Bucks busy, re-sign Salmons, sign Gooden

When the Bucks swung a trade for Corey Maggette, most pundits thought it was the end of John Salmons’ tenure in Milwaukee, but the two sides have agreed to a five-year deal.

The Milwaukee Bucks have verbally agreed to a five-year, $39 million deal with free-agent guard John Salmons, according to league sources. Sources say that the last year of the deal is only partially guaranteed.

Salmons is 30, so the length of the contract is reasonable, especially since the fifth year is only partially guaranteed.

Less than $8 million a year is a pretty good deal for a player who averaged 20-3-3 in 30 games as a Buck, and helped to spearhead a late-season surge that secured a playoff spot. Against the Hawks, he pretty much offset Joe Johnson, who is slated to make about twice as much if he accepts Atlanta’s max offer.

The Bucks suddenly have a crowd of talented scorers on the wing. With Salmons, Maggette, Carlos Delfino and the newly acquired Chris Douglas-Roberts, Scott Skiles has plenty of options. All four players can play either shooting guard or small forward, and if Maggette or Douglas-Roberts do not play hard enough defensively, Skiles will have another player to turn to.

GM John Hammond also negotiated a five-year deal worth $32 million with Drew Gooden. The Bucks are his ninth team in nine seasons, which isn’t a good sign. But John Hollinger thinks Gooden is worth the money, though some of his defensive numbers at 82games are a little worrisome. Hopefully, Skiles can coax some better play out of him. If so, he brings a lot to the table offensively and on the glass, and could start for the Bucks at power forward.

The two long-term contracts take the Bucks out of the running for a max free agent next summer, unless the salary cap takes an unexpected jump to $61 million.


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Hawks put away Bucks, 95-74

Milwaukee was cold from the field in Game 6 and that trend continued on Sunday, as the Bucks hit just 33% of their shots (an just 21% of their threes) in Game 7. The Bucks’ defense kept the game from getting out of hand, but without Andrew Bogut, Milwaukee had to hit its shots to keep it close.

Still, the Bucks trailed by just 12 early in the fourth quarter, but the Hawks buckled down and outscored Milwaukee 19-10 over the final ten minutes of the game. Joe Johnson struggled (4-of-14 from the field, 8 points), but the Hawks got good games from Jamal Crawford (22 points), Al Horford (16 points), Josh Smith (15 points) and Mike Bibby (15 points), who combined to shoot 25-of-43 (58%) from the field.

This series probably would have ended differently had Bogut been healthy, but give the Hawks credit for playing well with their proverbial backs against the wall. They played great defense in the last two games, and have all the tools to be a great defensive team. But Atlanta’s problem is focus. The Hawks have a tendency to vary their level of effort depending on the score of the game, and often come apart at the seams when the chips are down. They’re good, but they’re not good enough to turn it on and off whenever they want.

Do they have a chance against the Magic? Sure, but the Hawks are going to have to play an entire series the way they did in their four wins against the Bucks. Against the Bucks, if the Hawks played well, they’d win. That’s not necessarily the case against the Magic.

As for the Bucks, this was a disappointing end to a great season, but like Scott Skiles said in his “wired” segment before the game, when the team was sitting at 18-25 during the season, had anyone asked if they’d take an opportunity to play in a Game 7, they would have jumped on it. The fact that they pushed a far more talented Hawks team to seven games without Bogut is a moral victory.

Looking ahead to this summer, veterans Luke Ridnour, Kurt Thomas and Jerry Stackhouse are free agents. Ridnour played well enough this season to potentially earn a starting gig next season, though he’d likely struggle against the other starting-caliber point guards in the league. Thomas and Stackhouse may come back to give the Bucks a steady veteran presence off the bench, though GM John Hammond would be wise to keep the purse strings as tight as possible.

The big free agent decision may be John Salmons, who could opt out of the final year of the contract ($5.8 million). Despite posting 18-4-4 in the series against the Hawks, Salmons may have played himself out a few million dollars with a woeful shooting performance (8-of-31, 26%) in Game 6 and Game 7, when the Bucks needed him most. Salmons turns 31 in December, so the Bucks should proceed with caution. I can see a three-year deal worth $21-$24 million, but Milwaukee shouldn’t break the bank trying to re-sign him.

