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Jason Kidd's Great Escape

On the surface, Jason Kidd’s jump from the Brooklyn Nets to the Milwaukee Bucks doesn’t make a lot of sense. After a rough start, Kidd found his sea legs in the second half of the season, leading Brooklyn to the second round of the playoffs and establishing himself as a legitimate NBA head coach on a perennial playoff contender. Milwaukee, in contrast, is a perennial underachiever coming off a 15-win season that hasn’t made the second round since 2001.

However, if you take a closer look at the environment surrounding both teams, you can see the logic behind Kidd’s thinking. As he is undoubtedly aware, an NBA head coach is hired to be fired. No matter how successful a coach has been, they can lose their job at any time. The key is expectations and the appearance of forward progress - the Bucks have nowhere to go but up, the Nets have nowhere to go but down. For a young head coach, the choice is easy.

The Nets have far more talent than the Bucks and they will almost certainly be a better team over the next two seasons, but they don’t have much room for growth. After trading three future first-round picks for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, they went all-in last season, only to see their best player (Brook Lopez) go down in the first two months. Kidd responded admirably in changing their identity on fly, but the limits of the approach were exposed in the playoffs.

With Pierce and Garnett aging and no other ways to add talent to their roster beyond the free agent bargain bin, Brooklyn will need Mikhail Prokhorov to continue writing monstrous luxury tax checks just to stay in place. Even if Prokhorov doesn’t tire of subsidizing half of the league, what’s to stop him from looking at the coaching staff for an upgrade next off-season? Kidd only needs to look at Mark Jackson with the Golden State Warriors to see how quickly the knives come out.

Milwaukee, on the other hand, is an almost ideal situation for a young head coach. After bottoming out under the old regime, they have a new ownership group looking to start over and a promising young core to build around. Last season was a perfect storm of injuries, bad free agent signings and back luck. Even without a coaching change, they are almost certain to have a dead cat bounce and regress to the mean, which will give Kidd breathing room.

When you take a look at the elite young talent under contract, the Bucks situation going forward looks even more promising. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker are both under 20 and have as much upside as any two young players in the NBA. Just as important, their games complement each other, which will allow them to grow together over the next 3-5 years. They could be the best two players on an elite team and Kidd gets them at the ground floor.

After only one season, Giannis already looks like the steal of the 2013 draft and possibly its best all-around player. At 6’10 210 (and growing) with a 7’4 wingspan, he has a freakish combination of length, skill and athleticism that allows him to match up with multiple perimeter positions and impact the game in a number of ways. He’s a franchise-type talent - if he had stayed an extra year in Greece, he could have been a Top 5 pick in this year’s draft.

And while Giannis can defend and slash to the rim, Jabari can stretch the floor and command double teams on offense. The No. 2 pick in 2014, he is an elite prospect who was also one of the safest picks on the board. At 6’9 240 with a 7’0 wingspan, Jabari already has a high-level combination of athleticism, ball-handling, shooting and feel for the game. He averaged 19 points and 9 rebounds a game on 47% shooting at Duke and should be a ROY front-runner.

The big concern for Jabari comes on the defensive end, which is what makes Milwaukee such a good fit. Not only do they have Giannis to handle the tough defensive assignments on the perimeter, they have two quality rim protectors - Larry Sanders and John Henson - to play behind him. There are spacing issues with playing Sanders and Henson together, but they should combine to protect Jabari over 48 minutes and you can always trade an athletic 6’11+ player.

The Bucks current mix is far from perfect, but there is talent up and down the roster that can be moved around in order to better complement Jabari and Giannis. That will be what next season is all about - figuring out which combination of Sanders, Henson, Khris Middleton, Ersan Ilyasova, Ekpe Udoh, Brandon Knight and OJ Mayo is worth keeping around. No matter how it shakes out, they don’t have the same type of cap-killing contracts as the Nets.

For Kidd, the plan is simple. Develop Giannis and Jabari, consolidate the peripheral talent around them and add another high lottery pick - preferably a two-way perimeter playmaker and shooter - next season. With a new Big Three and one of the Henson/Sanders duo upfront, Milwaukee isn’t that far off from being a playoff contender and a long-term power in the Eastern Conference. They just need to add shooting and improve defensively over the next two years.

