Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Believe It or Not, the Bucks Need Marcus Landry

The Bucks signed Milwaukeean Marcus Landry yesterday, and it's a great story.  Landry grew up rooting for the Bucks, starred at Milwaukee Vincent in high school and played as a Badgirl ("Badger", for those non-UW haters out there) in the late double-ohs.  He's a local guy, through and through.

Unfortunately, Landry's contract is non-guaranteed and the Bucks already have fifteen players (the NBA maximum for a regular season roster) under guaranteed contracts.  Ordinarily, signing a local guy to a non-guaranteed deal when the roster is already full would be a non-news item, even during the summer months.

In Landry's case, however, there is a solid chance that the Bucks actually need him.

The Bucks' current roster is guard-heavy and thin up front.  While Vazquez, Carter-Williams (why?!), Bayless, Mayo, Gutierrez (why?!???) and Middleton are all trusted by Coach Kidd to play notable minutes at the Point or Wing positions (and that's not even counting rookie Rashad Vaughn, who may or may not end up being trusted, but will definitely not be cut), the rotation of Bigs is, ahem, lacking. Monroe and Greek will start and Henson will get solid minutes, but beyond that it's spare.

Consider the Bucks' options up front beyond Monroe, Greek and Henson: Jabari is out until mid-season (and, in my opinion, should be relegated to spot duty until he proves that he's capable of playing the pro game).  Copeland is an NBA benchwarmer who should only be playing in the event of an injury.  Plumlee would likely be out of the NBA were it not for Phoenix having picked up his contract option last summer.  O'Bryant appears to be a guy who simply doesn't have the quickness or coordination to contribute at this level (which pains me to say, because I loved O'Bryant in college and thought he'd translate to the pro game).  And Inglis... (how do I say this without sounding reactionary?)  It appears that Inglis stinks.  His summer league was so woeful that it had to have the Bucks wondering if their evil plan to lock in Inglis to a Rockets/Sixers-style second-round contract (three years at sub-$1 million salaries, with the third year being a team option) has backfired.

Until Jabari comes back (and even after he comes back, if he continues to drag down the quality of the team's overall play, as he did last season), there is an open spot for a Big in the Bucks' rotation.  They have four or five Guards/Wings ready to go, but only three reliable Bigs.  The Cavs made the Finals (and should have won, were it not for YET ANOTHER mental meltdown by LeBron once the Dubs suctioned Igoudala to him) with three Bigs, but it'd be nice to have four.  The Big man rotation of Zaza, Big Ers, Henson and the Greek worked great last season.  There were games where other Bigs got minutes and times where one of the four rotation Bigs sat, but overall it worked well.

Marcus Landry could be the fourth Big that the Bucks need.  He'll likely compete with Copeland (who fell out of the Pacers' rotation last season due to ineptitude) and O'Bryant for that spot.  Landry is a smallish Big man, but if he can hit some jump shots and show better toughness and rebounding than he has in the past, he could fill a need in the Bucks' rotation.

Monday, August 17, 2015

The New York Times Does a Number on the Bucks' Arena Deal (and the Bucks Did a Number on Milwaukee)

An interesting part about following the Bucks' push for a new arena (actually, not so much for a "new arena"; more like for "$450 million or so in government subsidies and preferential tax treatment under the guise of needing a new arena") was the fact that many of my politically left friends who are Bucks fans felt surprised by Democrats' opposition to the deal.  I follow sports arena financing (an odd hobby, I know), primarily through a left leaning blog called Field of Schemes, and so I was WELL aware that people on the political right tend to believe in the economic power of successful sports arenas, while people on the political left do not.  It's a big reason why states like California, New York and Massachusetts so rarely provide significant government subsidies for new stadiums and arenas, while politicians in places like Indiana and Ohio practically fall over themselves rushing to hand public money to big time sports teams (and even little time sports teams, given the recent trend of certain cities helping get soccer stadiums built).

The New York Times is a virulent left wing publication, so it was no surprise when they sent out prose fetishist Michael Powell to assail the Bucks, Wisconsin politicians and, really, anyone from the area that supports the Bucks' arena deal.  (I mean, just look at that headline: "Bucks' Owners Win, at Wisconsin's Expense".  "The horror," Powell and the Times' editors surely hope their readership thinks, mere seconds before they scoop out the first bite from their Quinoa bowl at the local brunch spot.)  