From Salmons’ point of view, he should give the Bucks a hometown discount, because he wouldn’t even be in the position to sign a lucrative new deal this summer if Hammond hadn’t traded for him at the deadline and Skiles hadn’t given him the freedom to be the Bucks’ main scorer on the wing.

Milwaukee projects to have a ton of cap space next summer (2011), so assuming the deal lasts at least two years, whatever contract they sign Salmons to will cut into that projected cap space.


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Bucks stun Hawks, take 3-2 lead

After a Josh Smith jumper, Atlanta led by nine with 4:09 to play, and the Bucks’ chances were looking pretty grim. But Milwaukee went on a 14-0 run over the next three and a half minutes to take a five-point lead. The run was keyed by John Salmons (8 points) and Ersan Ilyasova, who made a couple of key saves that led to a Carlos Delfino three and an inside bucket for Ilyasova.

Also key was Joe Johnson’s sixth foul, which came on a drive to the basket with 2:15 to play. Kurt Thomas, who drew a couple of key fouls in Game 4, stepped in and took the charge, and the play forced the Hawks’ best player out of the game. They tried to go to Josh Smith and Jamal Crawford down the stretch, but they went a combined 0-for-5 in the final two minutes. Throw in the Bucks’ 10-for-12 stretch from the free throw line (including 4-for-4 from Brandon Jennings with under 0:20 to play), and it all adds up to a Milwaukee win.

Jennings led the Bucks with 25-4-3 and is now averaging 20-3-4 in the postseason. Salmons chipped in with 19 points and played excellent defense on Johnson (6-for-16, 13 points) all night. The Bucks have won three straight after Scott Skiles decided to put Salmons on Johnson and let his defensive specialist, Luc Mbah a Moute, cover Josh Smith, who killed Milwaukee in the first two games. Salmons has proven that he’s up to the challenge and it has completely turned this series on its head.

The Bucks now head back to the friendly confines of the Bradley Center on Friday night with a chance to close out the series. I fully expect a raucous Milwaukee crowd.


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Thomas, Gadzuric key Bucks win

Left for dead by many (including this long-time, pessimistic fan) after the loss of Andrew Bogut, the Bucks beat the Hawks again last night to tie the series at 2-2.

Brandon Jennings played very well (23-4-6, 56% shooting), and John Salmons continued his steady play (22 points). I’m tempted to credit Carlos Defino’s 22 points (on 6-of-8 from 3PT) as the difference in the game, but it was the play of Milwaukee’s centers that put the Bucks over the top. Kurt Thomas and Dan Gadzuric combined for 16 points, 14 rebounds, two blocks and a steal, which looks like a typical line that Bogut was posting late in the season. The much-maligned Gadzuric played big late in the third and early in the fourth, and eventually gave way to Thomas, who drew a couple of crucial fouls in the final minutes of the game.

But back to Delfino for a moment. We’ve come to expect big games out of Jennings and Salmons, but Delfino had averaged just 6.0 points in the series, so his big night was something of a surprise. Here’s a look (and be sure to check out the dunk at the 0:13 mark):

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Who is the best three-point shooter in the NBA?

After the season, I like to tackle questions like these. To me, a good three-point shooter has to shoot a high percentage and make a good number of threes per game, so I put a few requirements on the eligibility of players:

1. They must have played in a minimum of 60 games during the season.
2. They must make a minimum of 38% of their 3PT attempts.
3. They must make a minimum of 1.0 threes per game.

Here are the results:

(As always, click on the graph for a larger version.)

Most impressive shooter? It has to be the rookie Stephen Curry, who quickly adjusted to the longer distance in the NBA and finished with the fourth-highest percentage of eligible players. He was also in the top 10 in makes per game.

Biggest surprise? Probably Jason Kidd. A career 35% shooter from deep, Kidd has been well over 40% since joining the Mavs. He’s hitting more of his threes because he’s able to play off of Dirk Nowitzki and can spot up instead of trying to hit threes off the dribble.

Best big man shooter? Channing Frye, who hit 2.12 threes a game at a 44% clip.

So who is the best shooter in the NBA? Well, it depends on your criteria. Accuracy and number of makes are important, but it’s even more impressive when the player in question is the first or second option on his team (like Aaron Brooks, Chauncey Billups, Paul Pierce, John Salmons, Steve Nash — or Jason Richardson — and Stephen Curry), and can still make a lot of threes at a high percentage when the defense is game-planning against him.

You be the judge.


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