Bucks Diary

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

I may have jumped the gun

I think I had a Jason Blair moment yesterday. It seems I inadvertently started a wildfire of false rumor in BucksNation that the Bucks were on the verge of signing Yi.

Here's how it happened. I was waiting to watch the David Stern news conference on ESPN when Sage Steele had a quick piece on ESPN's First Take regarding the news that Yi's Chinese handlers announced that he would play for the Bucks next season. That news is confirmed by the Chinese Associated Press. But, I think I may have hastily misconstrued the entirety of the report, which also said, as I recall, that Larry Harris would have his second meeting with Yi's representatives. I lept to the conclusion that a signing was imminent. Since no one else seems to have heard or concluded the same thing, I was clearly wrong, or at least wishful in my thinking. It does seem, however, a fait accompli that Yi will sign with the Bucks, but if I misled anyone into believing that would happen yesterday, I am sorry, and will try to be a little more diligent and patient in the future.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Exonerating Stern on one point

During his press conference today, David Stern was asked, in essence, how he could be so certain that no other referees were involved in the scandal. To which Stern replied "I feel like I was just asked when I stopped beating my wife."

Stern is drawing a lot of criticism for that response, but I think some of it comes from the fact that he didn't properly reference what he was talking about. But it does sort of play up what I referred to in my earlier post: he was way off his game today. Because I cringed when I heard that response, and I knew exactly what he was trying to say.

Stern was not accusing the questioner of alleging that he, Stern, had beaten his wife. What Stern was doing was clumsily accusing the questioner of asking him a loaded question, or, as lawyers would say, a question that assumes facts that are not in evidence. The classic law school example of that is the prosecutor who asks the defendant: "So, when did you stop beating your wife?" You see, the question implies that at one point the defendant had beaten his wife, which is unfair and prejudicial unless already proven.

Of course, the question Stern was asked was actually not an example of a loaded question, but rather was an example of a question that required him to prove a negative. So Stern's whole response was inapt, but not as bizarre and politically incorrect as some are making it out to be.

Stern unconvincing on Donaghy scandal

Frankly I was expecting a bit more from Commissioner David Stern's news conference than I got. Instead of seeing the media savvy commisioner that we have all come to expect, in this moment of crisis I saw an unusually rattled and forlorn Stern. His statement was meandering and mumbled, and basically did nothing more than reiterate the safeguard system the NBA already has in place -- the very system that failed to detect Tim Donaghy's indiscretions. In an unbelievably tin-eared spin on this serious situation, the Commissioner seemed to simply throw up his hands and imply that if one determined individual, such as Donaghy, wanted to get away with undermining the integrity of the Association, he could do it. Stern pointed to the FBI and CIA "rogue agent" scandals of the past as proof of his assertion.

That's not what I wanted to hear. First of all, Donaghy is hardly in the same clandestine league as an Aldrich Aimes. His strange personal behavior should have signalled him out as an obvious problem as far back as two years ago. Yet the NBA claims they investigated him and found nothing amiss. How did this extensive network of security that Stern laid out, which included credit and financial oversights, fail to notice that this referee had serious issues that called into question his fitness as a decisionmaker? Second, as a fan I can't buy into Stern's pessimistic acceptance of the fact that a determined referee could pull something like this off in the future. Especially when you consider the caliber of the guy who just pulled it off. Donaghy was no genius. He was a lone basketball referee who was stupid enough and reckless enough to involve himself with the Gambino family, for God's sakes! Guys like that need to be found out and stopped early on by the Association, not the FBI.

All in all, David Stern's first attempt to spin this dangerous scandal was, in my opinion, an airball. He needs to hunker down, rethink the matter, and come up with some sort of tougher measures that he can lay before the fans to assure them that the integrity of the game's officials will be guaranteed. Until he does that, this scandal will continue to fester.

Report: Bucks close to inking Yi

The Yi saga appears to be entering its EndGame phase. A report by ESPN says the Milwaukee Bucks are close to signing the Chinese prospect, and that Bucks GM Larry Harris believes it may happen as early as today.

Larry Harris has followed the correct hardball negotiating strategy espoused on this blogsite from Day One, and it appears as though it is about to pay off. Because of it, Yi and his handlers are close to concluding that Yi playing for the Bucks is the only sensible outcome for all parties concerned. More on this as the story develops...

Update: My specific source on this was a news update on ESPN's morning show First Take. It was reported just prior to the Stern news conference, and thus they went no further into the matter after that.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Obi Wan Bogut

What the hell, Andy?

Bucks fans, did you see Bogut's new Star Wars Jedi apprentice hairdo? I guess its a tougher and more practical look than his old Maynard G. Krebs pseudo-Bohemian setup that he sported last year, but barely. I wonder, though, is it Star Wars inspired? Or is that a genuine 80s throwback rat-tail? Maybe Bogut is a closet head banger.

"Round and round, With love we'll find a way just give it time..."

That's about enough on this topic.

A sort of nuclear winter threatens the NBA

One man's incomprehensible stupidity has put a lot of other men's livelihoods in jeopardy. If alleged facts are proven true in the Tim Donaghy/FBI gambling investigation, it could do to the legitimacy of the NBA and professional basketball what the establishment of a grassy knoll shooter would do to the legitimacy of the Warren Commission Report. Destroy it.

How could this referee be so reckless? Didn't he understand what he was, pardon the pun, gambling with? The legitimacy of the sport, that's what. And how could the Association be so careless? For God's sakes, why didn't Association security forces discover this rouge official long before the FBI did? And how did a guy with such a deficient personality and warped sense of judgment be chosen for the ultimate on-court decisonmaking role in the first place?

This is bad on so many levels. Understand that it is not just your run of the mill gambling mess. Its much more than that because of who it involves and what it might imply. There is a long held belief among a not insignificant and very virulent band of sports conspiracy nuts that the NBA is fixed. And the Kingpins of this conspiratorial theory have always been the one group of people who were best positioned to deliver the fix: NBA officials. I'm not quite sure why the NBA is so readily accused of being a fixed operation when other sports have had their own gambling issues (baseball, football), but it is. You would be surprised at how many otherwise sane people actually believe the Association head office decides who will win playoff games, and that the referees then implement these edicts from on high. The theory is illogical to the core, but it exists. And that means trouble is about to hit hard.

