Sunday, December 29, 2013

Lots of Bad and Some Good

Here is the bad and good (in the opinion of yours truly) from Timberwolves at Bucks:

Bad: Big Ers can't shoot.  Maybe he's injured and maybe it's just a temporary lull in confidence.  Either way, it's tough to see him as a rotation guy on a good team if he can't hit a shot.

Bad: Speaking of lulls in confidence, Larry has reverted to his 2012 form.  On defense he's too afraid of fouling or getting out of position.  He's no longer the active guy he was in one-on-one or team defense.  It seems that his attempts to develop an offensive game are hurting the areas that he used to be great at.

Good: O.J. Mayo can shoot.  If the Bucks had better offensive players around him, O.J. would be a solid 3-and-D guy.

Good: Giannis Antetokoumnpo.  His D stinks and I worry if he'll ever be a great finisher at the rim and you never know for sure how a young player will develop.  But there are signs that he could be one of the top players in the league.

Bad: The lack of organization.  Coach Drew can say that it's an execution problem (i.e. not a coaching/strategy/planning problem), but something has to change.  The Wolves knew what they were doing and the Bucks didn't.  I had flashbacks to the Krystkowiak era.

Good: Miro (or is it Slava?) Raduljica.  He could be an effective backup thug, possibly allowing the Bucks to move or bench Pachulia.

Bad: Good Brandon as point guard.  He has difficulty passing and making good decisions.

Good: Good Brandon as a third guard.  He can get to the rim and he is a good enough athlete to potentially play great defense.

Bad: The rest of the point guard situation.  I'm racking my brain for a worse crew of point guards.  I'm not talking in the 2014 NBA season, because the Bucks have that (dis)honor locked up.  I'm talking in this century.  I guess the Smush Parker era of the Lakers was worse.

Good: Middleton as a solid bench scorer.  It's making me happy about trading Bad Brandon.

I'll be at the Bucks at Lakers game on December 31.  Hopefully things will be better there.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

2014 Bucks Forest at the Holidays

It's no fun to be in last place.  I know that a large segment of the internet contingent of Bucks fans wanted the team to be where it is now, but even those types would have to admit that this stinks.  The players look beyond unhappy.  Several were laughing on the bench towards the end of last night's loss in Brooklyn.  Jon Gruden may hate that mentality, but it's normal.  When things are so bad and hope is so remote, it's only natural to attempt to find humor in suffering.

Tonight the Fortress on Fourth hosts the Timberwolves and yours truly will be in the house for the third time this season.  In what will hopefully become an annual holiday tradition, a group of us who frequent The Highbury (a soccer bar in Bay View) will root on the Bucks from section 220.  Attending Bucks games is always a treat, and the chance to beat an aspiring playoff team who are led by a UCLA guy and a burly Slav with dinosaur arms adds some extra spice to the night.

---

This season sees the Bucks in an odd position.  Thus far they've been the worst team in the NBA (called the "medical marijuana" of the league by the esteemed Peter Vecsey for their ability to cure other teams' ills), but they are also still in the playoff race.

A quick look at the standings sees the Bulls, Nets and Knicks as the likeliest candidates to grab the 8th seed in the East.  Those teams have only 5, 4 and 3 more wins than the Bucks, respectively.  The Bucks have 53 more games to make up those wins.  The playoffs are possible.  Ersan could get healthy.  Larry could shake off the sluggishness he showed in Brooklyn (which was largely responsible for his six fouls in 22 minutes).  Delfino should come back.  A decent backup point guard could be acquired.  (With apologies to Luke and Nate, there have got to be a dozen little guys playing in various other leagues that would stop opposing teams from having such an easy time of it at the point of attack.)  This team could gel around a rotation that looks something like this:

Point: Good Brandon (B. Jennings has been relegated to Bad Brandon status)

Wings: Giannis & Middleton

Bigs: Big Ers & Larry

Subs (hopefully "Nuclear Subs", as coined by Mr. Vecsey): Henson, O.J., Delfino, <backup point>

That rotation can go 29-24 the rest of the way; finishing 35-47.  Can the Bulls go 25-30 without Rose?  Or the Nets 26-27?  Can the Knicks go above .500 (27-26)?  That's what those teams would have to do to best 35 wins.  The playoffs are a possibility if injuries and luck and camaraderie fall the Bucks' way.

Talk of another 8th seed rubs a lot of online-dwelling Bucks fans the wrong way.  They believe it will harm the prospects for the long term roster.  I prefer to have some fun this season.  And to make Milwaukee a more attractive destination for NBA players.  And, most importantly, to see if a Good Brandon/Giannis/Larry has the potential that I think they might.  Hopefully tonight will be the beginning of that journey.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Great Idea! (Just Make Sure the Regular Season Counts)

Soon-to-be NBA Commish Adam Silver got on some kind of radio that I don't subscribe to and said that the NBA will look into abolishing divisions and indentured servitude.  Great!  I love it!

I also have a few demands requests:

1) Give the Conference Championship to the regular season champions

The NBA has long had the problem of everyone caring about the playoffs and (close enough to) nobody (for a #HotSportsTake) caring about the regular season.  Let's change that.  Let's have two big ol' 15-team (or maybe 16 team someday soon?) conferences and let's let the regular season champion of each conference hang a banner (unless they're the Lakers) and get a trophy.  The playoff champion of each conference goes to the Finals anyway.  Do they really need the trophy and banner?  Give it to the team with the top record in the regular season.  Maybe the fans will care a little bit more about those games in February (but probably not).

2) Add four games to the schedule

There are 14 fellow conference-ites (conference-ians? conferenos?) for every team.  14 x 4 = 56 conference games.

There are 15 non-conference-ites.  15 x 2 = 30 non-conference games.

56 + 30 = 86 games and 86 ain't that much more than 82.  I don't care how you do it.  Start the season in October.  End the Finals the day before the draft.  I don't care.  Four more games = about 10 extra days of season.  There's got to be a way.

3) Enact Bill Simmons's "Entertaining As Hell" tournament

The Sports Guy has had a lot of great ideas in his day, but this one is the best.  Cut the playoffs off at 7 teams per conference and give the 8th seed to the winner of a March Madness-style tournament.

Yes, this might've screwed the Bucks last season.  They'd have been the top seed of Entertaining As Hell (I'm gonna exclude "tournament" so it sounds like a WWE pay-per-view.  "John Cena is facing Randy Orton at Hell In A Cell" just like "the Bucks are the top seed of Entertaining As Hell") and they probably would've lost their playoff seed.

Or they wouldn't have!  Maybe they would've ran through the Magic, Bullets and Raps like a hot knife through butter!  Maybe they would've come together and played like they did when they beat the Heat during the regular season!  Maybe they would've won the I-94 series against the Bulls.  Maybe Larry Sanders would've punched out David West in the East Finals.  Maybe the Spurs would be the defending champs.  That could've happened.  But we were robbed of it because the NBA still needs to adopt Entertaining As Hell.

4) Move the Bucks to the West

I bug my Bucks season ticket rep a lot.  I ask for new a new jersey design, players like Monta Ellis to be signed, and players like Zach Randolph to be acquired.  (I also suggest some stupid stuff like to sign Gary Neal and to turn him into Ben Gordon-in-his-prime.)  There is one suggestion that rises above all in how strongly it was dismissed: a move to the West.

