Friday, June 27, 2014

This is It

The Bucks drafted Jabari Parker last night.  Yours truly has been skeptical of Parker, but there are positives.  He does want to play in Milwaukee.  He is a scorer.  He seems to understand the game.

Parker's understanding of the game was one of the red flags that caused #BucksForest to want other players.  Austin Rivers is the son of an NBA player, and he knew the game.  Shabazz Muhammad has a father who taught him how to play, and he knew the game.  These players learned early, and it allowed them to thrive at the high school and college levels despite relatively modest athletic gifts.  Parker feels like a similar case.  Maybe yours truly will be wrong.  Maybe he'll be Paul Pierce or Big Dog.  

Whatever the future holds, the Bucks' present seems to be set.  They will have twelve players under guaranteed contracts once Parker signs, and a thirteenth in Chris Wright who is under a non-guaranteed deal.  They have two second round draft picks who could be let go, but who are expected to be on the roster.  That adds up to fifteen players, which is the NBA maximum.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

I Believe

I.

I Believe.

I Believe This Team. 

I Believe This Team Can Win.

The NBA Draft is tomorrow, and if the Twitter community of Bucks fans is any indication, it will be the biggest day of the year.  The Bucks will get a highly touted player, of course, but many Bucks fans seem to want more.  They want an overhaul.  Anyone and everyone aside from The Grecian Formula (who I, personally, would be willing to trade in a heartbeat) is fair game for trade, as long as the trade returns young players and/or draft picks.

Monday, June 23, 2014

It's Gettin' Late Early

NOTE: I was nearly finished writing an essay on why the Bucks should draft Joel Embiid when Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry said that Embiid is no longer an option.  Lasry is known in some circles as being close friends with a prominent New York bookie and for playing private high-stakes poker games, so maybe he was just bluffing.  Still, it was enough for me to change today's post to something else.  If you still want to read my pro-Embiid argument, scroll down to the bottom.

Marc Lasry's publicity tour of Milwaukee today was a number of things.  It was a chance for the Bucks' co-owner to enhance the team's relationship with online fans.  It showed that even as a busy New Yorker, Lasry is putting forth an effort to make the Bucks a more significant part of Milwaukee again.  And if you read between the lines, it was another message that Milwaukee will never again have a successful NBA team unless someone gives two hundred million dollars or so in tax money to the Bucks.

The following is an approximate timeline of the Bucks' future, as gleaned from the subtext of Lasry's comments:

June 26, 2014: Draft a high-profile college player.

June 26 to September 15, 2014: Trade away veteran Bucks players.  Avoid signing high-priced veteran players from other teams.

Late October, 2014: Debut the high-profile college player before a sellout crowd at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.

Monday, June 16, 2014

A Bucks Arena Op-Ed to the Journal-Sentinel

Ed. Note: I submitted the following opinion piece to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel today. 

Milwaukee is in jeopardy of losing the Bucks.  The short-term move threat is because of the BMO Harris Bradley Center.  It lacks the size, shape and amenities of a modern NBA arena.  The long-term threat is because of Milwaukee's economic status.  The city and region are home to too few high-paying jobs.

Proposals for a new Bucks arena have centered around tax increases.  Everything from a new tax-increment financing district to an extension of the Miller Park sales tax has been proposed.  If passed, these solutions may well get the Bucks a modern NBA arena.  New taxes may also, however, only exacerbate the "brain drain" problem where so many educated natives leave the state.

I am an example of the brain drain problem.  I grew up in Milwaukee and graduated from West Allis Central high school.  After graduating from the University of Southern California (USC) in 1999, staying in the Los Angeles area was the obvious choice.  The opportunities for high-paying jobs were far more abundant.  As my career has progressed I have looked into relocating myself and my business to Milwaukee at various times, but it makes little economic sense.  Property, sales and income taxes are all high, and the potential base of businesses that might use my services is relatively small.

