business," Bartelstein said. "They (the Bucks) realize Charlie Bell is a heck of a player, a huge piece of their present and future. They decided they wanted and needed to have Charlie with them."
I have been atypically optimistic about Bell’s chances of staying in Milwaukee throughout most of this ordeal.

Fom September 15:
“For now however, the NBA, and in this case the Bucks, have the upper-hand. Bell could slip away, but there is reason to be optimistic that he'll stay in Milwaukee.”
And from September 17:
“It’s safe to say Larry Harris and the Bucks know this, and judging by the team’s suave handling of the Yi situation, they aren’t likely to suddenly cave in and overpay for Bell. That increasingly makes it look like Bell won’t be playing for the Bucks this year, but I’ve cautioned before, and still maintain, that there’s a possibility he’ll ultimately resign, with the fact that he's a restricted free-agent playing a big role in that possibility.”
I must admit however, Bell’s public pleading to the Bucks to not match the Heat’s offer almost turned me into a disbeliever.

In an offseason of a lot more boom than bust, the Bucks again delivered.

The bad news is that apparently they could have signed Bell at a lower price if they would have negotiated the terms more seriously, and faster.

The good news is that possible playoff discussion can now be reintroduced in Milwaukee.

The offseason must be considered at least a mild success now. Resigning Mo Williams was the first priority, and that was accomplished. And now, the Bucks have locked up two players, Yi Jianlian and Bell, whose public desire to play elsewhere has been sometimes outrageously intense, sometimes intensely outrageous. As a small-market team and with little public pressure relative to the giants of the NBA, management has steadfastly proved their tenacity and intent to win is level with anyone.

And the relationship between Bell and the Bucks is repairable, with the $18.5 million working effectively to expedite any necessary healing process. However, as a sidenote, for those who have been following the Bell MySpace page part of the story, his mood today is currently “sore.”

Many considered the Royal Ivey acquisition a sign that Bell would not return. Now that he is back in the fold, cutting the active roster to twelve becomes a little more difficult. Here is one shot at the opening-night depth chart:

C- Andrew Bogut/Dan Gadzuric
PF- Charlie Villanueva/Yi Jianlian/Jake Voskuhl
SF- Desmond Mason/Bobby Simmons
SG- Michael Redd/David Noel
PG- Mo Williams/Charlie Bell/Royal Ivey

In this scenario, the three inactive players to produce the necessary fifteen total are Lynn Greer, Awvee Storey, and Ramon Sessions.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Bucks Sign Ivey

The Milwaukee Bucks have signed guard Royal Ivey.
“Royal has shown that he can play both the point and off-guard positions,” said Harris. “He has good size and athleticism, and brings a defensive mentality to our roster.”
With the comments about guard versatility, Harris seems to hint that Ivey will assume the role of the possibly departing Charlie Bell.

However, as Just Another Bucks Fan notes, a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel article reveals a quote from Harris that flies in the face of that implication.
"There's no direct correlation at all, Bucks general manager Larry Harris said of Ivey's signing. We already had planned to do this, regardless of the Charlie Bell situation. "
While it’s reasonable to believe the Bucks were interested in bolstering their backcourt depth regardless of Bell’s situation, Bell’s signing with the Heat yesterday and the addition of Ivey today hardly looks coincidental. Harris might not refute that anyway, because if you read his words closely, you’ll find that he doesn’t say there isn’t a correlation, rather that there isn’t a direct correlation.

The Bucks don’t likely have any interest in matching the Heat’s offer. That doesn’t mean they are going to publically admit that for the next six days or so, probably preferring to methodically weigh their options and let Bell fret over the mere possibility.

Regardless, it’s probably time to concentrate on players that are actually going to play for the Bucks, like Ivey. Here are a few things to consider about the newest Buck:
  • The Bradley Center might be a happy home for Ivey, considering he scored a season-high 16 points in 42 minutes in the Bucks' backyard last year. His 9.0 point average against the Bucks was also his highest against any opponent on the season. Granted, the small sample-size and bloated minutes are probably the determining factors for the increased numbers.
Ivey is a decent signing given the timing and circumstances. It’ll be interesting to see how the point guard bench minutes are distributed among Ivey, Greer, and perhaps Sessions if Bell doesn't return.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Heat Sign Bell To Offer Sheet

The Miami Heat have signed Charlie Bell to a five-year, $18.5 million offer sheet.

