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Solving the Milwaukee Bucks’ Surplus of Bigs

A look at what the Milwaukee Bucks should do in order to clear up their log jam on the frontline and even out their roster.

John Zitzler

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The Bucks had their fair share of problems last season; They finished with the worst record in the league, everything imaginable went wrong for Larry Sanders, O.J. Mayo never came close to playing to the level expected and Ersan Ilyasova’s three point shot eluded him all season long. Along with those issues, going forward one of the main concerns will be trying to balance out the roster and build a winner from the ground up. The Bucks frontcourt is very crowded and is something the team will have to address. Here’s a player-by-player look at how they should go about it.

John Henson – A two time ACC Defensive Player of the Year, Henson came to Milwaukee known for his defense and shot blocking. However, his slight frame has made matching up against some of the bulkier bigs in the league a challenge and he has looked overmatched in certain matchups. Despite that he still has done a nice job swatting shots around the rim. This last season he ranked fifth in the league sending back 1.7 shots per night. He has shown a surprising touch around the rim and this last year averaged 11.1 points a game primarily coming off the bench. If he gets good position in the paint and can get his left handed hook off he can be a consistent scorer. The problem lies when he can’t get to his left hand. The scouting report is out on Henson and teams know that is his most dominant scoring move by a considerable margin. Henson doesn’t have a great jump shot and isn’t nearly as effective finishing with his right hand. If he wants to be a starting caliber NBA power forward he needs to continue to add strength and become a more versatile player on the offensive end. Right now playing alongside Larry Sanders had been problematic with neither Henson nor Sanders having the ability to step out and hit a mid-range jumper with consistency. A reliable jump shot could go a long way in to help accelerate Henson’s growth as a player. He is the most tradeable of the Bucks group of big men and is still on his rookie contract. Just 23 years old with plenty room to grow, Henson could bring back decent value.

Ersan Ilyasova – Ilyasova, currently the longest tenured Buck on the roster, has been a mainstay in the frontcourt for years. In July of 2012 he was re-signed to a five year, $40 million dollar contract extension to keep him in Milwaukee. This extension came following his best season as a pro in 2011-2012 where he averaged 13 points, 8.8 rebounds and knocked down 45.5 percent of his three point attempts. His proficiency from beyond the arc made him a valuable asset and he looked to be blossoming into one of the better stretch four’s in the NBA. Unfortunately this year he took a major step back. Ilyasova never was able to get into a rhythm; both his scoring and rebounding dipped but the most concerning stat was his three point percentage: 28.2 percent, a career low. Ilyasova has always been a streaky player, one whose confidence strongly correlates with his play. He never found that confidence in his shot and the results reflected that. When he is right he can be a very valuable player and as the stretch four position becomes increasingly more popular around the league he still could be a desirable piece for a team looking to add shooting at the four spot. He was rumored to be a favorite of former owner Herb Kohl, who believed Ilyasova had star potential. With Kohl now out of the picture it’s very plausible that the team could be entertaining offers for Ilyasova. At this point though his value is at an all-time low the team may be better off looking for a mid-season deal giving Ilyasova time to improve his value.

Larry Sanders – Sanders had a nightmarish 2013-2014 season, one littered with both on and off the court troubles. In 2012-13 Sanders burst onto the scene and had an exceptional year, particularly on defensive side of the ball. He was one the best players in the league in terms of protecting the rim and interior defense. He finished second in the league in blocks per game and led the league in block percentage. That great season was the catalyst for the contract extension he signed last offseason worth four years and $44 million. In hindsight that looks like a magnificent move on his part and one the Bucks may have wished they held off on. The troubled center not only missed time this season with a thumb injury that occurred in a night club skirmish but also had to serve a suspension from a failed drug test, testing positive for marijuana. When he was on the court things weren’t much better. He regressed back to his pre-breakout season form in the 23 games he was able to play. His future is a major concern for the franchise and his improvement both on and off the court will play a major in the Bucks rebuilding process. Sanders can be an impact player if he can keep his head on straight, one the thing team must strongly consider before pulling the trigger on a move. Like Ilyasova his value is not nearly what it was a year ago, however if the Bucks new ownership feels his antics aren’t worth putting up with he could be on his way out of Milwaukee sooner than expected.

