NBA Risers – Milwaukee Bucks

This exercise will look at the young, building and very entertaining NBA teams that are looking to gain contender status. Some of these teams appear to be on the fast track while others are grasping to build around a cornerstone player. We’ll look at the savvy and the haphazard, while enjoying an optimist’s view into the looking glass. It’s summer, real NBA games won’t start for another 4 months and so what better time to paint a rosy picture of what could be for the NBA’s mid-tier teams? The first team we’re tackling – the Milwaukee Bucks.

Milwaukee Bucks

Who are they? A feisty first round playoff team that nearly pushed the heavily favored Bulls to the brink. As a Bulls fan I admit this team had me seriously worried that my favorite team would be the first to blow a 3-0 series lead. The Buck are young, long, rangy and furious defenders. Their offense should get a shot in the arm with the addition of Greg Monroe and a healthy Jabari Parker. Jason Kidd has surprised with his early coaching success; he has this group believing.

How have they been built? Their most important pieces – Parker and Giannis – were Milwaukee first round picks. Acquired Middleton in the Brandon Jennings trade with Detroit and MCW in a trade with Philly. Free agency has yielded Greg Monroe this year, perhaps a sign that free agents now consider the Bucks a destination. Jason Kidd escaped from Brooklyn memorably to lead this team.

Core group – Jabari Parker, Giannis Antetekoumpo, Khris Middleton, Michael Carter-Williams, Greg Monroe. A devastatingly versatile core that will only get better. Giannis has the chance to be a superstar, as does Jabari. Middleton provides much needed shooting and needed to be brought back, even if it was a slight overpay. MCW must improve one of the league’s worst jumpers but puts in work on the defensive end. It will be interesting to see how Monroe fits in. There won’t be a ton of spacing for him to operate in the post and his defense has been lackluster, which this coach won’t tolerate.

Role guys – Greivis Vazquez, OJ Mayo, Jerryd Bayless, Miles Plumlee, Chris Copeland. Depth has improved, with a quality backup PG in Vazquez and Chris Copeland takes Jared Dudley’s slot. Could use a couple shooters off the bench.

Boom or bust potential – Jabari Parker. I’m praying that he stays healthy for his second season, as he can be provide just the scoring punch and wing/stretch four versatility this team needs to get to the next level.

Optimist view – The 2015-16 ceiling for this team is the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, if things really break right can finish top-4 and get home court in the first round. With continued success more free agents and a new arena could be in the cards. The dream scenario is Jabari developing into a stud this season and Giannis making the leap to All-Star, with a top-10 defense to boot.

A July Snapshot of the Association

The draft, free agency and Summer League have come and gone, and we are now entering the dog days of the NBA calendar. It’s this time of year that I love to speculate on where teams sit and critique roster-building plans. Below I’ve separated teams by rough groupings, to organize my thoughts about each squad’s place in the pecking order. I will be delving deeper into each of these categories in the days to come.

Contenders – teams that will be in the hunt in late May

Warriors – The Champs bring back just about everybody, while finding relief from David Lee’s monster cap hit. The talent, depth and versatility they bring to the table makes them favorites for a title defense, barring injury.

Spurs – A ridiculous offseason has the Spurs back in the championship race. It will be interesting to see how the new pieces fit and how LMA adapts to the Spurs’ pace. They could be devastating.

Rockets – I love what they did this offseason. Assuming Ty Lawson gets himself together, these guys are fast, deep and versatile in the mold of the Warriors. I like every player on their roster.

Thunder – With their stars back healthy the Thunder still have the best top three in the league. Can Enes Kanter contribute without killing an already suspect defense? Will Billy Donovan’s coaching provide a bump after the Scott Brooks era was finally put out of its misery? Most important will KD, Russ and Serge stay on the court?

Grizzlies – While the rest of the NBA zigs, they zag. Focus on controlling a slower pace and letting their bigs dominate has been fruitful for the Grizzlies and the addition of Brandan Wright is huge behind Marc Gasol. Can they solve the outside shooting issues that have prevented them from getting over the hump?

Cavaliers – They likely will breeze through the East with Dan Gilbert writing all those checks and LeBron in Year 2 of the Cavs reboot. David Blatt or Coach LeBron need to show Kevin some more love.

Bulls – The Mayor Freddie Hoiberg looks to change the culture, hopefully improving a stagnant offense and playing his guys sane minutes. Bulls are a fringe contender, I fully admit my homerism factored into putting them up in this tier.

Quasi-contenders – Teams that may have an inflated belief in their chances

Clippers – Doc GM has made some curious moves, but when all was said and done I actually like what they pulled off this summer. Lance Stephenson is better off the bench than in a star role, and the DeAndre coup was very necessary. Not to mention the Paul Pierce reunion.

Hawks – Setting out to prove it wasn’t a fluke last year. They won’t win 60+ games, but bring back a lot of talent. Can they replace DeMarre Carroll’s versatility?

