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Monday, July 15, 2013

MILWAUKEE BUCKS: POINT OF CONTENTION

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The Bucks have done a lot to transform themselves in the last two weeks, but their effort to change their starting point guard hit a roadblock when the Atlanta Hawks matched Milwaukee's offer to Jeff Teague. At the Observers' deadline Monday the situation was murky but someone's strong preference was quite clear...

 

Artie: When I saw the paper Sunday my spirits sank. Now I can only keep my fingers crossed that there's still some possibility of a “sign and trade” deal that can still get Teague here, where he wants to be.

Frank: No one really knows if Brandon Jennings wants to be in Atlanta, but the Bucks' offer to Teague sure can't make him want to stay here.

A: The new NBA labor agreement gave teams only three days to match offers to their restricted free agents, down from seven. I read somewhere that the Bucks and Hawks were trying to work something out but ran out of time, so the Hawks felt they had to match. But I can keep hoping.

F: Meanwhile, there doesn't seem to be any “buzz” about Jennings getting a big-money offer from another team.

A: It's like the guy has disappeared from the face of the Earth! But if he reappears still wearing a Bucks uniform, I doubt he’ll be the happiest of young Buckeroos.

F: Right now he'll be a Buck for one year at the $4.3 million “qualifying offer” the team made. So how about this theory: At least Jennings will be highly motivated next season, if only to earn himself a big payday as an unrestricted free agent next summer?

A: But what will he be motivated to do? Become the well-rounded point guard the Bucks have wanted all along, or just jack up more shots to pad his scoring stats? We've seen what success the Bucks have had with a free-shooting Jennings, namely not much. I see him trying for 55 shots a game, to match that point total from his rookie year.

F: That 55-point explosion in his seventh NBA game was the worst thing that could have happened. I think it helped give him a “score first” mind-set.

A: Which has resulted in crummy 39.4% shooting over four seasons.

F: Compared to 45.1% for Teague, although their three-point marks are virtually the same at just under 36%.

A: But Teague is a true point guard; he shares the ball. He got a much better background in fundamentals by playing two years at Wake Forest. If Jennings had even played one year of college ball I think it would have really helped him out. But no, he knew better and went off to Europe. He still got the opportunity here, but he just hasn't improved.

F: How about another scenario at the point: Jennings gets an offer but the Bucks don't match and turn the job over to Luke Ridnour. He was solid as Jennings' backup during the 2010 run to the playoffs.

A: I could see that. I was glad to see them get Ridnour back in a deal with Minnesota. They could sign someone to back him up and help the rookie, Nate Wolters, learn the ropes. But I'm still hoping that somehow they can get Teague!

F: Besides landing Ridnour, the Bucks have brought back Carlos Delfino, another contributor to the 2010 success. And they replaced Monta Ellis' scoring by signing O.J. Mayo.

A: And I liked the move to get another familiar face, Zaza Pachulia, as the backup center. I remember watching him in one of the Bucks' games against Atlanta and wishing he was back here.

F: One of my buddies at Paddy's Pub, who's a longtime Bucks fan, said he was pretty excited about the way the team has been reshaped.

A: I am too! I think back to the fourth game in the sweep by Miami, and how I looked at that roster and said, “Oh God, are they gonna still be like this next year?” But with these newcomers joining the frontcourt core of Larry Sanders, John Henson and Ersan Ilyasova, this bunch can be pretty competitive—and more so if Teague can get here.

F: It sure didn't take GM John Hammond long to change his tune on Jennings. On June 28, at the introduction of the first-round draft pick...

A: Whom we'll jut keep calling “G.A.”...

F: Hammond said, “It's our intention for Brandon Jennings to remain a Milwaukee Buck.” Twelve days later came the offer to Teague.

A: But even an unwanted Jennings will get a hefty raise if he stays here. He made about $3.2 million last year; an extra million next season could buy an awful lot of tattoos.

F: But maybe not one that says, “I Love Milwaukee.”

 

BROKEN AT THE BREAK

F: What is there, really, to say at the all-star break about the Brewers?

A: About the who? The name vaguely rings a bell. A baseball team, ain'a?

F: Not a very good one, according to the record. They're 38-56, six games worse than last year and a whopping 19 1/2 games out of first place in the NL Central.