ZaZa Pachulia – The Bucks brought Pachulia in last offseason to provide depth and experience to a team that hoped to contend for a playoff spot. Those aspirations fell well short but Pachulia remained a steady contributor. With Larry Sanders missing significant time Pachulia was forced into a bigger role than expected. He performed admirably and served as a great mentor for some of the younger guys on the roster. He is a true professional in every sense of the word and guy who would fit right in on a contender. He is signed through 2015-26. He figures to be a strong candidate to be traded since he still is a very solid player, one who could offer size and strength down low for a contender. He may not bring back much in return but at this stage in his career with the Bucks rebuilding it may be best for both sides to go their separate ways.

Miroslav Raduljica – Raduljica was discovered by Bucks director of player personal Dave Babcock and was a bit of a surprise when he signed with the team last offseason. Raduljica proved in his limited time that he possesses a nice scoring touch around the basket. He is a big body on a cheap deal and appears to have a little more potential than originally expected. He will never be a star but he has ability to be a contributor off the bench. He is one guy I would look for the Bucks to hang onto with the hope that they may have found a diamond in the rough in Raduljica.

Ekpe Udoh – Udoh is a restricted free agent this offseason, giving the Bucks will have to ability to match any offers. It would be a bit surprising if the team chose to bring him back. He has proven to be nothing more than a role player off the bench with a limited skill set on the offensive end. The Bucks are a team looking to rebuild with young guys with potential, and the belief in Udoh’s is dwindling. The Bucks would be best suited moving on.

Jeff Adrien – Adrien was acquired in a mid-season trade with Bobcats and is now an unrestricted free agent. Despite being somewhat undersized he is an excellent rebounder, however on the offensive end struggles to create his own shot. Similarly to Udoh he has limited potential and may be best served playing on a more competitive team looking for a glue guy like him.

The most ideal scenario for the Bucks would be acquiring another first round pick in this year’s draft or next. The team needs to stockpile as much young talent as possible as they look towards the future. No player in the frontcourt should be off limits if the team has a chance to land another first rounder. If for some reason Joel Embiid falls to the number two pick and is selected by the Bucks, making a move to clear up the logjam in the frontcourt will become a necessity. Ilyasova and Pachulia will be the most likely candidates but the question remains what type of value they will return. Again, with Ilyasova the team would be wise to be patient and hope he can regain his form prior to this past season before looking to move him. He can be one the better stretch four’s in the game and could certainly add a different dimension to a contending squad. While Pachulia and Ilyasova both make the team immediately better the Bucks still are a long way from competing in the East. One way or another the Bucks will have to clear up the frontcourt and moving the more veteran players would seem to be the most logical move for a team in the early stages of the rebuilding process.

This is John's second year with Basketball Insiders, after spending last season working as an intern. Based out of Milwaukee, he covers the NBA with a focus on the Milwaukee Bucks and the Central Division.

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NBA Daily: Clippers Looking Forward to Teodosic Return

Clippers hanging on and looking forward to Teodosic return, writes James Blancarte.

James Blancarte

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The Los Angeles Clippers have had a season of twists and turns. While the season is still young, they’ve dealt with setbacks, mostly in the form of a multitude of injures. In fact, the team’s misfortunes began almost immediately. On Oct 21 (the NBA season started earlier this year), Clippers guard Milos Teodosic went down with a plantar fascia injury. This stands as the first bump in the road for the Clippers, who have seen a number of key players go down.

Following the loss of Chris Paul this past offseason, the Clippers appeared to have salvaged their immediate future through a number of offseason transactions. Under the direction of the front office, which includes Lawrence Frank, VP of Basketball Operations, and Jerry West, a Clippers consultant, the Clippers traded Paul, which helped to remake the roster. West spoke of his approval of the Paul trade before the season started.

“The Clippers feel comfortable that we made out really well. We could have lost him for nothing,” West stated of the Paul trade. “I think it was kind of a win myself.”

The Paul trade brought in Patrick Beverley, Montrezl Harrell, Sam Dekker and helped to eventually bring in Danilo Gallinari. A big part of the offseason makeover was the acquisition of European star Teodosic. Losing Paul meant that the Clippers were going to be without a highly talented, pass-first point guard for the first time since Paul’s acquisition during the 2011-2012 season.

Part of the strategy called for replacing Paul with both Beverley, who could match Paul’s defensive tenacity, and Teodosic, who could match Paul’s vision and passing. While neither player could match Paul’s overall brilliance (and Paul has been brilliant this season for the Rockets), the team hoped to create a winning environment around these two players.

