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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

No Time Like Now for a Re-Revamping

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Two years ago, a midseason trade for John Salmons energized the Bucks and helped propel them to the NBA playoffs for the first time in four years. But in a scenario all too familiar over the last decade, the good times didn't last. Now the Bucks hope a deal with Golden State for shooting guard Monta Ellis and power forward Ekpe Udoh will rekindle the 2010 spark.

A long-term fix? Maybe not, but for the modern-day Bucks and their fans, just reaching the postseason is Job One. And standing pat for very long doesn't seem to get that done.

Frank: Someone could have made big money by betting in December that the Bucks would trade Andrew Bogut, one of the faces of the franchise, before the season was over.

Artie
: Hey, things happen, and the deal really wasn't too surprising because someone wouldn't have made much money betting that Bogut would get injured again.

Frank
: Not that it was his fault he missed so many games in the last few years, but he was an awfully expensive spectator.

Artie
: So the Bucks did well to trade Bogut and another guy who wasn't playing, Stephen Jackson, for two guys who are playing.

Frank
: Pretty slick maneuver by general manager John Hammond. So how will Ellis and Udoh fit in here?

Artie
: Very well. When I first heard of the trade I couldn't visualize Udoh's name...

Frank
: Apropos of nothing, the deal gives the Bucks a monopoly. Udoh and Beno Udrih are the only NBA players whose last names begin with "U."

Artie
: But when I saw some tape of Udoh, I remembered him from Baylor a couple of years ago. He's got a ways to go offensively, but he can be a shot-blocking and rebounding machine.

Frank
: Two things Bogut was good at—when he was healthy. But the Bogut machine kept breaking down.

Artie
: And Ellis is a really good addition at shooting guard. He and Brandon Jennings give the Bucks the quickest backcourt in the league.

Frank
: Ellis certainly showed he can score during six seasons at Golden State. But my nephew, an NBA maven, said he's had some "issues."

Artie
: That's overstated, I think. He was a big fan favorite in the Bay Area. He did have an incident with a motor scooter a few years back that caused some controversy.

Frank
: I looked it up. In the summer of '08, after signing a six-year, $66 million contract, he tore an ankle ligament and told the Warriors it happened in a pickup game. But it really was from an accident while riding a moped, an activity prohibited under his contract. The Warriors suspended him for 30 games.

Artie
: But that's just one thing. Other than that, there are no "issues" with him.

Frank
: A Bay Area writer on grantland.com, Jay Caspian Kang, said that since the accident Ellis "has arguably never been the same" and that he didn't fit in with new coach Mark Jackson's plan to make the Warriors "an efficient, defensive-minded team." But Kang also called Ellis "one of the 10 most gifted scorers in the league."

Artie
: He may be the quickest guy to the hoop and he can really finish. But he can pass, too; he's not a "black hole" where the ball disappears.

Frank
: Weren't people saying similar things about Salmons two years ago?

Artie
: Salmons was a scorer, yeah, but between him and Ellis it's like a turtle and a hare.

Frank
: My general point, though, is that Hammond's moves always inspire optimism. But Salmons got a big contract and played his way out of town. Corey Maggette and Jackson quickly wore out their welcome. There's always retooling, rebuilding, re-something going on—twice within a few months this time!

Artie
: But as Michael Hunt wrote in the Journal Sentinel, it has to be that way with a small-market, limited-resources team. You keep switching the pieces and see what clicks.

Frank
: It's good that Hammond isn't afraid to acknowledge mistakes and move on quickly. So now we have a new mantra, that these Bucks will be really up-tempo. Wasn't that what they were two years ago, and wasn't Bogut a part of that?

Artie
: Yeah, the spring of '10 was a nice run, and it was because they really played as a team, moving the ball around quickly and unselfishly. But with Ellis here, you're really talking an added dimension of quickness. And as for Bogut, I recall reading some hints that he wasn't entirely happy, that he wanted the offense to run through him more.

Frank
: Well, no one can deny the current offense is running hot. The Bucks came into this week on a five-game winning streak and averaging over 110 points in their last six.

Artie
: Speaking of those "U" guys, it's like the whole team is making a U-turn, from "getting to 90 is a big night" to a hundred and freakin' 20 at Golden State in Ellis' debut.

Frank
: Plus they had 38 assists in the win over Cleveland, the single-game high for the NBA this season.

Artie
: And another 33 against the Warriors. And most important, they're back in the playoff hunt after looking buried at 15-24.

Frank
: Three weeks ago we were noting the Knicks' ascent through "Linsanity" while the Bucks and Jennings were sliding. Now Jennings seems over his February funk and Jeremy Lin is proving to be human after all.

Artie
: But the Knicks have perked up again since Mike D'Antoni's departure as coach. Could be a fun race down the stretch, even if it is for the eighth playoff spot.

Doubly Sweet Again


Frank
: Both of the state's teams are through to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen...

Artie
: And for the second straight year—a mighty fine parley.

Frank
: But they need to play better for any chance at the Final Four. MU had its usual stretches of turnovers and bad shooting against BYU and Murray State, and UW had a pretty excruciating last five minutes against Vanderbilt—virtually nothing but long possessions followed by semi-desperate three-point attempts that failed. Both teams play themselves onto the razor's edge and rely on their relentless effort to save them. But it just gets tougher this week.

Artie
: MU plays Florida for a spot in the Elite Eight, and the Gators are a lot like Missouri would have been—quick guards who really take it up and down. The Golden Eagles seem to have trouble with that kind of team.

Frank
: One that can match their speed and energy?

Artie
: Right. We saw it with Murray State at times, but MU was able to step things up in the last eight minutes. They found a way to win, and it comes from just working hard all game.

Frank
: Same thing for UW, but in the final minutes against Vandy it seemed like they had no plan except work the shot clock down and launch a three. Good thing Jordan Taylor finally hit one to regain the lead.

Artie
: As we've seen all season, these Badgers really depend on threes. They took 33 of them against Vandy and made only 10.

Frank
: That's not as cold as they've been in some of their losses, but they'll have to do better in the next round against Syracuse.

Artie
: Which plays that 2-3 zone almost exclusively.

Frank
: I was just watching a video of Bob Knight discussing Syracuse's zone, and in the tape he was using, the stymied offense looked like the Badgers in those last minutes against Vandy—everyone hanging around the arc, waiting to see who'll take the desperate three. Knight said you have to attack the 2-3 by getting enough penetration on the perimeter to draw two defenders to the ball, which has to open up someone.

Artie
: That'll put big pressure on Taylor to create those breakdowns.  

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