Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Yi Watch: Day 34

Chinese Basketball Association head Li Yuanwei will be paying the Bucks a visit in the coming week, according to reports from the always-reliable Chinese media. Supposedly Li and Guangdong Tigers owner Chen Haitao are getting antsy since the Bucks haven't visited China yet, which they were under the impression Larry Harris had promised.

"I will go to the United States in the coming days to help Yi solve the problem," CBA director Li said.

"I will have a talk with Yi at the Stankovic Cup to see what he thinks.

"The Bucks side didn't send their officials to China this time as they promised, so I will take some time to get this resolved."
While there have been reports that the Bucks wanted to visit China once their free agency to-do list was complete, they are still negotiating with restricted free agent Charlie Bell, whom the Bucks have given every indication they are hoping to retain. So it would seem odd for Harris to fly to China now when other matters would seem more pressing.

Chen's comments about not knowing what the Bucks want are perhaps the most laughable, given the Bucks have made their wish to keep Yi abundantly clear and beyond that there's really nothing to negotiate. Yi's rookie contract will be 120% of his rookie salary scale as defined by the collective bargaining agreement--rookies can sign for 80-120% of the scale, but almost always sign for the max. Moreover, the NBA's rules prevent its teams from offering anything more than $500,000 to buy out a foreign contract. Whether Chen is concerned about getting less than the max buyout is unclear, but there's no chance the Bucks would allow such a small buyout sum to prevent them from bringing Yi into the fold.

China lost this morning to Angola in the third game of the Stankovic Cup. I caught the first half and Yi looked very good, scoring 11 points and grabbing six rebounds while showing excellent mobility on both ends. However, the Chinese scored only 8 in the third quarter and wound up losing for the second time in three games. Yi finished as the game's leading scorer with 19 points.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Monday Bucks Notes

  • Ramon Sessions is reportedly close to signing with the Bucks. The Bucks' other pick in the 2007 draft (56th overall) averaged 5.8 ppg to go along with 2.5 apg and 2.5 rpg for the Bucks' summer league team. With Charlie Bell still unsigned, Sessions would be the third string PG behind Mo Williams and Lynn Greer. Assuming Bell comes back you can expect Sessions to rack up the DNP-CD's just as Greer did for much of last season. Per usual, the deal will likely be a one year guaranteed minimum contract with a team option for the second year. From the Vegas games I saw Sessions had good size and court vision but his shot was shaky to say the least.
  • With Kevin Garnett headed to Boston, it's possible the Celtics could make a run at Charlie Bell to provide depth in the backcourt. While Rajon Rondo would likely start at PG, the Ray Allen and KG deals have decimated their depth and they still have their MLE to use on free agents. Are the Celtics interested? What would they be willing to offer given they have three players making $54 million next year? And how much are the Bucks willing to match? It sure seems like Brevin Knight could be had for less dollars and for a shorter term, not to mention with the hassle of potentially having Bell's offer sheet matched by the Bucks. Stay tuned.
  • Yi Jianlian was hampered by foul trouble in China's loss to Slovenia in their second game in the Stankovic Cup. He finished with 12 points and I can't find a box score or even an English recap anywhere. China will play three games in three days starting tomorrow morning against Angola at 7:25 AM eastern/6:25 AM central. Watch here.
  • Former Bucks guard Jay Humphries has been named an assistant with the Suns.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Saturday Bucks Notes

Yi Jianlian helped China squeak by Venezuela 64-62 in their opening game of the Stankovic Cup. Yi had 18 points on 4-9 from the field and 10-12 from the line along with 9 rebounds, a block, a steal and four TOs. I saw the last three quarters and it was a similar story to the Vegas Summer League, with Yi and Wang Zhizhi clearly China's two best players yet unable to get involved as much as they should have.


Priority Sports: By now they must be big Bucks fans

With only Charlie Bell left to re-sign, it's been pretty quiet on the Bucks' front. The consensus seems to be that the Bucks gave Bell an offer a while ago and let him know that they would match any other team's offer sheet. Which then put Bell's agent Mark Bartelstein in the position of having to drum up interest from other teams who probably know the Bucks will likely match any offer sheet they provide.

Don't feel bad for Bartelstein and his crew at Chicago-based Priority Sports though. He's already coaxed the Bucks into giving two of his other clients--Mo Williams and Jake Voskuhl--pretty nice deals. And Bobby Simmons' $47 million contract from a few years ago? Also Bartelstein's work. I think he owes Herb Kohl a beer. Though in fairness it seems like the majority of overpaid role players count Bartelstein as their agent. I'm thinking of you, Antoine Walker, Brian Cardinal, Mark Blount, and Mikki Moore.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Thursday Bucks Notes

The Journal-Sentinel has a long story on Bobby Simmons' comeback. Simmons' injuries last year were so poorly communicated by the Bucks that it's not surprising many of us are wary of penciling Bobby into the starting lineup, even with Larry Harris claiming he expects Simmons to be ready by training camp. While his first season as a Buck was slightly disappointing, even that level of production would be a huge addition for a Bucks team that by all accounts is not bringing Ruben Patterson back and played much of last year with a three guard (Mo/Bell/Redd) starting lineup.

Unfortunately the Bucks have had a habit for being very unclear about the status of their players' injuries, whether intentional or not. No one really had any idea what the deal was with TJ Ford for over a year, in part because it was such a unique injury. Even so, confusion over the likelihood of a recurrence continues to this day in spite of his doctors' suggestion that the success of his fusion surgery makes him no more at risk than any other player. Simmons meanwhile was supposedly healthy in training camp last year before he was shelved for the year. Then you had the mysterious injuries of the late season tanking last year (Brian Skinner's ebola-strength earaches, anyone?), which are in a whole different category. So while I appreciate the tentative optimism about Simmons' return, I won't be holding my breath either.


Thanks to our resident cap/salary info extraordinaire, we now know the structure of Mo Williams' contract:

07-08 $7,750,000
08-09 $8,353,000
09-10 $8,860,000
10-11 $9,300,000
11-12 $8,500,000 (ETO)
12-13 $8,500,000 (PO)
Total: $51.263 mil

The relatively low salaries in the back end will make his opt-out virtually assured, provided he stays healthy and doesn't inexplicably become an awful player. As a result, the deal is more likely to end up being a four-year deal for $34.263 million or a shade over $8.5 million per year. More importantly, he'll be able to negotiate a new long-term deal (likely for more money) while he's still only 28. Not exactly the ideal structure for the Bucks. Assuming he opts out after four years, Mo's and Redd's deals will be expiring at the same time, meaning their peak salaries will also coincide. In other words, the deal isn't structured to give the Bucks possible luxury tax relef in 2009 either, when Bogut and Villanueva will be getting at least qualifying offers (and possibly starting longer extensions) at the same time that Gadzuric and Simmons are still being overpaid.


Bucks.com has a misty-eyed feature on Bucks scout Scott Howard's experiences scouting Yi Jianlian.

“I remember the very first report I wrote on the kid four years ago,” Howard said. “It said, ‘This kid’s gonna be a star.’

“It’s fun and interesting to see when your first impressions are accurate and they come true.”

Whoa Scott, don't get ahead of yourself.

He had exhibited impressive instincts from the very first time he appeared in the U.S., during the 2002 adidas ABCD Camp, but he was also learning and mastering a lot of intangibles.

“He was always a very aware kid with terrific court awareness and reaction time,” said Howard. “I always like that in a player. He’d had a lot of different coaches, including Del Harris (the father of Bucks General Manager Larry Harris), who coached his national team at one time, and a Lithuanian coach who’s coaching his national team now. Because he’d been exposed to so much internationally, that’a a great asset for him.”

“And he’s a team player. There’s no question he’s a team player.”

Howard, who had left the Wizards to become Director of International Player Personnel with the Toronto Raptors for two years, joined the Bucks’ scouting staff in March of 2006. From that point on, he and his colleagues continued following Yi collectively.

“Dave Babcock (the Bucks’ Director of Player Personnel) saw him play in China, and Larry Harris saw him play in Japan and in the Olympics in Athens,” Howard said. “I’ve probably seen him play 30 games in four years.”

In other words, we scouted the hell out of him. Take that, Ric Bucher.

“I always file reports,” he said. “Once there, I filed mine. Everyone (on the Bucks management team) reads that. We had tape of that tournament, and Larry (Harris), Dave (Babcock) and (scout) Scott Roth watched that. We watched Yi play in the Chinese Championships on NBA TV. We had film from the World Championships of him playing against the U.S. 'Dream Team.'”

“The more you saw, the more you were impressed. All of our evaluations said, ‘We’d better start to look real hard at this guy.’”

The members of the Bucks basketball staff continued to keep their eyes and ears open. With the 2007 NBA Draft approaching and Milwaukee slated to pick sixth, the sights and sounds around the league indicated that Yi could very well be on the board when their turn came up.