Unfortunately, Teodosic went down quickly. Then Beverley experienced issues with his knee, culminating with season-ending microfracture surgery on his knee in late November. Combine this with Gallinari missing nearly a month with injuries and Blake Griffin going down for the next few months with an MCL sprain of his left knee recently, and the Clippers have struggled to stay competitive with lineups that have often included only one of the team’s opening day starters (center DeAndre Jordan). The franchise shouldn’t be completely surprised by the rash of injuries, as their offseason plan banked on players with questionable injury histories such as Griffin and Gallinari.

To fill in, the Clippers have also made use of a number of young, inexperienced players (not at all common in the Doc Rivers era), including playing 2017 second round pick, guard Sindarius Thornwell. Thornwell has benefited from the opportunity as is averaging 16.2 minutes a game and has even started in seven games (of 24 played).  Thornwell confirmed the obvious regarding injuries.

“We’ve been playing without a lot of our core guys,” Thornwell stated.

Clippers head coach Doc Rivers also made it clear that injuries have affected the team.

“It’s not just Blake [Griffin]. If it was just Blake, we’d be OK,” Rivers stated recently. “But you miss [Danillo] `Gallo,’ Milos [Teodosic], Patrick Beverley.”

Currently, the team is well below .500 with a 9-15 record, good enough for 11th in the Western Conference. And while the team is ahead of a number of teams destined for the NBA lottery such as the Dallas Mavericks and Sacramento Kings, they aren’t too far removed from the eighth seed, currently held by the Utah Jazz, who are below .500 (13-14 record). It’s not reasonable for a team that has already suffered a nine-game losing streak and is only 4-6 in the last 10 games to expect another playoff berth, and the team has not yet signaled they have given up on the season.

The Clippers have stayed afloat by being extremely reliant on the individual offensive output of guards Austin Rivers and Lou Williams. Give Williams credit, as he has been brilliant recently including a game winning shot against the Washington Wizards on Saturday. Over the last 10 games, he is averaging 23.2 points on 62.7 true shooting percentage and 6.2 assists in 34.5 minutes per game, per nba.com. For reference, Williams has a career true shooting percentage average of 53.3 percent, per basketball-reference.com. However, this doesn’t scream long-term winning formula, nor should it — the team hasn’t recently had reliable offensive output outside of these guards who were originally expected to come off the bench for the Clippers.

Gallinari has since returned and played well in his second game back, an overtime win against the Wizards. Now the team has upgraded Teodosic’s condition to questionable and are hopeful that Teodosic makes his return Monday night against the Raptors.

“He’s ready. He’s close,” Rivers stated, speaking of Teodosic at a recent Clippers practice. “And that will help. In a big way.”

In addition to possibly helping their increasingly remote chances at making the playoffs, the Clippers have other goals. Teodosic is signed to a two-year deal, but the second-year is a player option allowing the European guard to leave after the season. Should Teodosic find that the Clippers are somehow not a good fit or a place where he can find success, he may opt out of the second year. If the team wants to ensure that the 30-year-old guard sees a bright future with the Clippers, they should hope that his return leads to the Clippers playing winning basketball.

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Q&A With Cavaliers Rookie Cedi Osman

Basketball Insiders caught up with Cavaliers rookie Turkish swingman Cedi Osman to discuss a number of topics. 

Spencer Davies

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Monday afternoon, Basketball Insiders caught up with rookie Turkish swingman Cedi Osman to discuss a number of topics. 

Basketball Insiders: Your first experience in the NBA, making the transition from international play and Euroleague—has it been what you’ve expected?

Cedi Osman: I mean of course it’s different rules and stuff and a different type of basketball. In international, it’s like more slow, but here it’s like always up and down, a lot of fast breaks.

Actually that’s the kind of basketball that I like. When I was playing overseas, I was also running a lot, up and down. I was that guy who was bringing the energy, so it was not hard for me to adjust to this basketball.

BI: With Euros in this league, it’s a growing amount. What does that tell you about the talent pool over there?

Osman: There’s a lot of talented players overseas—like really, a lot. Like you said, when you look around the NBA there’s a lot of European players. Starting with Dirk Nowitzki, he’s a big legend. He was the one who chose to do Europe [to show] what he can do. I can give you the example of two Turkish basketball players—Hedo Turkoglu and Mehmet Okur, he won one championship. I mean, there’s a lot of European players.

BI: Definitely. So how well do you know Hedo and Mehmet?

Osman: With Mehmet Okur, I was talking a couple times. I saw him one time in summer league this year. I talk to Hedo also because he’s president of Turkish Basketball Federation, so I was talking to him also.

BI: You’ve gotten some crucial minutes with the bench in the last couple of games. The same thing can be said when you played in New York and against the Hawks, too. What’s allowed you and that group to click together?

