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Thursday, July 2, 2009

Still Hazy After All These Years

The Fairly Detached Observers

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The Observers reconvened this week completely refreshed—Artie by a couple, three days of swatting insects in the Northwoods and Frank by 2,200 miles of driving to New York and back. Topping their agenda: the NBA draft, the Milwaukee Bucks’ annual rebuilding job and the Bucks’ chances of reaching the .500 mark for the first time since 2003-’04.

Frank: So the Bucks drafted a point guard, Brandon Jennings, who went from high school to a pro team in Italy to wait out the NBA’s minimum-age rule. I like his honesty in saying, essentially, “I’d only be in college a year, so I’ll make some money instead of pretending to be a student-athlete.”

Artie: He didn’t play that much in Italy but earned $1.5 million. Even at USC the players don’t make that much.

Frank: So Jennings is a good businessman. But everyone on draft night described him as a long-term project. Jay Bilas on ESPN said, “He’s not a very good shooter and he needs to improve his leadership ability.”

Artie: Jennings is 6-foot-1 and, from what I’ve read, quick as all get-out. Can score, can pass. Athletic upside all the way. Of course, as I watched the draft I noticed that with almost every player, they said, “Needs to work on his shot.”

Frank: Did they say anything about Jennings and defense?

Artie: That I don’t recall. But he was the national high school player of the year at Compton, Calif. And the Bucks’ secondround choice, Jodie Meeks of Kentucky, looks pretty good. A 6-4 or 6-5 shooting guard, 90% free-throw shooter, 40% from three-point, and supposedly can play defense.

Frank: And Scott Skiles, as we know, stresses defense. The Bucks don’t play a lot of it, but they sure hear about it.

Artie: Before the draft the Bucks traded Richard Jefferson, mostly for financial reasons. In return they apparently got some pieces of paper with money figures on them that the Bucks can burn, somehow to their benefit. Anyway, after the trade, I said, “Depending on the draft, if the Bucks can stay healthy they could win nearly 10 games next season.”

Frank: The arcane ways of the salary cap have the Bucks hamstrung this year, even with Jefferson gone. A year from now there supposedly will be some flexibility—but to do what?

Artie: Exactly. They won’t be adding LeBron James or Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh, who’ll all be up for bids in 2010. Besides, two-thirds of the teams in the league stink and are clearing cap space for next summer.

Frank: If Andrew Bogut’s back stays in one piece, I suppose the Bucks could be a little better. This past season they were 34-48, an eight-game improvement, even with the major injuries to Bogut and Michael Redd.

Artie: With Jefferson’s contract gone, maybe the Bucks can keep one of their restricted free agents. They let Charlie Villanueva go but reserved the right to match any offer to Ramon Sessions or Ersan Ilyasova, who’s been playing in Europe.

Frank: Sessions would be good to keep. But with Redd returning, Sessions presumably would play the point, and didn’t they just draft their point guard of the future? Anyway, I say what I’ve said for, like, 20 years: The Bucks need a big-time power forward.

Artie: Amir Johnson, one of the guys they got for Jefferson, is young and might become the starting power forward. But again, he’s all potential.

Frank: Not much to stir the soul. Fans can only hope for modest improvement.

Artie: Maybe make the playoffs only to be killed by Cleveland or Orlando or Boston. So they get two home games and fill the cash register a bit. Kind of depressing.

Frank: But here’s something I know you were delighted by...

Artie: The USA beating mighty Spain in soccer?

Frank: I didn’t mean that, although I’m sure you rejoiced. No, I refer to Kobe Bryant finally getting a championship ring without Shaq’s help.

Artie: I was so relieved! I was on pins and needles for him.

Frank: Speaking of Shaq, his trade from Phoenix to Cleveland was called “a blockbuster.” I agree he’s a block, and he may well bust the Cavaliers’ chances of winning a title before LeBron heads off to Madison Square Garden.

Artie: Absolutely. Steve Nash is shouting hosannas to the heavens. Shaq is a stiff. The Cavs will still have a good season, but the reason they lost to Orlando in the playoffs was because they couldn’t stop those shooting forwards, Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis. Turkoglu’s a free agent now, but the Magic just added Vince Carter. Shaq ain’t gonna be any help against that!

Fun On the Road

Frank: On my drive east I stopped to see the College Football Hall of Fame.

Artie: In South Bend, Ind., as I recall. Say, are one or two Notre Dame guys enshrined there?

Frank: Sure, but it’s not a Notre Dame production; there are hundreds of inductees.

The Hall does a good job of presenting the history of college football. That was a nice detour on the way east, and on the way back I stopped to see friends in Erie, Pa.—a real nice town that reminds me of Green Bay.

Artie: Any sports there?

Frank: I had a great time watching the Erie SeaWolves, the Double-A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers, flatten the Altoona Curve. A nice ballpark, a seat near the plate for just six bucks, a good-sized beer for five. And hot dogs were only a buck because they were celebrating the team’s 15th anniversary—with a slight Wisconsin connection.

Artie: How so?

Frank: They named the all-time SeaWolves team, including such current big-leaguers as Justin Verlander, Curtis Granderson and Aramis Ramirez. And the catcher is the Brewers’ Mike Rivera, who hit 33 homers for Erie in 2001.

Artie: Holy cow! Someone should tell Ken Macha, given the way Jason Kendall has struggled at the plate.

Frank: Since we’re on baseball, we should acknowledge that some of our brilliant theories about pitchers the Brewers might acquire look impossible now.

Artie: The theories involving the San Francisco Giants, ain’a?

Frank: Yup. The flaw in our master plan is the wild-card playoff spot. The Giants are still a ways behind the Dodgers in their division, but they’re in solid contention for the wild card.

Artie: The Brewers beat them twice last weekend, including a ninth-inning thriller Saturday night, but the next day the Giants stomped on my favorite doormat, Jeff Suppan, to edge ahead again for the wild card.

Frank: So no Matt Cain or Randy Johnson for Milwaukee as this year’s CC Sabathia. There’s Cliff Lee of the Indians, who are hopeless.

Artie: Except lots of other teams want Lee. The Indians want pitching prospects and the Brewers have no one who’s close to ready for the big leagues.

Frank: Certainly not Jeremy Jeffress, the first-round pick of 2006, now suspended for 100 games for his second positive drug test. The Brewers’ lack of young pitching also cost them a chance for premier utility man Mark DeRosa, whom Cleveland just sent to the Cardinals

Artie: Ugh. What a betrayal by the team that gave us CC.

Frank: Looking elsewhere for pitching, Seattle has the big lefty, Jarrod Washburn. Only 4-5 but an ERA of 3.22. A Wisconsin native and a workhorse, at least by the current standard of “just give us six innings, please.”

Artie: Trouble there, too. The Mariners are in contention for the AL wild card. The Brewers can’t raid them because they might be raiders themselves!

Frank: Here’s a team ripe for raiding—Arizona, which is buried as deep as Cleveland. They have another workhorse available, Doug Davis. He’s 3-8 but the ERA is 3.28.

Artie: Isn’t Davis a Diamondback because the Brewers shipped him there three years ago?

Frank: Yup. I see two problems with Davis. One, as a Brewer he was a left-handed Suppan, strictly a .500 record. And two, he takes FOREVER to get through his five or six innings. Fans might nod off.

Artie: Davis might be the best the Brewers can hope for. But clearly, DD would not be a CC.