“We were down to two or three players for our lottery pick,” Howard said. “We all did our research and tried to determine who’d be gone by the time we picked. We figured (Greg) Oden, (Kevin) Durant and probably (Al) Horford would be gone. Then we heard that Mike Conley would probably go to Memphis, which he did. We thought there was a chance Yi might go to Boston, but that didn’t happen.”

By committee, the wheels kept turning.

“We made more phone calls to see if Yi was a worthwhile pick for us, and to see if he wanted to play in the NBA,” Howard said. “From everything we gathered, the pick was a no-brainer.

“Dave (Babcock) had been to China four years ago to talk with Yi’s coach. Larry’s dad had coached him. I know people who know Yi intimately. So we gathered a lot of information on him. At the end of the day, you figure out how to get it done.”


Yi Jianlian will be playing for the Chinese National Team in the Stankovic Cup beginning on July 28th. Meanwhile, the Chinese B Team will be headed to the Asian Basketball Championships, which tells you a lot about the quality of Asian hoops. Among the teams China will face is a D-League "ambassador" team including UWM grad Clay Tucker.

Yi and his Chinese colleagues will play five games in five days. If you want to watch these games they should be shown on sopcast--keep an eye on the schedule here.

July 28, Guangzhou
3:30 p.m.: Angola vs. New Zealand
7 p.m.: China vs. Venezuela
9 p.m.: Slovenia vs. D-League Ambassadors

July 29, Guangzhou
3:30 p.m.: Venezuela vs. Angola
7 p.m.: China vs. Slovenia
9 p.m.: New Zealand vs. D-League Ambassadors

July 31, Macao
4 p.m.: D-League Ambassadors vs. Venezuela
7:30 p.m.: Angola vs. China
9:30 p.m.: Slovenia vs. New Zealand

Aug 1, Macao
4 p.m.: D-League Ambassadors vs. Angola
7:30 p.m.: New Zealand vs. China
9:30 p.m.: Venezuela vs. Slovenia

Aug 2, Macao
4 p.m.: Venezuela vs. New Zealand
7:30 p.m.: China vs. D-League Ambassadors
9:30 p.m.: Angola vs. Slovenia

Mo Williams Was Robbed

No, not on his new contract (if anything, he did the robbing by getting player options on the last two years an ETO after four years and a player option for the sixth season). Mo was literally robbed yesterday, though fortunately it was just some thieves hitting up his parked car.

The Bucks' point guard stayed on this week after being heavily courted by the Miami Heat, signing a six-year contract on Tuesday and looking to get his job done with Milwaukee.

By Thursday, however, he was filing information with Milwaukee police alleging that someone broke into his 2005 Dodge Magnum in the 1800 block of E. Kenilworth Ave. about 2:15 a.m.

Thieves got away with two LCD screens from the head rests, a navigation system and a radio/DVD player, according to a police report.

Damage and loss are estimated at $3,000.
You paid that much for two LCDs and an in-dash DVD? C'mon Mo, I picked up the exact same package this morning for just over a grand. Hey wait a minute...uh oh.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Wednesday Bucks Notes

Charles Gardner has more on the Mo Williams deal. Interesting to hear his comments now about how he wasn't that serious about joining the Heat...tough to tell if it's all posturing after the fact.

Although Miami president and coach Pat Riley made his best recruiting pitch to Williams, the 6-foot-1 guard said he had to be pushed to even make the visit to South Beach.

"The funny thing about it, I didn't want to go in the first place," Williams said. "I was saying, 'Let's get it done with Milwaukee.'"

But agent Mark Bartelstein convinced Williams to at least consider the Heat, which desperately wanted to add a point guard to a lineup featuring Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O'Neal. Miami was over the salary cap and could offer a maximum of $31.4 million on a five-year deal.

"Everything that looks good on the outside, not everything is peaches and cream on the other side," Williams said. "I know what to expect here. With the talent we have here, bringing Desmond (Mason) back and playing for Larry K. (Krystkowiak), who is a great motivator, things are looking really good.

"I know this team is going to be a good team next year. That wasn't a doubt."

There's also a mention at the end of the article about the team's continued negotiations with Charlie Bell.

Bell also is represented by Bartelstein, the agent for Williams and Bucks forward Bobby Simmons.

"We've been talking throughout the process with Mo," Harris said. "We certainly know he (Bell) wants to be here, and we want to have him here."


Watch video of the Desmond Mason press conference.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Mo Williams Contract Details

The Mo Williams Show: Expect these two to be filming a sequel this fall

Mo Williams' new contract will pay him $51.5 million over six years, with player options for the fifth and sixth years. In other words, expect Mo to opt out and look for a bigger deal should he actually play as well as the Bucks hope he can. I haven't seen the way the annual salaries are structured but it will be interesting to see if the deal is front-loaded (like Kirk Hinrich's deal), flat, or with the max allowable 10.5% raises. With Bogut and Villanueva being up for extensions next summer front-loading Mo's deal could give them more breathing room against the luxury tax down the road. But that would also mean Mo would be more likely to opt out after four years, increasing the effective average he will be paid over the first four years. I'd much rather save the money now and make Mo's decision to opt out more difficult.

Mo Williams Officially Signed

Still waiting to hear whether the ETO or sixth-year player options were included in Mo's six year, $52 million deal, but for now you can peruse the Bucks' official press release on Mo's signing. As usual, no terms were disclosed.

“This is a very big day for Mo, his family and for the Milwaukee Bucks,” said Harris. “Mo has worked extremely hard to get to this point and we’re thrilled to have him in a Bucks uniform for many years to come. We see him as a key piece of what we’re trying to accomplish in Milwaukee, and that’s to return to the playoffs and ultimately win an NBA championship.”

Yi Watch: Day 27 Continued

The latest possibly inaccurate, possibly fabricated story from the Chinese media suggests that Yi's club team is now acknowledging what we've all been saying: Yi is likely to play for the Bucks next year.

"Yi will play for the Bucks after all," it quoted the team's vice general manager Liu Hongjiang as saying, giving no reason for the apparent turnaround.
Yi's signing before training camp has certainly appeared likely for some time, as his other options just don't make sense for himself or the people who want to profit off of him.

Yi Watch: Day 27

As usual, no real news on the Yi front, but the Journal-Sentinel staff has plenty to say. Charles Gardner reports the Bucks optimistically continue to hold firm while the Yi camp isn't saying much. Meanwhile, Don Walker reports some Milwaukee businessmen with ties to China are recommending the Bucks send a contingent to China to negotiate with Yi's club team, the Guangdong Tigers. Bob Wolfley has also chimed in with a very good article outlining the major talking points. The Gardner article also offers a little more insight into the nature of Yi's arrangement with Guangdong.

"I believe he (Yi) will be in a Bucks uniform," Harris said in comments made during a news conference to introduce new Bucks small forward Desmond Mason, who was signed to a two-year contract. "We haven't found one player yet that has not enjoyed Milwaukee once they got here.

"We've had tremendous support from the community, civic leaders, the Chinese community. It's almost like Milwaukee has taken the stance, 'Give us a shot, and you won't regret it.'"

According to collective bargaining rules governing the National Basketball Association, the Bucks can pay up to $500,000 to secure the release of Yi from his Chinese Basketball Association team, the Guangdong Tigers. The Bucks could pay less than that amount but not more, and the NBA as an entity would not contribute to the release, a source said.

According to people who have knowledge of negotiations involving foreign players, Yi has to sign two agreements with the Tigers that are not part of his agreement with Los Angeles-based agent Dan Fegan.

The two agreements with the Tigers are: 1) a buyout of his player contract with the Tigers, perhaps with cash and maybe involving some value-added exchange, such as Yi appearing as a representative or spokesman for the company that owns the Tigers; and 2) a deal to assign his representation rights to a Tigers-owned agency, set up this year to represent all Tigers players.

The agreement could call for Yi to give his NBA representation to Fegan or whomever the Tigers prefer.

SLAM also has a short article on the Chinese perspective that reinforces the prevailing viewpoint that at the end of the day Yi doesn't appear to have much choice:

The first thing to get out of the way is this: no one in China really knows what is going in with Yi either.

“I really don’t understand why he dislikes Milwaukee so much,” says Shen Zhiyu, a senior writer for the Chinese language version of Slam. “It doesn’t make sense for him to demand to be somewhere or not be somewhere. No matter what team he’s on, it’s a very good chance for him to improve his level of play significantly. It’s a very good chance for him and for the Chinese National Team.”

This last point is really the key to understanding how people here view this situation: it helps the Chinese National Team to have as many of their players as possible playing against as high level competition as possible. People are particularly pumped about this because of the ’08 Beijing Olympics, kicking off in a little more than a year.

The only way for Yi to really avoid playing for the Bucks is to sit the year out and that is not a reasonable option; there is no way he can have no competition in the year before the Beijing Games, probably the most anticipated sports event in Chinese history.

One thing to clarify: the reason the owners of Yi’s CBA team keep speaking for him is they are his Chinese agents. Even now that he is (theoretically) going to the NBA, he is still basically controlled by his Chinese team.

