More smiles, Charlie. (Gary Dineen/Getty/NBAE)
If you were listening to WSSP today you may have heard the latest comments by Charlie Bell about his adjustment to being back in Milwaukee following his bitter contract negotiations.
"It's still a little tough, you know. It's just hard. You know, I mean sometimes I find myself sitting in practice, you know, not wanting to be there. In games, it's kind of like, you know, I really wasn't even looking for a shot, you know, and everybody's on me, you know, 'just shoot it, man, just shoot it'... you know, just try to start having fun again."It should be noted that it's easy for the media to pick apart a couple sentences from a 10-minute interview--I'm still not exactly clear about the last bit about having fun, as it sounds like WSSP cut that part out of a later part of the interview. I did my best to quote it correctly, but have a listen and see for yourself. Still, it does appear that it's the same old stuff from Bell. About a month ago Bell first took his contract frustrations public on his MySpace blog, and on media day a couple weeks ago not much had changed. I suppose you could say Bell deserves some credit for his consistency--he has said continually his frustration wasn't about money, and not even an $18 million deal seems to have cheered him up. Then again, NBA contract negotiations are about nothing if not money, so it seems disingenuous to act like the Bucks' unwillingness to make him a lucrative offer early in the summer isn't at the root of the problem. Either way you'd think that no matter how frustrated Bell might still be about his contract negotiations, he'd try to put on a brave face and at least say the "right" things. Move on. Get the focus off the negativity of the summer. But apparently not.
So what's the real story? You wonder whether Bell is intent on forcing Larry Harris' hand into a trade later this season, or whether he's simply being honest and hopes he can get past the frustration that first began in late August. My bet is that he's simply too stubborn to contradict everything he said last month--he promised as much at the time. To complicate things, Bell is reportedly still living in a condo while his wife and children stay in Michigan for the school year, a product of his contract uncertainty at the time that his kids were starting school. It's certainly not an ideal situation, and Bell also didn't do himself any favors by showing up to camp out of shape. In all it's a tough situation, but at some point you would expect him to focus on playing basketball rather than creating distractions.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this is that Bell probably realizes how obnoxious this makes him look to most fans, yet he doesn't want to smile along just for the sake of avoiding controversy. In a world of canned quotes, it's almost refreshing...the keyword being almost. And while he'll get no sympathy from the vast majority of fans, the main question is whether his glum outlook affects his effort and contributions on the court. It's still rather difficult to imagine that Bell's frustrations with management will dramatically affect his effort level, much less turn him into a divisive member of the locker room or a player unwilling to follow coach's orders. It's certainly not inconceivable that his overall play could be affected more subtly, but for now the only move for the Bucks is to simply hope Bell gets out of his funk. As of now I haven't seen enough of Bell to say if he's playing any differently early in the preseason, but there's no reason for the Bucks to be impatient unless it becomes painfully obvious that he's not giving it his all.
The Bucks cannot trade Bell until December 20th (three months after he signed), and even then he would have to consent to any trade until September 20th, 2008 (and he cannot be traded to the Heat at all this year). And even if the Bucks do decide to deal Bell, they might face a difficult time getting value back for him: his low $3.1 million cap number and base year compensation status will severely limit the number of decent players who the Bucks could acquire straight up for Bell (though he would be a good tack-on to a deal involving someone like Dan Gadzuric).
In the meantime, as much as we should try not to care, odds are we'll be keeping a closer eye on Bell. We'll be watching to see if he avoids diving for a loose ball, or trying to tell if he seems disinterested during timeouts. It's all rather dramatic for a role player, the sort of over-analyzing usually reserved for petulant scorers on max contracts. So for your own sanity, do yourself (and Charlie) a favor the next time he's holding court: don't listen.
UPDATE: Charles Gardner writes in today's JS that Larry Krystkowiak spoke to Bell about his situation a couple days ago.
"I sat down with him a couple days ago and made progress," Krystkowiak said. "I think some of it is kind of the dog days of training camp. With a heavier body and maybe being a little bit out of shape, comes a heavier mind a lot of times."
Bell had an excused absence from practice Wednesday to attend to some personal issues, so instead he came in a few hours early and worked out on his own.
"He's not that far out of shape," Krystkowiak said. "He came in early this morning and sweated for an hour and a half and ran up and down. I'm not worried about Charlie Bell in the least. I think he's going to be there when the clock strikes the appropriate hour and we're ready to roll."
Tom Enlund also notes Bell's work to get back into shape and mentions the quote about the problems Bell is having with the mental side of his game.
"I started to make a couple shots and I'm starting to get my legs up under me and starting to feel more comfortable out on the basketball court," he said. "Where as in the first week, it was kind of like playing a sport for the first time. Now I'm starting to get a rhythm back out there. So I'll continue to work at it. "It's difficult, going through what I went through in the summer. My head isn't quite there yet, but I'm just trying to get there."
Bell said trying to get himself in shape mentally was just as difficult as the physical aspect.
"It's still a little tough (mentally)," he said. "It's just hard. Sometimes I find myself sitting in practice and not wanting to be there."