It never hurts to gain some new perspective, and with the beloved Celtics headed on a daunting five-game road trip in the week to come, the time seems right to do our best to get behind enemy lines here at CelticsBlog. Earlier this week, I chatted with Frank of Brew Hoop, who covers tonight's opponent, the Milwaukee Bucks. Frank spoke candidly on all subjects Bucks-related, from the future of the front office, to whether this team can win by building around Michael Redd, to a rather outlandish (albeit quite favorable) prediction for tonight's game and everything in between. Much thanks to Frank for taking the time to provide a thorough set of answers and insight with us.
SW: The Eastern Conference never ceases to amaze. Even though it has been another particularly rough season for the 13th place Bucks, they sit just four games out of a playoff spot, albeit with several teams between them and eighth seed. Is there any legitimate hope left for a playoff berth? If not, what is the goal for the rest of the season for this team?
Frank: Normally you'd be happy to scrape into the playoffs with a team as young as the Bucks, but in a year like this you can legitimately question whether it's really much of an accomplishment. Certainly coaches like Larry Krystkowiak and Mike Woodson want you to believe that making the playoffs in 07-08 is just as meaningful as any other year, but the mere fact that the Bucks are still within shouting distance of the eight spot shows how weak the bottom half (or three-quarters) of the conference is.
They beat the Pistons, Nuggets and Cavs right after the all-star break, so I think there was still some hope the Bucks could claw into the eighth spot at that point, especially given that their second-half schedule has a lot of home games and they were looking pretty frisky at the Bradley Center. But they haven't won on the road since February 5, and they don't seem capable of putting things together for more than a week at a time. With so many teams above them, catapulting into the last playoff spot just doesn't seem in the cards. I think people would be excited to see them do it, but at this point no one is expecting that, nor would it compensate for the way they've played most of the year.
SW: It has been a rough couple of years to be a Bucks fan, and undoubtedly, there have been plenty of mistakes to go around. Who is the culprit of greatest magnitude for the Bucks' recent failures? GM Larry Harris? Owner/Senator Herb Kohl? The injuries? Underachieving front court players?
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Frank: More than ever Herb Kohl has started to become the focal point of criticism, and I think that's a key difference from other years. Larry Harris will likely be gone this summer, and Krystkowiak's job will be in jeopardy depending on who is the next GM and whether any more established coaches are available. The latest rumor is that Rick Carlisle could take both jobs (the GM job being more ceremonial), but we'll have to wait and see. Either way, while you can question the way Harris has put together the team, and Krystkowiak has often appeared every bit the novice NBA coach that he is, Kohl has been unable to put together a consistent winning team for about 20 years. Aside from the short-lived Big Three period (of which the Celtics now have two, ironically!), the team just hasn't done anything. As owner, he has every right to be involved in decision-making, but he's notorious for interfering with his GMs and having surrogates (most notably VP Ron Walter) play a major role in decision-making and contract negotiations. And even though he's been willing to spend money on players, his overall way of doing business has mostly failed for two decades.
Last year, injuries were an obvious excuse, and they've been a little banged up lately--Mo Williams has been out for a couple weeks and Yi Jianlian was playing hurt for a couple months before he went out indefinitely. But I think that's a cheap excuse this year, and the front office isn't even trying to play that card. On the court, the team simply doesn't defend even though Krystkowiak made that his biggest point of emphasis in the preseason. There's been talk all year that the players never really bought into the coaching staff's system, and it shows on the court. They've set a franchise record for blowout losses and many nights just don't seem to have any idea of how to compete. Redd and Williams are both dynamic scorers, but they allow tons of penetration and don't look like a great fit together. Charlie Villanueva has been great offensively lately, but he didn't seem to break a sweat until Yi's injury gave him the starting spot, and his defense is still atrocious. Bobby Simmons is a shell of his former pre-foot injury self.
SW: There have been no shortage of rumors about Harris' tenure coming to a close in Milwaukee. Will he be back next season? Does he deserve that opportunity? Why?
Frank: I've always had a soft spot for Harris, but if you look at his record, then I think you can see why Kohl will probably make him the fall guy in the summer. Signing Simmons and Gadzuric to big deals in '05 was a big mistake, but he's also a bit difficult to judge because Kohl has prevented a number of other deals from happening. There were rumors about a Boozer trade two years ago and a Marion trade last summer. Who knows what happens if Harris could have pulled the trigger on those?
SW: So far as executive decisions are concerned, one of the Bucks' most publicized in recent memory has been the selection (and ensuing signing drama) of Yi Jianlian in the '07 draft. How do you assess his rookie campaign?