I get why the Bucks like the East.  They get to play Chicago more often.  They get more start games that air during prime time hours.  They get all of those big east coast markets to see the Bucks.

But look at what could be done if the Bucks were in the West.

The Bucks would have a natural rival in Minnesota.  A natural rival that doesn't buy up 80% of your tickets when you play them at home on a Saturday night.

The Bucks would be in a conference with other cool, mid-major cities like Portland, Denver (I know you people think you're major, but get real), Salt Lake City, Oklahoma City, San Antonio and (hopefully in the future) Seattle.

The Bucks would play in Los Angeles twice as often.  (100% a selfish benefit.  But it's my blog.)

The Bucks would have one home game vs. Chicago per year.  They could do something cool with that game.  Like sell half the arena to Bulls fans and half to Bucks fans, like at the Florida/Georgia game.  (And reserve the right to eject any Bulls fans that buy tickets in the Bucks' sections.)  Or book Miller Park for the game.  Or create a special I-94 Rivalry alternate jersey like the Cowboys had for years for the Thanksgiving Day game.

So let's do this NBA.  Let's dump the divisions.  Let's have new conference champs.  Let's have a few more games.  And let's get the Bucks to the conference that they won their championship from.  The world awaits.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

I've Got Us at Twenty-Nine (But There's Hope)

The 2014 Bucks season is off to about as bad a start as one could imagine.  They have the worst record in the East.  Their home attendance exceeds that of only the Suns, Hawks and Sixers.  They also can't score and they get blown out a lot.

It's ugly, folks.  In some ways it's what I expected (a massive talent drain leading to scoring struggles) and in some ways it's worse (injuries; The Colonel's meltdown).  I have the Bucks as the 29th best team in the NBA.  Right now I have Cleveland thirtieth, but the Cavs are in a group with the Bucks, Magic, Celtics and Jazz as the true dregs of the league.  Maybe the Suns and Sixers belong in there.  Maybe the Jazz don't.  But does it matter?  These teams have problems.

There is hope for the Bucks and it is in the form of a wretched East conference.  The conference is so bad that any team -- including the Bucks -- could not only make the playoffs, but get a series at home.

The Bulls, Pacers and Heat are great.  They will make the playoffs.  They will have great records.

I picked the Knicks to win the East, and many experts thought that the Nets would be great as well.  In their current state the Knicks are awful, but they have a shot.  Bargs could still regain his confidence.  JR could become the guy he was last season.  A deal could still be made.  The Nets may also improve dramatically once Jason Kidd is fired.  We all understand the theory that as long as the assistant coaches know how to coach then things should be OK.  In this case, it isn't working.  Kidd will probably be fired and the Knicks will probably come together, but there are no guarantees.  The East may not have a good fourth team.

If the Knicks and Nets are going to stink, then the East is completely open.  What's more, if they stink then the Atlantic division champion will be beatable in round one.  The Bucks can still be the five seed that beats that terrible four seed.

The Bucks are not going to win the five seed with their current roster, but they could win the five seed if a move is made.  Tyreke Evans still doesn't seem to totally fit in New Orleans.  Rudy Gay, Demar DeRozan and Terrance Ross are all so similar that one would think Toronto would be opening to moving one of them.  And Detroit's big man situation is a problem.  Greg Monroe may be a plausible target.

The Bucks have two major assets that almost any other team would want: the Greek Freak and their 2014 first round pick.  The Greek Freak can't be traded.  The first round pick could be traded if the right deal came along.

Online Bucks fans would likely rise up in revolt if the Bucks threw away their chance at this year's draft class, but hear me out.  The scenario where the Bucks trade the pick may be better than the scenario if the Bucks keep it.

Scenario 1: Status quo

The Bucks keep their pick and start Riggin' for Wiggins.  At best, they'll have a 25% chance of landing Wiggins.  If they don't, then Julius Randle (a poor man's DeMarcus Cousins with a better attitude) or Jabari Parker (a possible Big Dog clone) could be available.

But what about the 2014 season?  Attendance will fall even further.  Milwaukeeans will become even less connected to the team.  Prospects for a new arena will become even less promising.  Star free agents will even less inclined to consider Milwaukee.  Solid veteran free agents will continue to only choose Milwaukee if the money beats every other offer.

And then what of the future?  Riding a 19 year old rookie and a 20 year old second year player to victory in 2015 ain't gonna happen.  The Thunder made the playoffs in Durant's third season (the Greek Freak's equivalent of 2016), but Durant is an all time great.  The Bucks could instead end up as the new Bobcats.  We could lose and lose and lose until we finally offer 20% more than anyone else is for an Al Jefferson equivalent.  Or like the old Warriors, who kept cycling overhyped draftees in and out until Don Nelson arrived from Dallas to save the day.

Scenario 2: Trade our first rounder

The Bucks trade their pick for a solid scorer and/or inside presence.  At best, they'll be able to put top six protection on the pick.  They should at least be able to secure top three protection for any of the aforementioned trade targets.

For the 2014 season, the Bucks will have a chance at the playoffs.  Right now they have only three more losses than the Hawks, who currently sit in fifth.  They have depth.  They have role players.  If The Colonel can regain his confidence they'll have great defense.  This can happen.

A run to a solid playoff berth would help attendance.  It would get Milwaukeeans interested in the team.  It might even prompt local politicians to attempt a Cobb County-style deal for a new arena.  Landing a star free agent would still be a long shot, but adding a solid vet for a reasonable price would become a snap, just like in the Fear The Deer summer of 2010.

The Bucks would lose out on having a top pick in 2014, but the core going forward would still be solid.  Monroe + The Colonel + Greek Freak is solid.  Substituting Tyreke for Monroe would also be strong.

I realize that the Bucks trading away a pick from this draft is super unlikely.  And I am OK with writing off this year as an injury/acquisition/departure disaster and hoping to move on in 2015.  Bad years happen sometimes.  But I see some possibilities with this group.  There are a lot of solid vets and if they are given a scorer to build the offense around, very good things could happen.  I hope that Bucks management considers that before deciding to take a Dookie for the Dukie.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Never Extend Anyone (the essay formerly knows as, "Top 10 Larry Sanders Trade Destinations")

This essay was supposed to be a hit magnet.  I was supposed to write a few hundred words on ten possible trade destinations for formerly (at least in some Bucks fans' eyes; I still love him) beloved Bucks big man Larry Sanders.  I was supposed to use the NBA Trade Machine from ESPN to figure out how he could get to the Pelicans (Tyreke?), the Lakers (Nash & Nick Young?), the Knicks (Bargnani?) and a slew of other teams.  But the trades kept failing.  Every single time, I would get one side or another needing to take back less salary.

Then I figured it out: Larry Sanders is LITERALLY UNTRADEABLE (at least for this season).  Why, you ask?  The stupid rules of the stupid new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that caused the stupid lockout that caused me to start dropping thousands of stupid dollars per year on L.A. Kings season tickets.  