It appears a Harris visit to China is being discussed in the Bucks camp, though they will first look to finish up their free agent signings. With Desmond Mason signing yesterday and Mo Williams' press conference today, restricted free agent Charlie Bell is the only unsigned Buck, so expect his contract talks to heat up over the next few days. Bell is seeking some longer-term security a la Charlotte's Matt Carroll (6 years, $27 million), but so far the Bucks appear to be waiting to see if a market develops for the 28-year old Bell's services.

While I think Bell can be a valuable bench contributor who can also start at both guard positions if needed, I'm personally not a big fan of giving role players long-term deals. Good GMs earn their money by finding cheap players who can contribute, like Harris did with Bell two years ago or Mo Williams three years ago. It's difficult to save money on your star players, so keeping your role players affordable is one way to keep payroll manageable. And unlike Mo, there's little to suggest Bell will ever be a starting-caliber player for the Bucks , especially given the amount invested in the two positions where Bell can play (I'm not a big fan of the 6'3" Bell playing SF). I could live with a deal offering Bell $3-4 million per season, but I'd prefer it be for three years rather than a five or six year deal that would keep Bell in Milwaukee until his early 30s. My guess is they agree on something in the neighborhood of four years, $15 million, for better or worse.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Mason Officially Signs

As we've known for a while now, Desmond Mason will once again be a Buck next season, inking a very palatable two-year deal worth about $11 million. Underscoring just how young the Bucks are, the 29-year old Mason will be the Bucks elder statesman. He was officially unveiled today and everyone hugged and talked about how they didn't hate each other:

Milwaukee appeared to be the last place Mason would want to go, after his acrimonious parting when the Bucks dealt him to the Hornets in late October 2005, just before the start of the regular season.

Mason called Bucks general manager Larry Harris "a snake in the grass" at the time of the trade, but the forward said all has been forgiven.

"I was upset," Mason said. "The reason I was upset is we put our roots in the ground here; we were happy being here. It was tough for us to leave."

One reason it was difficult for Desmond and his wife, Andrea, to leave was due to the birth of their daughter, Jada. She was born in Milwaukee on Oct. 5, 2005, just a few weeks before the family was uprooted to join the Hornets in Oklahoma City.

"I thought what I was doing was in the best interests of the team, to win right now," Harris said of the deal which brought center Jamaal Magloire to the Bucks. "I just think it says a lot for Desmond to be able to accept what happened two years ago and be able to come back with open arms.

"When those statements were made, I knew it was out of emotion."
The possibility of Mason returning was first mentioned by his agent to Gery Woelfel in May, and you immediately had the feeling that the Bucks could very well end up bringing Mason back in spite of the opportunities they would have at going after more expensive FAs like Gerald Wallace and Andres Nocioni. While he's not a great player by any stretch of the imagination, he's a proven character guy whose signing will likely create some buzz among casual fans who fondly recall his earlier high-wire stint with the Bucks. Don't doubt that Herb Kohl wasn't the driving force behind this acquisition, as Mason is exactly the sort of person and player who will give the Bucks a PR boost without costing top free agent dollars. Desmond's return also speaks highly for Milwaukee as it continues its slow push to signing Yi Jianlian, with Desmond noting the less-than-excited feelings he had when he first was traded to the Bucks:
“It was the same scenario for us,’’ said Mason, who met with members of the media Monday morning at the Cousins Center after signing a two-year, $10.4 million contract with the Bucks. “We didn’t necessarily know if Milwaukee was a great place for us.

“When we got traded here, we were in the Pfister Hotel and it was snowing sideway. I mean the snow was coming down so hard. I was like, ‘I can’t believe we’re here in Milwaukee. This is crazy.

“(But) after we found our niche and got our home and got into the community, we realized what a great place it was here. There are many great opportunities.’’
Mo Williams' new deal is expected to be announced at a press conference tomorrow, and he's happy to have Desmond back in town.
"I remember during the season, Mo was commenting that he was missing his 'lob guy,'" Harris said. "I don't know who he was referring to. When Desmond agreed to come back, I called Michael, who was ecstatic. Michael said he got his 'road dog' back.

"When I told Mo, he said, 'I got my lob guy back.' The electricity in the building will be back. Ruben (Patterson) did a tremendous job for us last year, but I think we've upgraded our situation. We're bringing back a guy who was a leader in his short amount of time with us. He understands what his niche in the league is. What you see is what you get, and it's pretty good."
Road dog? Lob guy? I'm going to remember those.

Desmond Mason is good at dunking basketballs.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Redd in Team USA Scrimmage

Michael Redd scored 17 points in Team White's 105-104 loss to Team Blue in the first USA Basketball scrimmage before next month's Tournament of the Americas. Coming off the bench, Redd came out gunning immediately and ended up 6-15 from the field and 4-11 from three point range to go along with 3 rebounds and 2 assists in 20 minutes. Mike Miller started ahead of Redd and scored 22 points on 8-19 shooting in 25 minutes. Miller will likely be Redd's primary competition to be the designated three point specialist on Team USA.

Tim Donaghy and the Bucks

As soon as word leaked that the FBI was investigating NBA referee Tim Donaghy, every team's conspiracy theorists immediately began speculating how Donaghy may have screwed over their favorite team. If you're wondering if Donaghy may have had some impact on Bucks' games, you might be interested in knowing that Donaghy worked four Bucks games in 06/07 and three in 05/06, the period in which he's suspected of attempting to fix games.

The first thing to keep in mind with all of this is that it's difficult for a single referee in a team of three to obviously cause one team to lose, and let's not forget the Bucks spent the latter half of last season with...how do we say this...adverse incentives to win. So the odds of the Bucks being materially impacted by Donaghy are minimal. In Donaghy's games the past two seasons the Bucks were 3-4 overall and 1-4-2 against the spread (according to covers.com).

Bucks @ Cavs -6 (99-109)
Bucks @ Pacers -7 (129-136)
Bucks -3 vs. Clips (103-104)
Bucks -6 vs. Hawks (102-96)

Bucks @ Nets -8.5 (110-96)
Bucks @ Clips -5 (85-109)
Bucks -11.5 vs. Blazers (97-93)

It's also important that Donaghy was supposedly working to influence point spreads and not game outcomes, which makes it harder to gauge his effect. And we don't know exactly which side of the action he might have been on in any given game, if at all. If one game does stand out among the games Donaghy worked, it's the 136-129 loss to the Pacers last season. The Bucks staged an improbable comeback to tie the game in the last 30 seconds and forced a second overtime in spite of four Bucks fouling out--Mo Williams, Andrew Bogut, Brian Skinner, and Jared Reiner. The Pacers shot 54 free throws to the Bucks' 38.

What the Voskuhl Signing Means

Jake Voskuhl was officially unveiled on Friday. He signed a one-year deal worth $3 million, certainly not a bargain for a backup big man (as the eternal optimist, I refuse to use the word "stiff"). Voskuhl had signed a two year deal for $4 million with the Bobcats last summer, but the second year was a player option and he took advantage of it by signing with the Bucks for about a million more. With the official announcement of Desmond Mason's signing coming on Monday, the Bucks will be mostly done with signing outside free agents--they'll only be able to sign free agents using the minimum exception. They will still be able to use Bird rights to re-sign Mo Williams and Charlie Bell while the rookie exception allows them to sign Yi Jianlian and Ramon Sessions.

The move signaled the Bucks' intent not to re-sign Brian Skinner, who had started 44 games last year after being reacquired in the Jamaal Magloire/Steve Blake trade. To make room for Voskuhl the Bucks renounced their Bird rights to Skinner, who now could only be brought back on a minimum contract (assuming the Mason signing eats up the rest of the Bucks' cap space, which is a near lock). All things being equal it would appear the Bucks would have preferred to bring Skinner back, as he did a decent job as Bogut's bodyguard, often accepting the chore of guarding opposing team's best big men. But the rumors are he wanted a multi-year deal that the Bucks simply weren't interested in.

Further complicating the situation is that the Bucks' big man rotation is currently being held hostage by the continued uncertainty over Yi Jianlian. Going after a potential starter like Darko Milicic or Anderson Varejao would have added much needed depth and insurance against Yi forcing a trade, but also would have given Yi and his reps the ability to question the Bucks as a fit for a player whose number one priority is getting NBA experience ahead of the '08 Beijing Olympics. The fact that Yi would immediately be relied on as the Bucks' backup PF is one of the Bucks' best negotiating chips. It appears the Bucks never seriously were interested in Milicic or Varejao, and that they've never wavered from their stated belief that Yi would be on the team. It's that sort of determination which makes it very likely the Bucks win their stare-down with Yi and his wranglers, but it may be a little while before it becomes official.