What was surprising about the Times' hit piece -- and, credit where due to Powell for digging this up -- was that it revealed that the Bucks' owners are NOT EXTENDING THEIR LEASE as part of the deal.  Sounds unbelievable, right?  I'll say it again, just to be clear: the Bucks are NOT COMMITTING TO WISCONSIN for any additional amount of time in exchange for getting this ~$450 million kickback from the city, county and state.  (And if you're wondering why I keep writing $450 million instead of the conventionally reported $250 million, it's because the estimated value in escaping property taxes over the expected lifespan of the arena is $180 million, plus there are other ways the Bucks are being treated preferentially that aren't included in the $250 million number.)  According to Powell, city negotiators tried to get the Bucks' owners to agree to a 30-year lease (which, admittedly, would be on the long end of typical pro sports arena leases in mid-major markets), but Edens, Lasry & Dinan held firm and the local politicians caved.

In fairness, it should be pointed out that the Bucks' owners agreed to cover any arena bond debt if they move.  The new version of the Wisconsin Center District is going to offer $203 million in bonds for the new arena and if the Bucks leave the state before those bonds are paid off then the Bucks' owners have to cover whatever amount of bond debt remains (actually, the District is offering $223 million in bonds, but $20 million of that is to pay off debt on the Bradley Center, and I am unsure if the Bucks' owners are on the hook for that).  So, still a stiff penalty, right?  Construction debt tends to be backloaded, so even if the Bucks' owners wait ten years to move, they might still have to pay the Wisconsin Center District $180 million or so.  

The problem with holding the Bucks' owners to Milwaukee using a bond repayment promise rather than a lease is that it gives us ZERO leverage in preventing a Bucks' move.  In fact, even today -- before the first dollar of the first arena bond has been sold -- the Bucks' owners have no financial reason whatsoever to stay in Milwaukee.  What I'm saying is that the Bucks' owners could put a shovel in the ground in October, see that attendance and TV viewership is disappointing in December, announce that they're leaving Milwaukee in February AND STILL COME OUT AHEAD FINANCIALLY.  The reason is that NBA teams are worth way more money in big markets.  According to Forbes, the Bucks are worth $531 million (using the Forbes valuation of $600 million and subtracting 11.5% based on the fact that the fact that the Hawks sold for 88.5% of their Forbes valuation).  There are a whopping NINETEEN teams worth more than $734 million (which is the Bucks' estimated value plus the amount the Bucks would have to pay the Wisconsin Center District if they moved after NEXT season), including the Thunder, who reside in a market smaller than Virginia Beach (which is the most likely place the Bucks' owners would move without selling the team).  

There is also, of course, the threat of the Bucks' owners selling the team to a group that would move them.  Since the Bucks are unwilling to sign a lease, there is NOTHING that would prevent the Bucks' owners from selling the team in three or four years for $203 million more than it'd be worth in Milwaukee and then paying the District so that the team could move.

I don't actually think that the Bucks are going to move, but the impact of allowing the Bucks to stay without a long term lease is much worse than that.  What's going to happen is that the Bucks' owners are going to bleed Milwaukee dry.  Concert booking don't happen?  The Bucks' owners are going to demand that Milwaukee starts covering operating expenses for the new arena because of "revenues coming in below projections". Developers don't build on the areas around the new arena?  The Bucks' owners are going to ask for additional "tax incentives" to make it easier for them to lease or sell that property.  Bucks' attendance lags?  The Bucks' owners are going to ask that the county's 75% share of parking revenues be reduced in order to "keep the franchise viable in Milwaukee".

When a big time sports franchise is on a long term lease, they can't do these things as easily.  If the Wisconsin Center District says "no", the Bucks would still have to stay.  Since there is no lease and since the Bucks' owners have a viable option to either sell the team or move it themselves and pay off construction debt, the District will be under far more pressure to say "yes".