In the CBA, players on the last year of their rookie contracts are required to have their deals include the Poison Pill Provision (PPP, which should have been a name reserved for Triple H's son in WWE) if they receive an extension.  The PPP makes it so that the team trading that player away uses the value of the rookie contract when trading away the player.  The team trading for the player uses the average annual value (AAV, see there's my NBA lockout-authored hockey fandom popping up again) of the contract.

In simpler terms:

If the Bucks trade Larry, they trade away $3 million .  Since the Bucks are within that amount of the salary cap, they are allowed to receive back 150% plus $100,000.  So the Bucks can only receive $4.6 million.

The team that trades for Larry receives the same Larry, but is trading for $9.4 million according to the  CBA.  That is because the receiving team must average out his entire extension along with his last rookie year.  That's $47 million divided by 5 years.

For a Larry trade to work, the Bucks would need to work with a team that has about $5 million in cap space.  That team would have to be able to take in $9.4 million while giving out less than $4.6 million.

So who does have $5 million in cap space at this point?  Phoenix and Philly.  That's it.  

If the Bucks decided to go the cap clearing route, Phoenix might make some sense.  They have Emeka Okafor in on an expiring contract.  Maybe they'd take back Caron Butler and Larry to make the salaries work.

That could actually work except the new CBA screws the Bucks AGAIN.  Since Phoenix already had Butler under contract during this league year (even though he never played a game and was long gone before training camp began), Butler can't be part of that trade.

So the Bucks are stuck with Larry.  It's not all bad since I like the guy and he has played Bill Russell like defense (F-off Boston/Russell fans; that comparison is legit), but it sure seems like trading Larry for a scorer would be an idea worth exploring.

The broader lesson in all of this is that players on rookie contracts should NEVER be extended under this CBA.  Once that player is extended, the player becomes virtually untradeable.  And you can still give that player the same amount of money the next year when the stupid PPP restriction is gone.  I get that there's a risk that Larry could've gone out and averaged 15/10/4 and demanded a max deal after this season.  But the PPP makes extensions so crippling that the Bucks needed to get a bigger discount than 4/$44M to make the extension make sense.

There is one possibility that this could work out.  It looks like this: Evan Turner for Larry & Caron.  

Evan Turner is in the last year of his rookie deal and he did not get extended.  He is playing great, and at the moment it looks like he is in line for something approaching a max deal.  (If you don't believe me ask the Blazers or Pelicans.  Nic Batum got 4/$46M.  Eric Gordon got 4/$64M.)  The Sixers are hot right now, but do they really want to may Evan Turner $50-$60 million over the next four years?  Wouldn't Larry be a nice defensive compliment to the offensive-minded Spencer Hawes in the middle?  Wouldn't one of these college guys like Wiggins or Parker fit better with Larry than with Evan Turner?  At the very least I would have to think that Philly would have to think about it.

In truth I am torn on the Larry situation.  I want him to thrive and play well, but I get the feeling that having a player who compliments Big Ers and Henson a little bit better would be a little bit better.  One thing I'm not torn on, however, is the fact that this CBA has made most extensions of rookie contracts a bad idea.


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Double-Ohs Disaster, Starring Michael Redd

Michael Redd retired today at the age of 34.  In a way, it's sad.  He was once a great scorer for the Bucks, and many great scorers continue solid play well into their thirties.

I was right up close when Redd's Bucks career effectively ended.  The 2010 season was my first as a full season ticket holder.  When the Bucks played the Lakers in Los Angeles, I was able to get friends and family tickets (which I had to pay full price for) about seven rows behind the Bucks bench.  Redd, who was having a poor game, made a move in the lane and collapsed.  He was helped off the floor just to the left of me, and I knew already that he was gone for the season.

Redd's absence in the 2010 season ended up being a textbook example of Bill Simmons's Ewing Theory.  After losing four of their first five post-Redd games to finish up an awful west coast road trip, the team righted the ship.  They were 16-23 (seven games under .500) at the end of that trip, but by the All Star break they had won seven of their last eleven.  One brilliant John Salmons trade later, and the Bucks began the short-lived Fear The Deer era.

Redd would return for a cup of coffee at the end of the 2011 season, but it was clear that he was done.  He signed with Phoenix for the 2012 season, ostensibly in an attempt to having his legs rejuvenated by their famous training staff (which I am suspicious of, but that is another story for another blog post).  He hasn't played since.

Redd is a fascinating case study for yours truly because his time with the Bucks was unusual.  He was a 20+ point per game scorer for six straight seasons.  Several great scorers -- Reggie Miller, for example -- can't say that.  But in those six seasons the Bucks made the playoffs only twice, losing to those dominant mid-00's Pistons teams in the first round both times.  So was he a great player on a bad team?  Or was he an overrated player who gave his team a ceiling?  It's a discussion that yours truly had with fellow Bucks fans numerous times.

To the author, Redd is ultimately a symbol of the Bucks' post-2002 demise.

The final game of the 2002 season was such a sad thing to watch.  NBA League Pass only was using home team feeds at the time, so I sat there on my couch watching the Pistons' announcers revel in the Bucks being run out of the playoffs.  The year before they were the conference finalists who might have had a shooter's chance against the Lakers.

After the 2002 season ended, Bucks management finally let George Karl have his way.  Long frustrated with the unwillingness of Big Dog, Ray Allen and Tim Thomas to "play the right way", Karl got Big Dog traded.  The 2003 season was one of underachievement, and when Redd emerged as a young scoring wing in Ray Allen was traded for Gary Payton.  Karl and the Bucks parted ways at the end of that season.

At the time, yours truly viewed Redd's rise to star status (at least, "star status within the Bucks' universe) as a positive.  The 2004 squad felt like a winner with TJ Ford, Redd and Tim Thomas leading the way.  2005 saw the Mo Williams/Redd backcourt show the potential to be amongst the best in the league.  In 2006 Bogut joined and Bobby Simmons was signed.  I remember an offseason conversation with a high school friend where we thought that team would have the potential to get near the level of the Pistons and Heat (the East finalists in 2005).  That began a series of seasons where the promise of a lethal Williams/Charlie Bell/Redd perimeter with Bogut manning the paint would sprout here and there, but ultimately the teams would fall apart due to poor coaching, injuries or some combination of those and other factors.

In some ways, the rise of the Splash Brothers in Golden State validates Redd's place.  Redd was every bit the scorer that Klay Thompson is, maybe more so.  If Bogut had matured to his current level and if Gadzuric rebounded like David Lee and if Mo Williams embraced his secondary role, then maybe the Bucks could have been special.

I've vacillated over the years on how I view the George Karl years and the double-ohs era that followed.  In some ways I wish that Big Dog would have been retained for a run at the 2001 magic in '03.  Or that the Bucks should have given Ray Allen a contract instead of Redd.  Or that Redd should have been moved for a big man to help Bogut during his early struggles.  Then there are the days when I say that they made the right moves.  Big Dog was always going to struggle on defense.  Ray was always going to be a jerk.  Redd was a dynamite scorer who just never had the right pieces placed around him.