Since Bell is a restricted free-agent, the Bucks have seven days to match the Heat’s offer. If not, Bell will get his wish to leave Milwaukee.
"I hope they don't match it," Bell said Monday afternoon in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "The Bucks said they didn't have this kind of money and didn't want to give me a long-term deal, so I would hope they stick to what they said and let me go. ... I'm really thankful Miami stepped up."
The Bucks didn’t budge with a seemingly disgruntled Yi Jianlian earlier this summer, eventually winning him over and signing him. Don’t expect the entire Bucks organization to go so far out of the for Bell though, especially now. The difference in the two situations is that the Bucks are extremely high on Yi and are lukewarm on Bell. Making Yi the sixth pick in the draft and offering Bell only a three-year contract are reflections of that.

But it's not a matter of the Bucks neglecting to realize Bell's true value and importance. Rather, the progressive direction of the team cannot be bogged down by risky, low-reward, long-term contracts. The Bucks surely couldn’t have envisioned signing Bell would be so difficult, especially as a restricted free-agent. He fits in well on the team. The Bucks and Bell both know that. But that doesn’t mean he’s such a perfect fit in four or five years. The Bucks need to put the future of the franchise first, and by not overpaying they will have done that.

This season is another story. Losing Bell, arguably one of the top backup guards in the Eastern Conference, would only damage the team's already shaky playoff aspirations. Potentially losing him to a contender within the conference would only compound the problem.

Still, if the Bucks were going to lose a free-agent guard to the Heat, they picked the right one. Mo Williams will combine with Michael Redd to form an excellent starting backcourt. Lynn Greer and perhaps recently signed Ramon Sessions will play increased roles off the bench. It’s also been reported that the Bucks have recently worked out Dee Brown and other guards.

The Bucks play the Heat for the first time this season on January 2. Even if Bell is playing against the Bucks in that game, he won’t be the most important former Milwaukee basketball guard to hold in check, as Dwyane Wade still holds that title.

In any event, my cautious optimism that Bell will remain in Milwaukee has officially been downgraded more than a few levels, but this story isn’t quite over.

Bell's Milwaukee Farewell?

Charlie Bell seems intent on surpassing Yi Jianlian for the title-holder of most bizarre holdout of the Bucks this summer. As reported on Just Another Bucks Fan, a seemingly authentic Bell MySpace page has provided a unique twist to the story and telling details about the player’s thought-process.

The latest is that Bell’s current moniker reads:
“Thank you Milwaukee for the last 2 years!”
Either he really is done with the Bucks, or is just on a melodramatic kick.

From a blog post on Sept 15:
“I also want everyone to know that its not about the money at this point. It's about my heart. This summer has been long and trying for me and my family with many ups and downs. I am grateful for the offer by milwaukee last week and I was willing to accept it with a minor change. But the ultimatum and take it or leave it approach permanently poisened me and changed my desire to even be in Milwaukee anymore. I know that because my heart is no longer there I will not be able to be the player they want or need. They could offer me 10 million dollars/yr now and it would not change my heart. I can't play to the best of my ability if I'm miserable. I can't sabotage myself or a team like that. The Bucks will sign a player whose heart will be with the team. Good luck this season.”
And in a reply to his own post, he wrote:
“I don't threaten. It's immature. I really wanted to go to Greece. What upset me though is when I told my mother that I was going and she cried. She had already spent 3 years not seeing her grandchildren when I was in Europe and told me she couldn't do it again. I was taking the offer in Olympiacos, the team is wonderful and the fans are loyal, it wasn't a threat. The Bucks upped their offer to 3/year when I was there. It made me rethink my decision. And now? If I do decide to go to Europe or whatever I decide, don't worry, I will be happy. Thanks for your concern.”
It’s interesting how he tries to clarify that his trip to Greece wasn’t a threat, but then conceded that he had to rethink his decision after the Bucks upped their offer while he was there. Call it what you want, but the trip was another part of playing the bargaining game with the team he wanted to play for ideally and initially: the Bucks. Obviously he’s genuinely interested in playing for Olympiakos, but the fact that the increased Bucks’ offer made him rethink his decision makes it pretty clear the Bucks are very much on his radar, even if that’s not how it comes off, or what the headlines say.