This Donaghy fiasco plays right into those conspiratorial beliefs, and gives them the kind of superficial credibility that helps turn a nutty belief held by a small disturbed faction into a commonly held and potentially disastrous ideavirus that could take down the entire sport.

That's why the hour of truth has arrived for David Stern's commissionership. He has to act quickly, decisively, and with the coldblooded ruthlessness of Josef Stalin if he is to remove this taint from the game. Nothing short of a purge will suffice. The competitive legitimacy of the sport, which is its lifeblood, is at stake.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Seriously, why Desmond Mason?

It appears the Bucks are close to reacquiring SF Desmond Mason via free agency. What I don't understand is why. I don't get it. It makes me wonder if Larry Harris has an overall vision of what kind of team he wants the Bucks to be. If he does, what could it possibly be? And why would an unproductive retread like Desmond Mason be a part of it? I'm having a hard time wrapping my mind around this whole thing. Is he going to go after Gary Payton next? I hear he wants to play one more year.

Mo re-signs... whoppee!

So Mo Williams resigned, huh? Pardon me if I don't do a cartwheel. For how much did you say? $52 million over 6 years? About where I said the market was, so that's not bad, I guess we would have been up a creek if he didn't resign... so why can't I conjure any excitement over it? I guess its because the whole process sort of feels like putting a new transmission on an old car. Sometimes you have to do it if you want to have a car. But once it happens its kind of depressing because you realize you just spent a ton of money and all you have to show for it is the same old car.

Ersan must think he doesn't belong

Sometimes I don't understand players. Who is giving them advice? Why would Ersan Ilyasova go back to Europe at this point in his career? He seemed to have at least a marginal future in the NBA, but going back to Europe now just about puts an end to that. Maybe that was the whole point. Maybe Ersan had no interest in an NBA future at all. If that's the case, he did the Bucks a favor by leaving.

Are Yi's people purposely scuttling his career? Or are they just idiots?

Step back from this whole Yi situation for a moment. Suspend all of your preconceived notions just for an instant. Isn't it all so bizarre? I mean, here's a guy who hasn't even proven that he is an NBA player let alone a superstar prospect, and yet his "representatives" are trying to dictate where they want him to play. Kareem wasn't even that brazen until he had clearly proven himself to be the best player on the planet. And Yi will never be that.

It makes you wonder if Yi's people are trying to give his career a Viking funeral before it even has a chance to set sail. If they aren't, then why are they following such an obviously inappropriate strategy given their client's fragile makeup? You don't do that. You don't put extra stress on a structure when that structure isn't yet up to code. Call it "The Eli Manning Rule".

What will happen to Yi as a result? Well, if this gets any uglier, or goes on much longer, I think it is almost certain that he will be a bust. He already has to adjust to the language, to the elite level of play, the foreign culture, his teammates styles, the extra "juice" every opponent will surely come at him with... and now its almost certain he will have to do it all under a cloud of popular hostility. He doesn't seem tempermentally suited to get it done. He probably never will be either. And the sad thing is, I don't think his agents and representatives even care. To them, he seems more of an expendable commodity than a genuine human being whose basketball career needs careful nurturing and guidance.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

A player the Bucks should be interested in

If the Bucks are ever going to rise to prominence again, it is imperative that they seek out, find, and acquire undervalued assets. You can't wait around for the draft, and you certainly cannot count on "cap space". To my mind, there is no more undervalued asset in the NBA today than Knicks PF David Lee. By every statistical measure, this guy's got it. To me, he's the new Dave Cowens. Yet the Knicks seem willing to get rid of him (probably because he doesn't have a big "name" or an overbloated contract).

What he does have are productive numbers. He's in the top 10 in the entire Association in productive efficiency, with an Eff48 of 30.28. And his on-court and Win statistics are exceptional, especially when you consider how bad the Knicks are, and when you compare his numbers to those of his teammates. Moreover, according to 82games "Player Pair" statistics, no matter who you combine him with on the awful Knicks, you get a positive result. That's an astonishing statement about his worth.

He's the only Knick player with a Win percentage of at least 50%, and most of the rest aren't even close. And look at his Win statistics compared to his frontcourt mates on the Knicks. His backup Channing Frye's Win percentage is only 40%. And the much more highly regarded (and completely overrated) Eddy Curry's Win percentage is an abysmal 39%. Lee is a difference maker.

If all that is not enough, consider that he would bring to the Bucks in general, and Andrew Bogut in particular, the very qualities they most need in a power forward. He's rugged, athletic, and he rebounds like a banshie. He would add toughness and glass production that the Bucks desperately need, and he would help cover up the weak areas in Andrew Bogut's game. He would be a great addition.

How would such a deal get done? Two possible ways. The Knicks reportedly are interested in both Yi Jianlian and Mo Williams. I have said that I would not trade Yi Jianlian because it would constitute a cave-in to pressure. But I will make an exception. If the Bucks can make a deal for a proven commodity like Lee, I would do it. If such a deal were made, it would not constitute a cave-in by the team, it would be a successful parlay. The Bucks will have traded a highly speculative asset in Yi and gotten in return an asset who has proven his productive value. You'd have to do it.

What about a sign-and-trade for Mo Williams? Obviously this would leave the Bucks without a proven point guard, and the salary numbers would somehow have to be made to match up. Nevertheless, I would make the deal in a heartbeat. I think the upgrade in Lee would more than compensate for the perceived downgrade at the point guard position (I say perceived because, as I pointed out in my last post, the Bucks really haven't been successful with Williams at the point). I think you can get an equivalent Mo Williams far more easily than you can get an equivalent David Lee.

As always, a move like this would require a great deal of guts from Larry Harris. I can hear the reaction from casual Bucks fans now... who the fuck is David Lee? Well, I'll bet Spurs fans asked similar questions earlier this decade... who the fuck is Emmanuel Ginobli?... who the fuck is Tony Parker? Three championships later, and I think those fans of that small market team know who those guys are. They're highly productive players, and they're winners. So is David Lee.

