DA's Morning Tip

Morning Tip Mailbag: Your questions on the Milwaukee Bucks, Paul George and more

David Aldridge

All aboard! From Michael Sadoff:

Why would the Bucks’ owners pay $550 million for the team, invest more than $200 million in a new arena and practice facility yet not hire an experienced executive to be the president of basketball operations. Instead, Jon Horst — who has never even been an assistant GM — is their GM in what can best be described as an unusual GM search last year. It is now reported that potential coaches are wary of the three-headed ownership situation in Milwaukee. We had decades of a meddling owner in Herb Kohl that was reflected in on-court performance. Unless Horst is the basketball version of Theo Epstein — what gives?

There may be some concern about the unusual ownership arrangement in Milwaukee, Michael, but trust me: every person getting interviewed will get over it if they can get their hands and careers on “The Greek Freak” train. They’ll have no problem getting a quality coach there.

Disillusioned in D.C. From Terry Whitehead:

Hopefully you can answer the burning questions all Wizards fans have … Why is Ernie Grunfeld untouchable? Why was it done in secret? And why did Wizards owner Ted Leonsis pen a letter to fans saying that changes were going to be made?

All of us want to find a way Ted justifies keeping him around for 15 years!

Does he have dirt on Ted? Is he like a Planet Fitness membership that you forget to cancel?

But in all honesty, it would be great to have your thoughts on his tenure in Washington and what it will take for him to be replaced.

Living in D.C. as I do, Terry, I’m very familiar with the frustration and anger of many Wizards fans that Grunfeld is still running the show. His tenure in Washington (he was hired in 2002) as GM is exceeded in the NBA only by Gregg Popovich in San Antonio, Pat Riley in Miami and Danny Ainge in Boston. And, they’ve all won at least one NBA title — by contrast, Grunfeld’s Wizards have not reached a conference finals.

The first half (2002-10) of Grunfeld’s reign was quite good. I have argued that his best move was one of his first — signing Gilbert Arenas to an offer sheet in 2003 that the Warriors, because of the cap rules at the time, were literally unable to match. It was shrewd and aggressive, and until Arenas tore his meniscus in 2007, he was one of the most exciting players in the league and a true superstar that put butts in seats. The Arenas-Caron Butler-Antwan Jamison nucleus that Grunfeld assembled made the playoffs four years in a row, but came apart when Arenas got hurt in ’07 and subsequently devolved into Wyatt Earp, leading to a rebuild that started just as Leonsis assumed control of the franchise in 2010.

I cite all that because Leonsis is on the record as saying he’s judging Grunfeld’s tenure from that point, not before he got controlling interest of the franchise. The second half (2010-present) has been much more problematic. Grunfeld got many of the big things right — taking John Wall (2010, No. 1 overall pick), Bradley Beal (2012, No. 3 overall) and Otto Porter Jr. (2013, No. 3 overall) with Washington’s highest Lottery picks.

But he’s missed on a lot, too.

To me, his second half includes two glaring mistakes that would have gotten GMs in many other cities fired: blowing first-round picks in 2011 on Jan Vesely (sixth overall) and Chris Singleton (18th), then whiffing completely on Kevin Durant in 2016 after spending two years positioning the Wizards to have the cap space to go after the DMV superstar. It would have been one thing for the Wizards to get turned down by Durant after going to the Hamptons and making their pitch, but they didn’t even get a face-to-face meeting!

And that error was compounded after Washington’s backup plan, Al Horford, signed with Boston, leaving the Wizards flailing and scrambling. It showed, as they gave $64 million to Ian Mahinmi and $26 million to Andrew Nicholson, then had to burn their 2017 first-rounder to get Nicholson off their books after less than a year to be able to re-sign Porter Jr. in the summer of 2017 without going deep into the luxury tax. Leonsis has said signing an impact free-agent to play with Wall, Beal and Porter Jr. to make the Wizards a “have” team, as he puts it, is the last step in the team’s plan to become a true contender.

With Wall’s four-year extension kicking in after next season I don’t see how they can do that before 2020, unless they stretch Mahinmi this summer and spread his remaining $31 million across the next five years, reducing his cap hit to just less than $6.3 million per year through 2023. If Washington did that it could be in position to be a significant player in free agency in 2019 while also having space to extend Kelly Oubre and/or Tomas Satoransky. Otherwise, it would be 2020 before the Wizards could make a move.

With the extension Leonsis is giving Grunfeld a final chance to finish the job. It is Grunfeld’s third shot at remaking the franchise. There should not be a fourth. In most cities, there would not have been a second.

They continue to be creative in Portland. From Zane Aitken:

As much as I’d love for the Blazers to get Kawhi Leonard like another reader suggested last week, I have another trade proposal. Do you think the Blazers could offer the Thunder anything they wanted minus CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard for Paul George (provided he opts into his last year)? It gives PG another year to decide if he wants to go home while the Lakers get better AND the chance to continue to win now. At least Dame and CJ can both play off-ball, unlike Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony.

Seems like a no-brainer for the Blazers. PG gets to be the man, and OKC gets a better team (e.g. Mo Harkless, Al-Farouq Aminu, and Pat Connaughton plus a first-round and second-round pick?) versus a poor fit of stars who would cost a fortune to keep.

Unless, of course, LeBron James calls PG a round or two from now and their Hollywood careers begin together.

Why would George opt in for 2018-19 and take away all his leverage to go wherever he wants? The whole point of the last year was to make sure he was free as soon as possible. I know some of y’all want to break up the Blazers but, slow your roll.

Send your questions, comments and…say, I’m looking for my dog, Skippy. He was running around here a few minutes ago. Have you seen him? to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If your e-mail is funny, thought-provoking or snarky, we just might publish it!