A: To say nothing of 14 1/2 back in the wild-card race. And 4 1/2 games behind the Cubs—the Cubs!—for fourth place in the division.

F: They're just 2 1/2 games ahead of Miami, which brings the worst record in the NL to Miller Park this weekend.

A: Meanwhile, I can understand why Ryan Braun went on “bereavement leave.” Major League Baseball is in the process of administering the last rites to his Hall of Fame aspirations.

F: That may be a bit extreme, but it looks like something will be coming down on Braun, Alex Rodriguez and others, maybe by the end of this week.

A: By the way, I just got a tip from an anonymous source that MLB is planning to revise the appeal process for the players it suspends for dealing with that Biogenesis lowlife in Florida. Each guy will have a 50-pound concrete block tied to his ankles and get tossed into the Hudson River.

F: Why 50 pounds?

A: Each one represents one of the games a first-time offender gets docked. If the guy floats, he's innocent. If he sinks...

F: The process accelerates right to a permanent ban.

A: Call it streamlining.

F: Back to the Brewers. Their record in games I've attended this year is 7-14, so I guess I'm acting as “the Cooler” again.

A: No one has to act very well to become a cooler for that team. Someone else must be helping produce a 31-42 record when you're not around.

F: Tom Gorzelanny's first two July starts were typical of how things have been going. Against the Mets at home and then in Arizona, he goes six solid innings, gives up only two unearned runs thanks to errors and loses 2-1. The only difference was that against the D-Backs one of the errors was his own.

A: He may be thinking his biggest error was signing here. But at least he's making himself more attractive as the trading deadline approaches and so many teams look for pitching help. But the Brewers have a bunch of guys who seem to be doing their best to sabotage their chances of going to a contender!

F: Jim Henderson and John Axford in the Arizona series, Michael Gonzalez, Burke Badenhop... Their value is dropping.

A: And Yovani Gallardo must just love Milwaukee. I saw one rumor that Doug Melvin is talking with Texas—imagine that!—about Gallardo and Norichika Aoki, because Texas is supposed to have a real solid, even superior farm system. Gallardo should be trying to get there; I think he has his off-season home in Fort Worth. But he keeps having starts that range all the way from mediocre to terrible.

F: Still, it could be a very busy next couple of weeks for Mr. Melvin.

 

OH, THAT WHACKY NIGHT

F: Last time we noted a couple of interesting sports anniversaries, but another passed by on July 9 without the fanfare it deserved. And it marked a major event in Brewers history.

A: What, the only time Jeff Suppan got past the fourth inning?

F: Nice guess, but no. This one involved the immortal Randall Simon.

A: I know that name!

F: Yes, it's been 10 years since Simon immortalized himself and the Brewers' sausage race with a little flick of his bat.

A: The ol' Wiener Whacker himself.

F: Simon, a Pirates first baseman, was at the dugout rail when the four sausages—remember, this was the pre-Chorizo era—ran by that Wednesday night. He hit the top of the Italian costume, causing the runner to go off-balance and fall, and the Hot Dog tripped over the Italian.

A: But both of them toughed it out and finished the race, ain'a?

F: Yup. The Polish helped the Italian get up and the Bratwurst won the race. As it happened, the two fallen racers were young women who were members of the “Super Team” entertainment squad—Mandy Block, 19, was the Italian and Veronica Piech, 21, was the Hot Dog.

A: And their injuries?

F: Skinned and bruised knees, nothing serious. But that didn't save Simon from punishment.

A: As I recall, the Brewers wanted him tarred and feathered.

F: Rick Schlesinger, then the vice president of business operations and now the team's chief operating officer, called Simon's action “an insane act” and “one of the most outrageous things I've ever seen inside a ballpark or outside a ballpark.” Now, it's true the injuries could have been worse, but it's also true that Simon never actually hit Block.

A: He obviously wasn't the brightest bulb in the pack, but not exactly Aaron Hernandez either.

F: Just a goofy guy from Curacao. But he was taken downtown on a misdemeanor battery charge, later reduced to disorderly conduct, and fined $432.

A: Did they fingerprint the bat to be absolutely sure?

