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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Scott Brooks named Coach of the Year

Per NBA.com…

Back when the Thunder were 3-29 last season, the notion of the playoffs coming to Oklahoma City any time soon was unimaginable.

But it was that same miserable stretch that made general manager Sam Presti confident that coach Scott Brooks was the right man to lead his team into the future.

While Oklahoma City struggled to the worst start in the NBA, Presti was impressed by the way Brooks stayed the course and never tried to force immediate changes in hopes of making the Thunder better. He has now taken the youngest roster in the league and turned the team into a 50-game winner and a playoff team just one season after the horrendous start.

For that best-in-the NBA turnaround, Brooks was recognized Wednesday as the NBA’s coach of the year. He received 71 of 123 first-place votes and 480 points to finish ahead of Milwaukee’s Scott Skiles (26 first-place votes, 313 points) and Portland’s Nate McMillan (9, 107).

I thought that the race between Brooks and Skiles would be closer. Before the season, the over/under for Bucks’ wins was 28.5 while the Thunder had an over/under of 34.5. Milwaukee exceeded its total by 17.5, while Oklahoma City was +15.5. Granted, the Eastern Conference isn’t as strong as the West, but that was taken into account when the oddsmakers made the initial line. To Vegas, the Bucks were a bigger surprise, and let’s not forget that Skiles led his team to 46 wins without a transcendent, on-the-rise player like Kevin Durant or even a single All-Star. And he lost Michael Redd early in the season.

Brooks did a hell of a job this year, but I think Skiles’ overall season was a bit better. But maybe I’m just a Bucks homer.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

Conley on the move?

The Racine Journal-Times is reporting that the Bucks and Grizzlies have verbally agreed on a deal that would send Mike Conley, Jr. to Milwaukee in exchange for Ramon Sessions and Joe Alexander.

I’ve been told both teams have virtually agreed on the conditions of the trade and only Bucks owner Herb Kohl had to give his stamp of approval. Bucks general manager John Hammond, reached in North Carolina where he was on a scouting trip, said it was his policy not to comment on any trade speculation.

As a Bucks fan, I don’t really want to see this trade go down. I’m not clear on why Sessions isn’t getting any run despite being the 15th most productive point guard in the league. He must be in Scott Skiles’ doghouse. That’s the only explanation. And it’s a shame because the kid has shown tremendous potential. At 22 years of age, he has a bright future ahead of him.

Neither Joe Alexander nor Mike Conley has shown a whole lot in their brief careers. Conley continues to struggle with his jumper (41%), and if the Bucks were to trade for him, it would be for his potential, not his production. I don’t understand why a team would trade for a semi-expensive, 21 year-old, unproductive point guard when they’d have to give up a cheaper, more productive 22 year-old point guard. Sessions is a better shooter and has a much better assist-to-turnover ratio (3.43 vs. 2.47). I’ve always liked Conley as a prospect, but simply stated, when comparing the two, Sessions is simply more of a proven player.

Like I said, it looks like Sessions may be in Skiles’ doghouse. While I do like the sense of discipline and defense that Skiles has brought to the Bucks, I’ll be disappointed if Milwaukee trades away a productive young player because the head coach can’t find a way to get through to him.

Four emerging NBA storylines

It’s early in the NBA season, but these four things have jumped out at me during the first week of action.

1. The Lakers are dominating, but Lamar Odom isn’t thriving off the bench.
The Los Angeles Lakers are 4-0 and have won those four games by an average of 20.8 points. Granted, they’ve already played the Clippers twice, but the Nuggets gave them a test in Denver. The Lakers are doing it with defense, holding opponents to just 39.3% shooting and 85.0 points per game. (The Lakers are second in the league in both categories.) The team is off to a quick start despite so-so play from Andrew Bynum (8.3 points and 9.3 rebounds) and Lamar Odom (10.0 points and 6.5 rebounds), who isn’t exactly tearing it up off the bench. His numbers are boosted by a pretty nice 15-point, nine-rebound effort against the Clippers last night. Those are kind of numbers that Odom should be posting on a regular basis. The Lakers are getting nice play from Trevor Ariza, who has produced 9.8 points and 4.3 rebounds in just 20.5 minutes of play. If he continues his deft shooting from long range (71%), it won’t be long before he cracks the starting lineup. One of the underlying strategies heading into the season was to cut back on Kobe’s minutes, and thus far the plan has worked. He averaged 38.9 last season and is only playing 33.3 this season. His minutes are likely to rise as the Lakers play in more close games, but right now Phil Jackson has to be feeling pretty good about how his team has started.