Here's the sad reality of all of this: the Bucks' owners are not committed to Milwaukee and they don't deserve Milwaukee's support.  The Brewers, for all of the extortion tactics they used to get a free ballpark, were at least willing to commit to Milwaukee for thirty years.  The Bucks won't even commit for five.  You can have nostalgia for when the Bucks were owned by Herb Kohl or you can like the fact that NBA players wear green and white and live in Milwaukee during the winter.  But this is not a partnership.  This is a marriage with an icon-clad pre-nup.  The Bucks have the right to keep a wandering eye towards other cities and ask the local government for more whenever they see fit.  Milwaukee may be getting a nice arena out of it, but the NBA team that occupies it does not love us back.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Do People Realize That Big Ers Is Better Than Markeiff Morris?

#BucksForest is back on Blogger.  I like Tumblr a lot, but I've lost a couple of posts recently due to Tumblr crashing.  It's actually probably Safari crashing, but it doesn't matter.  So, I'm back on Blogger.

Bill Simmons caused a tangentially Bucks-related ruckus a few days ago by tweeting that a Big Ers for Markeiff Morris (with the Suns receiving the right to swap first round picks) is inevitable.  The ruckus wasn't so much about Morris being traded -- Morris himself started that brouhaha by telling the Philadephia Inquirer that he wants to leave Phoenix -- as much as it was about people evaluating what Morris is worth and what Phoenix might be willing to get for him.

[It should be noted that PhoenixSports.com has reported that Morris wants to go to either Houston to play with James Harden or to Toronto to play with Kyle Lowry.  What this proves, yet again, is that NBA players NEVER think logically.  They just, A) want to play with guys they like and, B) believe that guys who kill them are way better than they actually are.]

The fallout to the Inquirer's report and Simmons's tweet has been bloggers everywhere conjuring up trade ideas that have no chance of happening.  What has been fascinating to me is that many of the blog posts have echoed the same sentiment: that Markeiff Morris is too good to be traded for Ersan Ilyasova.

Which brings me to an honest question: Why don't you people (meaning people who write and/or Tweet about basketball) want to understand the game of basketball?

Ersan Ilyasova is a better NBA basketball player than Markeiff Morris.  He is better on defense and he adds an interior dimension on offense that Morris lacks.  (Morris is the better shooter and more skilled offensive player.)  He also has only one season left on his contract, while Morris has four.  (They make similar per-year salaries.)  Ersan is also at an age (28, officially, though rumors have persisted for years that he is actually three years older) that tends to produce more Championship role-players than Morris's (25).

Plus, Morris also has the knucklehead factor against him.  After the Suns acquired Brandon Knight last season, Morris, his brother Marcus Morris and Eric Bledsoe made it CLEAR with their actions on the court that they were not happy with the situation.  Essentially, the Suns offense became either Bledsoe & the Morrises playing keepaway from Brandon, or Brandon running things primarily with Alex Len & the other role players.  Ers may or may not have had problems with the slew of knuckleheads who have played for the Bucks during his career, but he never showed it on the court to the degree that Markeiff & Co. did last season.

None of this is to say that I would protest against Simmons's proposed trade if I were a Pistons fan.  It is quite possible that Marcus Morris, who is already on the Pistons' roster, will be a better player next season if his brother is there in place of Big Ers.  I already have the Pistons tipped as a Playoff team, and if Markeiff takes Ersan's place, I would continue to believe in them.

As a big Brandon Knight fan (and, thus, something of a Suns bandwagon-hopper at the moment), I think that acquiring Big Ers would be a fantastic move.  In fact, I think it would put them back in Playoff contention.  (And what would really help their Playoff chances is dealing Bledsoe.  I checked ESPN's NBA Trade Machine, and an Eric-for-Eric trade [Bledsoe for Gordon] is possible under NBA rules.  NBA bloggers/Twitterers are gonna hate that one, too, but for Phoenix it would mean acquiring a fantastic shooter, adding size to the backcourt and lopping off three years of contract commitment.) Acquiring better players than you send away tends to do that.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Next Man Up

First, what needs to be said:

It's no fun to see young man suffer a career-threatening event.  It's even less fun when it's televised.  Jabari Parker seems like a pleasant young man from a good family.  I feel for him and those close to him.  