Another side effect of the Redd retirement announcement is the way it reflects on this year's Bucks team.  This is the first year since 1994 that the team lacks a great scorer.  Big Dog to Ray to Redd to Brandon to Monta ended in July.  It's great to get excited about defense and teamwork and the Greek Freak, but I hope that the Bucks are looking to acquire a top notch scorer.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Official #BucksForest 2014 NBA Preview

Editor's Note: #BucksForest uses different positional names than the traditional PG, SG, SF, PF and C.  In today's NBA teams almost always play one Point Guard (PG), two Wing Players (WP) and two Big Men (BM).  Therefore, I will use those positional names.  Plus BM is my initials.

There is no way that The Official #BucksForest 2014 NBA Preview will be superior in total to Bill and Jalen's.  If you have yet to watch Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose break down the upcoming NBA season using an assortment of old music videos, movie clips, animations and props, you should do so.  They both know their stuff and they both bring different, complimentary perspectives to the game.

The #BucksForest 2014 NBA Preview has less going for it overall, but achieves in some ways.  Yours truly avoids hyphens.  (I mean, c'mon already NBA.  All-Star is in 2014.  The trophy is awarded in 2014.  The rings and banners will go out in 2014.  Can't we just call this upcoming season 2014?)  Yours truly brings a Bucks-centric perspective.  And, hopefully, yours truly avoids the type of conventional wisdom that would see a player who has never seen his scoring average rise above 17.4 ppg at any level INCLUDING HIGH SCHOOL touted as a superstar.  ::coughcoughPaulGeorgecough::

30) Some team that gets decimated by injuries.

OK, OK.  Starting with a copout is poor form.  But honestly, who had Orlando dead last in 2013?  (What's that?  Lots of people?  Hmm.)  Or Charlotte in 2012?  (Well, umm.  Not yet, but...)  Or Minnesota in 2011?  (Better?)

Alright, enough of this.  Maybe it's not all about injuries.  Maybe the teams everyone thinks will stink will actually stink.

The problem is that Philly has three pretty solid players in Turner, Young and Hawes.  Last place seems too far down.  So, let's go with...

30) Phoenix Suns

I didn't think they'd be this low.  I like Bledsoe a little and Dragic a little.  They play the same position, which is bad.  They play the least important position (sorry, but point guards don't win titles), which is worse.

29) Orlando Magic

This still looks like a bad team.  Vucevic is a USC guy and that is to be respected.  But good Lord, the rest of these guys look bad.  And the bench.  Look at that bench.  Hold on a sec.

30) Orlando Magic

29) Phoenix Suns

I just remembered that Jacques Vaughn is the Magic coach.  Ahead of Brian Shaw (more on him when we get to the top ten), they hired Jacques Vaughn.  Orlando is the worst and boots Phoenix out of the basement.

28) Philadelphia 76ers

There we go.  You know the reasons.  They are playing...  (Hold on a sec)  Michael Carter-Williams at point guard.

Wait.  That's not right.  Michael-Carter Williams?!?  The Syracuse guy?  This is kind of crazy.

In any case, Young, Turner and Hawes are all guys I like and all guys who have given the Bucks trouble at one time or another.  Their point guard position is abominably bad but at least they didn't spend a the second pick in the draft on a point guard like the Magic did.  (And I've come around on Oladipo.  I think he'll be a solid PG.)

So you heard it here first.  Not only do the Sixers avoid a league record for futility, but they avoid the bottom of their conference.

27) Atlanta Hawks

Here's the weird one.  Al Horford pretty much has to be traded or injured for this one to come true.  He is a superb player and he is a big.  (The most important position on the court.)

The rest of the team stinks.  Imagine this roster without Horford.   Who creates offense?  Who protects the interior?  Danny Ferry may be pulling some "Cavs magic" (a.k.a stranding a superstar who predated his arrival in a sea of mediocre acquisitions) here.

26) Boston Celtics

Rajon Rondo is just so good.  It's hard to believe that his team could be here, even with his injury.  In fact,

26) Cleveland Cavaliers

There we go.  The Cavs still stink.  In fact, they kind of stink on an amazing level.  They keep getting high draft picks and they continue to stink year in and year out.  Obviously every NBA team that tanks and secures a high draft pick or two becomes the Thunder, so I don't see how this is possible.  Something is wrong.

Anywho, we'll get back to that mystery later.  For now we'll say that Kyrie is great (though overrated and playing The League's Least Valuable Position) and that Tristan Thompson might actually become a servicable NBA player.  But playoffs?  I'm seeing playoff predictions being made about Cleveland.  Even after adding Jarrest Jack to their roster, I see this being a long year in Cleveland.

25) Boston Celtics

The math is simple here vis-a-vis the question of Celtics or Cavs.  Rondo and Irving are both excellent point guards.  Irving will play all year (actually, he'll miss a bunch of games with injury like always, but he'll play most of the year), while Rondo will miss half the year.  But Rondo will murder Kyrie.  Not literally (though if it came to that, I suppose...).  But Rondo cannot possibly be happy that he and Kyrie are part of similarly "talented" teams and Kyrie's team keeps getting picked ahead of his.  So I expect Rondo to do something special this season.

24) Portland Trailblazers

Bill Simmons has this team making the playoffs.  Pinnacle sports has the Blazers win total (over/under) at 38.5.  Pinnacle sports is a sharp book.  Now, while I would count Simmons as a sharp guy, he does sometimes tend to overlook the fact that certain players stink.  Among those overlookees would be be the entire list of acquisitions Portland brought in this offseason.  (Robin Lopez, Mo Williams, Dorell Wright and Thomas Robinson, for those of you scoring at home.)  Placing Portland second-last in the West may seem like an outlier, but this looks like a bad team.

23) Charlotte Bobcats

Check out the Charlotte Bobcats!  2012: last in the East.  2013: not even last in their own division.  2014: two spots away from the playoffs.  This Michael Jordan guy may be better than we thought!

Honestly, the ridicule of MJ has bugged me.  I didn't even like the guy when he was a player, but I feel so bad for him now.  He inherited a franchise with no direction.  He made the playoffs in 2010.  He made one gigantic personnel mistake (choosing Tyrus Thomas over Tyson Chandler), but that was not totally his fault.  It seemed like Larry Brown wanted Tyrus, and he played so well against a stacked Orlando team in the 2010 playoffs.  Remember, Chandler got mowed down like a punk by Dwight Howard in that series.  Chandler may have been hurt or had some other excuse, but if you watched that series and you're trying to figure out how to beat Orlando for a spot in the Finals (how funny does that sound now?), it's hard to extend the guy who you can't even keep on the court against Orlando's Superstar Dwight Howard.  (OK, that one I did on purpose.)

Back to the matter at hand, Charlotte could be halfway decent.  Biyombo can rebound, Jefferson can score, Gordon can shoot and it seems possible that Kemba can play.  The playoffs are possible here.

22) Minnesota Timberwolves

Sorry, Kevin Love.

Actually, not sorry.  You're a UCLA guy.  You love battering the Bucks and drawing cheap fouls.  You love hooking arms to grab rebounds a pushing guys under the hoop.  In a lot of ways, you deserve this.

It's too bad that Portland can't just give Batum to Minnesota for Derrick Williams.  I think that the Blazers would have been foolish enough to do a Batum sign & trade if Minny would've dangled Williams, but I doubt that the Wolves ever made that offer.  I think Batum would fit perfectly here and really open up an inside/out game with Love.  C'est la vive.