MVP WATCH

(Last week’s averages in parenthesis)

1) James Harden (27 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 8.7 apg, .410 FG, .929 FT): Yes, if you’re a fan, you can scream and yell from your seat. You can — with some humor and not as much volume — get after the opponent. But the cell phone deal … I have a lot of sympathy for players here, let me just put it that way.

2) LeBron James (35.7 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 11.3 apg, .536 FG, .560 FT): He was out on his feet and exhausted seven days ago. Seven. Not a week, not a month; seven days. Remarkable.

3) Anthony Davis (28 ppg, 15 rpg, 1.7 bpg, .479 FG, .923 FT): His team in on the verge of elimination, but the Brow has not disappointed on the playoff stage, either in victory over Portland in the first round or in imminent defeat to the defending champions.

4) Kevin Durant (29.7 ppg, 6 rpg, 5 apg, .500 FG, .889 FT): Had struggled on threes in the playoffs — just 16 of 59 coming into Game 4 Sunday — but made 2 of 5 behind the arc against the Pelicans Sunday.

5) Russell Westbrook: Season complete.

BY THE NUMBERS

$41,643 — Amount of cash and prizes won by Lisa Beverley, the mother of Clippers guard Patrick Beverley, on a recent episode of “The Price is Right”. Among her winnings were two cars and a trip to Madagascar, leaving her son to ask on Twitter if he could hold one of her new rides for a minute.

$25,000Fine for Raptors president Masai Ujiri after he came onto the court at halftime of Saturday’s Game 3 with Cleveland at Quicken Loans Arena to argue with officials about calls. My man is nothing if not consistent this time of year repping his squad in the playoffs.

129 — Consecutive playoff series in which a team down 3-0 has lost the series. Only three of those 129 teams down 3-0 — the New York Knicks in the 1951 Finals against Rochester Royals, the Denver Nuggets in the 1994 conference semis against Utah Jazz and the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round of the 2003 playoffs against the Dallas Mavericks — have even forced a seventh game, with nine other teams getting to a Game 6 after falling 3-0.

I’M FEELIN’ …

1) There are people — including some that are well-paid to do so — who spend so much time trying to argue what is ridiculously not arguable: LeBron James is one of the greatest players to ever play this game. Ever. Stop hating and start appreciating what he’s doing this season, which may be the most impressive of his 15 so far as a professional. (I’m sure the other Cavs have a sense of humor about their station, right? Right?)

2) John Madden used to always talk about going to a coaching clinic when he was just breaking into the business and listening to Vince Lombardi break down the intricacies of the Packer Sweep — for eight hours. Someday, Brad Stevens will similarly delight an up and coming coach by talking about his ATOs.

3) I would very much like to vote for President Austin now, please.

4a) A daily double from Sports Illustrated’s great writer Chris Ballard: first, former Blazers and Heat power forward Brian Grant continues to put one foot in front of the other as he lives with Parkinson’s Disease.

4b) Second, Ballard writes, again beautifully, on a quiet — and, perhaps, final — get together for Hall of Fame receiver Dwight Clark, who is coping as best he can with ALS, last month in Montana.

NOT FEELIN’ …

1) Agree with the Chuckster on this — you can’t let LeBron get out of the corner with the ball with your season on the line, Raptors. I don’t care if he passes the ball ahead and it’s 4 on 3 and you’re scrambling on defense; in that situation, with just six or so seconds on the clock, you’ll take anyone else going 85 feet with the ball and making a play to beat you. O.G. Anunoby and Pascal Siakam are kids in this league, and I’m not going to kill them if trapping LeBron was discussed in the huddle during the timeout before his game-winner and they made a mental error there. But you can’t lose the game with the ball in LeBron’s hands. You just can’t.

2) This seems to never have any bottom to its depravity and disregard for the human being that died because of greed and selfishness.

3) Why, yes, Steve, Jessie would love to dance … just not with you!!!

4) Pathetic. Not surprising. And indicative of the tone and substance of much of the reporting done in sports these days. Do better.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

— Bulls center Robin Lopez (@rolopez42), Sunday, 12:25 a.m, invoking the year Stevie’s “Talking Book” came out and the year after Spielberg directed “Schindler’s List.” That feels about right; LeBron is in the teaching/legacy phase of his career as those two giants were on their respective sides of the street at that time. Tip of the cap to Mr. Lopez for historical accuracy.

THEY SAID IT

“The only way that our team becomes a really expensive team is if Paul George chooses to stay with the Thunder. So if you’re asking me if we would like to keep Paul George if he wants to keep his talents in Oklahoma City, at the cost that it takes to re-sign him, the answer to that would be affirmative, yes. Paul George is a very unique player.”

— Oklahoma City General Manager Sam Presti, in his season-ending news conference, on the team’s willingness to remain a tax payer next season — which it will regardless of what George decides to do, but whose tax bill will be significantly larger if George agrees to stay in OKC and signs a new deal this summer.

“It’s like I would have been better off not showing up, and that’s what I did. I didn’t show up for my teammates.”

— Jazz rookie phenom Donovan Mitchell, after the Rockets held him to 4 of 16 shooting and 10 points in Game 3 of the Utah-Houston Western Conference semifinals series last Friday.

“I’ve got a medical card. I’m legal here. When any athlete gets old, every injury you have sustained seems to resurrect. It helps me deal with the pain without pain pills, and helps with that stress.”

— Don Nelson, the NBA’s all-time winningest coach, to the New York Times, on his use of marijuana at his home in Hawaii since the end of his coaching career.

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Longtime NBA reporter, columnist and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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