Now, the impolitic part (which, admittedly, is the part I tend to enjoy most):

This will probably not have a negative impact on the 2015 Bucks.  It probably won't have a negative impact next season or the season after that.  It may not be a very nice thing to say right now, but the Bucks can survive -- and possibly even thrive after -- this injury.

Jabari Parker has shown some flashes and made some improvements, but he wasn't quite there.  He can hit shots, he has some nice interior moves and his rebounding has improved.  But he's not essential to the team's success.  He is a young player and young players tend to have limits.  Jabari was no exception.

Check out the Bucks' current rotation:

Guards: Good Brandon (starter), Bayless

Wings: Juice Mayo (starter), Dudley (likely starter), Khris Band Shot (formerly Khris Swish)

Bigs: The Colonel (starter), Greek (starter), Zaza

(K-Marsh, Nasty Nate and possibly My Main Man Johnny-O could see minutes, depending on foul and matchup situations.)

That's not bad.  That's eight guys who play like pros.  They should be able to defend and score.  Play disciplined and run.  Matchup with big and small lineups.  If they defend like they've been defending (and, against this may be impolitic at the moment, Jabari was not exactly the anchor of the defense), then they'll be a playoff team.

Big Ers and Henson are out for the remainder of this road trip, which continues in Portland tonight.  Those guys will likely help when they return, especially against teams without burly front lines.

***

Tonight's matchup is a tough one.  Portland has a great record and a great coach.  They move the ball on offense and they cover an amazing amount of space on defense.  It is tough to get open jump shots on Portland, so the keys will probably be interior defense and shotmaking.  If Knight, Mayo and Middleton can hit shots under duress, that will help. If Larry, Zaza and Greek can keep the rebounding numbers close, that will help.  If both those things happen, the Bucks might pull the upset.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Let's Get (At Least) Two

Brandon Jennings returns to the Bradley Center again tonight as the 3-10 Pistons take on the 7-7 Bucks.  For whatever reason Jennings still has a place in my heart.  His rookie season was the first season I got Bucks season tickets and I always felt that he had the potential to be a gem.  He has been heavily criticized in recent years, but he's actually been pretty good over the last couple of weeks.

Jennings has been so good, in fact, that I've been wishing for a return to Milwaukee.  It seems that he does not get along very well with Stan Van Gundy.  Jennings had a bad game last time out, getting pulled with almost five minutes left in the THIRD quarter and not playing the rest of the game.  The Pistons were down almost 20 points when Jennings was pulled, but this was the very next game after Jennings was the Pistons' best player on the floor in a barnburner against Phoenix.  My hope is that Van Gundy would be amenable to taking back a couple of the Bucks' benchwarmers in return.  For example, John Henson and Nate Wolters for Jennings would work under the NBA salary cap.


From the Pistons' point of view, a Brandon Jennings for Wolters/Henson trade would give the Pistons some protection if/when Greg Monroe leaves, and would allow Stan Van Gundy's beloved DJ Augustin to assume full starting point guard duties.

For the Bucks, the benefits of a Jennings return are obvious.  Brandon Knight, while the Bucks' best player and an underrated asset, is not a great point guard.  Jennings operates with the vision and passing ability that Knight lacks.  The two could be a devastating guard combo; sort of like Dragic and Bledsoe in Phoenix.

The problem with the Bucks re-aqcuiring Brandon Jennings is that it would almost certainly cost the team money.  Jennings makes about $5.2 million more this season than the combination of Henson and Wolters.  The Bucks are last in the League in attendance and have resorted to 2-for-1 tickets for last Saturday's game and tonight's game.  (The ticket deal still left the team with fewer than 15,000 in the building against a playoff team on a Saturday night.)  This is after the new owners went on a hiring spree and moved into a nicer office space.  It is possible that the new ownership will want to see some evidence that Milwaukeeans will buy NBA tickets in large quantities before they decide to up the player payroll by another five million bucks.

As for the actual game tonight, this will be a tough one.  The Pistons have been the anti-Bucks so far. The Bucks have been getting teams that are injured or in bad spots on the schedule while the Pistons have been facing teams at full strength for the most part.  The matchup is also hard.  The Bucks still do not have an answer for tough rebounding teams.