The Voskuhl signing is also a signal of the Bucks' confidence in Charlie Villanueva, or at least their willingness to see what they have in the third-year forward. Voskuhl played about a quarter of his minutes last year at PF, so he can provide some relief there, but as of now the Bucks have only Villanueva, Yi and the Damir Markota Experience as natural PFs. Yi remains something of a question mark obviously while Markota is junk. Ruben Patterson and Ersan Ilyasova provided depth at PF last year and will not be back. Bobby Simmons could provide some minutes at PF but his health has yet to be proven. So it appears Villanueva will have every opportunity to prove to the Bucks they have their PF of the future regardless of whether Yi ever puts on a Bucks uniform.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Ersan in Barcelona

Ersan Ilyasova officially signed with Barcelona yesterday on a two-year deal. The Bucks will retain his early Bird rights so long as they don't withdraw his $945k qualifying offer, meaning they will have first dibs on him should he return to the NBA in two years. Ilyasova's deal is rumored to be worth a tax-free €2.5 million per season, which means the Bucks would have needed something in the ballpark of $5 million per season to match it on a net basis, a hefty sum for a player not guaranteed to see regular minutes (insert Jake Voskuhl joke here). He should see plenty of action in Barcelona next season under new coach Dusko Ivanovic.

Yi Watch: Day 22

As promised, the contradictions keep coming out of China.

  • The Guangdong Tigers are disputing quotes attributed to owner Chen Haitao, claiming the the interview didn't happen.

    Liu Hongjiang, a club vice president, said club officials had not talked with the newspaper.

    "The reporter never interviewed anyone at the club," Liu told the Associated Press. "The reporter used second-hand information he heard somewhere."

    Liu said he spoke later with the reporter and "expressed strong anger."

    "The club supports Yi playing in the NBA and is very willing to work with the Bucks," Liu said. "We are waiting for any chance to cooperate with the Bucks."Liu said he believes Milwaukee is "not a suitable team for Yi, but this is not the same thing as saying he will not play with Milwaukee."

  • Larry Krystkowiak was interviewed by Lance Allan of TMJ4.
    Talking with TMJ4's Lance Allan, Krystkowiak says it's unfortunate that "we've got a couple of individuals who are trying to manufacture something that's not there, and truly putting the cart before the horse and thinking about marketing dollars when he needs to get in and play."

    Krystkowiak adds, "the funny thing is the comment I read, they didn't feel like he'd have an opportunity to play because it's too competitive here. I'm thinking there's not a team in the NBA out of 30 teams that you can get into and have more of an opportunity."
  • China Daily did another interview with team owner Chen.
    When asked "What choice should Yi Jianlian make if the Bucks insist on no trading?" Chen thought for a moment before answering, "the only way out is negotiation. As for final decision, I really have no answer."

    However, Chen suggested the media should not oppose Yi's agent team against the Bucks and denied he's in bad relationship with the Bucks.

    "The National Basketball Association is a sort of business where people negotiate on set platform with set rules," Chen said. "There's no opposition between us and we respect each other. "Now it's the phase in which everybody express opinions, not like what some people think."

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Jake Voskuhl and Desmond Mason Flying to Milwaukee

Desmond Mason and Jake Voskuhl are rumored to be flying to Milwaukee tomorrow to finalize contracts. The Mason deal has been rumored for days, while the Voskuhl signing is a little out of the blue, but this is from the same source who broke the Magloire/Blake trade before anyone else, so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. Besides, who would make up a rumor about a Jake Voskuhl signing?

In any case, the 6'11", 255 pound Voskuhl provides a warm body to back up the 5/4, which would seemingly make a Brian Skinner re-signing less likely. The book on Voskuhl is that he's not particularly good at basketball, but he's less worse at defense than he is at offense, which should be some consolation given the Bucks' defensive woes. He's been around the block a while, having played with the Bulls, Suns and Bobcats since breaking into the league in 2000. He's basically just a guy, but if Yi signs and everyone remains healthy he won't be needed much anyway. His agent is Mark Bartelstein, who also reps Mo Williams and Charlie Bell.

UPDATE: ESPN is reporting Voskuhl's deal is for $3 million for one year, which is absolutely befuddling. Seriously, that's what Jake Voskuhl gets to be a towel-waver? I've never been more bitter that I'm not a foot taller.

The only bright side of this is that it appears the Bucks wouldn't have cap space to give Desmond Mason more than about $5.15 million as a starting salary in his deal, so at least that contract won't have a ridiculous starting salary. Let's just hope it's not for more than two or three years.

Assuming this maxes out the Bucks cap space, the Bucks would still be able to go over the cap to sign Charlie Bell using their Early Bird rights, and Yi and Ramon Sessions can also be signed using the rookie exceptions. All other signings would have to be for the minimum however.

Lost in Translation?

I've been holding off on posting about the latest developments in the Yi Jianlian saga because there's been speculation that the latest firestorm--surrounding comments attributed to Guangdong Tigers owner Chen Haitao--may have bogus origins. Supposedly Chen said Yi would return to the Tigers next year if the Bucks didn't trade him, in spite of the fact that Tigers reps have in the past few weeks dismissed this very possibility. Curiously he cited a lack of playing time and not the small-market stature of Milwaukee as the main concern, which immediately makes him either a liar or a fool, given playing time is one thing the Bucks of all teams can guarantee. All indications are the Tigers have a significant financial stake in Yi's future earnings, and therefore want him in the NBA next year, though they'd prefer a bigger market. Chinese basketball officials meanwhile are desperate for Yi to play in the NBA ahead of the '08 Olympics in Beijing, but it's a little unclear how much sway they have over the Tigers.

The first doubts over the story's truth were suggested by a couple Chinese posters on RealGM who said Chen had already denied the quotes in the Chinese media, and the JS is now also reporting that Guangdong vice chairman Liu Hong Xinjiang was later quoted saying "Yi could eventually wear a Bucks uniform." And now Aran Smith of NBADraft.net is also picking up on the questionable validity of the original story:

A bogus news story was released in China on Tuesday that Yi Jianlian's Chinese agent and Guangdong Tigers chief Chen Haitao said that Yi would "definitely not" play for the Milwaukee Bucks. The report has been denied by Chen himself plus a Guangdong Tiger's VP who responded with two words - "BS".

Apparently some media sources in China don't care if their reports are not factually accurate as long as they generate interest.

Most amazing is that the report was picked up by numerous AP news sources all over the web and and was given credibility when in fact the story is unsubstantiated.
Of course if the Tigers were "blocking" the move it would actually make some sense, as it would put pressure on the Bucks while allowing the Tigers to bear the brunt of media pressure making Yi look more like an innocent bystander. Amid the controversy Yi has come under increased scrutiny both here and in China, a dangerous proposition for someone whose value is so closely tied to maintaining a marketable image. His wranglers have attempted to keep Yi insulated from the issue by not allowing him to speak publicly on the matter while his agents work behind the scenes, though it's unclear how much they can do given that without the Bucks' permission, any team they talk to about a trade could be charged with tampering.

It's also unclear how unified the Yi camp is, as a number of parties have some influence over the situation but each have their own motives. The rumor is that Guangdong hired agent Dan Fegan without Yi ever meeting him, and that they have an agreement over how they will divvy up Yi's various endorsements in the US and China. So if Guangdong and Fegan are in roughly the same boat you'd think Guangdong would be eager to bolster Fegan's bargaining power with a threat to bring Yi back to China next year. Up until now that hasn't been the case, and regardless of their public stance all indications are that the Tigers stand to gain much more from allowing Yi to enter the NBA. Same holds true for Fegan, though if he was hired based on a promise to steer Yi to a big market then he's not likely to be caving to the Bucks demands while he still has time to play chicken. Hence the speculation that Yi's camp could fire Fegan in order to win themselves a scapegoat. Even if Yi does go back to play in China the Bucks would retain his rights, so he would have to sit out and play no professional basketball for a year in order to enter the draft again. Which really doesn't appear to be in anyone's interest.

There's also the added complexity of the 2008 Olympics being in China, which has made Chinese basketball officials and the general public there especially concerned that Yi play in the NBA next year. The prospect of another year playing in China against inferior opposition will do him little good developmentally, especially given that he's most likely 22 and not 19. The Chinese are long-shots for a medal to begin with, and Yi's unwillingness to play for the Bucks would only hurt their chances.

Oh, and what does Yi want? On the one hand many suggest he really doesn't care that much and is simply desperate to play in the NBA, even if it is in Milwaukee. His comments after the draft didn't sound like a player dead set against coming to Wisconsin, and even if he's in agreement with his camp's current course of action Yi has never been to Wisconsin. He doesn't "know" that he'll dislike playing for the Bucks. If Yi was an NBA vet who had visited Milwaukee and knew other players who had played here, then you would have to strongly consider his disinterest in the town. But that's not the case. We don't really even know what Yi thinks about playing here, and if even if we did it's worth considering that the kid only knows about Milwaukee what his wranglers have told him.

Stateside fans have consistently shown a willingness to look past rookie malcontents--nobody talks about John Elway or Kobe Bryant being crybabies because of forcing trades as rookies--but I'm not sure whether the same holds true in China. Reading quotes from Chinese basketball officials and from Chinese fans, it's clear that there's a cultural angle that's probably difficult for the American media to fully grasp. Yi's biggest endorsement potential will be as a marketer of anything and everything in China, but his current act doesn't appear to be going over well with the Chinese public.

