Bucks Diary

Sunday, September 30, 2007

What's the Bucks plan anyway?

It looks like a lot of people think I'm completely out to lunch on opposing the Charlie Bell signing. The comments indicate the consensus is that it was a pretty solid move. I respect that.

Its just that to me, the move smacks of "settling". This move doesn't advance the Bucks championship cause one iota. And you could argue that the length of the commitment to the subpar Bell actually sets us back.

We know what Bell is and always will be -- barely adequate. Yet we are now devoting extra resources to him and all he will give us, probably, is less of the same. Makes zero economic sense. Why not simply cut ties with him and just go out and find another Charlie Bell who will play at Bell's old salary? Believe me, the world is full of scrappy, undersized guards who can't shoot.

And putting aside Bell's marginal talent and usefulness, you have the fact that he has publicly come out and bashed the organization and openly threatened to sow insurrection in the ranks. Why would the Bucks want to associate themselves with someone like that? Why would you take that from a fringe player? I could see putting up with such boorishness if Bell had some unique talent, but he does not. He's just a "guy" -- someone filling out a uniform. Which brings me to my broader point.

What exactly is Harris' plan to get the Bucks to the NBA Finals?

Let's say you divided the NBA talent pool as Bob McGinn does the NFL talent pool: into Blue chips (All-stars or borderline All-Stars), Purple chips (productive starters or backups who will probably never make an All-Star team but whom you can live with), Red chips (inadequate players, players with marginal skills whom you would replace as soon as the opportunity presents), and Yellow chips (young players with potential on whom the jury is still out).

In my opinion, you cannot win an NBA title without at least 2 Blues and a bunch of high Purples. Ideally you would have 3 Blues (as the Bucks did early this decade) and then a bunch of purples. Then you fill out the rest of your roster with Yellows. There is no room for Reds. Reds get you nowhere. As such, your goal should always be to discard all but the most necessary few Reds.

And obviously, you should never, never commit long-term to any Red. That implies you are building your team around them. That's a horrible idea. All Reds do are trap you in a spiral of never ending mediocrity -- first round casualties or high lottery losers. Reds just eat up resources that should be directed at either landing talent, signing proven productivity (Purples) or nurturing potential (Yellows).

If that means you suck for a while, that means you suck for a while. Its better than getting stuck in the blackhole that is the fringe of the playoffs. That's what happens when you stock pile your team with Reds. The teams that do that are teams with GMs in the last year of their contracts. Teams with GMs who want to show that they are "competitive", which is a euphemism for "mediocre but not awful".

That should never be a GMs aim. The goal is an NBA championship, not a "competitive team". If you can't sign productive free agents, then you play "Go Fish" with your roster, trading what you can in order to try to accumulate what you need. And if you can't get what you need through those means, you stock pile young talent and then resign yourself to a couple trips to the draft lottery, and you get talent that way. You never settle for "competitive".

A Sea of Red on the Bucks roster

But that's what Larry Harris has done (with the exception of his drafting of Yi Jianlian -- he rolled the dice there beautifully. When you are in Milwaukee's position, you have to take the risky pick with the Blue potential over the safe pick with a Purple ceiling). Against the clear dicta of NBA history, he thinks he can advance this franchise by building a core of Red players (Dan Gadzuric, Bobby Simmons, Desmond Mason, Charlie Bell, Lyn Greer, Jake Voskuhl). He's delusional.

Just keep reshuffling the deck

He used to have the right idea. Everyone was always bitching when he would constantly turn over the roster with trades every year. But that actually made sense. Some of the trades didn't work out, but who cares? At least he was operating on a sound philosophy. He was operating on the realization that there is really no such thing as a "rebuilding plan" in the NBA. Teams don't "get better" over time. You're either talented enough or you're not. And if you're not, you better do whatever you can to get players who will get you there. All but your Bluest players should be considered tradeable commodities in the quest for talent.

Look at the 80s Pistons

Lets look at the Pistons in the 1980s. They began the decade a nowhere team. They got a high pick and turned it into a Blue-chip player (Isiah Thomas) and a High Yellow (Kelly Tripucka). Then they drafted (Joe Dumars), or picked off the scrap heap (Laimbeer, Mahorn) or traded for (Vinnie Johnson) a bunch of other less heralded, but nevertheless promising Yellows, all of whom would become either Blue or solid Purple.

Initially they got better. They made the playoffs. But then they plateaued at 49 wins and the second round. To break through the ceiling they knew they had to reshuffle their deck. They were too weighed down by Yellows who had become either Red or Low Purple (Kelly Tripucka, Kent Benson, Earl Cureton). But Low Purples are great (that's Bogut and Villanueva). Those are the kind of players you can sucker others into taking off your hands in package deals for better talent.

To get them over the top, they parlayed that bit of lesser talent into the Purple-Blue Adrian Dantley and then into the slightly Bluer Mark Aguirre. All the while they kept adding smart Yellows (John Salley, Dennis Rodman) through the draft, and then they filled out the roster with an aging Purple center they got on the cheap (John Edwards).

The rest is history.