Two years ago Sanders and Big Ers controlled the boards well against just about any team (Memphis, the Clippers, OKC and long time Bucks-killer Dwight Howard were the notable exceptions).  This year Ers and Larry haven't gotten it done.  Some of it is the system (Ers noted during media time yesterday that Coach Kidd's defensive system requires so much help and switching that the wings and guards need to contribute on the glass) and some of it is minutes (Jabari, Giannis and Zaza has all been getting lots of time as bigs), but it is possible that both men just aren't playing like they did at their peaks.  Whatever the reason for their inconsistencies, Big Ers and Larry will be needed in the paint tonight.

After the Bucks play tonight, they'll play another three games in the next four days.  The old four-in-five-nights is always a stressful part of the NBA schedule, but this particular stretch is especially worrisome.  The Pistons are featured a second time (Friday night in Detroit) and Houston comes to the Bradley Center on Saturday.  So that's three of the four games against teams that give the Bucks problems inside.  (The other game is against Minnesota, and they are a wildcard.  They have one of the worst records in the NBA, but they have played a killer schedule and they might be a good team.) If the Bucks are going to make the playoff run that we all hope for, getting a win or two from stretches like this four-in-five will be essential.

One last thing that should be noted before yours truly begins preparing to head to the game (if you are going tonight, email me or send me a message on Twitter so that I can say hello) is that Jabari has been playing better lately.  I've criticized the rook on this blog a few times and I'm not ready to anoint him as the savior just yet, but he has settled down.  He has a knack for getting buckets and he has shown much better toughness over the last several games.  He has yet to make a leap at the level that the Greek Freak has this season, but Parker deserves praise.  

Friday, November 21, 2014

Attendance Down; Hopes Up

Almost everything is better this season for the Bucks.  Bucks "fans" are no longer openly rooting for the team to lose.  The franchise player is not playing and acting like a knucklehead.  The team is not 2-10 through twelve games.

The one fly in the ointment remains attendance.  Attendance is down 5.9% compared to the first five games of the 2014 season.  The 2014 season had three weekend home games by this point while 2015 has seen only two, but it still is disappointing.  Not altogether unexpected after posting the worst record in the League and being expected to lose a lot in 2015, but still disappointing.  This is a new era with new owners, and there was hope that it would translate to a better arena experience.  The energy from the crowd is certainly more positive, but it's still the same twenty five year-old building, same ugly court and same game day presentation.

Things will get better.  Last season, the Bucks' fell to 13,487 per game after drawing 14,921 through their first five.  This season the Bucks are almost certain to climb from their current 14,047 average.  The team is winning, but more than that it feels like they're on their way to big things.  As much as the author liked a lot of the teams during the Michael Redd and Brandon Jennings eras, many Bucks fans believed that the team was a hamster wheel of mediocrity.  Many of those same fans believe that the same 6th-to-8th seed this season would be a stepping stone towards title contention.

Tonight, the Bucks play a 2015 contender -- the Toronto Raptors.  Thought before the season to be a step below the Bulls and Cavs, the Raps have been elevated in part by their own success and in part by the struggles of the preseason favorites.  Derrick Rose can't seem to stay healthy for the Bulls and the Cavs appear to be a team that is less than the sum of its parts.  That has left the Raps at the top of the East, and in a position to stay there throughout the season.

The young Bucks certainly have a chance against this Toronto team.  It's a road game and the Raps have the type of Bigs that can give the Bucks trouble, but this is a new era.  Ever since Giannis Antetokounmpo started playing inside, the team has done a much better job of handling skilled, tough big men.

The game may come down to the guards and wings' ability to handle Lowry, DeRozan and Terrence Ross.  Those guys can score, and it may be tough for Jabari and Dudley to stay with the Raps' trio on defense.  I'm hoping to see some three guard lineups from the group of Middleton, Bayless, Knight and Mayo.  Those guys -- especially Middleton and Bayless -- can sometimes get lost against a good offensive team.  Coach Kidd may instinctually want to play Middleton and Bayless a little bit less, especially if the Raps get a few extra baskets against them.  I hope that he stays with the guards, though.  I think that is the Bucks' best chance of leaving T.dot with another win.