F: Two days later Major League Baseball added a three-game suspension and a $2,000 fine. Simon apologized to Block and she took the whole thing in good nature, saying it was “funny to me.” All she asked for was an autographed bat from Simon, which she got on July 11. But the Curacao Tourist Board offered her a vacation on the Caribbean island, and I found a Web photo showing her getting nuzzled by a dolphin during that visit the next winter.

A: And she got her 15 minutes of fame out of the way early.

F: Yeah, for a couple of days she was a national mini-celebrity. Which seemed to make the Brewers a little annoyed—possibly because Schlesinger's initial comments turned out to be a little, um, excessive. I was covering the July 11 game, against Cincinnati, and the Brewers refused to make Block available to the media for interviews, or allow photos of her receiving the bat.

A: As Barney Fife would say, “Nip it! Nip it in the bud!”

F: Block and Piech were back in the race that Friday night—but holding the tape at the finish line. Block was invited to a mall event where she would have signed “Don't Whack Our Wiener” T-shirts, but a Brewers spokesman told me, “We told her that as a Brewers employee we'd prefer that she not do it, and she agreed to that.”

A: Hey, why not let the kid make a buck or two?

F: Simon wound up getting traded to the Cubs in August, and in September he returned to Miller Park. I had the game that night too, and Simon told me he and Block had talked by phone a week after the incident. “She said she knew I didn't try to hurt her and I said I appreciated the way she handled it,” he said. Oh, and Simon also bought Italian sausages for an entire section near first base.

A: The Brewers should have enjoyed the whole thing more. God knows it was the highlight of that '03 season!

F: Well, the team didn't lose 106 games as it had the year before.

A: Not for lack of trying! Let's go to baseball-reference.com... The '03 team went 68-94 with an ERA of 5.02 and 219 homers allowed. How about some of these stats: Glendon Rusch, 1-12 and a 6.42...

F: Ooh, it was that year. Rusch wound up getting sent to the minors.

A: Ben Sheets, 11-13 and 4.45 with 29 homers allowed. Matt Kinney, 10-13 and 5.19 with 27 homers. Wayne Franklin, 10-13 and 5.50 with thirty-six homers. The Brewers gave up 873 runs for the season while scoring 714.

F: Ouch. A run differential of minus-159. You're right; Simon was doing 'em a favor.

 

YOU CALL THIS A GAME?

F: Imagine my surprise when I turned to your column last week and saw the illustration of you not only playing soccer, but making a rather bold tackle with your cleats dangerously close to a player's, um, man zone.

A: That's how I play the game. Hey, you want to flop? I'll give you something to flop about!

F: It was just such a shock to see you involved in soccer, even in a photo-shopped way.

A: Well, I sure got interested in the sport when I saw that little item in the Journal Sentinel last week about the mayhem in Brazil.

F: I saw that too. A referee in an amateur match ejected a player, the two got into a confrontation and the ref pulled a knife and stabbed the player to death.

A: And then a mob stoned the ref to death, chopped off his head and quartered his body. I thought, holy cow, maybe there's more to this soccer stuff than I thought. Those English hooligans got nothing on Brazilians!

F: I figured that would catch your eye. Remember the Colombian player who was murdered after the 1994 World Cup because he accidentally put the ball into his own net?

A: But soccer's so big in Brazil that I'm figuring the killers will get off on “just cause” after about five minutes in court.

F: As you well know, Brazil will host the World Cup next year. And another item in the JS reported that local restaurateur Mike Eitel has a plan for a five-acre site along the Park East Strip where fans can watch the matches and party. Are you up for it?

A: I'm afraid that's out of my geographic partying radius. Since I'm a pedestrian, being in that area would increase my chances of falling into the river when the evening's over. But I know Mike Eitel is a good guy and a smart businessman. I'm sure the place would be successful. But getting back to that Brazil situation, it makes me think of something that would be perfect for the NBA.

F: I'm worried about where this might be going.

A: If the league is really serious about curtailing all this flopping by players, it could allow the refs to pack a shiv, and if guys pulled really egregious flops they could just stab 'em.

F: Fatally?

A: Ref's option. Or you could widen the policy to include consistent whining about calls. After, say, the third complaint, something more painful than a technical foul would be an option.

F: Let me know how the NBA responds to this idea.

 

Frank Clines covered sports for The Milwaukee Journal and the Journal Sentinel. Art Kumbalek keeps his “tats” under cover.