While his flirtation with Olympiakos is winning him new fans overseas, the ridiculousness of the situation is turning off many in Bucks Nation, and what else could he expect? The Bratwurst speculates that Bell’s sour attitude toward the Bucks and admission that his heart wouldn’t be in Milwaukee is a ploy to warn the Bucks against matching potential offers from other NBA teams.
“So maybe Bell is holding out for an offer from an NBA team that is closer to winning than the Bucks but isn’t willing/able to exceed the contract that the Bucks have already offered? So now he is trying to poison his relationship with Milwaukee, trying to ensure that when someone else brings an offer the Bucks won’t match it.”
In a recent Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel article, Bell talked more about his unwillingness to play for the Bucks.
“Bell said he was not sure of his next destination, but he hoped to know within the next week.

"I think it's going to be soon," Bell said. "Teams over in Europe, they don't want to let it drag on too long.

"My agent knows I don't want to be in Milwaukee anymore. So, we're just trying to see if we can make that happen."

Although the Bucks have the ability to match any other NBA offers for Bell, he said he hoped they would not.

"That's going to be on them," Bell said. "I don't think it would be a good situation.

"If I was a general manager, I wouldn't want a player who doesn't want to be there. It's hard to coach that type of player."
I’m not sure how agent Mark Bartelstein is guiding Bell through this process, but allowing his client to admit that he wouldn’t be trying his hardest in what amounts to a rather typical situation certainly won’t be a good bargaining chip in future negotiations. And while Bell is a solid backup NBA player, it’s not like we’re talking about the football equivalent of Terrell Owens, talent-wise.

It’s safe to say Larry Harris and the Bucks know this, and judging by the team’s suave handling of the Yi situation, they aren’t likely to suddenly cave in and overpay for Bell. That increasingly makes it look like Bell won’t be playing for the Bucks this year, but I’ve cautioned before, and still maintain, that there’s a possibility he’ll ultimately resign, with the fact that he's a restricted free-agent playing a big role in that possibility.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Bucks, Harris Still Pursuing Bell

Charles Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that GM Larry Harris remains interested in resigning guard Charlie Bell.
“Harris said he spoke with Bartelstein on Friday, and the general manager indicated his desire to keep working toward an agreement.”

Hearing this is very disappointing from an organizational standpoint, Harris said. We understand what Charlie meant to the team last year.

It's an emotional time, for him as well as for us. We still want him to be part of this team this season."
This news comes after Bell’s agent, Mark Bartelstein, vowed that Bell would not be back with the Bucks.
"We're not sure what we're going to do, but he will not sign a contract with the Bucks, Bartelstein said. Charlie has a lot of pride, and he has to do what's best for him and his family.

Charlie wants to feel wanted and appreciated, and I don't see any way to repair it at this point."
The fact that Bell might remain in Milwaukee shouldn’t really surprise anyone, particularly drawing on the Yi saga from earlier this summer. Just like most rookies don’t effectively force their way out of town because they would rather play in a more diverse market, most respectable restricted free agents don’t spurn the NBA for Greece. It’s just not how things work.

Unfortunately, the news updates we clamor for, and get regarding these situations tend to come from sources like agents and general managers. This information is useful, but we must recognize that it comes within a certain context. And that context is one of negotiation, illustrated dramatically in this case when negotiations had supposedly ended.

Keeping that in mind, Harris’ comments must also be judged with a certain skepticism. But it’s evident that negotiations are in fact ongoing, because if Bell were really gone, Harris wouldn’t bother playing these media games. Harris’ comments also might indicate that none of the guards the Bucks recently worked out were sufficiently intriguing.

A while back, I wrote:
“Retaining Bell is a key for the Bucks because as encouraging as the offseason retooling has been, they need Bell’s valuable minutes at both guard positions coming off the bench. Management knows this, and I’m confident Bell will remain in Milwaukee as a result.”
Harris’ most recent comments attest to the fact that management does recognize Bell’s importance. And while I’m not nearly as confident that he’ll resign now as I was a month and a half ago, it certainly remains a possibility.