If Kidd plays it right, he can be the Scott Brooks to their version of the Oklahoma City Thunder North. Kidd’s already proven he’s a more flexible strategist than Brooks, so hitching his wagon to that type of young talent could give him nearly unparalleled job security. Throughout his long career in the NBA, Kidd has been the consummate survivor, one step ahead of the pitchforks and leaving disaster in his wake. His latest move could be his greatest escape yet.

NBA Mock Draft, Version 1.0

The problem with most mock drafts, especially early in the draft process, is the butterfly effect. If just one team in the lottery makes a surprise selection, it causes a chain reaction up and down the board that renders a lot of the previous speculation useless. At this point, I think it’s more useful to look at what each team in the lottery needs and what will be going into their decision-making process. With that in mind, here’s a quick sketch of one way it could go. 

1) Cleveland Cavaliers - Joel Embiid 

This is from David Griffin’s interview with ESPN last night - “I think we need to get a better fit for our roster. We’ve got an awful lot of talent and we just need to find the pieces that can serve as a conduit to make it gel.” That screams Embiid to me. When you have Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Anthony Bennett, the last thing you need is another perimeter player who needs the ball. That core needs interior defense and post scoring, which are Embiid’s two strengths.

2) Milwaukee Bucks - Jabari Parker

If Cleveland takes Embiid, some combination of Parker, Andrew Wiggins and Dante Exum go in the next three picks. It’s hard to go wrong with any of them and when you have multiple elite prospects on the board, you have to look at how they fit with the players already on your roster. In other words, which one makes the most sense playing with Giannis Antetokounmpo? I want an explosive scorer who can stretch the floor next to him, which would be Parker. 

3) Philadelphia 76ers - Andrew Wiggins

This would be a great fit for Wiggins, a guy who is more comfortable in transition than playing in the half court at this stage of his career. The one thing I wonder about with Wiggins and the 76ers is that he’s not the pick if you are going by advanced statistics. Here’s the PER of lottery picks from Kansas in the last two seasons - 28.2 (Embiid), 23.2 (Ben McLemore), 21.4 (Wiggins). He’s a guy you take based off the eye test and projecting future ability, not the data.

4) Orlando Magic - Dante Exum 

Orlando will be happy to take whoever falls to them, but Exum is the best fit with the players on their roster. At 6’6 195 with a 6’9 wingspan, he’s a big guard who can run point, which would allow him to cross-switch with Victor Oladipo in the backcourt. Taking Exum would free up Oladipo to hound smaller guards on defense and hunt for his own shot on offense. In a best-case scenario, those two would become Orlando’s version of John Wall and Bradley Beal. 

5) Utah Jazz - Aaron Gordon 

If the draft plays out this way, Utah at No. 5 would be one of the big swing picks in the lottery, as they would have first choice on a run of power forwards. Most people have Noah Vonleh and Julius Randle rated ahead of Gordon, but if they take one of those guys, they would have to go back to the two-post system they went away from this season. Gordon is going to be an incredible pick-and-roll player and he would allow them to play 4-out with Derrick Favors at the 5. 

6) Boston Celtics - Noah Vonleh 

In this scenario, Boston would have their pick of two fairly similar PF’s in Vonleh and Randle, which could be one of the more interesting debates in this draft. If you are going with the stats and collegiate success, you have to look at Randle, who averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds on 50% shooting and lead Kentucky to the national title game. If you are looking at it from a tools perspective, Vonleh is the better outside shooter and he has much longer arms. 

7) Los Angeles Lakers - Julius Randle

I hate to say this about a guy from Dallas, but Randle is the guy I would not want in the Top 7-8 picks. He will put up a lot of stats, but he doesn’t project as a great shooter or a great defensive player and I want my PF to do one of those two things. Given the amount of shots and minutes that could be up for grabs in the Lakers frontcourt, Randle would have a real shot at Rookie of the Year, but I don’t think his ceiling is as high as a lot of these other guys. 

8) Sacramento Kings - Marcus Smart 

Smart is one of the wild cards in the lottery - there’s a pretty high range of where he could go. It’s hard to see him sneaking into the Top 5 and if he doesn’t go to either the Lakers the Kings, the teams picking after them don’t really need a PG. Smart offers a lot of line-up versatility, as he can play as a SG next to Isaiah Thomas or a PG next to Ben McLemore, but the Kings are an interior defender away from being a solid team, so I wonder if they would reach here. 