2. The Bucks are finally playing some defense.
Last season, Milwaukee was last in the league in defensive field goal percentage (48.0%), but through five games, they’re holding opponents to 44.2% shooting, which is #14 in the league. New head coach Scott Skiles demands a lot from his players on that end of the court and so far the Bucks are responding with increased effort. The addition of Richard Jefferson certainly helps defensively, but he’s also getting it done on the other end of the court. RJ is averaging 18.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game, even though he’s only shooting 41% from the field. Without Michael Redd in the lineup, Jefferson had a great 32-point, nine-assist effort in a 112-104 overtime win against the Wizards Wednesday night. The Bucks are also getting great play from a couple of unexpected sources. Second-year point guard Ramon Sessions turned a few heads last year when he averaged 12.9 points and 12.4 assists (including a franchise record 24 dimes against the Bulls) over the last eight games of the season. The Mo Williams trade that brought Luke Ridnour to team looked more like a salary dump than a personnel move, but maybe the Bucks decided they had their point guard of the future in Sessions, who is averaging 17.3 points and 8.3 assists on the year. Second round pick Luc Mbah a Moute has outplayed first round pick Joe Alexander thus far. Skiles likes Mbah a Moute’s great defense and toughness, which he learned playing in Ben Howland’s system at UCLA for three years. He’s playing 25.2 minutes and is averaging 8.6 points and 5.0 rebounds per game. The Bucks are 3-2, but have a rough eight-game stretch ahead of them that features the Celtics (twice), Suns, Cavs, Spurs, Nuggets and Jazz. If they can come through that gauntlet close to .500, we’ll know that the Bucks’ improvement is for real.

3. The Spurs were thisclose to starting 0-4.
If not for last night’s 55-point, 10-assist, seven-rebound effort by Tony Parker that helped the Spurs survive a double-overtime scare against the Timberwolves, San Antonio would be looking at an 0-4 start. They lost to the Suns at home by five and to the Blazers by one in Portland, but it was the 98-81 loss to the Mavs at home that was really surprising. The Spurs’ problem is two-fold. Collectively, they’re getting older and they miss Manu Ginobili. Parker (33.3 points, 7.3 assists) and Tim Duncan (27.0 points, 11.8 rebounds) are doing all they can to keep the Spurs in games, but they aren’t getting much help from their supporting cast, specifically Michael Finley (33% FG%) and Kurt Thomas (14% FG%). The Spurs are getting good play from fifth-year guard Roger Mason, who is averaging 15.8 points per game on 60.5% shooting. He’s been extremely hot from downtown, knocking down 64% of this three-point shots. Right now, it’s a three-man show and that’s it; no other Spur is averaging more than 7.5 points per game. The schedule gets a little easier over the next two weeks, with winnable games against the Heat, Knicks, Bucks, Kings and Clippers. San Antonio should be back above .500 before too long.

In my 2008 NBA Preview, I had the Hawks ranked #20 to start the season. After a 3-0 start, they should definitely be in the top half, maybe even in the top ten. I thought the loss of Josh Childress and the steady decline of Mike Bibby would outweigh whatever improvements this young team could make, but they have proven me wrong. The Hawks’ three wins are impressive. They beat Orlando by 14 points on the road, beat Philly at home by seven and then beat the Hornets in New Orleans by eight. Joe Johnson has led the team in scoring in all three games, and is averaging 28.0 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists on the year. Even more impressive, the Hawks have won despite poor shooting from Josh Smith (42%), Mike Bibby (34%) and Marvin Williams (39%). If Johnson is able to keep up this level of play, the Hawks shouldn’t have a problem making the playoffs for the second consecutive year. Long-term, I like the direction this franchise is headed, but they still need to find their point guard of the future. Mike Bibby is on the decline and Acie Law hasn’t done much in his young career to indicate that he’s the guy they should lean on. The Hawks will have plenty of cap space over the next couple of seasons, so they should be planning to find a point guard that can complement Johnson and forward/center Al Horford.

Celtics, Lakers prevail on opening night

I don’t think anyone is surprised that the Celtics were able to beat the Cavs on opening night, but given the fact that two of the Big Three – Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett – combined for only 19 points on 7-24 shooting, it is a little remarkable that the C’s were still able to get the win.

LeBron was his usual self (22p/7r/6a), and Mo Williams had a decent debut with 12 points on 3-5 3PT shooting, but he only had two assists against four turnovers. Zydrunas Ilgauskas (15p) was the only other Cavalier in double figures. Outside of Williams, the Cavs were 0-10 from long distance.

Paul Pierce led all scorers with 27 points and looks like he’s picking up right where he left off last June.

On the West Coast, the Lakers dismantled the upstart Trail Blazers, 96-76. Kobe led all scorers with 23 points, while Portland “rookie” Rudy Fernandez posted an impressive 16 points in his first NBA game.

In the Lamar Odom Bench Watch, he posted nine points and seven rebounds in 29 minutes.

Greg Oden sprained his foot. X-rays were negative, but he’s going to have an MRI this week. I hope he doesn’t turn out to be just another injury prone big man.

There was one other game on the docket. The Bulls welcomed back Bucks coach Scott Skiles and pasted his team, 108-95. Derrick Rose (11p, 9a, 4r) was impressive in his first NBA game.

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