Ainge has the idea

Another case on point. The two old Celtic GMs, headed in opposite directions. Danny Ainge has the right idea and has moved his proud franchise forward. Kevin McHale hasn't got a clue and has wasted his franchise's best hope.

What did Ainge do right? At the beginning of the summer, he had one of the worst teams in the NBA, a team headed nowhere. But he had a Blue to build around, and some Purples and Yellows to lure better talent. And boy, did he.
McHale has had in his hands the highest of Blue players, but he insisted on surrounding him with Reds, hoping that would get him a championship. Never had a chance. So he gave up and put his precious commodity, a commodity franchises wait decades for, on the market.

As a result, Danny Ainge was somehow able to roll one High Purple (Jefferson) and a whole bunch of Reddish Yellows (Green, Telfair, et. al.) and a High Yellow who looks to have a middle Purple ceiling (Jeff Green), and turned them into 2 Blue Chips, one of them High Blue (Garnett). Now he has 3 Blues and suddenly he has a real look at a 17th championship for the Celtic franchise.

Will he win the championship? Maybe, maybe not. Who cares? He was headed nowhere on his "stockpile high school players" plan. So he had nothing to lose. And even if he doesn't, he's acheived what every NBA GM ought to have as their singular goal -- he's given his team a championship window.

By contrast, the Bucks aren't even near the house.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

What the Buck? They matched Miami on Bell!

All week Charlie Bell has been on every local media outlet that would listen to his whining and sniveling, and he has been openly threatening to pull a Mike McKenzie. So I'm thinking "No way will the Bucks match Miami". But the Diesel informs me... they did!! I think my reaction is best conveyed by reprinting the text response I sent back to him.

"U gotta be shittin me!!"

Why the hell would the Bucks do this? I can't come up with one solid reason.

But I can come up with plenty of reasons why they should not have. Here's a few:

1. Bell is a below average NBA player on both offense and defense (even though he claims his defense is so good, statistics say otherwise);

2. He's got a history of injuries to his knees;

3. We're now tied into yet another marginally talented, non-playoff caliber player for the long term;

4. Bell has openly threatened to disrupt the team by revolting from within if the Bucks matched Miami's offer -- players are never stupid enough to make those kinds of threats from their own mouth, yet he did -- you think he might be serious??;

5. He's a below average NBA player on both offense and defense (I just wanted to reiterate that point).

I used to love Larry Harris. But now I'm beginning to question his sanity. First he resigns Desmond Mason (what, was Marty Conlan already locked in somewhere?). Then he continues his bizarre penchant for accumulating budget basement marginal players whom the Bucks can never seriously consider using on a full-time basis (Damir Markota, Lyn Greer, Royal Ivey, Jake Voskuhl, Daniel Santiago).

And now this. Larry, what the Buck?!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Feeling better about the draft

Schadenfreude is the surest sign of a loser. Thus, I take absolutely zero joy in the Trailblazers misfortune with the Greg Oden pick (in fact, because the first Bucks game my old man ever took me to was against the Blazers, I have always been somewhat of a lifelong silent closet Blazermaniac).

That said, as a Bucks fan I'm sure feeling a lot better about last summer's draft than I felt the day after it happened.

The day after the draft I was bummed. It looked like the Bucks had chosen an unknown entity who had no intent of ever wearing the Green and Red. Now, two months later, all of the sturm und drang has passed, and our boy is signed, sealed, and delivered to Milwaukee. Yeah, he's still an uncertain entity, but he's certainly an intriguing one. And, viewing the draft's two franchise players in hindsight, that ain't so bad.

Think about what might have been, Antlerheads. Had the Bucks won the draft, we would have been partying in May, dancing in June... and crying now. Could you imagine the pain BucksNation would be feeling today if we had selected Oden, believing him to be the second coming of Lew Alcindor, only to find out we actually selected a 19 year old big man saddled with the knees of an aging Bob Lanier (and not the deadly babyhook either)?

And the draft's consolation prize doesn't look like all that either. The shine on Kevin Durant's apple has certainly dulled in this writer's eyes. The thing that made him unique in college, the thing that got me so excited about possibly selecting him, was his rebounding ability. Now we know that almost certainly won't translate upward. He's too damn weak.

In fact, I think Durant's embarrasing lack of strength will limit his NBA game to perimeter jump shots, at least in his first handful of professional seasons. Yeah, he'll probably score big numbers on a terrible Sonics team, but I will bet you dollars to donuts he will be a volume scorer (lots of shots per point), and anyone who reads this rag knows I hate volume scorers -- they are proven to detract from team success, not augment it.

In fact, those Seattle fans who are patting each other on the back and telling each other how fortunate they were to finish second in the lottery should check themselves. I can't see how Kevin Durant will be much of an upgrade from a player they let walk away -- Rashard Lewis. In fact, they almost seem to be doppelgangers, and at this point Lewis is the better model.

All of which makes the Chinese mystery man look so much better in Green and Red than he did last summer.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Blazer management is lying

I have a question for the Portland Trailblazers management. How think do you stupid we are?