One thing everyone involved has? Some time. The Bucks don't open camp until October 1, and Yi has national team commitments for the next month or so. There's little reason for Yi's camp to give in unless public pressure becomes so intense that they're concerned Yi's marketability will suffer. If there really was no way Yi was willing to play in Milwaukee then they'd hold a press conference and Yi would say as much--you think the Bucks would hold firm if Yi himself said in front of a packed room of reported that he never was going to play for the Bucks? The Yi camp is obviously very concerned with shielding him from looking like the bad guy, and probably realize that they aren't in a position to burn their bridges in Milwaukee. So expect to wait, and in the meantime expect there to be lots of chatter, much of which will be lost in translation.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Free Agency Continued

  • Charles Gardner and the JS pick up on the Desmond Mason negotiations, but nothing that Woelfel didn't already report last night.
  • The unsubstantiated chatter is that the Desmond Mason deal being discussed would be for two years; nothing official on that front yet though and the dollar figure is still a question mark. While I doubt there's a huge market for Desmond--plenty of swingmen are still out there--the fact that both sides sound so optimistic suggests that it has to be a pretty good deal for Desmond. And if it's only two years in length--at 29 Desmond would certainly prefer a longer deal--then I have to guess it's going to be for at least the MLE (more than $11 million over two seasons). Not exactly a bargain for a guy like Mason, but at least it wouldn't be a long-term deal and he'd have value in the second year if only as an expiring contract to use in a trade. Something tells me it's going to end up being a three year deal when all is said and done, but maybe I'm just being paranoid.
  • Ilyasova's deal is being reported in the Spanish press as a two year deal with a player option for the third, which would mean the Bucks could bring back a more seasoned Ersan as Desmond's contract is expiring if it's of the same length. We'll see if the deals actually end up being so conveniently structured.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Ersan Officially Gone; Desmond Officially Back?

Desmond Mason will likely be flying in Milwaukee next year

So no less than twenty minutes after I write about Ersan probably leaving and Desmond Mason being a strong possibility of returning, Gery Woelfel gives official word that Ersan is gone and Desmond is all but a lock to be back. While it would have been nice to see Ersan develop in Milwaukee, the terms of his reported Barcelona offer would have been difficult for the Bucks to match and they will retain his RFA rights so long as they don't renounce his $945k qualifying offer, which will continue to count against the cap. There have also been rumors that the Bucks might have first suggested Ersan go to Europe, as his opportunity to play would be increased while the Bucks would retain his NBA Early Bird rights.

As for Desmond, the PR angle is very valuable to the Bucks, as the casual fan will no doubt appreciate the return of an exciting player who was also a great citizen off the court. Most of us on the RealGM board think Desmond's defense was always overrated, perhaps in part due to playing more at SF than SG, but it looks like the Bucks will play up Desmond's defensive abilities if/when he does sign:

Mason, 29, was a highly-popular figure during his time with the Bucks. He is one of the league's most athletic and entertaining players. His biggest asset as a player, though, is his defensive abilities. The 6-foot-5 is capable of guarding shooting guards and small and big forwards.

Jimmy Eyen, a former Bucks and current Los Angeles Clippers assistant coach, said he regards Mason as one of the premier defenders in the game.

"He brings a lot to the table, especially with his defense,'' said Eyey, who was at the Las Vegas summer league. ''I consider him to be one of the best defensive players in the league.

"He plays hard every night; he brings it every game, and that's a big part of being a good defender.''

On a team that was arguably the worst defensive team in the NBA last season, Mason instantly igures to be the Bucks' best defender. But while Mason is held in high regard for his defense by league officials, he is also a competent offensive player.
Of course, Desmond's respectable scoring numbers obscure that he's become an increasingly inefficient player, as John Hollinger recently pointed out:
Finally, it wouldn't be free-agent season without agents' making crazy proclamations about their players' value. So today, let me bring you this gem from Desmond Mason's agent, Roger Montgomery, courtesy of John Reid in today's New Orleans Times Picayune: "Montgomery said he was seeking a deal assuring that Mason would be paid his market value, which he said is more than the $8 million he made last season."

Um, 8 million what? Pesos? Ringgit? Hungarian forints? Surely he didn't mean U.S. dollars, did he?

Mason is a good athlete but he shoots like he's been handcuffed and has slumped badly the past two years -- he's put up PERs of 9.26 and 10.85. Also, he's entirely dependent on his athleticism and he's about to turn 30 ... historically, that's been a terrible combination. But by all means, let's pony up over $40 million over the next five years for the guy.

Sorry, but I'd be shocked if Mason got half that amount, even in this wackadoo market.
Let's hope the Bucks' offer for Desmond doesn't shock Hollinger too badly, though given the Bucks' cap space they unfortunately have the ability to do just that. The sentimentalist in me can't help but smile at the idea of Desmond returning to Milwaukee, but let's hope it's for no longer than three years at no more than $5 million or so (notice in the span of an hour I've already become more tolerant of Desmond getting overpaid by the Bucks).


As the Yi Watch reaches day 19, Woelfel also notes that there is increasing speculation that Dan Fegan could be out as Yi's agent, which would be welcome news to the Bucks. It's been roundly speculated that Fegan was chosen to rep Yi by promising to deliver him to a "desirable" location, but clearly his pre-draft strategy of freezing out teams like the Bucks failed. I'm not sure his firing would immediately pave the way for Yi to sign with the Bucks, but it would certainly seem a step in the right direction given Yi, the Guangdong Tigers, the CBA and the Chinese public all want Yi in the NBA next year.
The Bucks may take another step toward enhancing their relationship with Yi Jianlian, their No. 1 draft choice in the next couple of weeks. There has been talk that Harris and player personnel director Dave Babcock may fly to China to meet with the talented 7-footer, along with his family and officials of the Guangdong Ducks. ... Speaking of Yi, some league people believe Dan Fegan's day of representing Yi are numbered. The scuttlebutt in Las Vegas Sunday was that Chinese officials involved with Yi's situation are becoming increasingly unhappy with Fegan's role in not being able to get him placed with a team in a major market with a large Chinese population.

And oh yeah, the Bucks' summer league squad lost to the Wiz 79-67 in their final game in Vegas. Ramon Sessions started in place of Lynn Greer (who sat out) and put up 10/3/3, while David Noel had 12. The Damir Markota Experience (which no doubt brought Vegas to its knees these past couple weeks) added 8/5/3 with a healthy 5 turnovers.

Ersan to Barcelona?

With Mo Williams on the verge of re-signing, Larry Harris and company are turning their attentions to the team's two restricted free agents, Charlie Bell and Ersan Ilyasova. As I mentioned last week I don't think there's much chance another NBA team steals either player away, as the Bucks would have the right to match any offer and it could not be for more than the MLE. However, European clubs have been chasing Ersan and one Turkish site is reporting that FC Barcelona have agreed to a two year, 5 million Euro deal (net of taxes, about $7 million). No one seems to be able to find anything in the American or Spanish press about this, which means it could be just an offer or speculation, but the paper even quotes Ersan talking about playing in Spain next year.

Barcelona is losing Juan Carlos Navarro to the NBA, so they likely want to add a big name forward to their roster, but as of now nothing is on their website nor is the story being picked up by the Barcelona-based sports tabloid El Mundo Deportivo. The Bucks would have a hard time making Ersan an offer of the same magnitude--they would need something on the order of $5 million per season to match Barca's offer in net of tax terms. That's likely not a justifiable number for a youngster who's sill not a lock to crack the top eight of the rotation, and the Bucks will retain the right to match any offer for Ersan up to the MLE if/when he decides to return to the NBA. I am a little skeptical of the story given it hasn't been picked up here or in Spain, so I won't give up hope of Ersan being a Buck next season quite yet.

As for the Bucks' other free agent options, the Charlie Bell discussions will likely heat up this week now that his agent Mark Bartelstein is done negotiating Mo's deal with the Bucks. I suspect Bartelstein will try to find some other team willing to offer Charlie more than $4 million per season in order to get some leverage against the Bucks, but we'll see. That type of offer would likely come from a team like the Lakers or Cavs which could use CB as a defensive PG. As of now it's not exactly clear who is in the market for him, though.

As far as outside free agents, Desmond Mason looks like the most probable option, which is something of a disappointment when you consider how much cap space the Bucks had entering the offseason. Still, you can never expect to be able to lure a guy like Gerald Wallace, and after him and Andres Nocioni it drops off quickly. Mason was last seen comically overvaluing his services with the Hornets, reportedly demanding $8 million per year. Mason is an average NBA player at best who has declined since his days with the Bucks, so it'd be a mistake for anyone to give him the MLE, but it's the NBA so who knows. His shooting from the field and line has mysteriously taken a big hi the past few seasons, which is a bad sign for a 29-year old who relies mainly on his athleticism. Signing with the Bucks is a strong possibility, as the novelty of a returning former fan favorite and all around good guy certainly seems like the kind of move Herb Kohl could get behind, and the bad blood behind Mason's exit from Milwaukee appears to have been smoothed over (for the sake of economics at least).