9) Charlotte Hornets - Nik Stauskas 

This seems like the first spot where Doug McDermott could come off the board. Charlotte desperately needs outside shooting and they have the personnel to hide McDermott on defense. However, if they are committed to Cody Zeller at the 4 and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist at the 3, Stauskas would be the more logical pick. He’s just as good a shooter as McDermott and he’s a much better passer who has the ability to run the pick-and-roll and create shots for others.

10) Philadelphia 76ers - Doug McDermott 

Philadelphia could go in a number of different directions, depending on who they take at No. 3. McDermott, for example, would make a lot more sense next to Wiggins than Parker. Wiggins can defend multiple positions and McDermott can’t defend any while McDermott’s shooting ability would open up the floor for Wiggins and Carter-Williams to attack the rim. I prefer players with more two-way ability, but he could score a lot of points walking into transition 3’s in Philly.

11) Denver Nuggets - Jusuf Nurkic 

If Brian Shaw wants to run more offense out of the low post, Nurkic makes a lot of sense. At 6’11 280 with a 7’2 wingspan, Nurkic is a 19-year old who is already big enough to score over most NBA centers. He comes into the league with a pretty solid post game and he moves well for a player with his mammoth size. He’s not getting up and down the court particularly fast, so taking him would represent a complete turning of the page from George Karl’s small ball style.

12) Orlando Magic - Adreian Payne 

If the Magic go with a perimeter player at No. 4, they will probably want to look at a front-court player at No. 12. Nik Vucevic is entrenched at center, but he isn’t much of a shot-blocker, so that’s a huge need in terms of how they are going to build their roster. I’m surprised at how far Payne is sliding in some of these mocks. He is a legitimate stretch 4 with elite athletic ability who has the ability to play interior defense and rebound - that’s exactly what Orlando needs.

13) Minnesota Timberwolves - Gary Harris 

Minnesota was a perfect example of the problems with fielding a line-up of one-way players. Nik Pekovic, Kevin Love and Kevin Martin are all poor defenders, while Ricky Rubio and Corey Brewer are both poor outside shooters. The result was a group that was worse than the sum of its parts. Harris doesn’t have the upside of a guy like LaVine, but he’s a safer pick who will instantly make the Wolves a better team on both sides of the ball. 

14) Phoenix Suns - Zach LaVine

I’m going to put the Suns as the floor for LaVine. They have three first-round picks in this draft, so they will be willing to roll the dice on a guy with as much pure ability as anyone on the board. He didn’t do much in his one season at UCLA, but he’s a 6’5 180 with a 6’8 wingspan, he can jump out of the gym, he has unlimited range on his jumper and he can handle the ball like a PG. LaVine has a chance to be a special player in the type of uptempo system the Suns run.

Bucks Prepared To Cash In At Lottery, Execute Quick Rebuild

The Milwaukee Bucks began the 13-14 season with their sights set on one of the lower seeds in the top-heavy Eastern Conference. The Bucks won two of their first four games, but the bottom quickly fell out. They lost their next 11 thanks to countless injuries, and before long a push towards the playoffs turned into talk of hoarding as many Ping-Pong balls as possible.

Milwaukee has the best shot (25 percent) at earning the first overall pick in next week's NBA Draft Lottery. The Bucks can do no worse than the fourth pick when the draft order is determined on Tuesday in Manhattan. One of the more fan-friendly clubs in the league, the Bucks have gone as far as to send out special Ping Pong balls featuring the team’s logo and the slogan “Own The Future. Win The Lottery.”

Before the focus turned to Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid, Milwaukee took the necessary steps to fortify a young roster with effective veterans. They missed out on a few targets, mostly notably Jeff Teague, but still sprinkled in experience. The Bucks signed Teague to a four-year offer sheet worth a reported $32 million, but the Atlanta Hawks had three days to match the contract and did.

In need of help and full of open roster spots, the Bucks spent the month of July signing free agents. They added O.J Mayo, Carlos Delfino, Zaza Pachulia and Gary Neal in the hope that they would help John Henson, Larry Sanders and first-round pick Giannis Antetokounmpo mature. Luke Ridnour was also acquired in a three-team with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Oklahoma City Thunder.