Two players may be key to Bucks improvement

As a hardcore Bucks fans, I've been a bit down this week. Yi suddenly looks like a paper prospect, we still don't know if we'll have an NBA level point guard on next year's roster, and it doesn't appear as though any significant free agents will relocate to Milwaukee. So, are we looking at yet another painfully bad season? Maybe not.

I was reading an article on 82games.com about "Player Pairs" in the NBA, and it indirectly gave me reason to hope. I now believe that two players who each missed significant time in '06-'07 could key an improvement in '07-'08. And you'll be shocked when you find out who I'm talking about.

I need to give you some background first. 82games is famous for keeping copious statistics regarding how well a team performs while a particular player is on the court (the on/off stat). As an offshoot of that, they keep track of the accumulated score of each game specific when a particular player is on the court and then they assign a corresponding "win" or "loss" for each game to that player. (In other words, lets say the Lakers beat the Bucks 102-90. But, while Michael Redd was on the court the Bucks outscored the Lakers 90-86. That's a loss for the team but a "win" for Michael Redd). I haven't gotten my mind around it completely (I'll explain in a second) but its very cool nonetheless. Obviously, some of the "wins" a player accumulates are just happenstance (if you surrounded me with Jordan, Bird, Magic, and Kareem in their primes, I could stand on the court and pick my nose and I'd probably "win" at least 50% of my "on-court games"). But, I think if you have a large enough sample size, and if you take into consideration the team's overall performance and compare it against the Win statistic, then the Win statistic becomes a revealing statement of each player's value to his team.

The curious thing is, sometimes I can't explain from where that value is derived. Of course, its often obvious. If you asked most Bucks fans who the Bucks most valuable player is, they would invariably answer Michael Redd, and that would be correct. Redd was the only player on the roster who was in the black (albeit only +1, but still) when it came to the "on-off court" score, and in each of the last two seasons he has won 52% of his minute games (proving the statistic has some validity -- after all, the Bucks were wildly different teams in the two years and yet his Win percentage stayed the same). But what if you asked those same Bucks fans how valuable they thought Bobby Simmons or Charlie Villanueva were to the team? You'd probably get replies laced with expletives. But, in fact, commonly held negative opinions of the two may be somewhat off-base.

Last season Charlie Villanueva's Win percentage was 51%, second only to Michael Redd, and he was the only other Buck with a Win percentage over 50%. And, his "on-off" score was only just in the red at -17. And so, even though his statistics and his defense might not have been what you would call "eye-popping", its obvious that the Bucks were a better team when he was on the court.

The same holds for Bobby Simmons in the previous season. Again, if anything, Simmons seemed to the naked eye to be something of an underperformer, yet the Win stats say the team was much more effective with him on the court, especially when compared to his backup Toni Kukoc (I'll admit -- that fact stunned me). With Simmons on the court in '05-'06, the team was +45 and he won 52% of his court games (as opposed to -43 and 42% for Kukoc). So he was doing something right. But you're probably thinking "Big deal... they were a better team that year. Alot of players probably won around that amount." That's what I thought, too! I was wrong. In fact, even though the Bucks were almost a .500 team in '05-'06, Simmons, Redd, and the hugely underrated Joe Smith were the only players who won more than 50% of their on-court games.

Perhaps then, with Villanueva and Simmons coming off injury plagued seasons, the Bucks have reason to hope that their combined returns will lead to better results for the team.


1. Mo Williams just ain't all that
While the Win statistic reveals hidden value in some players, it exposes others as fool's gold. Case in point: Maurice Williams. For the last three seasons, which is a revealing sample size that covers varying ranges of overall success for the team, Mo Williams has shown he is simply not a winning point guard. His Win percentages over that time have been, in chronological order, 43%, 42%, and 41%. A remarkably consistent result when you consider how much the team, and his role on the team, has changed over each of those three seasons. He's not terrible, he's just mediocre. Which begs the question. Should the Bucks make a substantial investment in him as their point guard? Probably not if they want to become championship level any time soon.

2. Earl Boykins may have been a double agent
If I was the Bucks GM, and I looked at the Win statistic, and then Earl Boykins subsequently came into my office and told me he was opting for free agency, my reply to him would have been "Can I get the door for you, E? How about cab fare... do you need cab fare?" I'm not even kidding. In fact, based on his awful, and I mean AWFUL On-court and Win statistics, if you told me he was actually paid under the table by another team to sabotage the Bucks, I wouldn't dispute it. His Win percentage was a putrid 23%. But get this: in 2470 minutes of action, Mo Williams had a +/- deficit of -91 points. Not good, but not horrifying. In under half of that time, 1153 minutes, Earl Boykins accumulated a deficit that was nearly triple that: -271 points. An astonishing achievement in futility. Moreover, there was not another person you could combine him with on the court and get a positive point result. Not even Michael Redd. Probably not even Michael Jordan. He was that putrid.

3. I finally have some support for my "Maurice Lucas" theory
For two years I've been pedaling my theory that the finesse oriented Bogut would never reach his full potential as a center until he was matched side-by-side with a physical "grinder" type power forward, such as Bill Walton had beside him in the person of Maurice Lucas. It was always just a hunch, but now I may actually have statistical evidence to support it. If you look at Bogut's performance thus far in his NBA career, he's been pretty consistently mediocre -- around a 47% win percentage -- no matter who he's paired with... with one exception. When he was matched with former Bucks PF Joe Smith, an underappreciated "dirty hands" player exactly in the mold of Maurice Lucas, his Win percentage suddenly skyrocketed to 68% -- which is Tim Duncan territory. No other player combined with Bogut for a win percentage anywhere near that (excluding the statistically insignificant combination of Bogut and the clod Jared Reiner). And you know what sucks about this? There was a player in this year's draft whose game and demeanor was almost identical to the blue collar Smith's: Al Horford. Thanks to the inequities of the NBA draft lottery, we lost our chance to get him.

