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Bucks the biggest winner at NBA trade deadline

The addition Monta Ellis could make Milwaukee a tough team come the NBA Playoffs, writes Sam Smith. At the end of the day, though, nothing much changed at the top of the East. But stay tuned for this week as players will hit the waiver wire.
"With Brandon Jennings and forward Ersan Ilyasova, it’s suddenly an explosive Bucks team that could be a tough playoff out if they make it," writes Sam Smith. "Ellis is instantly one of the best shooting guards in the East and a better guy than given credit for."
(Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images)

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

Sam Smith Mailbag

It’s not the excitement of where Dwight Howard will go. Or even Monta Ellis. But this week is the deadline for players to be waived to be eligible for the playoffs, and so far Ronny Turiaf, supposedly headed to Miami, Andres Nocioni and Derek Fisher are the biggest names. No mention of Chris Kaman yet.

But what about last week’s trading deadline? Howard was the big story, which made Orlando a winner, at least for now. Can they add a significant player in the next year? They have the desire, if not the salary cap space, so I wouldn’t doubt them. But what about the other guys who dipped their toes into the trading pool?

I thought the biggest winner was the Bucks.

Getting Monta Ellis was a coup, even if it didn’t include moving Stephen Jackson. This also may have energized coach Scott Skiles, who seemed to be reaching a plateau with the team. With Brandon Jennings and forward Ersan Ilyasova, it’s suddenly an explosive Bucks team that could be a tough playoff out if they make it. Ellis is instantly one of the best shooting guards in the East and a better guy than given credit for. He took out an ad in Milwaukee newspapers to thank the team and fans. When assistant GM Pete D’Alessandro was fired by the Warriors as a power play to force out Chris Mullin, Ellis called D’Alessandro to ask how he could help and if there was something he could do. Bad guys don’t do that.

Conversely, what the heck were the Warriors thinking? Yes, they are tanking the season taking on injured Andrew Bogut and Jackson, later moved for Richard Jefferson. Their No. 1 draft pick is protected through seven, so they have some losing to get done and they’re on the way. They declared Bogut, who is Greg Oden light when it comes to injuries, one of the three best centers in the world. He may be one of the three best in the Central Division. I’d take Joakim Noah and Al Horford for sure ahead of him. And probably now Greg Monroe. Plus, anyone who has watched Bogut should know he doesn’t like to play basketball and his interest in playing seems highly questionable. That is going to be a disaster. Plus, for the Bucks I think a defensive, shot blocking center like Ekpe Udoh is an upgrade on Bogut.

Portland, which collapsed and is blowing off its season as well dumping Marcus Camby and Gerald Wallace, made a heck of deal getting a top three protected pick from the Nets for Wallace, who even has an opt out. Obviously panicked when Howard opted in, you wonder what the Nets could have been thinking in believing this is a three player draft. They are only off by about 15. Plus, Portland will have plenty of cap room and be able to recover quickly, it would seem.

Houston tried to get everyone, as usual, and ended up with Camby, who has looked as disinterested this far as Houston in August. The Wizards had to begin breaking up their preschool to save John Wall, and they’ll try to give away Andray Blatche again this summer. I still think JaVale McGee is salvageable, though the Wizards are going to find Nene is injury prone, shorter than they think, paid like 20/10 and giving you 15 and six. Still, they had to start someone and, at least, he won’t be an embarrassment.

Ramon Sessions certainly is livelier than Derek Fisher, but Kobe Bryant threw up a three of 20 Sunday night as he continues his mourning for the only guy he cared for on the Lakers. They are going to miss his perspective on life and the Lakers even if they did need someone to stay in front of guys like Russell Westbrook and Tony Parker. Jordan Hill should help the Lakers bench, so it probably was a deal they had to make.

The Cavs took on an awful lot of salary to get a first round pick, and it seemed you could buy one more cheaply on draft day. But the owner does like to spend. Vinny Del Negro is going to be yelling at Nick Young for all those bad shots, but Vinny wasn’t exactly an unselfish shooter when he played. The 76ers got Sam Young, who I always thought would be better. We’ll see, though they still lack size to go anywhere. I like the Barbosa pickup for the Pacers as Larry Bird has been solid, albeit patient in bringing the Pacers back. And as Gregg Popovich has said about Stephen Jackson you can have him as long as you don’t have another. The Spurs don’t, so chart that as a positive.