More than two weeks after they lost out on Teague, they completed a sign-and-trade with the Detroit Pistons that shipped Brandon Jennings out and brought Brandon Knight, Khris Middleton and Viacheslav Kravtsov back in return. The Bucks flipped Kravtsov, along with Ish Smith, to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for Wisconsin native Caron Butler at the end of the summer.

Jennings essentially gave them Knight, Middleton and Butler, not a bad haul for a player that didn’t fit in Milwaukee. Another ball-dominant guard, Monta Ellis, opted out of his contract to become a free agent and landed with the Dallas Mavericks. The Jennings-Knight trade would eventually put the Bucks in position to alter their season goals.

Working to put together a complete roster became a little more difficult when general manager John Hammond hired David Morway to assist him in early July. Morway, formerly the GM of the Indiana Pacers, came into the fold after the draft and the rest of the front office had already formulated a plan for the offseason. The addition was a good one, but the timing wasn’t ideal.

Then when the season started, injuries and off-court issues began to mount.

Knight injured his hamstring on the first night of the season and missed eight games. Sanders was involved in an altercation at a nightclub on Nov. 3. A thumb injury, reportedly suffered during the club incident, sidelined Sanders for 25 games. Ersan Ilyasova missed six games in November with a left ankle sprain.

Pachulia suffered a right foot fracture on Dec. 4 against the Detroit Pistons and was forced to sit for 28 games. Henson missed seven games around the holidays with a sprained left ankle. O.J, Mayo battled conditioning issues. Sanders suffered a freak eye injury and missed the final 28 games of the season. Carlos Delfino never suited up due to a right foot issue.

Nate Wolters, who was incredibility effective as a second-rounder, broke his hand and missed the final 13 games. Ilyasova underwent surgery on his right ankle in March. An unofficial count had the Bucks losing approximately 260 games due to injury during the 2013-14 season. NBA teams are allowed to carry 15 players, which means on average Milwaukee lost close to 18 games per player.

Even Caron Butler, who signed with the Thunder after being cut loose, missed 18 games while with the Bucks due to knee, ankle and shoulder issues. 

Injuries forced rookies Antetokounmpo and Wolters to play heavy minutes, even starting games. Wolters was supposed to be a fringe rotation player battling for minutes; he ended up playing close to 23 minutes per game. Antetokounmpo, who was 18 when the season began, started 23 games and averaged close to 25 minutes. Instead of learning behind more seasoned players, the Greek Freak received on-the-job training and ended up handling himself fairly well.

Suddenly, Larry Drew went from trying to win games with an eye on April to juggling a roster decimated by injury and full of inexperience. So, the Bucks wisely shifted their vision towards the future. Arguably the five most consistently healthy and available players on the roster, Antetokounmpo, Knight, Middleton, Wolters and Henson, are all under 23.

The quintet played heavy minutes, learning while the losses accumulated.

As difficult as the season was for the Bucks to endure, there is light at the end of the tunnel. They have three high draft picks, their own first and second-rounder, as well as the Los Angeles Lakers’ second round pick, and another conditional late pick. After all payroll obligations and expected rookie contracts, Milwaukee figures to have about $12 million in cap space.

It remains to be seen what effect new ownership will have on the finances. Longtime owner Herb Kohl, who discussed selling the team throughout a good chuck of the season, agreed to sell to Marc Lasry and Wes Edens several weeks ago. It was reported on Monday that the sale “is moving quickly.”

The sale process, including receiving league approval, can be an arduous one. At the time of posting there was speculation that ownership could begin taking over control of the Bucks by the end of the week.

Senator Kohl was never much of a forward-thinker, so the sale bodes well for Milwaukee fans -- as long as the franchise reaches an agreement to remain in the city.

This offseason Hammond and Morway will use cap space and draft picks to build around a core that includes Knight, Antetokounmpo, Middleton, Sanders, Henson and Ilyasova. Ilyasova, who turned just 27 on Thursday, is productive when healthy and owed a modest $24 million over the next three seasons.

After all the jokes that floated around on the Internet about the Bucks, all the talking heads who railed on the club and all the losses, Milwaukee has the chance to be a competitive team next season.

