Wednesday, July 31, 2013

End of an era for Bucks

The Bucks signed and traded Brandon Jennings today to the Detroit Pistons for Brandon Knight and some throw in players.

Just a few years ago the Bucks were an up-and-coming team with Andrew Bogut earning 3rd -team all-NBA and Jennings as a rookie superstar with oodles of potential. Then Bogut shattered his elbow, and the rest is sad Bucks history. That team went to Game 7 in round 1 of the playoffs against a solid Hawks team without the injured Bogut, but he never returned to the player he was and Jennings never made that leap from potential to star.

When the Bucks shunned Jennings and offered Jeff Teague a 4-year 32-million-dollar deal it was obvious Jennings was no longer in the plans. This Bucks team looks ready to go straight in the tank. I didn't think Kohl would allow a team so bad to be put on the floor, but I was wrong. This team looks headed to a starting lineup of Knight, Mayo, Delfino, Ilyasova and Sanders. Lottery here we come. At least there will be dirt cheap tickets available by January.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Did Aaron Rodgers just lose a year's salary?

Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers was a strong defender of Brewers' left fielder Ryan Braun when he was accused of juicing last year. His defense included the following exchange with a fan on Twitter:
Now that Braun has essentially confessed to using PEDs, many are saying that Rodgers lost his bet, which amounts to $8.5 million or so.

To state the obvious, there's no enforceable contract here because there was no consideration. But a tougher question, perhaps, is whether there was even a bet. Notice that Rodgers's statement is couched conditionally: "I'd put my salary next year on it." So he said that he would put his salary on it, but left unstated were the terms and conditions of the bet. People don't normally make "bets" unless they stand to gain something if they're right. So this seems like a challenge to make a bet, a dare, rather than an actual bet. There was no real offer, and no real acceptance. Most importantly, they never shook on it.

There is one countervailing piece of evidence, though: the hashtag comment "#ponyup." What does that mean? My colloquial understanding of the term is that to "pony up" means to pay up, especially after you lose a bet (particularly in a card game such as poker). Does Rodgers's use of #ponyup imply that he is promising to pay up if he's proven incorrect? Or is it a reference to winning bets he previously made to others before Braun was ephemerally #exonerated?

There's enough ambiguity in there that I would say Rodgers is not beholden under the Gentleman's Code to #ponyup this year's salary to Mr. Sutton or anyone else. But a big fat charitable donation to a worthy cause might be in order.

One final thought. I'm on record as suspecting that PEDs are rampant in pro and college football. In that light, Rodgers's over-zealous defense of Braun seems suspiciously defensive. The QB doth protest too much, methinks.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

NCAA Tourney performance by conference and thoughts on the Big Ten's future

My summer project so far has been to add coach and conference data to my database of NCAA tournament results since 2003. This has made it even more fun to play around with. For instance, here is the performance of each conference that has won at least 10 games in the Round of 64 or later since 2003:

You can see that the Big Ten has about the same overall winning percentage as the other major conferences. It also has the second-most Sweet 16s and second-most Final Fours and has sent as many teams to the championship game as any conference over this period. (And, notably, Indiana went to the finals in 2002, the year before this dataset begins.) Yet the Big Ten has failed to produce a champion in this period because it has gone 0 for 4 in the finals. 

Meanwhile, representatives from the Big East, ACC and SEC are a combined 10 for 11 in the championship game since 2003. The lone failure was Paul Hewitt's 2004 Georgia Tech team, which lost in the finals to UConn of the Big East. That means that the ACC, Big East, and SEC are a perfect 10 for 10 in the finals against teams from any of the other conferences. Kansas is the only champion from outside those three conferences, and they beat Memphis of Conference USA.

The other stumbling block for the Big Ten has been the Sweet 16, where its record has been 10-14. The Badgers are largely responsible for this, having gone 1 for 5, so the rest of the conference is a merely mediocre 9-9 in that round.

What conclusions can we draw from this? Two spring to mind. 

First, the Big Ten has been unlucky not to win a championship over the past 11 seasons. Based on the Kenpom data, par for the Big Ten since 2003 is 1.85 championships, which makes sense. Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State were all championship quality teams that made it to the finals and lost to another good team, so if you replay those championship games they likely come out on top about half the time.

Second, talent kills. What the Big East, ACC, and SEC have that the Big Ten lacks is an abundance of top-line talent. Every team that has won a championship since 2003 has had at least five players drafted in the first round during that period—and only two (Florida and Louisville) have had less than ten. By contrast, just one Big Ten team has produced five or more first-rounders 2003: Ohio State, with seven.

