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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Bucks Don't Stop Here

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The guys did their observing indifferent cities last week before getting together Sunday in Cathedral Square to compare notes.

Frank: I’m just back from our nation’s capital, my friend, and the Bucks’ drafting of Joe Alexander was popular with the Washington media because he lived up the road in Maryland after those early years in Asia.

Artie: Born in Taiwan, lived in China and Hong Kong. Speaks Mandarin, so what’s the first thing the Bucks do? Trade their Chinese guy!

Frank: Maybe Scott Skiles thought they’d cuss him in words he can’t under stand, so Yi had to go.

Artie: Some people wonder why trade for All-Star small forward Richard Jefferson and then draft a small forward? Hey, I believe you need more than one, ain’a?

Frank: It does raise a point that came up during my Washington visit.

I saw some friends there, a couple who worked with me at the Journal in the 1980s. She isn’t interested in sports, but he gave her three sure-fire quotes to fake some expertise. For baseball, she could say, “Pitching wins pennants.” For foot ball, “This game will be won in the trenches.” And for basketball, “The Bucks will never be a real contender without a legitimate power forward.” I think that certainly applies today.

Artie: Oh yeah, George Karl’s disastrous move to get “legitimate power forward” Anthony Mason, who legitimately could not get up and down the floor. By the time he’d get back on defense after a missed shot, the game highlights were on the news and the rest of the team was on their way to the airport for a West Coast trip.

Frank: Who are the top power for wards the Bucks have ever had? David Meyers? Terry Cummings? That’s going way back. They always seem to have a lot of big men who want to shoot outside and no one who’s a top-level rebounder and shot blocker. Tim Thomas, for instance: Huge contract, built like a power guy, but only wanted to hang out at the three-point line.

Artie: Now they’ve got Charlie Villanueva; although he sometimes rotates in at small forward. But he can play the “4” spot.

Frank: Good jargon! I don’t think my friend in D.C. knows that term yet.

Artie: But can you win with a power forward like Charlie V who plays like he’d rather be a shooting guard?

Frank: They’ve had some great centers over the years: Kareem, Bob Lanier, Jack Sikma. And with a young Kareem, any one at power forward would do. Larry Krystkowiak was OK until Bill Laimbeer helped wreck his knee. Now they have a skilled center in Bogut, but he’s not a monster who cleans the boards consistently.

I guess they hope the second round pick from UCLA will help out.

Artie: The draft has been none too kind to the Bucks over the years, although back in ‘98 they did draft Dirk Nowitzki, and then dealt him for the guy who was supposed to be the answer at power for ward: Robert “Tractor” Traylor, who’s out of the league and now appears as Jabba the Hutt at Star Wars conventions.

Frank: The year before, Danny Fortson really was a horse. But they immediately traded him to Denver for Ervin Johnson.

Artie: In ‘93, Vin Baker.

Frank: When he was sober he was good.

Artie: And sometimes there just isn’t a real good big guy available when it’s your time to draft.

Frank: But whoever the choice is, the immediate commentary is optimistic. There’s always hope at the start of a revamping project. Now we have the Hammond era, as we had the eras of Harris the elder and Harris the younger and Dunleavy and Karl...

Artie: Don’t forget “Green and Growing.”

Frank: Ah yes, the Kent Benson era.

Artie: Actually, I was referring to my liver. But anyways, I’m watching the draft the other night and it suddenly occurred to me how to solve the oil crisis: Pat Riley’s hair. Holy cow, there’s an oil slick waiting to be refined, ain’a?

Frank: I think we could get unanimity with Obama, McCain, everybody. And we wouldn’t have to drill; just skim it off.

Artie: And he’s not offshore. He’s right there in Miami. Crisis over!

Frank: As for the Bucks’ crisis, at least anything over 26 wins next season will be progress.

Artie: What other changes could they make? They don’t have enough money for free agents, so it would have to be trades. And what you hear about Jefferson is that he needs a good-passing point guard. Is Mo Williams that guy? And if they decide the answer is no, then what?

Frank: Hey, is T.J. Ford available again?

Artie: Traded from Toronto to Indiana.

Before the draft the consensus seemed to be that Michael Redd and Mo Williams can’t be in the same backcourt because Mo’s too much of a shoot-first guy. And now you add Jefferson, who also wants the ball, and Bogut will be wanting shots.

Frank: Especially in the last year of his contract. If he decides he won’t get the shots here, he looks elsewhere. And then you have to start over at that position.

Artie: Then there’s Skiles saying what every coach who comes to the Bucks says: “We’re going to stress defense.” Same old tune, but who’s going to play it?

Frank: Hey, enough of this draft. When I was in D.C., I came across the record of another draft, in December 1960, that was truly epic.

Artie: A December draft?

Frank: Yup, the one that stocked the expansion Washington Senators, Version 2—the team that became the Texas Rangers a decade later.

Artie: And the Nationals are certainly playing like an expansion team, so I guess that’s a D.C. tradition.

Frank: I went to a Nationals game and grabbed a team media guide. In a section about the history of Washington baseball, they list the guys the Senators drafted.

Some of the pitchers: Tom Sturdivant, Hal Woodeshick and the great Johnny Klippstein.

Artie: I believe Johnny is gone now, and his gravestone reads, “The end of the journey for the Journeyman.”

Frank: Eight clubs, I discovered, and yes, the first one was the Cubs. And among the position players: Willie Tasby, Marty Keough, Billy Klaus, Bud Zipfel and the name of all names: Coot Veal.

Artie: Those were baseball cards that had “bicycle spokes” written all over them.

Frank: If that team won more than 60 games I’d be stunned.

Artie: And wouldn’t you know, I just happen to have my baseball encyclopedia right here. So let’s look at 1961. Hmm, as we go down the standings I see Washington didn’t finish first.

Frank: That would be Maris, Mantle and Co.

Artie: Down and down we go, and no Washington yet. Hold on! They did not finish 10th in a 10-team league.

Frank: Can’t be true!

Artie: You betcha. With a 61-100 record, they tied with Kansas City for ninth place—with Coot Veal putting up Rickie Weeks-like numbers batting a cool .202.

Frank: Hey, if the Bucks match the ‘61 Senators’ winning percentage, that’ll be good for 30 wins at least. Once again, we have found a ray of hope.

Frank Clines labored almost 20 years in the sports department at the Milwaukee Journal and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and covered the Brewers part-time for most of those years. Art Kumbalek will drain a shot from anyplace within a five-county radius.

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