Still, Bell’s previous success in Europe shouldn’t be overlooked. The potential to both get paid and be a superstar naturally holds a lot of intrigue. It’s not like he would lose the glitz and glamor of being an NBA player. The top teams in Europe have intense followings, as Bell proudly talked about in a recent Dime interview.
“When I was in Spain and leading the league in scoring, I was really popular there. People would come up to me like, ‘Charlie Bell, you’re the greatest.’ Everybody called me ‘Santo Dios,’ which is like a saint. I was the Michael Jordan of Spain at the time. I’d go downtown and have crowd of kids following me around.”
That might not happen in Milwaukee anytime soon, but after working his way into an important role on an NBA team, you have to figure he prefers to stay. If Bell does end up in Greece, it'll be an interesting moment in NBA history. We've already heard Stephon Marbury's plan to play in Italy in a few years. Ten years from now, don't be surprised if there are legitimate bidding wars for good basketball players among clubs around the world. The NBA will always be the premier league, but as basketball continues to grow in popularity, European leagues will grow financially and in ability. Also down the road, like in soccer, we may eventually see elite international club teams compete against one another.

For now however, the NBA, and in this case the Bucks, have the upper-hand. Bell could slip away, but there is reason to be optimistic that he'll stay in Milwaukee.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Brown Works Out For Bucks

Dee Brown was among at least four guards that recently worked out for the Bucks, according to Brown’s personal blog.

From a blog posting on September 10:
“I'm back working out right now and received an invite to workout for the Milwaukee Bucks. Today, the first workout went really well for me. Scoonie Penn, Mike Wilks, Royale Ivey were the great guards I went up against. I got injured in the first one on one drill (bruise rib), but that didn't stop me from competing. Those are the things that stands out about me is I work hard and compete every time I step on the floor. That's one thing people will never question that's my work ethic. That's the first thing my mother taught me, WORK, WORK and WORK some more. I have another workout tomorrow with the Milwaukee Bucks and I'm resting and have ice on my ribs right now, so I can be ready to compete another day. That's what I love about my life, I had to work for everything that I have and it's a great feeling.”
For a while now, The Bratwurst has advocated the Bucks take a look at Brown.

Brown brings tons of energy and quickness, but is small at 6'0" and 185 pounds. He also isn’t the purest of point guards and lacks shooting accuracy. Since he wouldn’t be asked to run the starting unit however, Brown would bring a nice change of pace off the bench.

Scoonie Penn is an interesting name not only because it’s an interesting name, but because he teamed with Michael Redd to lead Ohio St. to the Final Four in 2000 and was a fellow second-round pick in 2000. Not only that, in 2005-06 Penn played with European giant Cibona Zagreb, whose roster included none other than Damir Markota.

The Young Bucks

When the Bucks signed Awvee Storey, he shot to the top of the team in one area perhaps even more interesting than punches of teammates and arrests: age.

As an NBA rookie in the 2004-05 season and one NBA start to his name, Storey’s story is not typically one that starts “veteran.” And for good reason, because he very well could be the youngest, oldest player on an NBA team this year if he makes the team’s roster. Born on April 18, 1977, Storey is the only Buck who is 30 years old. Certainly no one thought the Bucks were an aged group before I exposed this tidbit, but it’s still a pretty striking fact that helps put into perspective how young they are heading into 2007-08.

The youth is not going to be buried on the bench this year either. If anything, some of the older guys will have a hard time finding minutes. The projected starting lineup of Mo Williams, Michael Redd, Desmond Mason, Charlie Villanueva, and Andrew Bogut averages 26 years and will be one of the youngest in the NBA. And three of the team’s four oldest players, Storey, Jake Voskuhl, and Dan Gadzuric, are some of its least integral parts.

What does this all mean for the Bucks?

The good news is that basketball is increasingly a young man’s game. Witness LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony, and many others in the under-24 crowd. The bad news? Older teams win, with last season providing a great example.

The San Antonio Spurs, who finished the season as NBA champions, started last year as the oldest team in the league according to RPIRatings.

The NBA average age last year was 26.2 years.

Below are last year’s top ten NBA regular season teams with last year’s average age:

1. Dallas Mavericks (27.51)
2. Phoenix Suns (28.98)
3. San Antonio Spurs (30.37)
4. Detroit Pistons (28.28)
5. Houston Rockets (28.11)
6. Cleveland Cavaliers (27.65)
7. Chicago Bulls (25.88)
8. Toronto Raptors (26.10)
9. Denver Nuggets (26.47)
10. Miami Heat (28.17)

Not only were eight of the league’s top ten older than average, the list features the league’s four oldest teams: the Spurs, Suns, Pistons, and Rockets.