As a sixth man he can still provide value as well, and if Ilyasova is gone the Bucks' need for depth at the 3 will be even more acute. I think Desmond's more of a natural 2, but don't count on him playing much at Mike Redd's position, especially if Bell is back as well. I guess I'd be OK with a two-year deal for $8 million (total), but I also wouldn't be surprised if the Bucks get suckered into something close to the MLE. If that happens I'll just watch this over and over until I completely forget how atrocious Desmond's jump shot has become.

If you're wondering why Ruben Patterson's name hasn't been mentioned much, the rumor from insiders is that the Bucks have no interest in bringing him back. What's unclear is whether that's a basketball decision (Ruben was one of the Bucks' best players last year but is a somewhat disruptive player offensively and has a rep for ignoring schemes on both ends of the floor) or an off court decision (in spite of his apparent good behavior last year, he's still a convicted felon who has a history of creating problems when he doesn't get enough minutes). My guess is that it's a combination of both, but I have not heard the whole story. And to top things off, his agent is currently the Bucks' biggest off court nemesis, Dan Fegan. Yes, the guy repping Yi Jianlian.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Mo Williams Gets 6 years, $52 million

Well, it's done. The Bucks avoided the PR disaster of losing Mo Williams to the Heat for the MLE but had to pony up big time, giving him a six year, $52 million deal likely with an opt-out after four years and player option for the sixth season. I had guessed $45 million over five years, so at $8.67 million per season it's fairly palatable if Mo can continue to improve on his breakout season last year.

That said, the early termination option and sixth year player option increase the value to Mo since he can look for a bigger deal if he continues to improve or take the money if he's a disappointment. For that reason it will be interesting to see how the deal is structured. So long as the Bucks, Mo, and his agent don't announce the terms the Bucks will still be able to use their cap space on free agents, though it's looking increasingly likely that they will not go after any big names. If the Bucks' deal for Williams were to be announced officially they'd still have the MLE to spend on free agents.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Mo Williams Update

Charles Gardner reports the Bucks could be close to a deal with Mo Williams. The latest word is that the Bucks have offered a six-year, $51 million deal, which works out to slightly more per season than the previous five-year, $42 million offer from a couple days ago. If the contract includes max raises then the longer deal would actually have a slightly lower starting salary, and it's possible there could be an early termination provision as well.

UPDATE (on the update): Gery Woelfel is also reporting Williams is closing in on a deal with the Bucks. He figures six years, $48 million, but doesn't mention the reported five year, $42 million offer the Bucks supposedly made on Thursday.

Mark Bartelstein, the agent for thetalented young point guard, said he expects a contract could be signed soon.

"We're geting close to doing something,'' Bartelstein said in a telephone interview Friday night. "It's been a process, but I think there's a good chance something could be done in the next couple of days.''

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Friday Bucks Notes

  • The Bucks took down the Hornets 72-58 in Vegas. Rookie PG Ramon Sessions had 11 points (including a pair of dunks), 4 rebounds and 4 assists while Lynn Greer chipped in 15 (and no assists). The Damir Markota Experience contributed 12/8/4.
  • The Mo Williams watch continues with some suggesting he's leaning towards the Bucks but nothing official yet.
  • The Yi Jianlian watch continues into its 16th day, with no resolution likely for a while. The Chinese team has a number of games left this summer so Yi will continue to hope for a trade while the Bucks wait. His camp seems content to wait things out for now, which isn't surprising given training camp doesn't start until October 1st. Until then there's nothing to be gained in practical terms by signing, except for some goodwill from Bucks fans (unfortunately not a compelling reason in all likelihood). But I don't buy for a second that they want to hold him out for a year so he can be in the '08 draft. He'd get murdered in PR terms back home for not preparing for the '08 games, he AND his club team would lose a ton of money by not playing at all, and he'd also hurt his own development a great deal. It just doesn't make sense. Don't be surprised if we're stuck in a holding pattern until late September.

Thursday Bucks Notes

Charles Gardner reports Mo Williams is still undecided. Gardner reports Mo is leaning towards a four or five year deal with the Bucks, while Marc Stein said in Chad Ford's podcast yesterday that he was leaning towards Miami. The latest rumor is that the Bucks bumped up their offer slightly to between $40-45 million.

I had guessed that would be the offer a while ago, but figured they wouldn't try to play hardball once the Mo-to-Miami rumors picked up steam. I think the longer this stretches out the better it is for the Bucks' chances of bringing Mo back. If he really wanted to take less to go to Miami he could have already done that, as their offer isn't changing, and I really doubt the Bucks and Heat can work out a sign-and-trade. It would be something of a PR disaster to lose Mo even if he's not the perfect fit for the team. To keep their cap space the Bucks cannot publicly announce the terms of the deal, though they could say that a deal had been reached and then hope Mark Bartelstein doesn't leak the terms. In all likelihood it won't matter given the major free agents are now off the market.


The Bucks' summer league team took down the Durant-less Sonics 92-85, as Lynn Greer went off for 19 and 8 assists and Noel Felix had 27. Felix is a 6'9", 225 lb PF who had a cup of coffee with the Sonics two years ago and is known more for his defensive abilities. He played with Maccabi Tel Aviv last year. And I'd be remiss if I didn't note that the Damir Markota Experience chipped in 14 points on a very tidy 5-6 shooting.


Yi Jianlian struggled again in China's 80-52 loss to the Celtics. He was just 1-5 from the field with 7 points, 5 rebounds and 2 blocks. He's shown enough flashes of his offensive potential that I'm not all that concerned with his struggles from the field. The Chinese guards are horrendous so he's rarely getting the ball in good position, and when he does his shot's just not falling. The main thing I've been concerned with is his lack of tenacity on the glass, which has been true of the Chinese team as a whole. They really don't fight for rebounds and frequently get the ball torn out of their hands. I have been very pleased with Yi's ability to challenge shots above the rim--he's had a number of terrific blocks. Which is nice given we had no one who did that last year.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Wednesday Bucks Notes

  • Sean Deveney at the Sporting News offers probably the best summary yet of the Yi situation.
    Sources tell me that Yi did not pick his own agent -- instead, the Tigers did what the Sharks tried to do to Yao Ming and pick his agent for him. Yao resisted. Yi did not (or, at least, if he tried to resist, he was not successful). The Tigers picked Fegan and he became Yi's agent, a source told me, without ever having met Yi.

    Just imagine the scenario, then. The Tigers interview agents, and one of their first questions is sure to be, "So, how much of a buyout can you give us?" The team is mostly owned privately, and they knew they could make some real money off of Yi. Fegan is a very slick and accomplished agent. It would only make sense that he would assume he could manipulate the league and promise the Tigers to deliver Yi to a big market with a large Chinese community, where he could make serious endorsement dollars. The Tigers, of course, would get a big slice of those endorsements.

    Milwaukee is the fly in the ointment for Fegan and the Tigers. That's why Fegan did not allow Yi to work out for the Bucks -- if the Bucks actually liked Yi and drafted him, how would Fegan explain that to the folks in Guangdong? That also explains why Fegan has been vocal about trade possibilities.

  • The salary cap was officially set at $55.63 million for 2007/2008, meaning the Bucks have slightly more cap room than my previous estimates suggested. Also of note is that the MLE is slightly lower than expected, about $5.356 million. That means Miami's MLE offer for Mo Williams would be about $17 million for a three year deal and $31 million for a five year deal. It would seem likely that the Heat would offer a five year deal with a player option to leave after three, since at that time the Heat could re-sign him regardless of their cap situation. (EDIT: teams can't offer an early termination option after 3 years on a 5 year deal, but it could be a 3 year deal with a player option for the fourth year)
  • It's also worth noting that because the free agency moratorium is now over, any verbal agreements immediately count against the cap. This is significant, because if Mo announces today that he's re-signing with the Bucks they will effectively be unable to pursue any of the remaining big name free agents with their $8 million in cap space. That said, Gerald Wallace and Darko Milicic are the only guys who fall into that category and neither appeared likely to be coming to Milwaukee. Still, it's an interesting quirk of the salary cap. Two years ago the Bucks reached a verbal agreement with Michael Redd to re-sign for the max during the moratorium, meaning that the deal did not count against the cap until the paperwork was officially submitted (Redd's comparatively small $6 million cap hold did count until then). The Bucks then used their space to sign Bobby Simmons. Because the Bucks did not reach an agreement with Mo during the moratorium, the same rules don't apply. One thing I'm not clear of is whether the NBA would care if Mo simply didn't say anything until the Bucks were done free agent shopping. I'm guessing that would be a way around the situation, so if Mo doesn't make an announcement in the coming days it might actually be a good sign. Oh, and I'll stick to my prediction of Mo re-signing for five years, $45 million.
  • Chinese fans are on the Bucks' side in the Yi mess.
  • Yi was a complete non-factor against the Knicks' summer league team last night, scoring just 3 points in China's 88-65 loss. He was 0-6 from the field and 3-4 from the line along with only two rebounds. The lone highlight was when he swatted consecutive shots in the paint, though for some reason the box score didn't credit him with any blocks. That's summer league for you.
  • The Bucks play the Sonics in Vegas tonight at 8:30 ET/7:30 CT

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Free Agency Update

So with all the Yi stuff I've been somewhat ignoring the Bucks' free agency situation, but as of yet no deals appear to be imminent with either our own other team's free agents. Gery Woelfel reports Larry Harris called both Gerald Wallace and Desmond Mason when the clock struck midnight on July 1st, but the latest on Wallace is that he's close to re-signing with the Bobcats for upwards of $60 million. More importantly, the Bucks are continuing their discussions with Mark Bartelstein, the agent for both Mo Williams and Charlie Bell. As of now the Bucks have about $7.5 million in cap space when you include the small cap holds for Mo, Bell and Ersan as well as the rookie slot for Yi Jianlian (unsigned first rounders count against the cap, while unsigned second rounders do not). Ramon Sessions has evidently not signed so he won't count against the cap until he does. This assumes a $55 million salary cap, which won't be official until Wednesday. Last year's cap was a shade over $53 million, so most expect the cap to be in the $55-56 million range. That $7.5 million starting salary translated into a maximum possible deal of 5-years and $43.6 million that the Bucks could offer another team's free agent.