4. Gerald Wallace probably wasn't worth the money anyway
If Bobby Simmons somehow provides more value than his stats would lead you to conclude, Gerald Wallace provides a lot less. With him on the court, the Bobcats simply were not successful. His Win percentage throughout his career has consistently been a less-than-stellar 33%. More damning still, when his backup at SF Walter Herrmann was on the court last season, he had a Win percentage of 46%. I have to say I may have been wrong. Clearly Wallace offered less than met the eye.

5. On the other hand, Chauncey Billups would have been
If you didn't know it, Chauncey Billups is a hell of a point guard. His Win percentage last season was 71%. Even more revealing, his backup Carlos Delfino had a Win percentage of 47%, an astonishing dropoff, and a very nice account statement of Billups value. The only more dramatic dropoff I could find was between the phenomenal Steve Nash and his backup Maurice Banks. I don't know if it would have made a difference, but the Bucks probably should have gone "all-in" for Billups, but that ship has obviously sailed.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Sportingnews clarifies some Yi issues

My dark theories have been confirmed. In an article on sportingnews.com, NBA expert Sean Deveney basically solidified all of my conspiratorial notions about the whole Bucks/Yi draft controversy, and added some more of his own. To wit:

1. Deveney agrees Yi is a puppet. I've been saying for weeks I didn't think Yi was calling the shots, and that the Senator was being naive by thinking that personal appeals to Yi about Wisconsin would sway the matter in the Bucks direction. Deveney agrees, and he goes further. Deveney says his sources told him Yi did not even have a say in who his agent would be. That's incredible.

2. Deveney thinks the "Milwaukee is not Chinese enough" argument is bunk. I said early on I thought the whole Chinese population issue was a big red herring. Deveney agrees. As I've been asking people around town who bought into that canard: Why would Yi care how big the Chinese population is in Milwaukee? Is he coming here to network, or play basketball? And what, was he planning on joining the Milwaukee Chinese-American Society and volunteering at their Pancake and Porky Breakfasts? Come on. And why would his handlers just assume that these American citizens who happen to be of Chinese descent would relate to or like Yi any more or less than anyone else in Milwaukee of any other descent would relate to him? The whole thing was so stupid and contrived right from the beginning.

3. Deveney thinks the Bucks will ultimately prevail. Deveney agrees with me that the Milwaukee Bucks will prevail in this standoff if they take a hardline approach and stick to it. He echoes what I stated early on in this matter, that in order to get out from under the Bucks exclusive rights Yi will have to sacrifice a year of his professional career. He will effectively have to go into mothballs, losing the millions he would get in NBA salary and severely damaging his marketability in the process. I, and Deveney, cannot fathom how Yi's handlers would find this option palatable. Deveney adds another point in the Bucks favor that I did not consider: If Yi sits out a year now, he will be stale going into the 2008 Olympics, something the Chinese obviously would not want.

4. Deveney thinks Fegan has boxed himself in. I heard Deveney on a local radio program yesterday say that he thinks what is happening is that Yi's American agent, Dan Fegan, made certain promises to Yi's team regarding where Yi would end up, and that he is now in danger of not delivering on those promises. Deveney believes that, in order to land the Yi account, Fegan promised Yi's Chinese handlers that he would deliver Yi to a large market, and now he's in a contractual bind because he didn't make it happen.

If this is true, its unbelievable. How could Fegan, who I assume has a legal background, promise something that he did not have the power to deliver? That's a violation of basic contract law principles. Moreover, if the promise was made in an effort to maximize Yi's marketing revenue potential, as it surely must have been, then it shows that Fegan and the Chinese officials are clinging to an incredibly outdated understanding of how contemporary sports marketing works in this country.

In the age of ESPN and the Internet, marketability is no longer contingent on where a player plays. If a player has the "It Factor", national exposure and marketing dollars will find him, whether he plays in New York City or Fairbanks, Alaska. Sure, back in the day location mattered to an athlete because you generally never saw him play unless you lived in his television market, so the larger the team's television market, the more marketable he became. But that paradigm simply no longer holds.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

How high should the Bucks go for Mo?

By the time you read this, the point might already be moot, but I was bored watching the MLB All-Star game, so I decided to try to set the market value for Mo Williams. Its nearly impossible to do.

The NBA salary structure is so full of market irregularities, due to rookie contracts and other restrictions, you can't really set a precise value on him with any degree of confidence. On top of that, you have gross underpricings like Sam Cassell, who makes $6.15 million, while far lesser players like Marko Jaric ($6.8 million) and Troy Hudson ($6.25 million) make more, and you have wild overpricings like Mike Bibby ($14.00 million) and Stephon Marbury ($20.00 million!!). So its an imprecise science.

That said, I decided to take as my starting point the contract offer the Bucks have on the table, which reportedly averages out to $8.00 million a year. On the one hand, you could argue that the amount offered is too much, since Jamaal Tinsley only makes an average of $6.9 million a year and he has had better career numbers than Mo, and is a comparable player. You can make the same argument by looking at the salary of Houston PG Mike James. Until he went into the crapper last year, James numbers were also better than Mo's, and his defense is better, and yet he only commanded a contract that averaged $6.00 million per year (of course, when both played for the Bucks, Terry Porter started Williams over James, but that was Terry Porter).

On the other hand, you could argue that the offer is a bit low. Most would rather have Mo than the Heat's Jason Williams (I know the Heat would), and Jason Williams' contract pays him $8.9 million a year. Mo's talents and numbers are also comparable to TJ Ford's and Ford's contract averages out to $8.25 million over its lifetime. So, you could make a pretty solid argument that the Bucks ought to increase their offer a bit.

But I wouldn't go anywhere near the $10 million a year number that some fans are asking the team to offer. Andre Miller ($9.45 million) and Kirk Hinrich ($9.5 million average on a frontloaded deal) have both outperformed Mo over their careers, and are both more reliable and better true point guards than Mo, and neither one of them has a contract that averages out to $10 million a year.

So what's a fair offer? If I were the Bucks I wouldn't go any higher than $8.5 million a year averaged, and I would only do that reluctantly. Mo's not a true point guard, he's injury prone, and he plays little defense. Plus, as a personal preference, I don't like shoot-first point guards who don't penetrate at all. So I don't think Mo Williams is worth any more than that.