Heat – One of the best starting 5’s in the NBA. Hoping for a Chris Bosh comeback tour after the scary blood clot and Hassan Whiteside to build on his breakout campaign. They will go as far as D-Wade’s knees take them.

Wizards – Very quiet offseason and the loss of Pierce hurts. But this is a solid team that needs a full year of John Wall and Bradley Beal holding down the backcourt together.

First round fodder – Should make the playoffs but don’t have enough to make noise

Mavericks – Did an OK job recovering from the DeAndre fiasco, but they’re old, lack depth and will be desperate for a Deron Williams renaissance that I’m not sure is possible.

Raptors – The Carroll addition was nice but they overpaid for Cory Joseph and lost Amir Johnson. I still have a  bad taste in my mouth over how they shriveled in the playoffs; Kyle Lowry needs to bounce back in a big way.

Hornets – MJ’s team seems perpetually fated to live in the middle. The Frank Kaminsky pick won’t make enough of an impact.

Celtics – A great coach and a roster full of solid role players is enough to make the playoffs in the East. Probably not enough to beat one of the top four in the first round.

Up-and-comers – My favorite group, teams that are building upon a talented foundation. May not make the playoffs but will be exciting to watch develop. Next post will be about this group, so will save my thoughts for that.








Going nowhere fast – Uggh

Kings – This team is what Judd Apatow’s ‘Trainwreck’ should have been about.

Nets – Just a depressing team trying to get out of bad salary hell.

Lakers – Waiting out Kobe’s contract while trying to develop D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and other young pieces.

Knicks – Carmelo’s career trajectory makes me sad. I loved watching him play for the Nuggets during my career at University of Colorado.

Nuggets – Speaking of, the Nuggets embody the fact that NBA teams can fall apart quickly. Doesn’t seem that long ago I was wearing my Anthony, Billups, Martin, Smith & Nene shirt.

Trail Blazers – Another sad NBA tale. This was a fun team last year that won 50 games and immediately lost 80% of their starting lineup to free agency.

Pacers – Have Paul George back at full strength will help, but their big man talent is nonexistent and I have visions of Monta Ellis jacking 30 shots in January while George and Frank Vogel shake their heads.

76ers – Please.

Malcolm’s 90s Player of the Week – Luc Longley Edition

Inspired by 2015’s dopest summer movie, “Dope”, Down on the Block will shout out a different player from the salad days of the 1990s each week.
Inspired by 2015’s dopest summer movie, “Dope”, Down on the Block will shout out a different player from the salad days of the 1990s each week.

This week’s entry…Luc Longley (1992-2001)

The Big Australian in his natural habitat on the block
The Big Australian in his natural habitat on the block.

The great Lucien James Longley was a big inspiration to me as a young Bulls fan living in a Chicago suburb as I worked on my own rugged white man post game. Luc shared the court with legends Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and Steve Kerr, while playing for coaching guru Phil Jackson. It was easy to get lost in the shuffle. But the big man from Australia was integral to the Bulls success on the defensive end, and as a cog in the Triangle offense.

After being drafted by the Timberwolves #7 overall (and becoming the first Australian in the NBA, paving the way for Dante Exum), Longley came to Chicago in a trade for the current voice of the Bulls, Stacey King, who can be heard in all his glory in the video below.

Longley became the team’s starting center, won three NBA titles and averaged career highs of 11 points and 6 boards in the Bulls’ transcendent 1997-98 season. The 7’2″ monster was slow of foot but demanded a large berth in the post and was an underrated passer that could dish to his more well-known teammates cutting to the lane. Longley really created his legend in Chicago via his sharp Aussie wit. A particularly poignant example: after separating his shoulder body surfing with teammate Jud Buechler – who may have a future in this column – he claimed the injury was sustained while fighting a shark, who Longley said “was bigger than me – and better looking.” Longley missed two months, which I’m sure went over well with Jordan.

Post-Bulls, Longley’s career playing for the Suns and Knicks was decidedly less illustrious, highlighted by being stung twice by a scorpion (once on the ass) in his home in Phoenix while organizing his CD collection. Ahh the 90s, those halcyon days of compact discs. It was a simpler time.

I leave you with this video evidence of Luc Longley telling MJ and Pip “I got this” (not verbally, Luc lets his play do the talking) and putting the Bulls on his back in this glorious 16-point first quarter in Detroit in 1996. The future Hall of Famers could only stand aside and watch Lucien’s torrent of post game footwork and swift bucket-getting. Note the capable left hand, yeoman’s work on the offensive boards, slow but effective ball fakes and fundamentals at the line. “How’s Detroit going to stop Longley?” How, indeed.

Lockout Déjà Vu is the Saddest Kind

Mar 28, 2015; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder center Enes Kanter (34) reacts from the bench area during the first half against the Utah Jazz at EnergySolutions Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

With so many mind-boggling deals coming over the wire and the curious thrill of NBA free agency season in full swing, I feel the tug of a troubling sense of déjà vu coming from a whispering pessimist on my right shoulder.

Names and numbers like Enes Kanter and $70 million; Reggie Jackson…$80 million; Omer Asik…$60 million, only intensify this sense of dread.