As Charles Gardner reports, Williams is facing a difficult decision between the Bucks and Heat. The Bucks are the only team realistically able to offer Mo more than an MLE-type deal (about $5.5 million starting salary), so given Chauncey Billups is re-signing in Detroit the Bucks should be heavy favorites to re-sign him. It's been reported the Bucks have offered Mo a 5-year, $40 million deal, which sounds about right given what players like Kirk Hinrich (5 years, $47.5 million) and TJ Ford (4 years, $33 million) signed for. Mo has reportedly been talking to Miami about a deal starting at the MLE (probably around $5.5 million to start, up to $32 million over 5 years), but the Bucks' offers would be about $2 million per year more. So expect a more likely to deal to be a three-year offer at the full MLE or a five-year deal with an opt-out after three years, which would then also allow Mo to have the option of re-signing with the Heat regardless of their cap situation.

Having played the last three seasons in Milwaukee, the Bucks retain Mo's "Bird rights," so while he is an unrestricted free agent the Bucks have a major advantage in that they can offer him a larger starting salary, bigger annual raises (10.5% vs. 8%) and a longer deal (six years vs. five). With Orlando signing Rashard Lewis, Charlotte having space but not needing a point guard, and Memphis having just drafted Mike Conley 4th overall, no team with cap space has reason to sign Mo. An MLE deal with Miami could be tempting, but the Bucks' can always offer more money and it certainly seems Mo is comfortable in Milwaukee.

The only other option would be for the Bucks to sign Mo to a contract above the MLE and then trade him to a team over the cap like Miami for some combination of players and/or picks. Would Miami be interested enough in Mo to offer Jason Williams' expiring deal and a 1st rounder for the right to sign Mo to a big contract? I'd have to think so, though the bigger question is whether the Bucks would be ready to give up on Mo. Even with Mo signed to a big contract he'd probably be pretty movable given his relative youth, so overpaying slightly for his services doesn't leave you stuck with him for years to come. So if the Bucks eventually change their mind and feel Mo is not the answer at the point you could still get something for him next summer.

I'm guessing the Miami speculation is at least in part an opportunity for Mo to increase his leverage, though their interest seems genuine and the appeal of playing with Wade and Shaq in South Beach is obvious. It could come down to an interesting chess game: will the Heat and Mo offer the Bucks a sign-and-trade deal, and if the Bucks hesitate would Mo actually take the MLE offer instead? Young players almost never take less money to play for a better team, but this decision appears to be going down to the wire. Should Mo leave for nothing, the Bucks would have close to $11 million in cap space, meaning they could offer a max deal of 5 years, $63.4 million. However, who would they spend it on? Billups is going back to Detroit and no other PG is worth more than the MLE. As for non-PGs, Gerald Wallace is likely staying in Charlotte and Darko Milicic would be a huge gamble for anything more than $6-7 million per.


Bell has been working out in Milwaukee and appears highly likely to re-sign, all the more so if Mo bolts for South Florida. The team has asked him to work on his point guard skills over the summer, in large part due to the uncertainty over the Mo Williams situation. As a veteran free agent with three or fewer seasons played, Bell (like Ersan Ilyasova) is an "Early Bird" free agent, meaning that while Bell is free to sign an offer sheet for as much as the MLE with any team, the Bucks would have one week to match the deal and can go over the cap to do so. It's difficult to say what exactly the market for Bell will be--he'd likely be most valuable as a PG because of his size and defense, but he's barely played that position the past two seasons. Offering Bell an MLE deal would be risky since the offer sheet would prevent another team from offering the MLE to another player for the week in which the Bucks have to decided whether or not to match it.

Re-signing Mo and also having PGs Lynn Greer and 2nd rounder Ramon Sessions on the roster probably means Bell would continue to see most of his minutes at the 2, especially with no other obvious backups for Michael Redd on the roster. I think playing him there diminishes his value somewhat, so I'm hoping that the Bucks might be able to keep Bell for three years and $10-12 million. We've seen guys like Jason Kapono (5 years, full MLE) and Matt Carroll (6 years, $27 million) get long deals to essentially be role players, and I'm not crazy about that philosophy. You do need good role players, but it's those types that you can find in the D-League or abroad for next to nothing. One of Larry Harris' strengths has been finding relatively unknown players like Bell, Mo and Lynn Greer, so the Bucks have a track record of succeeding in that respect. I think you overpay for guys who aren't easily replaceable--Redd, eventually Bogut--so while a 5 year deal averaging $4 million for Bell wouldn't be atrocious, it just seems like an unnecessary financial commitment for a guy that you should be able to replace for less.

Re-signing Bell would clearly take on added importance should Mo Williams leave for Miami, a fact that would no doubt not be lost on Bell and Williams' agent Mark Bartelstein. But it would also finally give Bell a chance to contribute as a starting PG, so he'd also have a better chance to earn his paycheck. The debate over whether Bell might be a better fit to run the Bucks has been a long debate over on the Bucks' RealGM board, with Bell proponents pointing out his excellent size and defensive potential against opposing PGs. And while he's not a creator off the dribble, he's a good spot-up shooter who could blend in well with the Bucks' talented offensive weapons by simply bringing the ball up and getting out of the way. Still, going from a Mo/Bell PG rotation to a Bell/Greer/Sessions rotation would no doubt be a huge downgrade.


While it's unlikely another team makes an aggressive offer for Ersan, the bigger threat is the possibility Ersan returns to Europe, where he's already received a 3 year, $7.5 million offer to play for his former national team coach at Turkish club Fenerbahce. After spending his rookie year in the D-League, Ersan showed flashes of his potential last year but for the most part was as inconsistent as you'd expect a 19-year old Turkish rookie to be. He's reportedly bulked up seriously this offseason and now weighs over 240 lbs as he's been working out at the Cousins Center this summer ahead of playing in the European Championships.

I'm definitely optimistic that Ersan could become a useful rotation player this season, and his potential to be much more down the road would seem to warrant a deal worth in the ballpark of 2-3 years and $3 million per. However, European teams often pay players' taxes as well, meaning the offer from Fenerbahce could be worth much more than a similarly structured deal from the Bucks (note I have not seen anything confirming the $7.5 million number is net of taxes).

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Summer League Notes

Yi Jianlian's game-winner for China, set to snazzy new age music

Sunday Bucks Notes

  • The Bucks' summer league team plays for the first time today vs. the Lakers at 6 pm ET/5 pm CT. You can watch all the games on NBA.com's webcast.
  • Yi Jianlian followed up a strong showing in his Vegas debut by stinking it up against the Kings, shooting only 2-14 from the field en route to a 9 point, 7 rebound performance in China's 73-47 loss.
  • Marty Burns at CNNSI reports David Stern may become involved in the ongoing Yi saga. With the NBA looking to expand its already big business in China, Stern clearly wants to see the Yi situation resolved sooner rather than later. However, he clearly does not want to see one of his franchises bullied, as it would undermine the whole idea of the draft process.
    "I've heard he wants to get this resolved," said one Eastern Conference GM
    who wished to remain anonymous. "I'm not sure what he can do exactly, but I do know he has ways of getting what he wants."
  • The consensus among GMs seemed to be that Yi would end up in Milwaukee since both sides had too much at stake for any other outcome. The NBA has an obvious interest in protecting smaller-market teams from being shunned by draft picks. The Chinese government needs their young star in the NBA so that he's more ready to help his national team compete at the '08 Beijing Olympics.
  • If Stern were to get involved, he could wield considerable muscle. He could help assuage Yi's representatives that their client will get fair exposure in terms of marketing, for example. He also could talk to the Chinese government, since the NBA is heavily involved in promoting basketball in China and is planning to start a pro league there after the Olympics.
  • Charlies Gardner reports on Larry Krystkowiak's first chance to see Yi live. LK also talks a bit about how they've been running practices and getting he's getting to know the newest members of his staff.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Yi's Summer League Debut

Some video highlights from last night's China NT-Grizzlies summer league game, along with the blow-by-blow. Definitely a promising first outing for Yi, who showed off his athleticism, post fundamentals and mid-range abilities. Lots of fouls and turnovers, but he seemed to figure things out as the game went on. We've heard he's not a post guy, and while he might not be able to bull over guys down low he looks to have a strong core/base that he uses to establish position. Once he has the ball he can handle it and knows how to use fakes and pivots to get his shot. The potential to be a dynamic offensive player is definitely there.

