The Milwaukee Bucks are gearing up for the regular season. Standing in their way, however, are media day, training camp, preseason games and a month’s time. On Monday, the Bucks scratched the first one off the list. They can begin scribbling off the second one, too, as they kick off training camp today.
The Bucks held the two-hour media day event at their training facility, the Cousins Center, on Monday afternoon. They started the day by sending out a press release to announce the signings of Mustapha Farrakhan, Eddie Gill, Orien Greene and Alando Tucker – who, with 15 guaranteed contracts already on the roster, are likely just training camp bodies.
The important news of the day, however, were the injuries – one we didn’t realize the severity of, and one we weren’t aware of at all. Luc Mbah a Moute won’t be participating in training camp, as he continues to recover from offseason knee surgery in May. Neither Mbah a Moute nor general manager John Hammond would speculate on his return date, but it sounded like he will also miss the start of the regular season. It appears Doron Lamb will be joining him on the sidelines, after suffering a torn ligament in his left elbow during a non-mandatory practice. His timetable to return isn’t known either, but he’s hoping the injury heals on its own.
Yet, that unfortunate news did little to mellow the mood at media day. An upbeat, optimistic Bucks team answered questions from media, many focusing on the Jennings-Ellis tandem, offseason acquisitions, expectations for the upcoming season, and the lame-duck statuses of Hammond and head coach Scott Skiles.
I’ll be uploading full audio and posting interesting excerpts from media day in four parts (Skiles, Hammond, starting five, and bench) throughout the week.
Firstly, here are some of the highlights from Skiles. He talked with the media for 15 minutes, fielding a variety of questions about last year’s performance and the team’s new goals.
On Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis playing together:
We felt like under the circumstances, as a staff, that they did a really nice job together. It was a very difficult season – then Monta gets traded to us, with very little warning, from the only team he’s played [with] and has to turn right around and play them in his first game, plays well and we win. But there was just no time to get our foundation down.
On last year’s change in identity from a defensive-minded roster to an offensive-minded roster:
Going into last season, one of the things we talked about with the guys was, ‘could we keep our defense similar to the year before and get better offensively?’ If we could do that, we’d have a very good year. Well, we got a lot better offensively and we got a lot worse defensively. So now, it’s flipped. Now, we’d like to be a top-10 offensive team and then get our defense back to the level we need it to be at. We knew, and talked about many times before we did it, the implications of moving Andrew [Bogut] and what that would mean for us on the interior. Drew [Gooden] did a heck of a job battling guys – but he’s battling guys much, much bigger than him. We knew coming into this summer we needed to get some more size. We had to get some more size and length, and we did that. So hopefully we won’t see a lot of the kind of layup drills we were giving up last year.
On if this camp will be different without Andrew Bogut:
I mean, Bogues is a great player. But, if you’re referring to how we’re going to approach camp ourselves, it won’t.
On replacing Andrew Bogut’s interior presence:
Ekpe [Udoh] and Larry [Sanders] – they’re two of the better shot block per minute guys in the league. Sam [Dalembert] is always a good shot blocker. John Henson could be a good shot blocker. Joel [Przybilla] has always patrolled the paint at a high level. So, we should be very hard to score on in the interior. Bogues was one of those rare guys – he could block shots and take charges. There aren’t too many guys that do both of those things, and hopefully we can make up for it with some other guys.
On his goals for the upcoming season:
We want to be up in the top-10, maybe even the top-five, defensive teams. If you’re a perennial 55-game winning team, you have home court every year, you’re knocking on the door, and you come in and say our goal is to win the title – I think that’s realistic. We want to be in a position where we can be one of those teams who say that going into the season. In order to do that, we have to statistically get better, and there’s no reason we can’t. We can get better defensively.
On his offensive philosophy:
I like to give guys a lot of freedom offensively and let them use their talents and express themselves. We want to execute late in games, and put a priority on that, but I don’t want guys to feel encumbered by too many offensive demands. However, on the other end, we have a standard – we want to set a high bar – and we want rise up and meet that standard.
On whether his contract status will impact the team this season:
I really can’t see it having any effect. We’ve got multiple players in the last year of their deals. I played in the last year of my deal before as a player. I wouldn’t be very genuine if I expected guys to perform on the floor in the last year of their deals and think, somehow, it’s something that’s going to affect me. I also think it’s a pretty significant slap in the face of the players when people assume players are going to lay down because a coach is in their last year [of his contract]. You have a pretty low opinion of NBA players or sports teams if you think that. My opinion is much higher than that.
On determining the playing time in the frontcourt:
It’s going to be a challenge. We talk about it every day. We got seven big guys who have played, or are capable of playing, well in an NBA game. The way the game is played now, some games it’s hard to get three of them out there…It’s something we’ve talked to them about. It’s going to be a challenge. We don’t want to be in a position where guys are looking over their shoulder every night and wondering when they’re going to play. We have to keep an open line of communication. But the reality is there’s going to be nights where there may be three guys that deserved to play in the game and didn’t play at all or didn’t get the minutes they wanted.
On keeping Mike Dunleavy in the sixth-man role:
My rookie year – I remember this all the time – Nelly always said he felt naked without Ricky Pierce sitting over there. No matter how many injuries we had that year, Ricky stayed on the bench. As a matter of fact, we went and signed John Lucas, who was out of the league at the time, and brought him in and started him, because he wanted Ricky Pierce to still come off the bench. I had Rodney Rogers in Phoenix, and I had Ben Gordon in Chicago. When you have a guy like Mike, who you know night in and night out you can look to him down on the bench – and maybe the guys are tired, it’s the fourth game in five nights, you’re struggling a little bit and you got a know a guy’s going to be productive – it’s hard to give that up.
There are two key points to take away from this part: Mbah a Moute’s recovery status and Skiles’ insistence on keeping Dunleavy in the same role as last season. It appears Tobias Harris is now the leading candidate for the starting small forward position, and both Skiles and Hammond made a point to praise Harris’ summer work ethic. We should see plenty of the second-year forward from the get-go. The Marquis Daniels signing now makes a bit more sense, too, as his perimeter defense will come in handy if Mbah a Moute misses an extended period of time.