The city seems to be stuck between a rock and a hard place.  Losing the Bucks would likely decrease the attractiveness of the city to young, educated professionals.  Increasing taxes to keep the Bucks would make the city less economically attractive.  So, what to do?

The good news for proponents of the Bucks and the city is that Milwaukee already has a potential arena funding mechanism in place.  A tourist tax on hotels, rental cars and food & beverage sales at restaurants -- similar to ones used to build the Sprint Center in Kansas City and the Amway Center in Orlando -- already exists.  Tourist taxes in Milwaukee generated $27 million in 2013; far more than the estimated annual debt service on the public share of a new Bucks arena.  The problem is that these taxes are being used to keep the Wisconsin Center District -- owner of the Wisconsin Center, Milwaukee Theatre and former MECCA Arena -- afloat.  

Redirecting the tax revenues being spent by the Wisconsin Center District towards a new Bucks arena would likely be a win-win for the city.  Taxes could be kept at current levels, the Bucks could enter into a long-term lease with the city and the property that Wisconsin Center District facilities currently sit on could be sold or repurposed for uses that better serve a revitalization of downtown.  I believe that an honest survey of young, educated professionals with Milwaukee ties would find that alternative more attractive than either losing the Bucks or seeing taxes increased even more.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Bucks Forest 2014 All-NBA Team

The 2014 All-NBA team was announced recently.  Predictably, the selections inspired debate.  LeBron James's missing first-team vote made the most news in traditional media circles, but yours truly noticed something else: more than half the selections were wrong.  (Or, at the very least, questionable.)

The inclusion of positions in All-NBA teams has been a controversial topic over the years.  Some people want to do away with the positions and choose the five best players.  The author dislikes that idea because it is unfair to compare a point guard -- the least important position on the floor -- with a big man.  The position categories on the #BucksForest All-NBA team will have a twist, however: These are actual positions.  No team in the NBA plays two guards, two forwards and a center.  If someone thinks that some team does, then please inform the author on what makes LeBron James a three and Lance Stevenson a two.  They do the same things.

The reality is that every team in the NBA plays one Point, two Wings and two Bigs.  Lance and LeBron are both Wings.  Tim Duncan and Dwight Howard are both Bigs.  Bigs can go inside or outside on offense, but on defense they are the men who guard the paint.  Wings are players who are tasked with guarding the perimeter.  Points are the ball handlers.

Here, then, is the official Bucks Forest 2014 All-NBA First Team.  One Point.  Two Wings.  Two Bigs.

2014 All-NBA Point Guard: Steph Curry

Actual All-NBA equivalent: Chris Paul

Point guard may have been the most difficult category to select.  Chris Paul facilitates better than anyone else.  When he is at his best, Russell Westbrook is the best player who plays the point guard position.  (We have to disqualify Derrick Rose at the moment for obvious reasons.)  Damian Lillard may have made the biggest difference for his team.  Any one of those men would have been a defensible choice.

Russell Westbrook was disqualified because he played just about half of the season.

Chris Paul was disqualified because he missed twenty games.  The Chris Paul disqualification was a more difficult choice.  Missing one quarter of the season in and of itself should not disqualify a player.  The problem for Paul is that the Clippers went 13-7 without him.  That's a .650 winning percentage.  For the season the Clippers were at .695.  It may be unfair in some ways, but the team around Paul was so good that they hurt his case.

Damian Lillard was a brilliant player and his first-round playoff performance (see: Wing selections for more on that) was excellent.  That said, Curry was better.  Curry is a brilliant scorer and in the author's opinion a better passer.  Curry's defense has drawn criticism and Lillard's defense has been praised at times, but it just wasn't enough.  Curry gets the nod.

2014 All-NBA Wing Players: LeBron James and Kevin Durant (duh)

Actual All-NBA equivalents: James Harden, LeBron James and Kevin Durant

Here is where the official All-NBA selections go awry.  The journalists selected three wing players.  No actual team plays three Wings.  One could argue that the Heat, for example, go through stretches where LeBron plays as a Big with Ray Allen and Dwyane Wade as Wings.  But would LeBron be an All-NBA Big Man?  Is he one of the top rim protectors?  Does he thrive on offense without the ball in his hands?  Does he have a double-digit rebounding average?