And the bottom five records:

26. Seattle Supersonics (25.56)
27. Atlanta Hawks (24.52)
28. Milwaukee Bucks (25.25)
29. Boston Celtics (25.10)
30. Memphis Grizzlies (26.57)

The contrast is stark, with only the Grizzlies rating above the league average among the league's five worst.

That doesn’t mean that as a young club the Bucks are doomed. The Golden St. Warriors (24.93) were younger than the Bucks and made the Western Conference’s final four. And the contending Bulls (25.88) weren't much older than the Bucks. Clearly, and fortunately for the Bucks, the age/success relationship is a trend rather than a rule.

There isn’t meaningful statistical data for team average age yet for this season because final rosters have not been set. Still, it’s a good bet that the Bucks will again be among the league’s youngest. Obviously talent is the leading factor in determining success, but the young Bucks will be working against the odds.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Bucks Sign Sessions

The Milwaukee Bucks have signed guard Ramon Sessions.

Known predominantly as a court general his first two years in Nevada, he upped his offensive performance last year while maintaining his trademark court savvy. In his final season in college he posted career highs in points (12.3), field goal percentage (.452), free-throw percentage (.825), and three-point percentage (.380).

Still, he managed to fall to the 56th overall pick in the 2007 draft. From what I’ve seen of him, he looks like the type of impressive, composed, yet underwhelming player that could be a successful second-round pick and backup NBA point guard. Perhaps in the mold of Chris Duhon. On draft day, I was quite pleased that he fell to the Bucks. Obviously there’s a chance he won’t make an impact. But I like that he’s a natural on the court, and that his offensive game is a work in progress, rather than the other way around. Some prefer to take the guy in the second round who has all the physical attributes in the world but can’t really play basketball. Especially as a point guard, I’m happy we got Sessions.

For what it’s worth, he didn’t exactly stand out in Summer League play, averaging 5.8 points and 2.5 assists in 19.5 minutes.

Of course, he’s obviously way behind Mo Williams and Lynn Greer on the point guard depth chart. If Charlie Bell doesn’t re-sign, which I highly doubt, Sessions could become a valuable commodity for the Bucks. As confident I was about Yi eventually signing, I remain at least that confident that Bell will sign. In any event, it’s good to have promising young guards like Sessions in the fold.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Bucks Waive Markota

The Milwaukee Bucks have waived forward Damir Markota.’s Roland Ratings are a very useful way to measure a player’s worth. Only occasionally do they produce head-scratching results. Markota’s rating is not one that helps inspire doubt in the statistical rating system. In fact, Markota’s Roland Rating of -17 in the 2006-07 season pretty accurately describes his worth on the basketball court.

To give some perspective, here is a sampling of five players that rated higher than Markota: Cedric Bozeman, Michael Olowokandi, Scott Padget, Marcus Vinicius, and Stephen Graham.

This helps verify that Markota was indeed one of the worst players in the NBA. More importantly for the Bucks, it shows that whoever takes his spot on the roster, perhaps Awvee Storey, is absolutely an upgrade. That may not seem like a big deal, but even the smallest of steps in the right direction help. This is a small-scale success story, but a success nonetheless in the big picture of upgrading and downgrading.

When Michael Jordan retired, the Chicago Bulls suddenly managed to find roster space and minutes for guys like Corey Benjamin, Dedri Willoughby, Matt Maloney, and Dalibor Bagaric. Today, the Eastern Conference-contending Bulls wouldn’t consider players on that level. So it’s good to see the Bucks appear to no longer be in the business of giving time and money to clearly overmatched “NBA” players.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