Osman: I always try to think positive. When I’m getting there on the court with the second unit, I’m trying to bring the energy because I’m the youngest one with Big Z [Ante Zizic] together.

Whenever I get on the court I’m trying to bring the energy on both sides of the court—on defense and offense—and I’m trying to run the floor the fastest that I can. Trying to guard players that are really good. And that also just improves my basketball [skills] a lot. I’m really happy that I am a part of this team and it’s also really important for me that I’m getting these crucial minutes.

BI: In a recent interview, you said that you don’t have a reason to be scared. You’re “cold-blooded.” Why do you feel that way?

Osman: I was playing overseas professionally since I was 16 years old…actually, I started getting paid when I was 12. [I’ve been] playing professionally for a long time. I played with a lot of good players. I’ve played also [with] former NBA players like Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic who was on the same team.

I know, yeah this is the best league in the world, but I don’t have a reason why to be scared because I was working for this—to come here, to give my best and to be stable to stay for long, long years. That’s why I said I don’t have a reason to be scared, because I know that I can play here.

BI: When you’re on the floor, what do you expect out of yourself? You said you want to get up and down the floor and give it to both ends, but is there anything outside of that, maybe mentality wise?

Osman: Of course. Not just as a rookie, but every time I get on the court like I said, I want to be always that guy who brings the energy. Also like, when we’re going bad or when we have a bad game, I want to change the momentum of the game. That’s what I’m working for a lot. We have great players and I have a lot of things to learn from them.

That’s why I said I’m really happy to be a part of this team, because we’re one of the best teams in the world. I hope that we’re going to win a championship in my first year. That would be a big thing for me.

BI: What kind of things have the coaching staff tried to help you improve in practice?

Osman: There’s a couple defensive plays that’ll be different. There’s also defensive three seconds. That was a bit of adjusting for me because in Europe you can always stay in the paint no matter what. There’s no defensive three seconds. Here it’s different, so it was a little bit hard for me to adjust in the beginning, but now I don’t have any problems and coaches are really helping me a lot.

BI: This team isn’t fully healthy yet, obviously with Isaiah Thomas coming back, Tristan Thompson coming back and Iman Shumpert down the road. That might affect playing time for some. You’ve gone to the G-League and played with the Canton Charge once before. You had a lot of minutes in that one game and did a really good job there. Is that something that you’re prepared for? Would you mind playing there again if that’s the case for you?

Osman: I was the one who asked for Canton, to go there, because before Shump got injured I didn’t have a lot of playing time. I said that I want to play whenever we have an off day, whenever I can go to play there, to run a lot, to try to do my thing. See that I’m working here before practices. That’s why I asked to go there. I talked to [Cavaliers general manager] Koby [Altman] and he said he supported me about that and that would be good for me.

BI: You have your own hashtag—#TheFirstCedi—can you explain the inspiration behind that and what it means?

Osman: So I’m working with one agency in Turkey and they’re doing a really good job about myself, my profile, my brand (laughs). They’re doing a really good job. “The First Cedi” is because my first name is Cedi and a lot of people are calling me Jedi, so that’s from Star Wars. The First Cedi—because in Turkey, ‘C’ reads as a ‘J’ so Jedi. First Jedi, that’s why.

BI: That’s pretty funny. Are you a Star Wars fan?

Osman: Yeah. I watch. But because it’s like old movies and that kind of stuff, but now new movies are better.

BI: It’s a locker room full of veterans here in Cleveland. Do you feel comfortable with everyone?

Osman: Definitely. I feel really comfortable. We have—I don’t want to say veteran players—but they are so good and they are big, big professionals. I have a lot of fun with them—locker room, when we go on the road, team dinners and that kind of stuff. It’s pretty cool.

The thing is, like it’s my first appearance. Overseas I’m coming to America and I was thinking the adjustment would be a little bit hard for me, but it was actually the opposite. From the first day that I met those guys, they helped me a lot.

BI: Is there anyone that you’ve gotten especially close to? You mentioned Big Z earlier.

Osman: Me and Z are pretty close. We’re speaking the same language. We played in the same league in Turkey. But like, I’m close with everybody. With Channing [Frye], we are always talking about the games and that stuff.

BI: Playing with LeBron—can you put that into words?

Osman: Look, it’s…(pauses), it’s something crazy. Because I was playing a game—obviously 2K—before when I was younger, I was playing with him and that stuff. Of course, it was my dream to be an NBA player, to play in the NBA. But when you’re playing on the same team with [Derrick] Rose, LeBron James, [Dwyane] Wade, Kevin Love, [Isaiah Thomas], it’s crazy.