Yi still struggling with his shot

In the past two Las Vegas NBA Summer League games, Bucks first round draft choice Yi Jianlian is shooting a combined 5-for-25, and is hitting just 30% of his field goal attempts overall. Not too good for a guy whose game doesn't reach out to the three point line.

However, thanks to his prodigious ability to get to the foul line (an outstanding sign) and his ability to knock down foul shots (unlike Bogut), he is still outperforming 3 of the 4 participating rookies who were drafted ahead of him, and he has scored 20+ points in two of the three games he has played.

Yi has an Eff48 of just 13.78, which is very poor, but which is better than Greg Oden (11.75), Jeff Green (7.90), or Kevin Durant (4.50) at this point. Among the aforementioned rookie participants who were selected ahead of Yi, only Mike Conley Jr's Eff48 is better than Yi's (18.39), and his numbers took a steep decline once he had to match up with real NBA guards as opposed to the Team China clunkers (30.28 vs. China; 7.45 vs. Detroit).

Like Yi, all of the top rookies have shown weaknesses. Oden has shown an inability to avoid fouls (he has 19 in two games) and has a very rudimentary offensive game, Durant does nothing but shoot and miss (he is shooting worse than Yi, and is compiling almost no secondary statistics at all), and Green just looks ordinary (although his second game was much better than his first, I still think the Sonics took a real gamble giving up Ray Allen to get him). Of course, this is only the summer league, so you can't read too much into the numbers.

I will say this, however. Kevin Durant's offensive skills look exceptional for a man his size, but I think his lack of strength at this point will mean he will not have the ability to rebound the basketball at the NBA level anywhere close to the way he did in college. Thus, at the outset, he may not provide much of an upgrade, if any, for the Seattle Supersonics over the departed Rashard Lewis.

Is Ted Thompson running the Bucks?

ESPN.com is reporting this morning that Mo Williams is leaning toward joining the Miami Heat! The Heat are putting every effort they can into signing him, and the notoriously offbase Marc Stein is reporting that Mo will make a decision which way he will turn by tomorrow morning. Let's hope he's off base on this one. The Senator has joined in the recruiting fray, but can his charisma match that of Shaq Daddy and D Wade? I think not. But we better hope it does. If Mo leaves, that would render the team virtually point guardless. And who would do those nifty "All the Best" Time Warner Cable ads with Mo gone?

Mo's Hamlet moment isn't the only bad news, either, Bucks fans. The Fort Worth Star Telegram is reporting that Gerald Wallace is close to reupping with the Charlotte Bobcats! So the Bucks might be left holding the bag this offseason.

What are the Bucks going to do with all their cap space? Maybe they plan to spend the money upgrading the Bradley Center's inedible leather-like soft pretzels. Otherwise, I can't figure out why there seems to be no sense of urgency down on Fourth Street.

When did Ted Thompson suddenly start running the Bucks? Did I miss the press release?

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Oh, oh... we may lose Mo

According to the Miami Herald, the Miami Heat are in the process of seriously wooing Bucks free agent PG Mo Williams, and according to Williams' agent, he's receptive. Heat upper management, including coach Pat Riley, spent the day yesterday giving their pitch to Mo, whom the Herald describes as the most coveted point guard left available in free agency.

Luckily, there's only so much the Heat can offer. They are over the salary cap. Thus, if Williams did go to Miami, it wouldn't be for money. The Bucks have to hope that greed wins out, because losing Williams would leave them with a gigantic hole in their roster at the point guard spot. They are not in an enviable position.

No Better Options for Bucks

The Bucks are in a Catch-22 situation regarding Williams, caused mainly by the distortions of the NBA's free agent market. They have to sign him, but even if they do sign him, he won't be worth the money they will have to pay him.

That's because the NBA free agency system artificially increases the price for middling talent like Williams by selectively limiting the overall supply of talent available. If every player was made a free agent after every season, Williams would not be in such high demand, because he is a middle of the road point guard at best. But, because he is competing in a field in which his talent is now the best available, his market value has become grossly distorted, especially in the eyes of the Bucks. The Bucks are now in a position where they have no credible option besides Williams, which means he is worth well more to them than his productive value would naturally dictate. In short, the Bucks will have to spend a lot more money to prevent getting a lot worse, but the extra money spent won't make them a lot better, either.

Who's Hot, Who's Not in the Vegas Summer League

I browsed the statistics compiled thus far for the Las Vegas Summer League, and I cherry picked some of the more prominent names and calculated their Eff48 production numbers. My calculations are listed below.

Clearly, experience counts, as most of the rookies are off to less than productive starts, and a lot of the second year big names are blazing hot. Amongst the big name rookies, only Mike Conley Jr. had what would be called a statistically triumphant debut, but you have to consider that he was matched up against the Chinese guards, and those guys looked laughably bad.

The marquee guys from this year's draft, Oden and Durant, both had inauspicious debuts. Durant scored a lot of points, but he also missed a lot of shots, and compiled almost no secondary statistics at all. Greg Oden, on the other hand, recorded zero efficiency points in his 20+ minutes of action and compiled a Pryzbilla-like 10 fouls (the summer league disqualification rule allows 10 personal fouls). In fact, he averaged nearly a foul every two minutes, bringing to mind a teammate of mine in high school, who substituted in to the game for the first time in the middle of the fourth quarter of a blowout victory, and somehow fouled out. Classic.

LaMarcus Alridge........................45.00
Rudy Gay.................................33.45
Mike Conley...............................30.85
Fran Garcia...............................18.35
Allan Ray..................................17.77
Gerald Green.............................16.80
Julian Wright..............................13.99
Jianlian Yi..................................07.61
Thaddeus Young...........................07.32
Kevin Durant...............................06.39
Jeff Green..................................01.65
Greg Oden..................................00.00

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Getting better all the time in BucksNation

Yi looks good and is finally talking, Mo Williams is close to resigning, and now it seems the Bucks are hot on the trail of the highly productive free agent SF Gerald Wallace. Gary Woelfel is reporting that Bucks GM Larry Harris has been in contact with the agent for Wallace, and other sources indicate Wallace is quite receptive to the Bucks overtones. Wallace is reportedly seeking a deal that would average around $8 million a season, a seeming bargain when one considers the Bucks had to spend over $6 million a year to acquire the much less productive SF Bobby Simmons (Harris's dogged pursuit of Wallace and the aging Desmond Mason tells you all you need to know about his opinion of that signing).