21) Toronto Raptors

You know who I actually want to put here?  The Pistons.

21) Detroit Pistons

Screw it.  I'm doing the Pistons.  They're out of the playoffs and they're staying there.

Since it's the Pistons I have to talk about Jennings and I have to be a little bit sad.  He and Monta were just so deadly together right after the trade in 2012.  I'll always wonder what happened.  Was it Skiles?  Was it the contract situation?  Is Monta a dick?  Is Jennings too emotional?  Was the blogger intelligentsia right?  (I can admit when they're right and I'm wrong sometimes.)  I don't know.

The one thing I have to say above it all is that Jennings played great defense his rookie year.  It was amazing.  I'll always remember Jay Bilas saying that his jump shot was badly broken during the draft coverage (and Bilas was correct), but he could score nonetheless.

On the Pistons?  Who knows?  I think Jennings is hurt.  I think he wanted a max deal and to own an NBA town, and now that dream is gone.  The Pistons will never be his.  And having that oddball Monroe/Drummond combo down low may not help.

This is one prediction where I'd never, ever bet the season wins over/under and one where in a lot of ways I expect to be wrong.  But I just can't get them into the playoffs.

20) Toronto Raptors

Here we go.  On to the Raps...

You know what?  Not just yet.

20) Sacramento Kings

I want to give the Raptors a spot in the teens, so I'll cheat here.

This is another pick that could be way too low.  They have been so bad for so long, but look at that roster.  They can score.  They have the athleticism necessary to defend.  They have guys who have been in the league a few years and have learned.  They have a dominant big in Cousins.

They also have Ben McLemore.  Now, I don't watch college hoops, but I heard he was good.  And then I watched a few minutes of a Kings vs. Clippers preseason game (which the Kings dominated) and I was impressed.  This guy is an athletic freak.  He may or may not turn into a baller, but it is possible that he'll win rookie of the year.  In fact, I'll go ahead and predict it.  I just can't get these guys in the playoffs in a stacked West.

19) Toronto Raptors

They're in the teens!  And the playoffs!  And...  actually, wait a second.

19) Washington Wizards

I hemmed and hawed and couldn't decide.  John Wall is great.  I mean, in the last part of last season he was a beast unleashed.  But how good is he?  Good enough to lead this team to the playoffs?  I say yes!

I was waiting all of this time to drop the bomb that I was actually predicting that the Wizards (see, I respect team names I disagree with, unlike anti-Redskins zealots) would make the playoffs AND avoid the eighth seed.  But I caved.  The Gortat trade may help a little and I still think Nene is OK, but the rest of that roster...  Yeech.

18) Toronto Raptors

There we go.  The Raptors come in 18th.  They may be OK.  I like Rudy Gay more than most bloggers.  DeRozan is a Trojan.  The roster looks pretty deep, especially up front.  I'm in.  Playoffs return to T-dot.  (And by the way, I called it that before Jalen said it on the Bill and Jalen previews.)

17) Utah Jazz

Simmons had the Bucks; I have the Jazz.  Simmons had the Bucks ranked far higher than most of his peers.  I, as a delusional Bucks fan, of course am ranking the Bucks quite high.  But I also have my team that nobody else has, and that's the Jazz.

To me, they dumped the stuff that didn't fit.  I've always thought that Millsap was a level below where he was perceived.  I've always thought that Jefferson was a tough fit with this athletic crew.  And I've always thought their guards stunk last season.  So the losses are non-losses in my opinion.

I still have the Jazz missing the playoffs because I'm a wimp.  There are a few teams in the West that I want to predict lower, but I just can't bring myself to.  Boy, am I going to be disappointed in myself if they make a run and grab a playoff spot.  (And I had the Warriors predicted to win the Pacific last season!  That felt great when they advanced further than any other Pacific team.  Alas, I'll have to hang my hat on my crazy Finals prediction.)

16) Milwaukee Bucks

This is where I get off, driver.

I wish I could go higher, but I just need to see more scoring talent.  If I knew that Luke, Mayo, Neal, Sanders and Zaza was going to be the finishing crew, maybe I could go higher.  If I didn't watch Larry Drew play some truly perplexing lineups last season, I might jump them above the next (surprisingly low, relative to other predictions I've seen) East team.  But I can't.  Six seed and a date with the Bulls for you, Buckos.

15) Golden State Warriors

Boom, goes the dynamite.

I will be betting under 51.5 wins.  That much is certain.  This team has all the signs that I dislike.

I think they messed up the chemistry by bringing in Iguodala.

I think they have no depth.

I think Bogut is still a great defender and rebounder, but will be even more of an offensive liability.

I think Klay and Curry still can't play D.

Obviously I'm an outlier here, and it is possible that I'll be way, way wrong.  Word is that Barnes is a madman in camp.  If he is a force, then maybe they'll rip it up.  I'm selling, though.

14) Los Angeles Clippers

Double boom.

Everything feels wrong here.  Chris Paul is just a phenomenal player, but he missed 10% of the season in 2012 and 15% in 2013.  They have no backup point guard.  (Unless you count alleged NBA player Darren Collison.)  They had a magical run last year under an underrated coach.  (Forget you all.  I'll defend Vinny.  He ain't Phil Jackson but he got these guys to play.)  I see a reverse-magical run this year under an overrated coach.

The fundamental problem I have here is that Blake and Paul are a bad fit.  Blake wants to run; Paul wants total control.  It really is too bad that the Blake-for-Dwight trade couldn't have happened.  I think Blake would love being a Laker and would love running with Nash.  I think Dwight would thrive beside Chris Paul.  Alas, it was not meant to be.

Obviously this is a prediction that could go very, very wrong.  So I might as well explain why the next team is in the playoffs and the Clippers are out.

13) New Orleans Pelicans

The case against the Pelicans is simple: Monty Williams.  We have yet to see if he can coach.

Luckily (for the Pelicans players, at least) Monty will be fired!  In fact, he's my prediction on First Coach To Go.  (Relatively) New Pelicans owner Tom Benson wants to win.  He has a nice, new(ly renovated) arena and he has kept non-premium seat prices low because he wants Louisianans (correct?) to get into the ex-Bugs.  I think they will.

I like the Gordon/Holliday/Tyreke backcourt and I think they'll be hard to stop.  I think that their bench is strong (except for the abominable Austin Rivers), and I think they'll get them wins they otherwise wouldn't get.  I see this team like that Jazz team that snuck into the 8th seed in 2012.  They will surprise a lot of people, snatch a playoff berth from a veteran team and get annihilated by the Spurs in April.

12) Indiana Pacers

I can't help it.  I dislike the Pacers.

As much as the Bucks are a homer pick at 16, I think the Pacers are a St. Louis Cardinals-esque anti-homer pick at number 12.

There are issues with their roster.  They still can't score, and West is a year older.  Hibbert is not the player we saw in May.  George is not a natural scorer and will cause problems if he starts to think that he is.  And I don't know about that bench.  When Ian Mahimi is the guy I like best off your bench, you may have problems.

Remember, this is the 5 seed in the East.  I do think that there are four better teams.  Including...