There is no reason not to believe that Sanders will bounce back healthy and focused after a rough all-around season in which he averaged just 7.7 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.7 blocks. Middleton, Henson and Antetokounmpo will all be a year older. They’ll also have a pretty good rookie.

Since the Bucks can finish no worse than fourth in the draft order, they can rest assured they will land either Wiggins, Parker, Embiid, Dante Exum or Julius Randle. With a free agent class that could be top-heavy if any number of stars opt for the open market, they can then go about adding a talented veteran to augment their young core.

Selling a very good player on Milwaukee isn’t going to be easy, but money is money and someone of at least moderate value will gladly take it. They figure to lean towards a tough, defense-first mentality with a fast-paced offense. Some potential targets that fit that mold include Thabo Sefolosha, Kyle Lowry, Trevor Ariza and P.J. Tucker, the last of which is a restricted free agent. 

It all starts for the Bucks next week in Manhattan when they will find how handsomely they’ll be rewarded for a 15-win season.

Troy Daniels Rewards Rockets, Proves Detractors Wrong With Game-Winner In Game 3

The Bulls, Bucks and Magic closely monitored and had interest in Troy Daniels before he signed with the Rockets, sources told RealGM. And yet, these Rockets were the benefactors of Daniels’ 3-of-6 shooting from three-point range Friday, honoring his commitment to the Summer League and D-League route to the NBA.

MCW & Giannis: Why The Eye Test Still Matters

When you are evaluating young players, the statistics can only tell you so much. That's why there are still ways to find steals in the draft - look for the tallest, longest and most athletic guys at each position. It’s really that simple.

The Eastern Conference At The Deadline

The East deals included the only two All-Stars dealt (Antawn Jamison and Danny Granger), the two best players (Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes), and the smartest player (Professor Andre Miller, PhD).

Nate Wolters Continuing Unheralded Ascent

The Bucks executed a shrewd move in dealing for Nate Wolters, and the 22-year-old has the look of a steady, reliable point guard long into his NBA life. He doesn’t lean on his athleticism, but rather his elusive craftiness and smart decision-making, especially as a cautious passer early in his career

30 Rapid-Fire Questions For Each Team's Front Office

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Stephen Graham Hoping To Settle With NBA Team After Playing Overseas

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30-Team Offseason Rundown

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Grading The Deal: Clippers Trade In Bledsoe For Better Roster Balance

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2013 NBA Offseason Primer

With the 2013 NBA offseason underway, here is a primer on what all 30 teams are facing.

Leroux's 2013 NBA Draft Review

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2013 NBA Amnesty Primer

One fun component of the Amnesty rule is that we know exactly which players are eligible for it and that number can only decrease over time since the players had to have been under contract with the same team before the new CBA.

Brandon Jennings Vows Free Agent Strategy After Slumping Out Of Playoffs, But 'I'd Be Cool Coming Back Here'

The Bucks' offseason all revolves around Brandon Jennings, and he’s already made clear he wants to win and the Bucks would be inclined to add veterans and try to pile up picks for next year’s draft.

Bucks Struggling Ahead Of Heat Series

The Bucks are are expected to put up a fight against the Heat, with enough talented pieces to be a dangerous team with nothing to lose. But they are finishing the regular season looking far more like a lottery team.

Given Minutes In Orlando, Tobias Harris Is Thriving

Tobias Harris has gone from benchwarmer to trade throw-in and now he's widely seen as nice young piece with a lot of upside for the Magic. Needless to say he appreciates his new role.

Larry Sanders Explains Breakout Season

In this third NBA season, Larry Sanders has emerged as one of the league's most impactful young centers. After seeing inconsistent playing time under the now-departed Scott Skiles, Sanders is thriving with consistent minutes under Jim Boylan.

How Many Players Teams Acquire At Each Trade Deadline On Average

The Kings, Knicks, Rockets, Thunder and Cavaliers have been the most active teams at the deadline over the past decade, while the Spurs, Pistons, Heat, Lakers and Pacers have made the fewest deals.

Injured Brandon Jennings Concedes Bulls’ Edge On His Homecourt

Brandon Jennings set a serious tone from the tip and played an excellent game Saturday, going for 23 points, seven assists and five steals, carrying the offense with Monta Ellis missing 10-of-17 shots and Ersan Ilyasova again disappearing.

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