On a down note, the Pistons closed their much anticipated multi-year deal with Chauncey Billups, so the Diesel's pipe dream of bringing him to Milwaukee has ended (kidding Diesel). Also, free agent SF Andres Nocioni, a player I thought might bring some needed defensive toughness to the Bucks, has also reupped with the Chicago Bulls.

The Courtship of Larry's Draft Pick is on

Like Nicolas Cage parachuting in with the Flying Elvises, Bucks general manager Larry Harris flew to Vegas and finally made contact with his heart's desire, PF Yi Jianlian. The Associated Press is reporting that Harris and Bucks coach Larry Krystkowiak had a long awaited sit-down meeting with Yi in an undisclosed Las Vegas hotel and it was being characterized as "productive". As I said in response to a comment by moin, the Great Wall of China may finally be starting to crumble.

Yi looks pretty SwYit

First impression: Larry Harris made a hell of a choice. Based on one Vegas summer league game, Yi Jianlian looks like the real deal to me. He can handle the ball. He can finish at the basket (he had several thunderous dunks). He blocks shots (he had a nice wipe away early). And, he's got some terrific footwork in the post to go along with a feathery stroke.

Yi scored 23 points and grabbed 4 rebounds in 28 minutes of action for Team China. He lived in the post all night, showing none of the "wimp" factor that I had read about, and when he got the entry pass, he went to work with some nice looking baby hook dropstep moves and a great looking fadeaway jumpshot. Because of his low post aptitude and comfort level, the comparison with Pau Gasol looks most apt. I think all the comparisons I hear being made between him and Dirk Nowitzki are way off-base. Yi is a back to the basket guy who can step outside. Nowitzki is a face the basket guy who goes to the post with great reluctance.

The one thing that put my mind at ease: he's much tougher than advertised. For a guy who was supposed to "crumble" when faced with a physical opponent, Yi repeatedly schooled Memphis' Alexander Johnson in the low block, and Johnson is nobody's pushover -- in fact, he looks about as ghetto hard as they come. Yet Yi's willingness to hold his position under duress, and his far superior athleticism, were too much for Johnson. Yi scored on him repeatedly. One particular time, Yi caught the ball in the post and made a lightning quick spin on Johnson that he completed with a thunder dunk. James Worthy would have been proud.

So there was a lot of good things I saw in my first viewing of Yi. But I did spot a couple of weaknesses. He isn't the most aggressive rebounder. At his height, and his position, and with his athleticism, he should grab many more than 4 rebounds in 28 minutes. Second, he plays poor on-ball defense. When he was matched up against Memphis' Rudy Gay, he was... well, helpless. Finally, he has to cut down on the turnovers. He had 7 in the game. Granted, the Chinese guards were awful with a capital "A" (one of them couldn't dribble without repeatedly palming the ball), but still, Yi has to show much more respect for the value of each possession.

But all in all, I loved what I saw. Yi is certainly a better pro prospect than anything that was on the board at six, and I think he's clearly better than the fifth selection Jeff Green, and could be better than either Horford or Conley at this point. Kudos to Harris and company. Could you imagine if he had backed down to Yi's agents on draft night and Yi slipped to Chicago?

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Atta boy, Larry!

Larry Harris, in my opinion, is taking the correct public position in response to the intransigent Yi camp's trade demands: Forget it! According to SI.com, Harris isn't budging one iota from his earlier stated stance that the Bucks have no intention of dealing Yi's rights away to anyone.

In the SI.com story by Marty Burns, Harris says: "We're not trading him. We like him and we think this is a great opportunity for him. He'll get a chance to play a lot of minutes right away for a good team. What more could he want?" Indeed.

Maybe I was wrong

No one has echoed my concern that other teams talking with Yi's representatives about a trade to acquire his exclusive rights from the Bucks without the Bucks approval would constitute tampering under NBA rules. Of course, it might simply be that Yi's camp hasn't actually talked to anyone. I wouldn't put it passed them to blow smoke in the air.

Also, SI.com refers to Yi's agent as "Dan" Fegan. I've been calling him "Don". I would effort a correction, but I don't have enough respect for the guy, so I don't really care.

Mo on the move?

Hoopshype.com reports that Bucks guard Mo Williams is in serious negotiations with the Miami Heat. This could be trouble. If the Bucks let him get away, they better jump into the Chauncey Billups sweepstakes with both feet while its still going on. Because if both of them come off the board, I'm not sure where the team turns for a starting point guard. They certainly don't have any adequate options on the current roster. And the dropoff in talent in the free agent point guard market after those two is pretty steep. Smush Parker, Jacque Vaughn, Steve Blake, Travis Diener... do any of those names get you excited? Not me. Harris may have to show a bit more urgency on this front.

Correction: I checked and Yi's agents name is DAN Fegan, not DON Fegan as I've been referring to him in every other post until now. Where the hell did I get Don from? And why didn't anyone correct me on it? Not that it bothers me that much. Botching names is sort of my niche in the blogosphere. Plus I don't like Fegan enough to care whether his name is Dan, Don, or Dumb.

Chance to judge Yi for ye self

I'll admit, the mystery and intrigue surrounding the Yi selection has been to this blog (on a nanoscopic level) what a botched break-in at the Watergate Hotel once was to a pair of Metro beat reporters at the Washington Post in the 1970s. Absolute tea for the tillerman. Had the Bucks selected someone boring, like say Brandan Wright, I would have stopped posting for the summer a long time ago. So its been fun.

But I'm a Bucks fan. At some point I want to see for myself what we've gotten for our trouble. Is this guy really the next great thing? Or will all this rhubarb amount to one big embarrasing nothing, as what happened with the Great Tony Mandarich Hype that temporarily afflicted, and then permanently scarred, PackerNation after the team selected the huge lineman with the mysteriously large amount of back acne No. 2 overall in the 1989 NFL Draft?