11) Brooklyn Nets

Man, did I want to pick this team lower.  I mean, way lower.  As in, number 21 lower.  For a minute I had them in the Pistons place and everyone else up one.

I couldn't, though.  Williams is a great point guard (even though that is the least important position in basketball).  Lopez can score (even though he is allergic to rebounds and seems to be afraid to go down low sometimes).  Johnson can hit big shots (even though he lost a lot of athleticism) and so can Pierce (even though he looked finished in the playoffs).  Garnett is a smart defender (even though he'd too old to handle top post players) and Kirlenko is versatile (even though he may not get as many minutes as he should).  How can you bet against that roster?  I am actually very happy with where I have the Nets.  Above the riff-raff but below the top three teams in the East.

10) Memphis Grizzlies

Did I just say that?  Ten teams to go and only three of them are in the East?  Well, that's kind of how I see it.

The problem here is the coach.  When I look at this roster, I see a heavy dose of the knucklehead factor.  They obviously thrived last year under Hollins, but I don't trust Joerger.  When adversity strikes, I don't yet believe that he can keep them aligned.

The model they are going for is obviously Thibodeau.  Thibs was a top assistant, and once he got the reigns he proved to be better than his former boss.  (Boy, even Simmons wasn't taking this many shots at Doc.  I can't help it.  I think he left his heart in Boston.)  The Grizz are hoping for the same dynamic.  I am skeptical that it will happen, but they do have such a solid lineup of bangers, defenders and quality perimeter players that I have to keep them in the playoffs ahead of the Clips and Dubs.

9) Los Angeles Lakers

This one may look embarrassing come April, but I have the Lakers winning the Pacific.

The roster looks bad in some ways.  Steve Blake, Shawne Williams and Nick Young are listed as starters.  One is a solid vet from USC, but another played last season in China.  You'd rather not see that.

But I have to put the Lakers up here and there are a few reasons for it.  I do believe that Nash will be better this season.  I do believe that they've assembled a cast of bench players that can abide by the Next Man Up credo.  And I do believe that D'Antoni has something to prove.  I thought the guy was a bad choice last season and he obviously failed to excel in New York.  But was Phoenix a mirage?  Did he just forget how to get shooters open and run and offense with ball movement?  I don't think he did.  I think he'll be an asset to the Lakers and they'll do OK.

Another way to look at it as that they still have Kobe (once he's back), Nash and Gasol.  As of one year ago, that combo was looking downright terrorizing in the preseason under Mike Brown.  I think they will be good.  Heck, they may even climb above a couple of these next few teams.

8) Denver Nuggets

I actually want to pick these guys higher.  Wait.

8) Oklahoma City Thunder

I almost forgot again.  #BucksForest preview with #BucksForest rules.

Kevin Durant disappointed me.  I vividly remember the Bucks outclassing the Magic in the 2001 playoffs.  I also vividly remember Tracy McGrady going off like a powder keg.  He wanted a win.  He was not going to get swept or embarrassed.  It didn't matter how much or little talent he had around him.  He wasn't going out like a punk.  Kevin Durant went out like a punk last year, and it shook me.  I was expecting at least one big comeback game against Memphis, and he didn't have it in him.  I'm worried.

I'm worried that Kevin Durant is a phenomenal scorer, and that's it.  He may not have the eye of the tiger.  He may need OKC to acquire that third star again before he can do transcendent things again.

The reality is that the Westbrook/Durant combo is dynamite, and maybe that will be enough to lift the Thunder above the fifth seed out West.  But at the moment that's where I see them.

7) Denver Nuggets

Now we get to the Nuggets.

What's with all of the Nuggets hate this preseason?  I see previews where they're a low playoff seed or even out of the playoffs.  Why?

Because of George Karl?  Brian Shaw will be a great coach.  He's been an assistant on successful teams for years.

Because they lost Kosta Koufos?  Hickson is a better big and he brings needed interior skill.

Because they lost Iguodala?  It was clear in the 2013 playoffs that they needed Gallinari and could do without Iguodala.  Andre is a great on-ball defender, but his offense is just so awkward.  More shots for Lawson, Chandler and Gallo will be a good thing, not a bad thing.

Remember, entering the 2013 playoffs people were talking about a West finals matchup against the Thunder.  Now they have the core back, with better pieces acquired and a coach who comes without the baggage of multiple playoff meltdowns.  I still have them one seed lower than last season, but seven sounds right.

6) Houston Rockets

When I went over my possible playoff picks with the friend who I split Clippers season tickets with, Houston was borderline lottery.  When I read up on them in the preseason, I figured they'd at least get in.  Then I watched them play the Pacers overseas and I pegged them for a top four seed in the West.  Now I'm wondering if I have them too low at number three in the West.

Howard is just devastating.  I can dislike the personality of the guy all I want, but he is awesome.  And not just awesome in the way people fling that word around, but I mean inspiring awe in those who watch and appreciate him.  He plays defense like no man I've ever seen.  Forget all the talk about LeBron defending point guards and wings.  Dwight defends the most important position on the court at a level I've never seen.

I can still find things to nitpick.  I don't buy the narrative that Lin is back.  I am skeptical about McHale as the coach of an elite team.  Chandler Parsons may be at the level he's going to be at.  But they are really, really great.  They may post some crazy 20-4 start and really start to scare the crap out of people.

So I am saying all of this about my number 6 and I don't know if I can say the same about my number 5...  So why are they there?

6) Dallas Mavericks

5) Houston Rockets

Houston, you're in the West finals.  Dallas, you're out.

I really hate doing this because Dallas has a deep roster at point and wing.  They also may be able to get away with Dirk & Marion as bigs against a lot of teams, which makes them even more dangerous.

Yours truly is a Monta lover, and the fit here will be excellent.  The guy has not been healthy while having a top sidekick.  Now he has a superstar and he's the sidekick.  It's a great situation and I think he'll thrive.

Dallas does need to acquire a big if they are going to win another championship.  (Duh.)  I think they will.  Miami wouldn't have won the title without Birdman last season and I think Dallas will find a piece that fits nearly as well with them via trade or release.  Will that piece do what Birdman did for Miami?  Probably not at that level.  But the piece will put them in the top mix.

4) Miami Heat

Dang, Simmons stole my thunder.  I just knew I should've gotten this preview done before he got to his top teams.  I just expected him to have the Heat on top like everyone else.

There are a few reasons why the Heat are number 4.

One: Beasley and Oden were terrible ideas.  People act like signing these guys is a no-lose situation.  I don't buy it.  Injured players and unstable players drain your mojo.  They just aren't fun to be around.

Two: Birdman can't do what he did last year, can he?

Three: This roster is old.  Battier was pretty much done last season.  Ray Allen was better than I thought he'd be, but everyone drops off at some point.

Four: Ain't happenin', Dwyane.  You're 3, not 4.  Embracing the "3" gimmick angers the NBA Championship Gods.  Three is now your destiny.

As for LeBron: Another great year is in the offing, but in my head I see his playoff reign coming to an end as he reaches to block a jumper by the star of the...

3) Chicago Bulls

I know, I know.  The Knicks are in the Finals.  To talk Bulls is to bury the lede.