Overall, the Big Ten has produced just 22 first-rounders since 2003. Meanwhile: Duke and North Carolina alone have combined to produce 24; Kansas and Texas: 21; Florida and Kentucky: 19; UConn and Syracuse:18. Those eight teams have combined for 18 Final Fours and 10 of the 11 championships.

In the Big Ten, the "Big Two" are Ohio State and Illinois, who have combined for 11 first rounders. Both of those teams have been to the finals, but no championships of course.

Still, things are looking up for the Big Ten. Michigan and Indiana have reestablished themselves as the kind of programs that can attract big-time talent, having just produced four first-round picks this year and with good classes coming in. Michigan State remains a power, and has frankly been unlucky to have been held back by personnel and injury issues over the past decade. Gary Harris could be an All-American this year. Ohio State just reloads every year. Wisconsin has a likely first-rounder in Sam Dekker, and the freshman class has potential high-level talents in Koenig and Hayes. Illinois has tradition and a wealth of local talent to draw from, as will Maryland when it joins the conference in 2014. Matt Painter has shown he can recruit elite talent to Purdue before, and he continues to land top-100 recruits.

Add it all together and I have a prediction: the Big Ten will win another national championship in basketball—eventually.

--Bart Torvik

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Has anyone seen Herb Kohl without sunglasses lately?

There may be a Weekend at Bernie's thing going on, as I fear Herb Kohl may have died. This is the only explanation I can think of for the recent Bucks moves.

The Bucks started the madness by drafting Giannis Antetokounmpo in the first round who won't be ready to play an NBA game this season. A very non-Kohl move.

The Bucks did not try to re-sign Monta Ellis in the free agency period, despite offering him $36 million over 3 years before free agency began. He eventually signed with Dallas for a reported $25 million over 3 years with incentives that could raise the deal to 30 million.

They then signed Jeff Teague to a restricted free agent offer and have ignored the face of the franchise for the last 3 years, Brandon Jennings. Atlanta matched the Bucks offer leaving the Bucks with no Jeff Teague, and poisoning a relationship with Jennings that was already on thin ice.

Now the sanest move of all has happened, one which is completely un-Kohl like. Today the Bucks used the amnesty clause from the last collective bargaining agreement on Drew Gooden. Gooden had 2 years remaining on a deal that pays him over $13 million over the next 2 seasons. The Bucks will still have to pay the entire value of the contract unless some other team signs Gooden, in which case the Bucks just pay the difference between what he gets and what the Bucks would have paid. The idea that Herb Kohl would pay a player 13 million dollars to not play a single minute for his team is crazy in the Kohl world. The only reasonable explanation is that there is a string attached to his arm waving at John Hammond to go ahead and do what he wants, regardless of how sane it is.

Go Badgers

With the signing of Jon Leuer to the Grizzlies, the Badgers now have 3 players in the NBA who have earned contracts beyond their rookie deals. Greg Stiemsma also signed a new deal with the Pelicans this week. While Devin Harris's deal with Dallas was put on hold until his toe injury heals, he was poised to sign a 3-year 9-million-dollar deal. Maybe he's not technically in the league right now, but once his foot heals he will certainly find a home on a team that needs guard depth. Seems weird to say, but Devin Harris will be entering his 10th year in the NBA this season.

I haven't done the research to back it up, but I venture to say no Badger coach has had 3 players get to multiple NBA contracts during his tenure. Go Badgers.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Interesting Bucks move

The Bucks traded Luc Richard Mbah-A-Moute to the Kings for a 2nd-round pick today in what is basically a salary dump move. Luc signed a 4-year deal for $19 million and was 2 years into that deal with the Bucks. At the time he signed the deal it was a reasonable contract for a role-playing, sometime-starter, defensive specialist. At that time Luc was still just 24 and had some potential to grow his offensive game and develop into a solid starter. That didn't happen over the last 2 seasons in which Luc battled through injuries and missed about a fourth of the games. He remained a quality defensive player but never developed into anything more. At 26 he is still young and can be a valuable role player, but he did not outperform his modest salary. He is now overpaid based on his production, but not ridiculously so.

The question is why make a salary dump. Moves like this usually happen when a team needs salary cap flexibility, something the Bucks probably don't need this year. The Bucks are not going to pay the luxury tax, and there is no free agent they could sign that would require them to make such a maneuver. Sometimes a team will make a move like this to clear playing time for a youngster. If that youngster is the new draft pick Giannis who is not ready for NBA competition then the Bucks may be planning to really tank this season. If they had not made the Reddick trade and still had Tobias Harris then this would fit, but they did.

