Posted Mar 23 2012 11:27AM
Not since Ted Stepien was alive, wheeling and dealing for the old Cleveland Cavaliers has anyone been able to get something for nothing quite like Milwaukee Bucks general manager John Hammond did last week from Golden State as the NBA trade deadline approached.
Warriors owner Joe Lacob apparently gets reminded of that from time to time.
In a move made for both now and later, Hammond gave up nothing in terms of what center Andrew Bogut and wing Stephen Jackson were contributing to the Bucks' cause this season. Bogut, the team's popular No. 1 pick in the 2005 draft, was hurt again (fractured left ankle), lost after he had played in just 12 games. On top of the elbow, wrist and hand injuries from his gut-wrenching fall -- arm-wrenching, too -- late in 2009-10, it was the latest in a string of mishaps and ailments that made the affable Aussie unavailable. With the trade, both Milwaukee and Bogut were eager for fresh starts.
Jackson was in coach Scott Skiles' doghouse, an outcome as predictable as a 24-second clock -- with a shelf life to match -- from the moment Hammond brought the self-absorbed scorer to town in June as a way to shed Corey Maggette. Only San Antonio's Gregg Popovich, among active NBA coaches, seems capable of solving the "Captain Jack" riddle. (But then, Pop is inscrutably wise in many ways -- legend has it, he even knows why we don't have "B" batteries.)
What Hammond got in return was shooting guard Monta Ellis, a natural-born scorer who ranks eighth (21.4) in points per game, and blue-collar forward/center Ekpe Udoh, along with Kwame Brown's expiring contract. It seemed like a no-bucks move for the Bucks, all gain, no pain -- except that dropping two healthy, valuable players into a team's rotation at this late date is no simple thing. Where once there were seven or eight men vying for minutes, now there are nine or 10.
"That can break either way, because that means if they're in the rotation, somebody else is out," Skiles said Thursday, before Milwaukee's game against Boston. "That's happened a little bit."
A very little bit. The Bucks are 2-1 since the trade and had won six in a row before losing to the Celtics 100-91 at Bradley Center. Having too many guys is a rare and minor problem for Skiles, who slogged through most of two seasons without enough healthy players to hold a proper practice. Sticking otherwise-available Jon Leuer on the active list Thursday was 180 degrees from S.O.P. for the Bucks.
There's always room for talent, though, and what Hammond did in acquiring Ellis and Udoh might salvage the Bucks' season and propel them into the East playoffs. They are keeping pressure from below on the New York Knicks -- can Woodsanity last longer than Linsanity? -- and have notions about climbing higher than No. 8, though their misfirings against the Celtics didn't help.
Milwaukee's streak of four consecutive games with at least 30 assists ended Thursday, too, not because the ball was sticking but because decent looks weren't dropping. As Ellis and Udoh blend in, the former alongside (or spelling) point guard Brandon Jennings, the latter in the mix up front that includes Ersan Ilyasova, Drew Gooden, Mike Dunleavy and Luc Mbah a Moute, the Bucks' options will be considerable.
"They've added a guy who helps even more with what they're doing now, because [Ellis] is a breakdown guy," Boston coach Doc Rivers said. "It's always nice when you have two guys who, when the shot clock goes down to eight or seven, you can swing it to them and they can just create a shot. That's something in our league there's just not a lot of. When you have two of them on the same team, it makes you dangerous."
Jennings was excited immediately by the fast, aggressive 1-2 punch with Ellis, easing the burden he felt to be a volume scorer nightly. Ellis, already accustomed to playing alongside Stephen Curry, saw the upside too. ""I'm not going to say we'll be Sam Cassell and Ray Allen," he said, "but hopefully we can do some great things here."
Skiles considered Ellis underrated in his passing ability, and trusted him as Milwaukee's only legit guard for a long stretch against the Celtics. The challenge will come defensively, both in size -- Ellis is listed at 6-foot-3, Jennings at (ahem) 6-1 -- and in commitment. Against Boston, neither of them did much to contain Rajon Rondo, whose six points and five assists got the Celtics off to a 35-point first quarter.
Udoh, taken awfully high at No. 6 in the 2010 draft, has been labeled underrated so frequently that he might be veering toward overrated. He gets lauded for his intangibles, though, and his performances have perked up late in each of his first two seasons.
"You've got to be blind to not see what Ekpe can do out there," Skiles said, even before the 6-foot-10 Baylor product and native of Edmond, Okla., grabbed10 rebounds in 21 minutes Thursday. "He's a high, high level defender. Protects the rim."
If Udoh protects, if Ellis attacks, if Jennings recharges and if Ersan-ity reigns, the Bucks are poised to polish up their 2011-12 season, which hit its low point three weeks ago at nine games under .500 after a three-game road skid at Boston, Atlanta and Orlando. The key will be getting through their only test of three games in three nights -- they're at Charlotte Friday, then home against Indiana Saturday -- then handling a back-to-back at New York Monday and home vs. Atlanta Tuesday.
"We're going to be down to 16 games after this stretch here," Skiles said, "and typically when you get down to between 13 and 20 games left in a season and you're four games behind somebody, that's tough. It's hard to come back from that, because you're assuming you're going to win and they're going to lose every night, and it just doesn't happen.
"This stretch of games is crucial for us. We'll see where we are at the end of it. We need 'em all right now. ... We've put ourselves in position to save our season and play postseason basketball. Now we've got to take advantage of it."
Now that would make something out of nothing.
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