2) New York Knicks

It's really all about the Bargnani move.  He completes the team.  Last season Carmelo was neutralized by Paul George.  I can't see that happening with Bargs there.  He is an inside/outside scorer and can occasionally play defense if motivated.  How can he not be motivated?  He's in New York.  The pressure of being the top pick is off.  He has Carmelo and J.R. to pick up the slack on off nights.

I actually think the Knicks might drop the opener to the Bucks, so please don't hammer me if they do.  It is a long season.  The Knicks will surely have their good and bad points, but when it comes down to it I see a Finals trip in their future.  I envision the Knicks getting the top seed with at least three and maybe five teams all within a few games of each other.  I see the Nets ousting the Pacers in round one and the Bulls & Heat dispatching the Bucks (damn) and Raptors, respectively.  Then in the conference semis I see an absolutely wicked war between the Bulls and Heat.  I see the Knicks dispatching the aged Nets without too much trouble.  And after the Bulls/Heat war, I see the Knicks taking advantage to make the Finals.

Are the Knicks the best team in the East?  Perhaps.  If a seven game series on a neutral court started today between the Knicks and Bulls (or Heat), would I pick the Knicks?  Perhaps not.  But I have a feeling.  I have a feeling that, against all expectations, Carmelo is actually gonna play a game in the NBA Finals as a New York Knickerbocker.

3) Chicago Bulls

The Bulls look awesome.  What can I say that hasn't been said?  Rose looks great, the bench looks better and it's hard to see who stops them.  I just think that six or seven games of battling LeBron, Wade and Bosh will take so much out of them that the Knicks will get by.  Better luck in 2015, Bulls.

1) San Antonio Spurs

For the fourth year in a row, the best team in the NBA.

In 2011, they played the absolute wrong team in round one (and with a less-than-100% Ginobili) and lost to Memphis.  They had the top seed in the West.

In 2012, they were dominant at the end of the regular season and through the playoffs, until they underestimated OKC on the road and lost momentum.  After the series got even, they had some bad luck in getting eliminated.

And we all know how 2013 went.  They were the better team.  Bill Simmons may have been correct that if the Spurs and Heat play 100 times, each will win 50.  But I still would bet the Spurs in that scenario to win over 50.5 of those games.

The team is still complete.  Maybe Danny Green isn't quite that good and maybe Duncan's need for rest will harm their chances.  Maybe Manu will never be a major asset again and maybe Parker has hit his peak.  Maybe Kawhi is where he'll be at and maybe Splitter's contract will be a mistake.  But I don't believe any of that.  I think their offense will continue to be lethal.  I think they will play great team defense.  I think the Rockets will test them in the West finals, but I think they will handle the Knicks.

So there you have it.  The Official #BucksForest 2014 NBA Preview.  Keep coming back to this blog for Bucks notes and other NBA stuff.  Follow me and other Bucks fans on Twitter to chat during games.  Enjoy the 2014 season!


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Trouble, Right Ahead

This is going to be a long year, folks.  I hate to be so negative and I often avoid being so blunt, but this Bucks team is in trouble.

Being in trouble in October is O.K.  The 2010 Bucks looked like amateurs in October, 2009.  Kevin Love and the Timberwolves bullied them around in a preseason game and I remember wondering if the departures of Richard Jefferson, Charlie V and Ramon Sessions were going to hurt more than I thought.  After an hot start to the regular season and a flabby winter, the Bucks caught fire late and ended up being one Bogut rim-nastics performance from taking their best shot at Orlando in the conference semi-finals.

October of 2009 felt better than October of 2014.  Four years ago Brandon Jennings looked like a rookie stud and Bogut looked like he finally learned how to play defense.  Jennings was defending better than any point guard in his loaded class (which included Flynn, Curry, Lawson and Holiday), he had nice court vision and he could score when buckets were needed.  Bogut had refined his reactions and judgment to the point that he always seemed to make the right decision on whether to contest a shot or take a charge.  We knew the team would struggle to score at times, but a .500+ season built on 93-86 victories seemed possible.

There is far less optimism for 2014.  The Bucks best starting lineup at the moment may be Luke, Gary Neal, Giannis, Ers & Larry.  I like all of those players, but that smells like something other than victory.  And what about the egos?  I have my doubts that Caron, Brandon and Mayo would be happy coming off the bench.

Preseason predictions seem to have the Bucks pegged at somewhere between the fifteenth and twenty-fourth best team in the NBA.  The Sixers, Suns, Magic, Celts, Jazz and Sacto are considered worse by just about every blogger and talking head, but I'm not so sure.  All of those teams have more offensive talent than the Bucks (at least once Rondo gets back).  The Bucks have fine role players and some solid defenders, but if things go to pot this could get ugly.

I am excited for the start of the season in a week, and I'll be headed to Milwaukee for the home opener. It's a battle of USC titans, as OJ Mayo goes toe-to-toe with DeMar DeRozan.  My hope is that things start looking up in these last two preseason games, and that Larry Drew plays a rotation that flows.  My fear is that things will get ugly on October 30, with only minimal relief until June 26.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Henson & Larry

I missed the Bucks exhibition opener last night, and by most accounts I didn't miss much.

From reports I read it made me think of the Bucks' game against Minnesota in October, 2009.  The team was trying to incorporate Brandon Jennings and a few other new piece, just like The Grecian Formula and Juice Mayo are being incorporated now.  In 2009 the Wolves felt they were on the verge of putting together a young team that could contend for a playoff berth.  Same with the Cavs in 2013.  And in 2009 Kevin Love just brutalized a relatively soft Bucks front line, just as Tristan Thompson did last night.

2009-10 ended up being the last great Bucks season, so it is far too early to panic based on one preseason game.  It may not, however, be too early to worry about the front line of Larry Sanders and John Henson.  As soon as Henson checked in the Bucks began getting worked over, and it didn't stop until the Cavs were in cruise control.  Henson gets some nice blocks and is trying to develop a hook shot, but he seems to be a bad fit with The Colonel.  They are both thin, long-armed defenders.  They both excel on off the ball and struggle to stop beefy post players.  It feels like they overlap each other's skills rather than complimenting.

John Henson's trade value is probably still pretty high right now, and I think that the Bucks should explore dealing him.  Henson still has three more years at the rookie salary scale and he does play fine off the ball defense.  LaMarcus Aldridge is the big fish in the trade pond this season, and he would fit well in Milwaukee.  His interior offense is something the Bucks have lacked throughout the Jennings area.  (Sorry, Bogues.  I love ya but your offense became suspect once your right elbow got jacked up.)  I'd be happy to see Henson packaged with a first round draft pick and some other asset if it meant that the Bucks could acquire a player who is as good at interior offense as The Colonel is at interior defense.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Drawing the Big Bucks

April 2013 may have seemed like a depressing month to be a Bucks fan, but there was some good news.  The Bucks finally escaped the bottom 5 in local NBA television ratings.  Beginning with the great Maggette/Douglas-Roberts collapse of 2011, the Bucks saw a dramatic drop in local viewership on Fox Sports Wisconsin.  After drawing an average rating of 2.2 (which equates to about 21,000 viewers per game) in 2009-10, the Bucks fell almost 40% to a 1.4 (~13,000 viewers) in 2010-11.