I didn’t imagine that I would play with those players. And then, I just realize when I’m playing with them, the only thing that I can do is just work a lot and learn from them.

BI: When you hear these guys talk about you in a good light and coach Lue gives you praise, how does that make you feel?

Osman: That’s something really incredible. I mean… from the first day, from the media day when LeBron was in a press conference, he talked about everybody. But he talked also about me and he knew about Euroleague and that kind of stuff, so I was really happy. I was really proud and I was really happy about it. From the first day, he was so close to me. Not just him, but everybody.

BI: What do you think people need to know about your personality? Is there anything that hasn’t been said?

Osman: Actually, nothing special (laughs). I’m the guy who always smiles and with a lot of energy, always being positive talking to everybody, making a lot of jokes, trying to be friendly with everyone and the most important—I’m trying to be a good character.

BI: Last one—based off of this conversation alone, you’ve picked up the English language so easily. Who’s helped you on that side of things?

Osman: I actually had a lot of American players overseas on my previous team—it was Jordan Farmar, Jamon Gordon, Derrick Brown, he also played here, there was Bryant Dunston, Jayson Granger. I played a lot with Dario Saric, too, Furkan Korkmaz. Those were guys that were always talking English.

Just talking to them all the time. When they talked, I would just listen to them. I wasn’t listening to what they talked [about], but just for what kind of words they were using and what kind of sentences, the way they were talking. That’s how I learned English.

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James Johnson: The Latest Product of Miami’s Culture

James Johnson speaks to Michael Scotto about his success within Miami’s culture.

Michael Scotto

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James Johnson went from an NBA nomad to financially set for life.

Over the summer, Johnson signed a four-year, $60 million deal with Miami, as first reported by Basketball Insiders. The deal included a fourth-year player option.

“It really meant everything to me,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders. “To be in a situation in my life to overcome so much, and to finally get something like that where it’s long-term, where it’s somewhere I really want to be too, it was just all-in-all the best scenario.”

Johnson was drafted No. 16 overall in 2009 and spent time with four different teams, including two stints in Toronto, before his career year in Miami last season. During that span, Johnson also spent time in the G-League for the Iowa Energy (2011) and the Rio Grande Valley Vipers (2013).

Despite being nomadic through the first eight years of his career, Johnson never doubted his talent nor the hope that he’d find the right organizational fit.

“No, I never doubted myself,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders. “I never doubted the Lord neither. I’m a big firm believer of that. Every team I was on I always enjoyed my teammate’s success. I always was a real part of practice players and being a scout guy. My whole journey is just to figure out and experience all the other aspects of this game that we play. It says a lot where I can start helping other guys out like the rookies now and guys that are not getting any minutes right now, things like that. I’m a big testament to just staying ready, so you don’t have to get ready.”

After playing for the Chicago Bulls, Toronto Raptors, Sacramento Kings, and Memphis Grizzlies, what set Miami’s culture apart?

“Just their want-to, they’re no excuses, act like a champion on and off the court, and just that mental stability of always teaching you, not just drills, not just coaching just because they’re called coaches,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders. “They really inspire, they really help out, and it makes you want to be in that work environment.”

Johnson credits his relationship with President Pat Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra for helping him fulfill his potential.

“It’s great, its nothing like I’ve ever experienced before,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a little new still, but the freedom to be able to go into their office and just talk about normal things, you know, is one of the big reasons why I never want to leave this place.”

While playing on a one-year, $4 million deal, Johnson averaged a career-high 12.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 3.6 assists in 27.4 minutes per game. Johnson also shot a career-high 34 percent from beyond the arc.

Looking ahead, can Johnson continue to improve at age 30 and beyond coming off his best year as a pro?

“I got paid, so there’s no pressure of playing for the money,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders. “It’s really playing for the wins, playing for your teammates, and playing with a pure heart, not going out there with any agendas, not going out there looking to live up to something that everybody else wants you to live up to. For me, it’s just gelling with our team and making sure our locker room is great like I was mentioning. Go out there and compete and trust each other.”

Johnson has put up nearly identical numbers through the first quarter of this season, averaging 11.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.1 assists in 27.6 minutes per game. Johnson is also shooting a career-high 36 percent from beyond the arc.

“It’s my ninth year, and I’m just happy to be able to be part of the NBA for that long,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders.

Looking ahead, Johnson hopes to maximize years 10-12 in Miami during the rest of his contract and the remaining prime of his career.

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