1st Q

  • Got dunked on rotating too late to get Alexander Johnson.
  • Missed hook shot in the lane. Got it on the right block, two dribbles backing down but shot too strong.
  • Offensive foul on a moving screen.
  • Fouled Alexander Johnson going up after penetration.
  • Missed 16 footer in the left corner.
  • Perimeter pass picked off by Rudy Gay for breakaway dunk.
  • Offensive foul on a moving screen.
  • One dribble, jab step and step back 18-footer from the left corner.
  • Missed 20-footer with the shot clock expiring.
  • Drove right from the 3-point line, drawing blocking foul on Rod Benson, could have been offensive.
  • Fadeaway 12-foot jumper on the right baseline over Alex Johnson.
  • One-handed offensive rebound in traffic, fouled as he went back up. Made 1-2.
  • Knocked away and went off him last for a TO on the right wing.
  • Fouled getting position, made 2-2.
  • Missed turnaround left baseline.
2nd Q
  • Blocked shot on one end, ran the court, got the ball in the lane, fake, dribble, dunk and foul on Rudy Gay. Made 1-1.
  • Easy dunk after getting open inside.
  • Missed 16-footer catch and shoot in the left corner.
  • Loose ball foul going for the rebound.
  • Face up left wing, drives in, posts, almost loses ball on double, gets the roll on 10-foot fadeaway in the lane.
  • Fouled battling Alex Johnson in the post.
  • Got dunked on by Gay on ridiculous reverse.
  • Fouled Gay driving to the hoop.
3rd Q
  • Position in the paint turns right and fouled going for lefty glasser. Made 2-2.
  • Fouled getting position in the paint.
  • Gets position on right block, backs down and fouled going up after multiple fakes and pivots. Made 2-2.
  • With shot-clock running down he had his pocket picked for TO by Conley on double team.
  • Huge dunk after sealing off defender down low.
  • Missed baseline fadeaway on left as double came.
  • Fouled on right block while doubled.
4th Q
  • Gets it on the left block, turns into the lane but misses righty hook strong.
  • Tips away entry pass as Alex Johnson tries to seal him.
  • Spins and blows by Alex Johnson right baseline out of post for dunk but foul called first.
  • Fouled off ball down low.
  • Fouled by Alex Johnson looking for position. Made 1-2.
  • Catch and shoot 19-footer from top of the key.

Yi Watch: Day 9

Dan Fegan v. Larry Harris: It's looking like Fegan will blink first

Charles Gardner reports Larry Harris is sounding optimistic following his first meeting with Yi Jianlian, but it appears there's still some work to be done. Which makes sense, because as dumb as all this is, it's still going to be a process. Yi and his people have made themselves look rather arrogant in all of this, so even if they're resigned to signing with the Bucks they likely will try to build up some warm fuzzy feelings and make the situation seem more like a misunderstanding before signing on the dotted line. And of course that can't happen before they clarify the situation with his club team Guangdong in China, who officially have to sign off on his release.

"We talked about the opportunity in Milwaukee," Harris said. "He was very respectful and, I thought, very engaging."

"We encouraged him to come to Milwaukee and meet our civic leaders, the people of Milwaukee, our owner and our fans," Harris said. "And just to see what Milwaukee is all about."

No date has been established for such a meeting, and Yi plans to be in Las Vegas with his Chinese team until late next week.

"We made it clear we are not going to trade him," Harris said. "I thought he was a tremendous kid. We got a sense he was excited about playing in the NBA, and we extended the invitation."

Harris said he was willing to go to China to meet with representatives of the league and the team.

"There was a lot of good dialogue," Harris said. "We will continue to talk. It was very promising."

Harris acknowledged that a further step would be direct talks with Yi's representatives, American agent Dan Fegan and his Chinese representatives. No progress has been made, even though Harris has said adamantly that he does not want to trade Yi.

"It just shows you how much respect they have for Yi as a player, how much potential they see in him, and how intriguing he is as a young prospect," Harris said.

Oh, and Yi also played a game on Friday. With disappointing performances from Greg Oden (6 pts, 2 rebounds, 10 fouls) and Kevin Durant (5-17 from the field), Yi and Rudy Gay decided to put on a bit of a show in the Memphis-China matchup. They traded posterizing dunks while Yi ended up with 23 pts on 7-15 from the field and 9-12 from the stripe. He only managed 4 boards and 1 block to go with 7 TOs and 7 fouls (as you can tell, the 6 foul rule doesn't apply in Vegas), but clearly got more comfortable as the game went on. It might be a little rough right now, but the kid's got game. You can watch some highlights here. Gery Woelfel reports Harris was pleased with what he saw.
“I was very impressed,’’ Harris said in a telephone interview. “He’s got a chance to be a very, very good player. I like what he did on the offensive end, but I was more impressed by what he did on the defensive end of the floor.

“His lateral quickness was good, and he showed on pick and rolls and screens. He did a very good job defensively.’’

Friday, July 6, 2007

Yi Acknowledges Existence of Bucks' Franchise

It finally happened. Yi Jianlian met with Larry Harris and Larry Krystkowiak in Vegas today. Perhaps most importantly, Yi met the Larrys without his agents being in the room.

Sources indicated today that Yi spent about an hour meeting with Harris and Krystkowiak. The only other people present were Yi's interpreter and an interpreter used by the Bucks officials.

According to sources, Harris told Yi the Bucks have no intent to trade him and will give him a major opportunity to fit into the team's young frontcourt, which includes Andrew Bogut and Charlie Villanueva.
I had been thinking this would stretch out for some time, but I think it's becoming increasingly likely Yi signs with the Bucks in the next week or two. While training camp is months away and Yi won't be playing on the Bucks' summer league team anyway, the tide of public opinion both here and in China has swung in the Bucks' favor, and for Yi to obnoxiously hold out in hopes of a trade--while his target teams such as the Warriors and Bulls move on and become apparently less interested in his services--would only further cast him in a bad PR light. Being the jerk who demands to play in one of only a few cities isn't exactly the way to endear yourself to the masses. We know Yi needs to play in the NBA next season, so it seems to be only a matter of time before he acknowledges Milwaukee is the place he'll be calling home. For Fegan, Yi and company to save face you don't expect them to admit they were being greedy and reverse field right away, so I'm guessing he and his camp regroups over the next couple days. If they come to their senses then they can visit Milwaukee a week from now when the Vegas summer league ends and they can play the "we just didn't know much about Milwaukee" card and everyone can move on and get ready for the season.

You can watch Yi tonight on NBATV's live webcast as his Chinese National Team takes on the Memphis Grizzlies' summer league team at 7:30 ET/6:30 CT. It will also be broadcast on tape delay on NBATV.

Marty Burns on Yi

Marty Burns of CNNSI weighs in on the Yi situation. A lot of this is stuff we already know--Harris says they're not trading him, Yi's camp refuses to talk to the Bucks, etc--but there are a couple noteworthy points:

  • Harris is now in Vegas and hopes to meet with Yi as soon as possible. Krystkowiak will also be watching Yi play since he's there for the Bucks' summer league games anyway.
  • One source has told Burns that the Warriors haven't even called the Bucks about Yi. That meshes with what Warriors beat writer Tim Kawakami said following the draft, that Mullin was probably never that interested in Yi and the Warriors' purported interest came primarily from Don Nelson and Yi's own camp. You rarely see draft picks traded during the summer, in part because picks can't be traded for 30 days after they sign. Aside from that, teams pick guys they like, so it makes sense that they're not bending over backwards trying to trade them the rest of the summer. If a trade happens it's going to happen on draft night.
  • Overall the interest in Yi appears limited. From what I've read the Sixers sound like the only team that might actually be pursuing Yi. While GMs are obviously competing with one another, you also wonder if some are hesitant to poach Yi because Harris and the Bucks are in many ways fighting the good fight here. If Yi gives in and plays for the Bucks it will set a positive precedent for teams dealing with unwilling draftees. Aside from that, the universe of "acceptable" teams to Yi is limited in the first place, and while Atlanta and Boston have already passed on Yi once, teams like Chicago and Golden State both picked big men and seem to be moving on.
  • Interesting quote from Magic president Pat Williams about drafting Shaq in '92:
    "I remember back in '92, Shaq didn't want to come here. From the time we won the lottery, his agent [Leonard Armato] made it clear he wanted to be in L.A. But we had to draft him. What else were we going to do?"