Well, I'll get my first chance to judge Yi for myself on Friday night (I'm not counting the endless grainy Youtube highlights floating around -- its easier to view the Zapruder film than those things.) Yi will make his first televised action appearance since being made the sixth pick overall by the Bucks Friday at 7:00 pm on NBAtv when Team China squares off against the Memphis Grizzlies Las Vegas summer league entrant. If you miss that game, you can catch him again on Saturday night at 9:00 pm when Team China takes on the Sacramento Kings summer team. I will Tivo the games and give you my impressions as soon as I watch them. I welcome yours as well.

Correction: Woops. A commenter has let me know that my schedule is off. He says the Friday game will not air until Saturday morning, and the Saturday game is not set to air at all except as a webcast. Oh well, I will still try to catch the game that will be on TV, but I assure you I am not interested enough in Yi to sit by my computer and watch a webcast. If they ran previously unseen vintage Dr. J ABA games, then maybe I'd sit at my desk and watch, but I don't have the patience to sit and watch Yi playing in a meaningless summer league game.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Yi's representatives trying to undermine the Bucks

In an unprecedented move of dubious legality, Yi's handlers are now trying to independently arrange a trade of the player away from the Milwaukee Bucks. Associated Press reports quote one of Yi's agents, Zhao Gang, as saying "His representatives and I won't sit here and do nothing just because he was picked by Milwaukee. We are considering Yi's future at the Bucks and are looking at trade possibilities."

I am currently efforting a copy of the NBA's rules, but on first blush, I don't know how this action wouldn't fly directly in the face of their player tampering prohibitions. I know teams are not allowed to express public interest in a player who is under contract with another team, so I don't see how they can discuss trade possibilities for a player to whom the Bucks have exclusive rights without the Bucks prior approval.

Bucks fans, if this latest affront by Yi's entourage doesn't steel you to the "We will sign him or eat his rights" position, nothing ever will. I'm boiling mad.

Update: All I could find out was that "Tampering is when a player or team directly or indirectly entices, induces or persuades anybody (player, general manager, etc.) who is under contract with another team to negotiate for their services." Though Yi is not technically "under contract" with the Bucks at this moment, that is a distinction without a difference in my mind. Under the rules of the drafting process, the Bucks hold the exclusive rights to sign Yi, so I do not see how another team talking to Yi's agents about acquiring him would not violate the spirit of, and rationale behind, the tampering rule. I will continue to investigate.

Can Long Wong get Yi to play in Milwaukee?

For those of you who don't live in Milwaukee, this column was featured on the front page of today's Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, above the fold. If the Journal-Sentinel is trying to discourage Yi from coming to Milwaukee, they should keep letting Jim Stingl write his dorky love letters to him. I recommend Bucks fans read it only for the cringe value. Stingl normally writes his horrible "human interest" type stories in the Metro section of the Sunday edition. I avoid them like the plague.

On the other hand, if we truly want to put forward someone as a Chinese ambassador for Milwaukee, I nominate the legendary Long Wong. After all, he runs what he bills as "The Only Chinese-American Sports Bar in Milwaukee," so I think he's a natural. His bar is down on Bluemound Avenue by Miller Park, so he aligns his establishment more naturally with the Milwaukee Brewers, but I'm sure he would be willing to reach out to Yi on behalf of the Bucks and the city of Milwaukee. He's played the role before. I remember I was drinking there one Friday night when the lower level of his bar was playing host to that traveling Chinese basketball team that came through town briefly a couple of years ago (I remember the promotional trip was called "The Ducks and the Bucks"). Plus, you get Yi in Long Wong's for a Friday night Karaoke... how can he say no to Milwaukee after that?

Is Yao lobbying for Yi to sign with the Bucks?

In the sports section there was an article that featured some interesting comments from Yao Ming. Maybe I'm reading too much into his comments, but it sounds like he's telling Yi to tell Don Fegan to go "f" himself, and then for him to go sign with the Bucks. Read the comments and see if you agree with me. Yao's comments also gave me the impression that he thinks Yi is very uncomfortable with the whole controversy and that, quite possibly, if he had his way he would do just what Yao's comments suggest.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

USA coach gives less than ringing endorsement of Yi

I was just listening to "The World's Greatest Talk Show" starring Steve "The Homer" True on ESPN Radio 1510 in Milwaukee. One of his guests was DePaul coach Jerry Wainwright. Wainwright also coaches the USA Under 19 basketball team, and in that capacity he faced off against the Chinese National team. Homer had him on to give his assessment of Bucks draft choice Yi Jianlian. Let's just say it wasn't glowing.

Wainwright was very circumspect in his evaluation (he really seemed reticent to out-and-out bash Yi) but his words conveyed his feelings pretty well. He doesn't think much of Yi as an NBA prospect.

While he was impressed by Yi's shooting touch (he kept saying "the kids got a nice stroke") he clearly wasn't impressed with much else. He doesn't think Yi is physically ready for the NBA game, and he thinks his fundamental skills have a long way to go. He also said that Yi was a "nice prospect" if he was 19, but underdeveloped if he's 22. At one point the otherwise diplomatic Wainwright even let slip this line "I'm not sure what they see in him... they must see something." Ouch. Maybe Mion was right.

Desmond Mason back to the Bucks? Nooooo!!!!!

According to Gary Woelfel, the Bucks free agent hit list includes two players who were good enough to help them win 28 games last year (Mo Williams, Charlie Bell), and one player whom the team thought so much of two years ago they shipped him to New Orleans for the dreadful Jamaal Magliore (Desmond Mason). Reading this "hit list" I think there might be some confusion downtown on Fourth Street. When you won 28 games the previous season, you should target free agents that might actually threaten to improve your team. Prioritizing last year's models and a guy who is way past his prime is what I would call uninspired.

But I'll bet if they sign Mason it will be considered a popular move around town. For some reason Mason still garners a lot of love here in Milwaukee. My question is: Why? Because he could throw down cool dunks? Ho-hum. Just rent one of those moronic "And one" mixed tapes if that's your thing. Besides, dunking was all he could do consistently well when he was here, and his skills have gotten worse since he left town. Over the past two years, he has consistently been among the least productive full time players in the National Basketball Association.

