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NBA PM: The Bucks May Make Big Changes

The Bucks are reportedly considering major changes, including trades involving members of their young core.

Alex Kennedy

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The Bucks May Make Big Changes

Last season, the Milwaukee Bucks were one of the league’s biggest surprises. After winning an NBA-worst 15 games during the 2013-14 season, they managed to go 41-41 last year and capture the Eastern Conference’s sixth seed. And not only did this promising young team sneak into the playoffs, they gave the third-seeded Chicago Bulls a hell of a fight before losing the first-round series in six games.

Entering this year, expectations were extremely high in Milwaukee due to Jabari Parker coming back from injury, Greg Monroe joining the team as a free agent, Khris Middleton re-signing and the team’s cornerstones furthering their development. The young core now had some postseason experience, a ton of confidence and a style of play that proved to be effective. They finished the 2014-15 campaign with the NBA’s second-best defense, allowing 99.3 points per 100 possessions. The Bucks hoped that their stingy defense coupled with an improved offense (thanks, in large part, to the production of Parker and Monroe) would take the team to new heights in a wide open East.

Well, things haven’t quite gone as planned for the Bucks this season. The team has drastically underachieved, as they sit at 20-31. That’s the third-worst record in the conference, behind only the awful Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers.

The team’s offense hasn’t improved nearly as much as everyone within the organization hoped: their league ranking climbed just three spots (from 25th to 22nd) and they’re scoring just 1.2 more points per 100 possessions compared to last season.

However, the most concerning thing about their 2015-16 campaign is the way their defense has struggled. The defense that was second behind only the champion Golden State Warriors last year now ranks 27th in the NBA (allowing 106.5 points per 100 possessions).

This isn’t a team going through a slump or playing slightly worse. Milwaukee literally went from one end of the defensive spectrum to the other, from truly elite to utterly awful. The Bucks may have expected a slight defensive decline due to the increased presence of offensive-oriented players like Parker and Monroe, but there’s no way they could have anticipated this kind of collapse. And while it’s easy to single out Parker and Monroe, there’s plenty of blame to go around for the team’s issues on that end.

The young core that was once believed to be among the best in the NBA is now surrounded by a cloud of uncertainty. Suddenly, trade rumors are surfacing and it’s not clear who is safe.

The team has plenty of attractive assets. Ten of their players are 25 years old or younger, including every starter: Giannis Antetokounmpo (21), Jabari Parker (20), Khris Middleton (24), Michael Carter-Williams (24) and Greg Monroe (25).

According to a report by Gery Woelfel of the Journal Times, the Bucks may be looking to make big changes prior to the Feb. 18 trade deadline, and virtually everyone could be had if the right offer comes along.

“From what I’m hearing, they are willing to trade anybody not named Parker, Antetokounmpo or Middleton,” an NBA executive told Woelfel. “I even heard they’d listen [to offers] for Parker and Middleton, but it would have to be some crazy offer.

“They want to do something; they know they have to do something. That group they have isn’t working.’’

Notice that Carter-Williams and Monroe weren’t listed on that list of virtual untouchables. Since Woelfel released his report, other reporters have come over top to confirm that Milwaukee has gauged interest in the point guard and big man.

Woelfel zeroed in on a possible Carter-Williams deal specifically in his article, stating that the team hasn’t been the same since he came to Milwaukee in a three-team trade last February.

In that three-team deal, the Bucks acquired Carter-Williams, Miles Plumlee and Tyler Ennis, the Phoenix Suns acquired Brandon Knight and the Philadelphia 76ers acquired the Los Angeles Lakers’ 2016 first-round pick that’s only top-three protected.

“Since [Jason] Kidd moved Knight, the Bucks are 18 games under .500,” writes Woelfel. “The chemistry of the team is horrendous, and the intensity and desire exhibited last season has surfaced only sporadically this season.”

This season, the former Rookie of the Year Carter-Williams has been incredibly inconsistent, although he is averaging a respectable 11.5 points, 5.6 rebounds, 5.0 rebounds and 1.5 steals while shooting 45.3 percent from the field and 31.7 percent from three-point range.

Monroe, who was one of the most coveted free agents of last offseason, has averaged 16.6 points, 9.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists, .9 blocks and .9 steals while shooting 52.1 percent from the field. However, that hasn’t translated to more wins for the Bucks, which is why they’re weighing all of their options at this point.

While there are plenty of issues and questions in Milwaukee right now, one thing is certain: The Bucks are definitely a team to keep an eye on as the trade deadline approaches because they appear to be open for business.

Dragic Defends His Production in Miami

In Goran Dragic’s final season with the Phoenix Suns, the veteran point guard averaged 20.3 points and 5.9 assists while shooting a career-high 40.8 percent three-point range. This earned him an All-NBA Third Team selection and the league’s Most Improved Player award.

However, since being traded from the Suns to the Miami HEAT at last year’s trade deadline, he has seen his stats decrease significantly. This year, his numbers are down to 12.1 points and 5.1 assists while shooting 32.5 percent from three-point range.

To land Dragic last year, Miami gave up two first-round picks as well as four players (Danny Granger, Norris Cole, Shawne Williams and Justin Hamilton) in a three-team deal that also involved the New Orleans Pelicans.

The 29-year-old, who signed a five-year contract worth $85 million last offseason, has received some criticism for his drop in production. However, he’s trying to block out those doubters and is confident that he’s been doing what is best for the team.

“I’m not even paying attention to those people who say, ‘Oh, he used to average 20,’” Dragic said, according to Jason Lieser of the Palm Beach Post. “You know, they don’t know a lot about basketball. This is a team sport.

“We’ve got two All-Star players in D-Wade and Chris Bosh. We’ve got Hassan. We have so many guys that can score, and I’m a point guard. I cannot take 18 or 20 shots every game. I need to involve everybody. Some games I’m going to score 20 and some games less, but that’s fine with me.”

When asked if playing efficiently and taking what the defense gives him – even if he’s not matching his previous production statistically – is enough, Dragic responded: “Yeah, absolutely.”

“And every game’s going to be different,” he added. “One game they were double-teaming D-Wade on the pick-and-roll and he said, ‘OK, G, I’m going to pass it to you more and you’ve got to be aggressive as a scorer.’ It’s just each game’s situation and who has the best matchup.”

Dragic is making $14,783,000 this season and will be under contract through the 2018-19 season. He then has a $19,217,900 player option for the 2019-20 campaign.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal

The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.

Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.

There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.

Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.

Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.

That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.

Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.

At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.

One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers

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When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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