The Blazers released this statement from their physicians regarding Greg Oden's prognosis:

"He was found to have articular cartilage damage in his right knee. The area of injury was not large and we were able to treat it with micro fracture, which stimulates the growth of cartilage. There are things about this that are positive for Greg. First of all he is young. The area where the damage was is small and the rest of his knee looked normal. All those are good signs for a complete recovery from micro fracture surgery."

Notice how many times they mentioned that the tear was "small" or "not large"? If you tell a lie enough times, they must figure, it becomes the truth.

I spoke with friends of mine who are orthopedic surgeons, and to a man they confirmed what any idiot could suspect. You do not perform microfracture surgery on a small cartilage tear. For the treating physicians to conclude that Oden required a microfracture procedure, they all concurred, the tear had to be pervasive.

Moreover, they confirmed something else I suspected. The fact that Oden cannot recall a specific moment when he tore the cartilage ("He cannot remember injuring his knee at all," Conley said. "I guess he just felt some discomfort. Greg can't remember when he hurt it.") suggests the damage in his knee almost certainly was a product of long term degeneration. Which further suggests there was ample evidence of it prior to the NBA draft. Which means the Blazers should have known about it.

The bottom line is Greg Oden will never be the player he might have been. Meaning the Blazers botched yet another top pick. Their fans deserve to know why, and all they are getting from Portland brass is lies and disingenuous information.

Bucks play it smart with Bell

It seems the Bucks are finally learning the value of a salary cap dollar.

After wildly overspending on fringe talent such as Dan Gadzuric and Bobby Simmons, the Bucks have stayed within market value in their offer to restricted free agent Charlie Bell.

The Bucks have reportedly offered Bell a three year deal worth $3 million a season. For a marginally skilled player with damaged knees, I would call that offer more than fair. Bell doesn't see it that way.

His agent told the Racine Journal Times that Bell feels "unappreciated" by the Bucks. He says the Bucks have "poisoned the water" between Bell and the team by even making such an offer.

Break me off a piece of that Kit Kat bar, Charlie. If that is your actual feeling on the matter (which I doubt) you need to grow up. As Tom Hagen said to Michael Corleone "This is business, Mike, not personal!"

Bell is reportedly upset that the Bucks flatly refused his demand for nearly $20 million over 5 seasons. He shouldn't be. If in fact he is worth that much money, he should have no problem finding other NBA teams who are willing to pay it. The market will bear what the market will bear.

The fact is he isn't worth anywhere close to that amount. Thankfully, on this occasion, the Bucks were able to recognize that.

What is the real story behind the Oden injury?

Something is rotten in the state of Oregon. The decision to perform microfracture surgery on Greg Oden's knee implies to me that his knee(s) has been bad for a while and the Blazers probably should have identified the condition before they drafted him.

Here is what we know. Initially, based on Oden's own blog post, it sounded as though he had torn cartilage. On his blog, Oden reported feeling a sudden, unexplained pain in his knee. That complaint would be consistent with a meniscus tear caused by long term degeneration of the knee. And, as I understand it, if the tear were merely a small one and not pervasive throughout the knee, the proper surgical procedure is a simple arthroscopic cleaning. You can't fix cartilage, so when you have a smaller tear, the best you can do is remove the damaged cartilage so it doesn't cause future problems in the knee such as swelling and locking.

Then Oden went in for surgery and things changed dramatically. After exploring his injured knee with a camera, his doctors decided that microfracture surgery was in order. That's quite a leap. Microfracture surgery is a simple yet radical and very invasive procedure. As its name implies, it actually involves injuring the patient to stimulate healing, specifically, stimulate new cartilage growth. Because it straddles the line when it comes to the Hippocratic Oath, doctors do not make the decision to do it lightly.

All of which implies that when the doctors' camera entered Oden's knee it uncovered a much worse injury than the doctors initially anticipated. Otherwise, the facts surrounding this case make no sense. Using microfracture surgery on a small meniscus tear is a little like swatting a mosquito with a sledgehammer. Moreover, the doctors had to know prior to going in with the camera that Oden had at least a little torn cartilage. So, if they planned to use microfracture to treat ordinary cartilage damage, we would have known about it earlier.

Thus, their camera must have found pervasively damaged cartilage, or, perhaps, little or no cartilage at all. That would be the only explanation for the decision to do the unscheduled microfracture procedure on such a valuable patient. The doctors must have decided he was in dire need of cartilage.

If all of that is true, it means Oden's knees were prearthritic. Having arthritis in a joint, after all, merely means you have little or no cartilage in that joint. Indeed, microfracture surgery was initially developed as a last ditch method to provide relief from the pain old people suffered because of arthritis.

If indeed the doctors found general cartilage damage throughout the knee, that is a degenerative condition. It didn't appear overnight. It would have been on-going and probably should have been detected last spring when he had his predraft physicals. Indeed, we are hearing reports indicating that at least some of the NBA's physicians detected such a condition at the time.

All of which begs the question, how did the Trailblazers management drop the ball so badly, and why aren't they fessing up to it now? It appears they purchased damaged goods. Blazermaniacs deserve an honest explanation.