Monday, November 17, 2014

I'll Take It

Before getting to the Bucks' invigorating victory in Miami on Sunday, let's get the pessimist's items out of the way:

-Three of the Bucks' five wins have come against teams with major injuries (Pacers without George Hill or David West, Thunder without Russell Westbrook and Heat without Dwyane Wade).

-One of the Bucks' five wins came against the winless 76ers.

-The other Bucks win came against a Memphis team that was playing its third road game in four nights.

(There are extenuating circumstances for the Bucks' losses as well.  Two of them were in a three-in-four-nights situation, one was on the ass end of a back-to-back and the opener in Charlotte featured some questionable officiating.  This is the NBA.  A win is a win and they all have value.)

-Twelve players got minutes, including three for Henson and ten for Dudley.  The rotation continues to be ad-hoc, which usually bodes poorly for a successful season.

-Brandon Knight struggles with court vision continue.

-Jabari Parker -- though his effort was better -- continues to struggle with rebounding.

-Zaza Pachulia continues to be the Bucks' best big man.  (Which is good for Zaza, but bad for Larry and Big Ers.

-Giannis can't shoot.

All of these things were evident.  All of them are worrying.

But, enough with the pessimist's view.

The Bucks won in Miami!

The Greek Freak continues to improve.  It's beyond the point of making the author look bad for advocating that the Bucks trade Giannis for a top draft pick.  It's beyond wondering what this guy's ceiling is.  He's a menace.  He has a scary competitive streak.  He is starting to realize what he's good at and what he should stay away from.  He is a disruptor on defense.  It's great.

In the past yours truly has compared the Greek Freak to Darius Miles.  The comparison was part criticism and part compliment.  Miles was an incredible athlete at a thin, sinewy 6' 9".  He could run the floor, finish and be disruptive on defense.  He could not shoot a lick.  Giannis has all of those traits, with an extra inch or two.

Darius Miles (along with Lamar Odom, Corey Maggette and Quentin Richardson) made the Clippers the young, hot team in 2001.  I vividly remember them blowing out the eventual World Champion Lakers in the middle of the season; Odom was nearly in tears of joy during his postgame interview.

Darius Miles's stat line as a 19 year old rookie was:

-9.4 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 1.2 APG, 0.6 SPG, 1.5 BPG, 50.5% shooting in 26.3 minutes

Giannis Antetokounmpo's stat line so far as a 19 year old sophomore is:

-11.7 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 1.4 APG, 0.4 SPG, 0.6 BPG, 52.2% shooting in 25.3 minutes

Giannis is better than Darius Miles was as a rookie.  Though the defensive stats favor a 19 year old Miles, Giannis's awareness and ability to defend with a team is better.  On offense Giannis and Miles are almost identical with the exception of Giannis being a better free throw shooter.  Neither can make jumpers, both have a knack for finishing inside and both show flashes of great court vision and passing.

Ultimately, Darius Miles wasted his considerable talent.  He, unlike Giannis, did not improve in year two.  He was traded prior to year three and in year four a Cavs team featuring a rookie named LeBron James dumped Miles on the Blazers for journeyman point guard Jeff McInnis.  He was essentially out of basketball after two more seasons.

The Bucks have a checkered history of developing talented young players, but with a new regime in place things are changing.  Giannis, along with Brandon Knight, was the Bucks' best player on the floor in Miami, and might need to be again tomorrow if the Bucks are going to beat an improving Knicks team at the Bradley Center.

Khris Middleton was the other notable item in Miami.  After receiving the dreaded DNP-CD in three of the last four games, Middleton finally got out of Coach Kidd's doghouse and played well in twenty minutes.  There were even a few minutes that Middleton played on the wing with two other guards, which made for one of those three guard lineups that I believe best supports this year's team.

The Bucks surely know that a difficult December schedule awaits them.  They are 5-5 right now, which is a good enough winning percentage to contend for a Playoff spot.  If they play defense and get timely buckets like they did in Miami, then their game in March against the Heat may mean even more than this nice win in November.