Roundtable: Bogut-less Bucks, Nellie's legacy, more NBA musings
SI.com's NBA writers analyze the latest news and address hot topics from around the league each week.
(All stats and records are through April 5.)
1. Without Andrew Bogut (broken hand, sprained wrist, dislocated elbow) in the playoffs, how far do you expect the Bucks to go?
Ian Thomsen: They were a dangerous first-round team with Bogut scoring at one end and blocking shots at the other; without him, they're much more of a hollow perimeter team that will have difficulty against any of the top four seeds. With Bogut, they were an underdog to be avoided; without him, they're an opponent the favorites will want to face in the opening round. The other shame for Milwaukee is that Bogut will go another year without benefiting from playoff experience.
Jack McCallum: I didn't expect them to get by Atlanta or Boston even with a healthy Bogut. But, provided the Aussie center makes a smooth recovery, with Bogut having finally come alive, the sooner-than-expected maturity of Brandon Jennings and the fire-in-the-belly coaching of Scott Skiles, there finally seems to be something to build on in Suds City.
Frank Hughes: I have not seen too many worse injuries than Bogut's. Makes you wonder if the poor guy will ever be the same. It is going to be difficult for Milwaukee anyway, given its lack of playoff experience, but moving forward without Bogut would seem to make it almost impossible. In a one-game series, with the "Win One for the Gipper" inspiration playing a role, maybe. But in a seven-game series, the Bucks would be undermanned, which is a shame because they have been one of the league's nice stories since the trade deadline.
Chris Mannix: No one I've talked to expects the Bucks to suddenly become an easy out -- not with Skiles pushing them. Since Bogut's injuries happened late in the season, Milwaukee has less time to think about the impact before the playoffs, which definitely helps. But losing the focal point of the offense and the linchpin of the defense is just too much to overcome, not with unproven depth (Primoz Brezec, Dan Gadzuric) on the bench and a new starter (KurtThomas) who may not have enough gas left in the tank for extended minutes. The Bucks will fight and the combination of Jennings and JohnSalmons will keep games close, but I expect them to go out in the first round.
2. Where do you rank Don Nelson among the league's top coaches in history?
Thomsen: He has to rate behind the likes of Phil Jackson, Red Auerbach, Pat Riley and Gregg Popovich, who have won multiple championships while making a long-term impact. Jerry Sloan's superior winning percentage also gives him the edge over Nelson. Maybe a few other coaches should be ranked ahead of him -- John Kundla? Red Holzman? -- but thereafter, Nelson belongs in any conversation. Even though he never coached a champion and his reputation has taken a beating over the last couple of years at Golden State, Nellie's extended regular-season success and his ingenuity as a strategist are almost without peer and make him more than worthy of the Hall of Fame.
McCallum: We rank coaches, like players, mostly on the basis of championships, which is why names like Auerbach, Jackson and Riley top any list. But Nellie we judge by a different standard: innovation. You never heard of Red Ball or Phil Ball, but we know Nellie Ball: matchup exploitation, run-and-gun, peculiar overloads, zones, point forwards, 7-footers shooting threes, etc. Look at it this way: How great is it that Sloan, the capo of constancy, and Nellie, the eternal man of mystery, are both among the top 10 coaches in NBA history?
Hughes: Nelson is definitely in the top 10, but I'd put him in the bottom half of that 10. When you talk about the top coaches, you have to go with those who won championships. Lenny Wilkens won both a lot of regular-season games and he won a title. Riley is ahead of Nellie, as is Holzman and Chuck Daly. Though he has not won a title, I like the way Sloan coaches more than I do Nellie. It's debatable where Nelson fits in after those names.
Mannix:Chris Ballardwrote a fine piece praising Nelson in last week's Sports Illustrated, but I take a different view on Nellie. Yes, he has been the most unorthodox coach in league history and some of his mad-scientist schemes have been as brilliant as they have been effective. But he has a sub-.500 playoff record and no championships on his coaching résumé, compared to Jackson (10), Auerbach (nine), Riley (five) and Wilkens (one). The fact that we are comparing Nelson to that elite company means that he is, indeed, a very good coach, and no one said championships are required for greatness -- Sloan supporters would argue with that. But Nelson isn't in the realm of greatness, in my opinion, and has to be considered a notch or two below the best.
