At least Bucks have a clear direction
The Milwaukee Bucks and the Oklahoma City Thunder are in the NBA Finals. The sponsors are down to Gilles Frozen Custard, Bill’s Tire and Battery of Muskogee and the usual suspects among ambulance-chasing set.
But that’s Stern’s problem.
On ESPN5, assigned to carry the series, they’re talking about how the Bradley Center finally has some celebrities in the courtside seats. Garry Shandling and Jeremy Piven are showing up to watch Larry Sanders.
They’re talking about Sanders, who is developing into a Horace Grant-type player to the point that he’s wearing goggles for no other reason.
They’re still talking about Carmelo Anthony, who stunned the league two years before by signing as a free agent with the Bucks. “Well, who wouldn’t want to play with Jennings and Bogut?” Anthony tells Charlie Bell of “the Cinco.”
They’re talking about … OK, I’m back on the medication now.
Look, we all know there is no guarantee the Bucks will even return to the playoffs this season, much less make a serious run anytime soon.
But you’ve got to appreciate that they have a direction, and that they’re sticking to it.
They saw how the Lakers and Celtics made the Finals. If you can’t have a Kobe Bryant or even a Paul Pierce, go to the next layer.
Get bigger, especially longer. Make sure all that extra length is athletic length. Shrink the court. Tip a lot of loose balls. Tighten the defense from good to great.
You saw how small the Bucks were against Atlanta in the first round. Even with Andrew Bogut, they would’ve been at a size/length/athletic disadvantage, and still they took the series to seven games.
Hence, their draft strategy. Again, there is no assurance Sanders or any of the second-rounders will have NBA futures inside all that size. But the Bucks had to try because smaller and less mobile isn’t going to get them out of the division.
Last season the Bucks became the first team of the shot-clock era to make the playoffs after attempting fewer free throws than their opponents made. So they went out and got Corey Maggette, who, for his other faults, can get to the line.
Some of the e-mails I’m getting are coated with angst about Maggette becoming another chemistry wrecker like Anthony Mason. Can’t see that.
For one thing, Mason played at his own pace, grinding a thoroughbred-tempo offense to a nag’s trot. Maggette will run with Brandon Jennings. For another, George Karl catered to Mason. Scott Skiles caters to no individual player. And Maggette would have to be delusional to not want to fit in with Jennings and Bogut after playing with all that dysfunction out West.
Two years ago, the Bucks were awful and couldn’t have fit Potsie Weber under the cap. They were paying Mavericks-type money for Timberwolves-level talent.
Now, they’ve got some players and their finances are such that they could afford to pay John Salmons and a veteran power forward to shepherd Sanders along and still be beneath the luxury tax.
And next year, they will have enough cap space to pay any A-list free agent out there, including Anthony. Of course, Anthony’s most likely staying in Denver. And there’s still the perception that free agents aren’t keen on Milwaukee.
But that’s changing with Jennings, Bogut, Skiles and freed-up money, especially the freed-up money.
Even the best of intentions and a GPS could lead you over a cliff. But at least there’s a clearly mapped direction for the Bucks, and they’re following it.
Michael Hunt is a sports columnist at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.