Do they intend to start Delfino or Ilyasova at the 3? Probably not. There is probably another deal (either free agent or trade) that has yet to be announced but has already been made.

Perhaps this will give the Monta fans hope the Bucks can still sign him with added flexibility. We can still dream until he signs elsewhere.

Rise and Fall of the Brewers

I haven't really followed the Brewers much since I left Wisconsin in 2000, but this Grantland piece nicely chronicles their rise and fall since then.

--Bart Torvik

Sunday, July 7, 2013

3 year plan

John Hammond signed an extension to be the Bucks general manager through the 2015-2016 season, 3 full seasons from now. His newly hired coach Larry Drew just signed a contract for 3 years with a team option for a 4th. The Bucks just signed OJ Mayo to a 3-year 24-million-dollar contract, and Zaza Pachulia to a 3-year 16-million-dollar contract. Ersan Ilyasova signed a 5-year contract last season, but only the first 4 years and $32 million are guaranteed meaning it will effectively expire after 3 more years assuming he doesn't vastly outperform his deal and earn the 5th year. That leaves the Bucks with about 23 million in expiring contracts after the 2015-16 season. The Bucks are high on last year's rookie John Henson and his rookie deal will expire after the 2015-16 season. If he turns out to be the player they are hoping he becomes then he will certainly eat up some of that salary cap space on his 2nd contract.

Through Hammond's tenure the Bucks have done a pretty good job dumping bad contracts and the have just one currently in Drew Gooden's 5-year 32-million-dollar deal. That deal was inked in 2010 and has just 2 years remaining. The only other veteran contract on the books is a reasonable deal with Mbah-a-Moute for 4 years and $19 million which is 2 years in. Both Mbah-a-Moute and Gooden come off the books the season before Hammond's contract expires.

Udoh, Ish Smith, and Sanders will all be free agents after this season, but only Sanders is expected to stick around after this year. His value is difficult to figure. He has developed into a good player but is far from an all-star talent. The Bucks will have the right to match any offer as he will be a restricted free agent so the market will figure out what he is worth after another full season as a starter.

There are no players currently under contract past the current John Hammond contract, which bring us to the two players who will soon. Giannis Antetokounmpo was just drafted by the Bucks, but will likely not play any significant minutes for at least 2 seasons. The question is when do the Bucks sign him. Hammonds said after the draft that they intended to sign him right away and bring him in to practice/play with the Bucks, or more likely in the D league. That would start the clock ticking immediately on his 4-year rookie contract. If he stays overseas for a year or two then he would still be on his rookie deal whenever he came to the Bucks. There is a pretty high likelihood that he is a bust, as most 15th picks are. His future will not likely determine Hammond's future unless he turns into a star, in which case Hammond looks like a genius and won't have to worry about his next contract. What about the other soon-to-be Buck, Brandon Jennings.

There is no doubt the Bucks will sign Jennings, whether it is by negotiation, or by using their matching rights on another teams offer since he is a restricted free agent. He is the only marketable player on a bad team and the Bucks gain nothing by letting him walk. Kohl will not allow his only money making player to walk out the door for a few extra million dollars. That doesn't mean they will keep him for the length of the contract, as he will be trade bait the instant he signs. The only question is do the Bucks really believe in him enough to use their Bird rights on him and give him a 5-year deal, or will they just give him/match on a 4-year deal to limit their long-term exposure. My guess is the later.

So where does the 3-year plan take the Bucks? In the short term, probably to the cellar of the central division. The Bucks won only 38 games last year, and they replaced Monta Ellis with OJ Mayo so it's hard to see how this team will be better. Next season looks like a lottery season, but next year is about sorting out the young guys more than winning anything. Jennings and Mayo will hog the ball and the shots, and hopefully not destroy their trade value in the process. The question the Bucks need to figure out is if Henson and Sanders are good enough to be the staring bigs on a playoff team, or if they are just more journeymen assets the Bucks will use to make future trades.
After this season, the Bucks should have a lottery pick in a strong draft. That pick will probably be the deciding factor in Hammond's future. Hammond will have to decide about Sanders next season, and he will hopefully have enough information to decide what Henson will be. If Sanders, Henson and Giannis all pan out, and the 2014 pick is a hit, then the Bucks could return to the playoffs by the end of the 3 year plan. That seems like a lot to ask, but it's probably all Bucks fans can hope for right now.

A new stadium and an ownership change to a stable local ownership group is unfortunately about as likely, but far more important to the Bucks' future.