So what happened? Nothing that really should affect who is in the conference finals and how the games go. Perhaps the Lakers are the most interesting to watch given the bet on the loss of Fisher. Maybe Jackson hits a big shot or gives someone a big shot. Can Nick Young do something for the Clippers? The Thunder will be the favorites and they stood pat. Nothing much changed at the top of the East, though stay tuned for this week.

Melo plays the blame game

-- So how do you get a coach fired? Yes, you can complain to management. Or do it the ‘Melo way. There was the Creative Artists media campaign, which almost got Erik Spoelstra when LeBron got to Miami and didn’t feel the deference he got in Cleveland. So then there are these source stories about the coach losing the locker room — that probably was the final one for Mike D’Antoni coming out the day he resigned — and the coach having flaws and not being a strong figure. Classic was a few days before D’Antoni left a story in New York about how Anthony had warned the Knicks regarding J.R. Smith. As it happened, virtually everyone in the organization checked with Anthony before signing Smith, which GM Glen Grunwald didn’t want to do, and Anthony said Smith was a changed man as they’d been in communication constantly while Smith was in China. Then Smith posted some nude pictures, the league fined him and Anthony looked for someone in management to blame. Anthony’s people also put out this story that it was Anthony who came up with the idea to D’Antoni of starting Jeremy Lin. Someone finally asked D’Antoni, and he said, well, no, Anthony never said anything. So then came the games as Anthony grew to be a cancer among his teammates. You could see in the game in Chicago how the guards were looking him off as he was reigning curses on them all game for not throwing him the ball. The way Anthony would hang out teammates in games was he’d come out of a huddle and say he was going over a screen. Then he’d switch, leaving a teammate looking bad. He’d routinely in front of teammates tell D’Antoni, a practice he previously had with George Karl, of when the coach would mention a way to cover something Anthony would say it could be done better another way. It was no surprise Karl didn’t have much nice to say about Anthony after he left, and as one veteran NBA guy said, “If you can’t play for George Karl or Mike D’Antoni with the way they coach offense who can you play for?” We see Anthony deferring now to stay below the radar as the Knicks are 3-0 with Mike Woodson. But Woodson also likely knows he goes only as far as Anthony allows.

NBA news and notes

-- It was a brutal weekend for the Pacers with back to back losses to the Knicks after Danny Granger, who pretty much guaranteed a couple of wins, has quietly been killing the Pacers with his continued poor shot selection — 39 percent shooting this season — and selfish play. Though the Pacers have taken a step up from last season, they’re still having issues at point guard as Darren Collison has gotten more than four assists just one time this month and continues to have difficulty working with Roy Hibbert, who has been ineffective since being named an All-Star and looks like about the ninth best Eastern Center behind Dwight Howard, Tyson Chandler, Joakim Noah, Nene, Greg Monroe and when they recover Brook Lopez, Al Horford and Anderson Varejao. Though Leandro Barbosa is a nice pickup. Their issue is like a lot of almost teams like the Bulls in 2005-2008. They have the pieces. Now they need a star. ... Though he had a rough outing in Sunday’s overtime loss to the Clippers, the Pistons’ Rodney Stuckey has been on a roll averaging 24.6 in March and shooting 53 percent and 50 percent on threes even with just seven points against the Clippers. ... With the trade for Monta Ellis, the focus is on a playoff battle between the Bucks and Knicks. But don’t be surprised if both pass the Celtics, closing with 13 of their last 22 on the road and a big game in Milwaukee this week.

