Khris Middleton

Budenholzer Seeks To Unlock Bucks’ Defensive Potential

Mike Budenholzer will prioritize improving the Bucks’ defense, Genaro C. Armas of the Associated Press reports. Budenholzer, who agreed to a four-year contract last week to become the team’s head coach, feels Milwaukee’s roster has plenty of good defensive pieces and it’s his task to put them together. “I think with the individual talents we have in Milwaukee … I think one of the words I used in the interview process was, ‘How can we unlock this talent defensively?'” Budenholzer said during his introductory press conference on Monday. “I just think there’s so much to work with.” Milwaukee finished 17th in the league’s defensive ratings last season, 21st in defensive field-goal percentage, 22nd in opponents’ second-chance points and 23rd in points allowed in the paint.

In other notable items from the press conference:

  • Budenholzer believes he can help All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo expand his game. He has already had breakfast with the team’s superstar and Khris Middleton. “He’s a smart player,” Budenholzer said. “I think together, he and I will probably push each other. But I look forward to pushing him. He believes it, I believe it. He’s going to get a lot better.”
  • GM Jon Horst interviewed at least seven candidates, according to Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Horst wanted to find someone with whom he could engage in casual, productive conversations. “It was just an enjoyable time the entire period of time,” Horst said of his initial interview with the ex-Hawks coach.
  • Budenholzer wants to his staff to be mainly comprised of former Hawks assistants. “I’m very hopeful that the majority of my staff will come with me,” Budenholzer said. “I’m a huge believer in my group that’s been with me the last five years.”

Trade Rumors: Hernangomez, Bucks, Hawks, Raps

Word broke on Monday that Willy Hernangomez‘s representatives have asked the Knicks to trade the young center, though as Marc Berman and Zach Braziller of The New York Post note, that trade request was hardly shocking news. Hernangomez had publicly said several times already this season that he’d welcome a move to another team if that’s what it took for him to receive more playing time.

According to Ian Begley of ESPN, more than a dozen teams have expressed some level of interest in Hernangomez, and several of those clubs have put specific offers on the table for the Knicks. Still, New York’s front office won’t give Hernangomez away — the team is seeking a significant return for the 23-year-old, per Begley.

One source who has spoken to Knicks higher-ups expects the team to hang onto Hernangomez through the deadline unless a deal returns better long-term assets than the young big man, according to Berman and Braziller. Meanwhile, Begley notes that the Knicks are confident they’ll be able to reintegrate Hernangomez if they don’t trade him by Thursday.

As we wait to see what Hernangomez’s future holds, here are more trade-related notes and rumors from around the NBA:

  • Even after acquiring Tyler Zeller, the Bucks remain interested in Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, tweets Gery Woelfel of The Racine Journal Times. However, according to Woelfel, Milwaukee is unwilling to give up a key piece like Malcolm Brogdon, Khris Middleton, or Jabari Parker in exchange for Jordan.
  • While the Hawks are ready to deal, GM Travis Schlenk tells Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he doesn’t feel pressure to make moves, since the club has already stockpiled a number of extra draft picks. “We are willing to use our (cap) flexibility if we can get assets we want,” Schlenk said. “But I feel like we’ve done enough early on (that) we have the flexibility to sit back and not take too much (salary) on because we have so many picks. We don’t feel pressure to do anything because of that, but if there is an opportunity that makes sense for us we are certainly going to take a hard look at it.”
  • Michael Grange of Rogers Sportsnet (Twitter link) is hearing “more and more” that the Raptors will be minor players at the trade deadline, if they’re active at all. Toronto has no interest in Tyreke Evans and views RFA-to-be Rodney Hood as too pricey, says Grange.
  • Daryl Morey and the Rockets view the buyout period as just as likely to result in a roster addition as the trade market, per Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. The Rockets still may complete a deal this week, with an emergency backup guard atop their wish list, but they want to hang onto their 2020 first-round pick, says Feigen. Houston’s 2019 first-round pick can’t be moved, since the team has already traded its 2018 first-rounder.

Bucks Make Concerted Push For DeAndre Jordan

The Bucks are making a concerted push to acquire DeAndre Jordan from the Clippers, Gery Woelfel of the Woelfel’s Press Box writes.

According to the scribe’s sources, the Clips seek a partial or even full complement of John Henson, Malcolm Brogdon and Khris Middleton in return.

While there hasn’t been any direct indication that the Clippers are shopping Jordan, he’s eligible for free agency this summer, making him the most logical trade chip if the team does decide to become a seller ahead of the trade deadline.

Considering that trading Jordan would at least appear to be the opening salvo in a rebuild, it makes sense that the squad would pursue the reigning Rookie of the Year and, if possible, shed salary while they were at it.

While the Bucks had long sought to organically develop their young talent, they’re eager to more aggressively compete for a title now, as evidenced by their acquisition of Eric Bledsoe from the Suns earlier in the season.

Slotting Jordan into the starting lineup ahead of (or in place of) Henson would give the team an imposing starting five as they continue on their quest to usurp the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference.

In addition to the Bucks, Woelfel writes, the Raptors, Wizards and Timberwolves are said to have shown the most interest in Jordan.

Where Things Stand On Kyrie Irving Blockbuster

It has been eight days since both the Celtics and Cavaliers announced the completion of a trade that sent Kyrie Irving to Boston in exchange for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and the Nets’ 2018 first-round pick. However, more than a week later, we still can’t classify the deal as “completed.”

