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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Bucking for Net Gains

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Every year at this time there's a lot of optimism about whomever the Milwaukee Bucks have drafted. But really, no one can be sure. Last year's first-round pick, point guard Brandon Jennings, had a dazzling rookie season. But 2008's top pick, Joe Alexander, was an injury-plagued bust who didn't last two seasons with the team. Andrew Bogut is justifying his selection as the top overall pick in 2005, but Marcus Haislip, No. 13 overall in 2002, spent two years on the Bucks' bench before getting waived.

This year, the Bucks had an extraordinary draft week as general manager John Hammond tried to build on the team's surprising playoff appearance. First he traded for Golden State's Corey Maggette, a proven NBA scorer at small forward. Then he drafted the 6-foot-11 Larry Sanders in the first round to add size in the frontcourt. Finally, Hammond traded a 2012 second-round pick to the Nets for Chris Douglas-Roberts, another "wing" scorer.

Artie, who conducts his own "war room" on Draft Night, is feeling, well, optimistic.

Artie: As a Bucks fan, last week was one of the best I can remember—and not just because of Sanders. They got Maggette for basically nothing—namely, Dan Gadzuric and Charlie Bell. The second-round picks, forward Darington Hobson and the oddly named big man, Tiny Gallon, could prove useful. And I really liked the move for Douglas-Roberts.

Frank: Do you agree that Sanders addressed the team's top need?

Artie: This guy could really complement Bogut, either as his sub or joining him on the floor if the Bucks need to "go big." This past season they had good scoring balance and Ersan Ilyasova did a good job at power forward, but he can't play the major minutes for 82 games. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute plays the "4" spot well, too, but at 6-8 he's sometimes out-sized.

Frank: It's been a mantra for years that the Bucks need a "legitimate power forward."

Artie: This reminds me of when the Bucks took Vin Baker in 1993. He was out of a smaller school, Hartford, like Sanders is out of Virginia Commonwealth. Baker was also 6-11 and pretty thin, like Sanders, and he turned out pretty well, at least for a few years, ain’a?

Frank: Sanders only began playing organized basketball in the 10th grade. With three years at VCU, that's just five years overall.

Artie: But he's incredibly fast for "a big," in Hammond's words. And he has some huge wingspan that makes him an excellent shot-blocker. He needs a few pounds and more offensive moves, but with his athleticism and speed he could be just what they need.

Frank: Meanwhile, Hammond found two more scorers in Maggette and Douglas-Roberts.

Artie: They both attack the basket, which will earn more free throws, something the Bucks ranked real low in last season. But they can also shoot from the outside. And they play defense, which puts ’em in the Scott Skiles mode.

Frank: Douglas-Roberts was a new name to me.

Artie: He was a first-team AP All-American in his last year at Memphis, when they went to the NCAA final. Last Nov. 18 at the Bradley Center, he had 31 points and 10 rebounds in 45 minutes for the Nets.

Frank: So with Maggette and Douglas-Roberts, they're stocked up for scoring in case they lose John Salmons to free agency.

Artie: Yeah, but I think their draft picks showed they still want to sign Salmons. They could have picked a couple of shooting guards but didn't, for two reasons: 1. It wasn't their biggest need, and 2. They didn't want to be telling Salmons, "We don't want you." Same thing with Luke Ridnour. They didn't draft or trade for a point guard, so they were telling Luke, "Your spot is still open."

Frank: We'll know about the free agents starting Thursday, when the signing period begins. But no matter what happens there, it's interesting to hear optimistic talk about the Bucks.

Artie: Can you believe it? I don't always feel this good even after a Packers draft. A lot of this, of course, comes from the trades. I saw a post-draft analysis on the NBA Network, and the talking heads were very positive about the Bucks. They were saying it was good to talk about a team on the rise instead of one that was cutting salary and uncertain about its future. For me, it's a season to look forward to!

In Soccer, It’s Net Pain

Frank: I guess thinking of the Bucks' future can comfort Milwaukeeans after the U.S. demise in the World Cup. Did you see the 2-1 overtime loss to Ghana?

Artie: I may have nodded off a couple of times, but the TV was on, yes sir. Now I probably won't watch another match until the final.

Frank: Nobody could look at either team after that 120-minute game and deny that soccer is a really demanding sport.

Artie: Left it all on the field, they did. One flight of stairs for me and I've gotta take a pause.

Frank: It is not, in fact, constant running as is sometimes said. But it's grueling compared to baseball…

Artie: Or golf. And especially NASCAR. Those guys don't run until after the race when they're sprinting to the garage area to duke it out with another driver. But I do have a soccer question: What's with those guys who fall down, writhe around, get carried off on a stretcher and 10 seconds later they're up and rarin' to go again?

Frank: A time-honored way of delaying the game if you're ahead. Of course, the referee should add time at the end to compensate, but if you gain a few seconds in the exchange, why not?

Artie: After these divers finish with soccer, they can be extras on some TV emergency-medical show. They're that good.

Frank: When the United States tied it in the second half, it seemed inevitable that they'd score again.

Artie: Even I could tell they were much crisper in the second half. How the hell did they manage to fall behind so early in three of their four games?

Frank: That's the million-dollar question. They got the goal on a penalty kick, but it was because they were attacking and relentless. But Ghana's goalie was tough, they had a little luck and managed a lightning-strike score in the OT.

Artie: And at that point our guys were pretty well cashed in, energy-wise. I sure was hoping for a penalty-kick shootout. That's real drama!

Frank: As for melodrama, nothing's better than seeing France get bounced from the tournament, yelling "J'accuse!" at each other. Magnifique!

Artie: And Italy, too, not even getting to the final 16. It's fun to see the big shots humbled.

Frank: Supposedly mighty England got drilled by Germany on Sunday, but got screwed out of a goal because FIFA refuses to use TV replays to backstop officials.

Artie: Just like our guys got jobbed in the Algeria game?

Frank: In that case, it was an offside call that was bogus. In England's case, a shot that bounced off the crossbar and landed at least a foot inside the goal line wasn't counted. Later on, Argentina got a goal against Mexico that should have been disallowed because of a clear offside. Every time it was a "line" call that could have been rectified quickly by some replay official alerting the ref. But FIFA refuses to use the technology. 

Artie: Geez, the goals are so rare in the first place, and it seems like on half of ’em there's some question about offside or hand-ball or something. Why not get it right?

Frank: Well, now that the United States is out, do you have a favorite?

Artie: Gotta be the Netherlands! A country with legalized pot and legalized prostitution. How can you root against that?

Frank: No comment.