3. With Marcus Camby in the mix, how big of a threat could Portland be in the postseason?
Thomsen: Camby has kept Portland relevant in the West following the season-ending injuries to Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla that forced Juwan Howard to fill in at center. While Camby improves the Trail Blazers' defense, he doesn't resolve their need for firepower against the top four seeds in the West. They still aren't a lockdown team defensively, and I don't see how they can score enough to upset one of the better teams over seven games.
McCallum: A lot or none at all, depending on where the Trail Blazers finish. Eighth place and the Lakers? Not a prayer, as I see it, of advancing to the second round. Sixth or seventh and somebody else in the first round? Excellent chance of winning a series. I always wondered how good a consistently healthy Camby could've been -- he's missed a lot of games over 14 years but has played more regularly in recent seasons -- and, in a classic supporting role in Portland, we might see his fundamental soundness have a postseason impact. (If, as I said, Portland doesn't draw L.A.)
Hughes: Well, more than Camby, a great deal of Portland's success is going to depend on the first-round opponent. If the Blazers finish eighth and get the Lakers, I don't foresee a postseason upset. However, they could leapfrog San Antonio, finish seventh and then potentially draw Phoenix or Denver. In that case, they could make some noise and, despite all their injuries, take the next step in their development. Wouldn't it be juicy if Portland gets Denver in the first round and upsets the Nuggets, since Nate McMillan was on the Seattle team that lost to the eighth-seeded Nuggets in the first round in 1994?
Mannix: Camby has shored up that back line, and in watching the Blazers this past month, it feels like Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge have finally developed a rhythm playing together. But as successful as they've been against the Lakers at home recently, if the Blazers stay in that No. 8 spot, I don't see them ousting L.A. The fact that they rely on Howard for significant backup minutes makes me a little queasy.
4. If you could add an award to the league's list of year-end honors, what would it be and who would get it this season?
Thomsen: There are enough awards already, but maybe the league could focus on meaningful contributions by introducing the "Glue Award" (and it won't have any problem finding a corporate sponsor for that one). It could go to a player who doesn't lead the league in scoring -- let's limit the pool to anyone with fewer than 18 points per game -- but does the most to pull his team together. In previous years, it might have gone to a defender like Ben Wallace, who set high defensive standards and defined his Pistons without scoring. This year, I'd give it to Steve Nash for unifying his Suns and driving them to a much higher finish than expected, especially with so many of us predicting they were all washed up and too thin up front.
McCallum: The "Joe Btfsplk Award," after the character in the L'il Abner comic strip who was followed around by his own rain cloud. It goes to the franchise that had the worst luck. (Being just plain bad, Minnesota and New Jersey, doesn't count.) The Wizards are a candidate (if you count having a gun-toting comedian as "bad luck"), but I'm going with -- drum roll, please -- the Clippers. With playoff hopes on the horizon -- OK, OK, we've heard that before -- prized rookie Blake Griffin suffered a broken kneecap, followed by a pain during a stint in the rehab pool, followed by season-ending surgery. Yes, something like that happened to another Btfsplk, Portland's Oden, but, see, the Trail Blazers have replacements.
Hughes: Most Intangible. It would combine a player's defensive contributions as well as some offensive contributions, none of which are overwhelming, but all of which help that player's team immensely. One player I think is always deserving of that is Houston's Shane Battier. He almost always gets the toughest defensive assignment, he can knock down the three when forgotten about and he plays a solid, all-around game that is often underappreciated.
Mannix: Every year there seems to be a player or team that overcomes some measure of adversity. Why not recognize them? The Trail Blazers won't win any of the traditional awards, but they have survived the loss of their two top centers and a midseason injury to Roy to play at a 50-win pace and make the playoffs in the tough West. That deserves recognition.
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