-- The big news of last week’s trading deadline, of course, was the one that didn’t happen, Dwight Howard, who opted in for a final season (?) with the Orlando Magic. It’s all happy now in Orlando, where they will search this summer for someone to persuade Howard to sign longterm. Though there’s a fishy part in all this that has had NBA executives shaking their heads for months. It seemed obvious the Knicks could put together a bigtime deal, and why would Howard want to be in Brooklyn when he could really be in New York and Madison Square Garden? And why was Howard hesitating so much and coming up with these seemingly rehearsed scenarios, like staying for the rest of the season to protect the Nets’ assets. He thought of that? No one can prove it, but it’s always been the fear around the NBA since Russian oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov came in. It seemed to many Howard was becoming an AAU sort of deal being delivered to a high bidder (isn’t this usually a John Calipari school?) by behind the scenes advisors and coterie. Perhaps Howard figured it out and that’s why he decided to stay for now. But the whole thing hardly seemed in Howard’s best interests all along. I think this also is how Russian elections work. ... Jason Terry understood what the Spurs did telling reporters: “That’s what they needed. They wanted to get (Richard) Jefferson out of there and if you can get Stephen Jackson for Richard Jefferson I would have done it, too. That’s just a no-brainer.” It’s amazing how far Jefferson has fallen from averaging 20 with the Bucks in 2009. ... Though there are concerns with players like Jackson, who can overreact, as Pacers’ fan know. But you also like a guy who has your back and isn’t worried about his neck ... Though you feel badly when someone who turns 29 this week has to retire. But it’s also a relief to see T.J. Ford walking away. The Spurs guard who was a lottery pick for the Bucks in 2003 after being college player of the year was — really — always an awkward fall away from being paralyzed. Players and teams feared it. He came into the NBA with spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal column, and had a bad collision as a rookie and missed more than a year and had spinal fusion surgery. Ford was cleared to play, but his frequent movement also reflected teams uncertain of his future. And even Ford in retiring conceded to reporters he played with the same concern as well. “I avoided doctor’s orders for years and dodged a lot of bullets,” Ford said. I guess you could have banned him for medical reasons, and certainly everyone would have been asking why not if he were seriously injured. It’s good to see him walk away seemingly satisfied and, well, walking. ... Al Jefferson left the Jazz for a funeral, and he certainly will be the big name on the market this summer. The Jazz defeated the Lakers 103-99 Sunday as Derrick Favors had his second consecutive double/double after getting 23 points and 17 rebounds in a Saturday win over Golden State. Plus, rookie center Enes Kanter has 17 points and eight rebounds in 22 minutes and rookie shooting guard Alec Burks was huge in shredding the Lakers porous interior defense on fourth quarter drives with 13 of his 17 points in the fourth.

-- After having coached J.R. Smith, Carmelo Anthony, Allen Iverson and Kenyon Martin into the playoffs, the NBA is not so much considering a retroactive coach of the year for George Karl as much as a medal of honor. ... Media in Oklahoma City were beating up Russell Westbrook after not so much a personal meltdown when he faked beating up Goran Dragic and unraveled down the stretch in a Thunder loss but once again demeaning local reporters. It’s not like Oklahoma City is a backwater. Their reporters are professional. But it’s not crazy New York City. You usually get the benefit of the doubt in places like that, like Chicago as well. If you are not anymore in Oklahoma City you get the idea how difficult Westbrook can also be to coach. The Thunder is a modest 7-4 since the All-Star break, though pretty much guaranteed the best record in the West. ... If the Suns make the playoffs, and suddenly they’re battling with Utah and Houston for eighth, does Steve Nash get another MVP? Nah, Alvin Gentry coach of the year? It is unlikely with a badly mismatched roster, but the Suns did creep above .500 in beating Houston Sunday. ... Minnesota seems to be fading without Ricky Rubio.

Not enough like Dick Harter anymore

-- Dick Harter was Tom Thibodeau while Thibodeau still was running errands for John Lucas in Philadelphia. Harter, who died last week of cancer at his Hilton Head, S.C. home was one of the great defensive innovators and coaches in league history. How about this behind the scenes resume: He was defensive guru for some of the most ferocious defensive teams ever, Chuck Daly’s Pistons and Pat Riley’s Knicks. Harter also ran the defense for Larry Bird with Rick Carlisle running the offense when the Pacers went to the Finals in 2000. He also ran the defense for the 2002 conference finals Celtics. Harter was known in the Pacific Northwest for a classic run for the University of Oregon’s famous “Kamikaze Kids,” and also coached Penn, Penn State and was the Charlotte Hornets’ first coach. He was your classic old school, Marine drill sergeant type demanding accountability and producing winners while a kindly romantic away from the game. I hated that he was not involved in the NBA anymore, and so did he. It’s one of the sadder parts of life that you get replaced because of your age and not your talent. To his last days, I’d recall seeing Dick and his wife, Mary, holding hands like kids. There just aren’t enough guys like Dick Harter anymore.

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