The proof of the need for two bigs was clear at the 2012 Olympics.  When the USA team tried to play without two quality bigs against Spain's Big Man pairing of Pau and Marc Gasol, the USA team struggled.  LeBron and Durant are best when they play on the wing, and they are best when they play alongside two Bigs.

As far as the Wing Player selection goes, this is the ultimate no-brainer.  LeBron and Durant are the two best players in basketball (though LeBron has lost a quarter of a step and most people seem not to have noticed).  The selection of James Harden must be commented on, though.  He is not an All-NBA player and it shouldn't be close.  The man plays lax defense.  Monta Ellis would have been a better selection if one insists on choosing a player who is labeled a "shooting guard".

2014 All-NBA Big Men: Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh

Actual All-NBA equivalent: Joakim Noah

The following is a statement that may come off as arrogant: anyone who voted Joakim Noah over Dwight Howard either didn't watch enough NBA in 2014, has a personal agenda or doesn't understand the game of basketball.  I cannot think of any other possible explanation.

If you work for the Chicago Sun-Times and you voted for Noah, then that's fine.  Your employer is a local paper and when local sports stars get national recognition, it's good for the paper.

If you have an All-NBA ballot and you just didn't watch much basketball this season, that's also fine.  Journalists sometimes go through divorces, or have kids who get into trouble, or get their time stretched by other activities at work.  It happens to all of us.

Even if you just don't like Dwight Howard, that's fine.  All journalists have biases.  Maybe some journalists dislike Howard because he has a bunch of kids out of wedlock or because he's a Christian or some other reason.

But it had better be one of those three.  Because if you watched the NBA, you don't have an agenda and you don't have an irrational dislike of Dwight Howard, then Joakim Noah should not have even been a consideration for All-NBA first team.  NBA journalists are supposed to understand basketball. It is a basic job requirement.  And when journalists watch a dirt poor defensive team have a strong season in Houston, they should credit Howard.  When journalists watch Joakim Noah rendered ineffective by any high level coach/center combination in the league, they should disqualify Noah without a second thought.

I get that the NBA media got behind Noah.  I get that Michael Wilbon, a man who watches plenty of basketball without understanding the game, got on the bully pulpit for Noah this season.  And I get that Dwight Howard's demeanor and personality is hatable.  But, come on.  Joakim Noah over Dwight Howard?  It was so wrong in so many ways.

The second All-NBA Big Man selection was much more difficult.  Noah was not a real consideration for those who watch and understand the game, but Blake Griffin certainly was.  Blake was so good that he got robbed for Most Improved Player.  His offensive game expanded and he was a load for any team to handle.  In fact, LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Love were also loads for anyone to handle.

What separates Chris Bosh from Blake, Aldridge and Love is his defense.  Bosh has been one of the best defensive players in the league for years now.  The other three candidates routinely have defensive problems.  Surely some of the difference in defensive quality is due to the offensive load each man is expected to carry.  LeBron and Wade do most of the work on offense in Miami.  In Los Angeles, Portland and Minnesota, the big man is a bigger part of the scoring equation.

Kevin Love is the only All-NBA contender whose defense is so bad that yours truly would object to the selection.  If someone were to vote Aldridge or Blake, there would be no fight coming from the author.  Both of those players are close enough, just like Chris Paul and Damian Lillard at the point guard position.

What About the Bucks?

The Bucks are far from having an All-NBA player at the moment, but that is OK.  San Antonio will probably win the Championship without having an All-NBA player.  Dallas, Boston and Detroit all won championships in the last ten years without having one.  If things fall the way they fell for the Thunder and two perennial All-NBA contenders emerge on the Bucks, that's great.  Yours truly thinks a better goal is to build a team that functions as a unit.  A team that lapsed Bucks fans in Milwaukee can get behind.