The optimist on my left shoulder shouts “But the cap’s going up! This is basically monopoly money NBA teams are dealing with!”

But does the catapulting cap actually matter?

Or are the new TV contracts just giving desperate-to-compete owners a longer rope with which to hang themselves?

Back in 2011, the year of the last NBA lockout, one of the key concessions of the resulting CBA was an Amnesty clause, the NBA’s own version of a bailout. Owners from 21 NBA teams who had spent big bucks on bad long term contracts breathed a sigh of relief. They amnestied guys like Baron Davis, Gilbert Arenas and Carlos Boozer, and presumably vowed never to make those kinds of mistakes again.

Color me cynical but deals like Kanter’s reek of history repeating.

Do you realize he will make $17 million next season, the same amount as Russell Westbrook? OKC already has a crowded frontcourt and all the scoring it needs, and they spend this much on a guy who will be a liability come playoff crunch time due to his horrid defense? I get it, NBA teams are desperate to stay competitive in the ravenous free agent market and are under intense pressure to match restricted free agent offer sheets. But it’s going to be awkward seeing that $70 million parked firmly on the bench late in playoff games.

Like most NBA fans I’m giddy when I think about my favorite team having more money to fit the last pieces of the puzzle into their cap room or the next prized superstar free agent. But inflation is very real and very sobering. If Kanter commands $70M what’s it going to take OKC to re-sign Durant next year? In a true free market Kanter’s price tag makes KD worth close to a billion by comparison. Of course this market ain’t free, but KD’s looming max deal will still have the Thunder’s cap sheet swelling to its limits (should he choose to stay there). And as we’ve seen already, once one role guy gets a max deal the dominos start to fall as the market sets. What’s to stop your favorite team’s GM from following the precedents?

The point is you could make the salary cap $500 million, but if you’re going to turn around and make role players 6-figure earners, we’re back in the same place we were in 2011…and 2005…and 1999. There are already rumors about an impending lockout in 2017, a threat that seems more real with each new bad, bloated contract.

A rising tide lifts all boats, and the weight of those overpriced dinghies threatens to crush NBA owners in their beachfront mansions.

Malcolm’s 90s Player of the Week

Inspired by 2015’s dopest summer movie, “Dope”, Down on the Block will shout out a different player from the salad days of the 1990s each week.

Our inaugural entry…Mitch Richmond (1988-2002)

Your prototypical 90s shooting guard in the throwback Kings jersey
Your prototypical 90s shooting guard in the throwback Kings jersey

Hall of Famer and 1995 All-Star Game MVP Mitch Richmond personified the prototypical  shooting guard, with his mix of catch-and-shoot, silky smooth release and just enough athleticism to make plays at the rim. Defensively he could get steals (81st all-time) but was never known as a lockdown guy. Richmond was an offensive juggernaut, the shooter you’d have coming off the bench in your custom late-90s NBA Live super team. Toiling on many bad Warriors, Kings and Wizards teams may have earned him a ‘good stats-bad team’ reputation, but that’s mostly unfair, as there’s only so far a team could go in the 90s when its best player was a (non-MJ) 2 guard. I’d say Mitch suffered from poor roster construction. He did win a championship in 2002 – scoring a measly 3 points in the playoff run – with the Kobe-Shaq Lakers, one of the few times in his career he shared the court with multiple All-Stars. The 1990-91 Run TMC Warriors were an early bright spot, led my Richmond (23.9 ppg), Chris Mullin (25.7) and Tim Hardaway (22.9)

Richmond’s most impressive stat is being one of the few players in NBA history to average 20 or more points per game over 10 seasons. The man could fill it up.

Kenny Smith and I salute Mitch Richmond! 

Greetings NBA enthusiasts (and fanatics)

This is the maiden entry of what aims to be an insightful, informative and entertaining blog about all things NBA – on and off court – that will be updated frequently. As the excellent (and lengthy) Playoffs, Draft, whirlwind free agency and completely ridiculous yet wildly intriguing DeAndre Jordan “hostage” situation last night proved, the NBA is always compelling. No other sports league delivers the stunning athleticism and on-court drama with fun off-court storylines that can fill social media and talk shows for days. I know the NFL has DeflateGate and domestic violence, but who wants to talk or blog about downers like that? Give me emoji battles and Mark Cuban flying to Houston only to be denied access to a guy he’s trying to give $80 million to.

Some of the things that I will cover here include:

  • Team building analysis (complete with team previews for the upcoming season)
  • Throwback posts about players from the ’90s
  • Thoughts on new trends and the always-evolving nature of the NBA game
  • An easy to understand fan’s guide to NBA schemes, lingo, strategies and salary cap
  • Positional player rankings…future value predictions
  • As the season begins, highlights and rapid analysis of all the big dunks, Steph Curry ridiculous bombs, comeback wins, SVG F bombs, JVG digs at John Paxson, JR Smith segway action and all the other things that make this league so great.

Follow me on twitter @DNFonNBA

Enjoy the Hoopla!