Mason's Eff48 of 14.32 last season was hideously bad. Its way under his already lousy career average of 18.23, and its so far below the median for his position that, as Joey from Friends would say, the median is a dot to him.

Let me try to put his numbers into context for you. David Noel, who performs basically the same functions as Mason, and who was no one's Rookie of the Year candidate last season, had an Eff48 of 15.27. In fact, the only Buck currently on the roster who recorded a worse Eff48 than Mason was the lowly Damir Markota (11.24). But, as bad as Mason's numbers were last season, they were actually an upgrade from the previous year when he recorded the embarrasing Eff48 of 12.69. Clearly, his career is in decline.

So how exactly is signing Desmond Mason going to upgrade our lineup?

Footnote: Check out the first comment below Woelfel's post -- its paulpressey25! He's everywhere. He's dead on with his opinion, too. I'll never understand how the Journal-Sentinel does such a good job covering an out-of-town team (the Packers), and such a lousy job of covering the hometown Bucks. Is Woelfel the only guy willing to make an effort to dig up information?

The Senator is being a bit naive

For a man who has seen the political intrigue and phony posturing that goes on in the United States Senate for nearly 20 years, Senator Kohl's take on the Yi situation strikes me as a little naive. In a report from several days ago by WTMJ Channel 4, the Senator said the Yi selection was "risky" (that characterization alone troubles me) but that he was confident that once Yi got to know Wisconsin and learned how close Milwaukee is to Chicago, he would change his mind about wanting to play for the Bucks. He must be joking.

Although I once played host to a man from China who was so mixed-up about the distance from Milwaukee to Chicago that he insisted on taking a cab (I'm not making that up), I really don't think geographical confusion is what is motivating Yi to demand a trade. Nor do I think a dose of good old-fashioned Wisconsin gemutlichkeit will sway his position either. That's because I don't believe Yi himself is the one who objects to Milwaukee in the first place. I think if he had his druthers, he would put on whatever NBA uniform he was told to put on, no matter how many Chinese people lived in the area. In fact, I think the whole "Milwaukee isn't Chinese enough" argument is a complete red herring.

I think Del Harris properly identified the objecting party in this dispute and his hidden motivations when he did an interview last Friday on 1250 AM. The little Wizard behind the curtain is Yi's agent, Darth Fegan... errr... Don Fegan. He, not Yi, is the one who objects to Milwaukee. Harris believes, and I agree with him, that Fegan sees a gold mine of marketing dollars in the person of Yi, and he wants to pan him for all he's worth (Harris explained that Fegan can make only 4% on Yi's NBA deal, but upwards of 20% on any marketing ventures he can generate for his client). And he knows he won't get the kind of dollar deals out of Yi if he's playing in Milwaukee that he might get if Yi were playing in, say, the Bay Area. That's why the Richie Cunningham arguments the Senator is making are just a waste of oxygen. Fegan doesn't care. The only thing that will turn him around is a large dose of what Kissinger used to call "Realpolitik". In other words, coercion.

As I've been saying ad nauseum since the draft, the Bucks ultimately hold the upper hand in this standoff, and they have to realize that and use it. If they want Yi, they have to eat the carrot and brandish the stick. Acting like the Wisconsin Department of Tourism won't do. If you want a guy like Fegan to get the point, as Malcolm X once said, you have to speak to him in a language he understands. Let that moneygrubber know in no uncertain terms that if Yi doesn't sign with the Bucks he will not be playing in the NBA any time soon, and then let him consider where his precious marketing dollars will come from if that happens.

Monday, July 02, 2007

How the Cuban Missle Crisis applies to the Yi situation

A commenter on this blog pointed out that I may have lost my mind over this Yi thing. That's because I said I would rather eat the rights to the Chinese forward than see Larry Harris trade him off for another prospect with a gun to his head. The commenter wrote, correctly, that similar trades are made all the time. He pointed out the Ray Allen-Stephon Marbury and the Nowitzki-Traylor deals as past precedent.

The difference is this, however. Those deals were prearranged and done, at least in the initial drafting party's mind, to advantage. The Mavericks always wanted Nowitzki, and the Bucks always wanted Ray Allen. They realized that teams below them (the Bucks and the Timberwolves) coveted a different prospect who was still on the board, and they further realized that they could draft the other prospect and still get the pick they wanted plus some extra goodies thrown in (in each case the "extra goodies" turned out not to have been worth the effort -- I believe the Bucks got Andrew Lang from Minnesota, and the Mavericks got Pat Garrity from the Bucks, both marginal players at best).

However, in this case, the Bucks want Yi. They value him above any other prospect. If they didn't, they would have arranged a deal such as the one the commenter suggests at the time of the draft. They didn't. So if they were to now trade him, you can presume it would only be because the Yi camp forced the move. That is totally unacceptable. It would set a dangerous precedent for the team. Besides, history shows that in such situations, you never get value-for-value.

"Never fear to negotiate, but never negotiate out of fear." That was a maxim set forth by President Kennedy during the Cuban Missle Crisis, and its one that applies to every negotiating situation. You can never let others believe that you can be made to act at the barrel end of a shotgun. If you do, you will soon find the tactic used against you again and again. That's why I'm begging Larry Harris to stay strong and not bend to the Yi camps demands under any circumstances.

"I am prepared to wait... until hell freezes over, if that's what it takes." At the height of the crisis, that's the tactic Adlai Stevenson took with the stunned Soviet Ambassador at the United Nations, and that's the one Larry Harris has to take with the Yi camp. He has to make them believe that he is just crazy enough to sit on Yi's rights rather than trade them off as Yi's camp wants. Time is the big trump card in this game of chicken. Whichever side shows that they are not afraid of time will win the Mexican standoff. If the Bucks make it plain to the Yi camp that they are willing to wait until hell freezes over for him to sign with them, they will win. Granted, it will take a tremendous amount of nerve on Harris' part to pull this negotiating ploy off. If Yi seems on the verge of going back to China, the public pressure to get something for him will be tremendous (the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has already deemed such a result "a debacle" for the Bucks). But if Harris keeps his backbone strong, he will eventually get his man. The question is, in his contract year, will he find that strength?