More Redd Evaluation

In a previous post about Team USA clinching an Olympic spot, I quoted's Chris Sheridan, who gave Michael Redd a B+ for his performance in the FIBA Americas.'s Chris Mannix also recently graded each player on Team USA. Mannix thought even more highly of Redd, rating him an A-, on level with Kobe Bryant and Jason Kidd, and trailing only LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, who received A's.
"Michael Redd: The long search for a steady perimeter threat is over thanks to Redd, the purest shooter to don a USA uniform since Ray Allen. Redd admits even he is noticing his impact on the floor. In a preliminary round game against Venezuela, James drove to the basket against single coverage thanks to the help defender being afraid to leave Redd open. Redd could pick up his defense a little, but any deficiencies are probably more noticeable due to the fact that he is usually replacing the ball-hawking Bryant in games."
These high marks are simply continued reinforcement that Redd is a near-lock to make the Olympic team. Taking a step back from the situation, it's pretty amazing to think that Redd is likely to go to Beijing next summer and play on what should be one of the greatest basketball teams ever put together. Further, his roster spot will likely come at the expense of superstars like Gilbert Arenas and Paul Pierce. He's certainly representing the city of Milwaukee and the Bucks franchise pretty well for a second-round pick.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Team USA Answers With Gold

Team USA defeated Argentina 118-81 to win the FIBA Americas championship.

LeBron James led all scorers with 31 points, the most by an American in an Olympic qualifier.

Michael Redd added 5 points on 2-4 shooting in 18 minutes.

In a tournament full of authoritative victories for Team USA, they managed to save their most impressive showing for the gold medal game. Any lingering questions that arose after Team USA’s convincing but relatively narrow fifteen-point win over Argentina on Friday were quickly answered:

  • No, there was no leftover momentum for Argentina after outscoring Team USA in the second half on Friday. Unlike some recent Team USA’s, this one played one game at a time, never dwelling on previous games or overconfidently looking past an opponent.
  • Yes, Team USA can effectively keep the pressure on for a full 40 minutes even after accumulating a massive lead. It’s often said that the hardest thing to do is maintain intensity and sharpness after going up big early. On the biggest stage in the tournament against the most dangerous opponent, Team USA stayed in fifth gear throughout, decisively winning all four quarters.
  • No, Argentina didn’t lose because they were without regulars like Manu Ginobili and Andres Nocioni. If the missing Argentine stars watched the gold medal game, they must have felt more relieved than regretful that they didn’t play.
  • Yes, James was the MVP, not to take anything away from actual winner Luis Scola. He shot .847 from the field and .622 on three-pointers in the tournament. Seriously. He also averaged 18.1 points and 4.7 assists in 22.2 minutes.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Team USA Clinches Olympic Berth

Team USA clinched a berth in the 2008 Olympics with a 135-91 win over Puerto Rico.

In recapping the Argentina game, I warned that Michael Redd was due to find his momentarily missing shooting touch:
“Redd is far too good of a shooter to continue in this funk much longer, especially with the short three-point line, so watch for him to break out in Saturday’s all-important semifinal game against Puerto Rico.”
Redd certainly broke out against Puerto Rico, shooting 7-8 on three-pointers. If you’re wondering how it’s possible for a team to score 135 points in 40 minutes, check out Redd’s ultra-efficient statline: 23 points on 10 shots in 19 minutes. And he wasn’t alone in catching fire. Team USA made an amazing 23-36 three-pointers, further dispelling the myth that Americans can’t shoot.

Consider that Team USA shot the same percentage from the field (69.6) as from the free-throw line. And their percentage on three-pointers (63.9) wasn’t far behind. Granted, the free-throw shooting wasn’t great, but that’s just amazing stuff that simply doesn’t happen in the game of basketball.

Chris Sheridan handed out player grades for the tournament and assumed that Redd will be playing in Beijing next summer:
“Michael Redd: Started the tournament well, then cooled off, then knocked down seven of eight 3-point shots against Puerto Rico. He's fourth on the team with a 15.4 average, and he'll be a key contributor off the bench next summer. Also, coach Mike Krzyzewski has been praising his defense quite a bit. Grade: B+"
Team USA plays Argentina for gold tonight.

We’ve heard a lot about how it’s an anticlimactic final because both teams have clinched Olympic berths. But the well-earned momentum going into Beijing will be lost if Team USA fails to beat Argentina. Nothing would create more doubt and distress than if a full-strength, in-form Team USA loses the gold to Argentina of all teams. Fortunately, this team is too good and too focused to let that happen. Instead, expect a fitting culmination (read: convincing Team USA win) to a spectacular tournament for a team looking dream-like heading into Beijing next summer.