Frank: It's been funny watching people jump on his bandwagon at the start of the year and then just as quickly get off it over the past few months, but overall I'm still fine with the pick and willing to be patient. He greatly exceeded my expectations over the first couple months of the season. But he injured his wrist in mid-January and in general has looked a bit tired since the new year. His numbers dropped off a lot, and he lost his starting job to Charlie Villanueva right before the All-Star break, and certainly Villanueva has come on since then.
The Bucks are now trying to figure out what to do with the wrist, but even if it's not serious, I think he just needs a break to recharge his batteries. He had some time off last April but has otherwise been playing continuously for about 11 months and will have a full schedule of international games for China through the Olympics in August. If the wrist needs surgery, I imagine they'll do it now so that he can have a better chance of being ready for the Olympics. There's no point in wearing him out further this year given where the Bucks are in the standings.
As for his game, he has a beautiful shot, plenty of physical talents, a good head on his shoulders and a great work ethic. He is very much a rookie, but his defensive potential was probably the biggest surprise to me. But as of now, he doesn't have a post game, his ball-handling is very shaky, and he has struggled with finishing in the paint against NBA athletes. Unless those things improve, he'll obviously never be a star-caliber player. I think he's probably already 23 years old, so if he's not significantly better by next year, the pick will look a lot worse. But I'm certainly willing to give him a year to adapt to America and the NBA before I try to pass a final verdict on him.
SW: Speaking of draft decisions, it's hard to believe that Andrew Bogut is already nearing the end of his third season in the pros, and the one-time number one overall pick has seen his points and boards numbers rise each season. That said, there have been a couple of other individuals from that '05 draft who have experienced quite a bit of personal success as well, which brings me to this: Let's step into both a time machine and the executive suite for a moment. You have the chance to make the Bucks' 2005 number one selection over again. Who are you going with, and why? And while we're at it, how does the rest of the top five play out from there?
It's a great question, and Bogut himself has been pretty contrite about the way Chris Paul and Deron Williams have shot past him in the NBA. At the time, picking Bogut was considered the no-brainer pick, so I don't judge Harris and company too harshly for the selection--every GM in the league would have probably done the same thing in Harris' position.
If we did it over again, I think the natural reaction would be to go with Chris Paul or Deron Williams first overall. I'd lean slightly towards Paul, but I love Williams as well. After that I'd go with Andrew Bynum, who I think is going to be an absolute monster for the next 12-15 years. To be honest, if I sat around a while and thought about it, I might end up convincing myself to go with him first, but it's tough to look past the way the two point guards have established themselves already. I'd go with Bogut fourth, probably followed by Danny Granger. Certainly, Monta Ellis and David Lee would also be in the discussion.
SW: As honest as you can be: Can this organization build a winner around Michael Redd?
Frank: I don't think Redd can ever be the centerpiece of a franchise. He's a dynamic scorer and a good citizen, but he's not the strong leader or all-around player that you can build a 50-game winner around. I'm not banking that Bogut or Yi will ever be that type of player either, though, so you're left with either trying to luck into a superstar (cough, Garnett, cough) or get lucky in the draft. The Pistons have built a championship-caliber squad without a true superstar, but I view that as a pretty unique situation, and I'm not sure that's a model the Bucks would be able to replicate.
SW: When should the rest of the league begin to go back on watch for the Bucks?
Frank: It probably won't happen for a couple years at best. They're sort of in no-man's land right now in the lottery, so they probably won't get an impact player there, and I'm not sure what kind of trade market they'll find this summer to do more wheeling and dealing. Villanueva is probably gone, and Redd and/or Williams will likely be shopped hard. As far as free agency goes, they only have the MLE, so I'm not expecting any miracles there. Krystkowiak is the third straight young coach they've had, so that hasn't accelerated the road back to respectability, as he has had his growing pains. With a Carlisle or Van Gundy, they could probably get back into 40-plus win territory pretty quickly, but it's hard to say how the current roster could be transformed into a legitimate contender in the next couple years.
SW: Got a score prediction for tonight's game?
Frank: Celtics 213, Bucks 40.
Actually, I wouldn't be surprised at all if the Bucks gave the Celtics a good game. At home, they tend to play to the level of their competition, so if the Celtics come out flat, the Bucks could surprise them a little. The Bucks have been playing even less defense than usual lately (which is saying something since they're last in the league in defensive efficiency), so the Celtics should look to run off misses and turnovers and just be patient when they're in the halfcourt. Boston should score 110-plus if they come out with a pulse. Bogut's probably the key guy for the Bucks since he'll probably have to guard Garnett, but he's currently a major doubt due to a quad injury. Williams, however, is likely to be in the lineup, but obviously the most interesting subplot will be Cassell and Allen back together in Milwaukee.
Winning by 173 points sounds fine by me. Go, Frank, go!