The Bucks stayed at 1.4/13,000 for both 2011-12 and 2012-13 (with last year's stagnation surely contributing to the decision to blow everything except the people most responsible up for this upcoming season.  The good news is that even though the Bucks' overall viewership landed them 29th out of 30 teams (with only Charlotte, at 9,000 viewers per game, being worse), the Bucks are out of the bottom 5 in ratings!  The Rockets (featuring Internet hero James Harden) and the Magic (featuring Internet hero Tobias Harris) fell below the Bucks' 1.4 local rating.  Both of those Internet darlings lost over 50% of their local viewership to overtake our beloved Bucks in the race to the bottom.

This summer, the Bucks made changes.  They embraced "advanced" analytics and rewarded the offensively-challenged Larry Sanders with the largest contract in franchise history.  They chose to let former stars leave without getting equal talent in return so that the franchise could avoid the supposed purgatory of middle-of-the-road NBA team.  Oh, and did this ever make the bloggers happy.  Internet optimism about the direction of the franchise is as high as it's been since summer following the Fear The Dear run.

Making inroads with bloggers is fine and good, but the franchise seems to be moving in the wrong direction in the one area where things should matter most: drawing money.  For the first time since yours truly became a season ticket holder, the Bucks offered additional single-game tickets to every home game at the season ticket holder price.  That means the $31 per ticket that I pay instead of, for example, the $95 that the face value is for the Heat game on March 29.  The Bucks online store gives fans no ability to buy customized "Swingman" (that's the higher end replica) jerseys.  Fox Sports Wisconsin only televises 72 of the 82 Bucks games.  All of these things point to a lack of demand for the Bucks product.

Drawing money as a professional sports team is about more than winning.  The Tampa Bay Rays win all the time, but they have a poor relationship with the Tampa Bay region.  Their owner trashes the stadium all the time and appears to want a taxpayer handout for a new stadium.  They let their biggest stars walk and try to replace them with younger, cheaper talent.  They install a dramatic price increase for home games against popular teams like the Yankees and Red Sox, which results in embarrassing crowds that contain more fans of the visiting team than the home team.  Any of these sound like things the Bucks do?  If you're a securities trader who's trying to get laudatory books written about you by bloggers, then these tactics are smart.  If you're trying to draw money as a sports franchise, then these tactics are stupid.

We all know that the Bucks struggle to draw revenue compared to other NBA teams.  Some of that is because of the market and the arena.  But the Bucks need to also look inward and realize that most of the money they take in is going to come from people who couldn't care less about what's written on this blog and others like it.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Reginald Baylor's Bucks Court Design is Awesome

Darn it!

How could the Bucks have chosen such a timid, corporate-y court design when this was available:


?????!?!

The design above was created by Reginald Baylor, an artist from Milwaukee, and it is great.  Purple is back.  Square basketballs are everywhere.  There are knots in the wood.  And check out the "MKE" chain on that ballin' deer.

Somebody on the Bucks needs to be fired, because everything about that court is better than what the franchise is doing now.  Baylor's deer is better than the Bucks' deer.  Baylor's font is better than the Bucks' font.  Baylor's color scheme is better than the Bucks' color scheme.  The Bucks organization is so lost in groupthink and CYA-ism that they are unable to step back and see when a massive gift has been given to them.

I'm staying optimistic about the upcoming season.  But I'm also going to hold off on buying any more Bucks merchandise until their brand starts to look something like Reginald Baylor's court.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The New Bucks Court


I dislike it.  Maybe it will grow on me and maybe history will show me to be a crotchety old fool, but I think it could have been much, much better.

Let's start with the basics.  The new floor  was unveiled yesterday.  It replaced the old floor (image from Behind the Bucks Pass), which had been used since the Bucks changed uniforms in 2006.  The new floor is something of an homage to the MECCA Arena floor that was used by the Bucks (and every other basketball team playing at what is now U.S. Cellular Arena) from 1977 until 1997.  

The genesis of the floor change was an event held a month ago by the Our MECCA Group.  The group acquired the old floor and put it on display for one night at U.S. Cellular Arena.  I was in Los Angeles on the night of the event, but it appeared to be good fun.  More important than the actual event was the publicity in the run-up to the event.  Seeing pictures of a floor that was designed as a work of pop art (by Robert Indiana, who reportedly gave his blessing to the new floor), focused on the name "Milwaukee" and was different than other NBA floors was inspiring.  It made me (and surely a number of other Bucks fans) think, "now that's the type of thing that made the Milwaukee Bucks look like something better than the NBA franchise with the lowest valuation."

When I heard about the new floor design (thanks, @BucksAndPackers), I was initially excited.  The reporting made it clear that the new floor would be based on the MECCA floor design.  That design really was artistic.  The playing surface used a more muted red for the paint, which blended well with the yellow and orange coloring of the playing surface.  The baselines and sidelines were olive green with a darkened blue near the lines.  And "Milwaukee" was just Milwaukee.  Not in a team-branded font, but in big block letters that spanned the baseline.  I knew that the corny old "MECCA" ringing center court would be gone, but I hoped that the fundamentals of eye-pleasing colors and an unconventional structure could be kept.

An hour or so after hearing the news that a new court was coming, I began to worry.  The Journal-Sentinel reported that the Bucks were working with the NBA to ensure that the court met league standards.  That was bad news.  It meant that non-branded colors were probably out.  It meant that the "Milwaukee" on the baselines would probably have to retain the Bucks' font.  It meant that the old college/pro combo lane was out.  I knew that we would get a giant "M" on the court, but that wasn't what made the MECCA floor great.  Fucking UTEP has a giant branded logo on their court.  I wanted (at least an attempt at) an artistic design.

Instead of an artistic design, Bucks fans got a lazy retro floor.  They kept the giant "M"s.  (Whoopee.)  They eliminated the red.  (That's good.)  They made the deer head gigantic.  (Yuck.)  

I wanted a true retro design that looks forward.  How about minimizing the corporate (because that's what NBA teams are, really) logo at mid court?  How about an old school jump circle?  How about two-toned baselines and sidelines?  How about color choices for the playing surface that blend well together with the out of bounds area?

Maybe the Buffalo Bills spoiled me.  In 2011, the Bills switched from a garish dark blue/red combo to an elegant homage to the team's 70's look.  They examined the O.J.-era uniforms and made them better.  That is what I wanted from the new Bucks court.  Something that is understated, classic and immediately pleasing to the eye.

The reality is that this court won't make a dent.  NBA fans outside of Milwaukee will view it as just another garish gimmick court design.  Even those local television broadcasts that do mention the court and show the old MECCA floor will leave fans of other teams wondering, "why didn't they just use that cool design they already had?"  

Maybe the original sin was the uniforms.  The Bucks may not have the worst uniforms in the NBA (at least according to ESPN), but almost nobody likes them.  The word "Milwaukee" is nowhere to be found on the standard home or away uniform.  The colors aren't the right shades of red and green.  And the side striping lacks rhyme or reason.  A uniform re-design should have come before a new court.  That was a color scheme could have been chosen that blends better with the available hardwood colors.

The new Bucks floor is better than the previous floor, so that is good.  I just think it could have been so much better.