As first reported last Friday by ESPN, the Cavaliers expressed concern after their own doctors conducted a physical exam on Thomas’ injured hip. That concern has pushed the Cavaliers to re-engage the Celtics about acquiring further compensation in the blockbuster deal. Although it took a few days for the two sides to make contact again, that reportedly happened on Tuesday.

Here’s a breakdown of what we know about the situation, and when we can expect resolution:

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Bucks Made Competitive Offer For Kyrie Irving?

12:58pm: Jon Krawczynski of The Associated Press (Twitter link) hears that the Bucks didn’t offer Middleton, Brogdon, and a first-round pick for Irving. It’s not uncommon for there to be conflicting reports on trade offers, since there can be ambiguity about what a team is willing to offer and what that team formally offers. Whether or not the Bucks put that package on the table, it was unlikely to be enough for the Cavs.

11:32am: The Suns were long viewed as a potential frontrunner in the Kyrie Irving sweepstakes, but Phoenix never really got close to landing the star point guard, per John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7 (Twitter link). According to Gambadoro though, another team that was in the mix for Irving and made a strong offer was the Bucks, who put Khris Middleton, Malcolm Brogdon, and a first-round pick on the table.

It’s easy to see why the Celtics’ offer – which included an All-Star in Isaiah Thomas and a stronger first-round pick – was more appealing to the Cavs than Milwaukee’s proposal. Boston’s package, which also featured Jae Crowder and rookie center Ante Zizic, should give Cleveland a better chance to contend for a title in 2017/18, and may also give the Cavs a better chance to land a young star, since that 2018 Nets pick may end up in the top five.

Still, Thomas’ hip is a concern and he’s under contract for only one more year, making him a bit of a risk. The Bucks’ offer would have given the Cavaliers the reigning Rookie of the Year (Brogdon) on an extremely affordable contract (about $3MM over the next two years), and a dangerous shooter and scorer in Middleton, who is on a reasonable contract of his own (about $27MM over the next two years). Milwaukee’s 2018 first-round pick figures to fall in the late-teens or 20s, however.

While the Bucks fell short in their pursuit of Irving, it’s worth remembering that the team was willing to make a play for the All-Star point guard. That point guard spot is perhaps the most glaring area of concern for Milwaukee heading into 2017/18, so the team figures to keep an eye out for potential upgrades again at the 2018 trade deadline and next offseason.

Central Notes: Caldwell-Pope, Udrih, Stephenson

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope‘s DUI arrest this week won’t factor into the bidding when he hits free agency, writes David Mayo of MLive. Caldwell-Pope can still expect offers topping $20MM a year, as he will be among the top players on the open market. And the Pistons will still be willing to match any offer sheet that their restricted free agent presents. Coach Stan Van Gundy exhibited his forgiving nature by keeping Caldwell-Pope in the starting lineup for the first game after the incident.

The Pistons are determined not to let Caldwell-Pope leave with nothing in return, Mayo notes. They might be willing to entertain thoughts of a sign-and-trade, but the fourth-year guard would have to agree to any deal and it would have to happen before he has an offer sheet.

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • Veteran Pistons guard Beno Udrih wants to coach when his playing days are finished, relays Keith Langlois of Udrih, 34, was claimed off waivers at the start of the season because of Reggie Jackson‘s knee problems. Almost immediately, he was sharing pointers with newly appointed starter Ish Smith“He’s a very, very smart basketball guy and makes some very, very good points,” Van Gundy said of Udrih. “It’s always nice to have those guys around.”
  • Pacers players stayed after practice Saturday to welcome Lance Stephenson back to the team, according to Nate Taylor of The Indianapolis Star. Stephenson signed a three-year deal Thursday and will play his first game in three years in an Indiana uniform today against Cleveland. “I still think I’m dreaming right now,” Stephenson said. “I keep waiting to wake up and say, ‘Ah, it was just a dream.’ But that hasn’t happened yet and I’m happy I’m here. I just want to get back on the right path and get back to where I used to be.”
  • The return of Khris Middleton from a hamstring injury has sparked the Bucks‘ playoff push, notes Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee. Milwaukee is 17-7 since February 8th in games that Middleton has played and currently holds the fifth spot in the East.

Central Notes: Bulls, Middleton, Beasley

Although some Bulls fans may have clamored for a youth movement in Chicago, the team saw first-hand that their young core may not be ready for primetime just yet, Nick Friedell of ESPN writes. Briefly in Monday’s loss to the Pistons, the Bulls trotted out a lineup of Denzel Valentine, Jerian Grant, Paul Zipser, Bobby Portis and Cristiano Felicio but the offense quickly stalle, resulting in the prompt reinstatement of star forward Jimmy Butler.

Friedell explains that the vaunted trio of Portis, Valentine and recently acquired Cameron Payne may not be reliable enough offensively, citing their struggles against Detroit as an example of what life would be like for Bulls fans without Butler or Dwyane Wade there to steer the ship. Should Wade leave via free agency this summer and Butler get traded, there could be more nights just like Monday in the future.

Payne, brought over from the Thunder in the Taj Gibson trade, hasn’t been particularly effective in a Bulls uniform, K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune writes in his own piece, highlighting the supposed “pure” point guard’s abundance of field goal attempts. Head coach Fred Hoiberg echoed the sentiment. “He took a couple shots that he maybe could’ve got one more bounce to the rim or kicked out for a shot,” Hoiberg said. “This is really the first meaningful big minutes that he’s getting in this league. And it’s all valuable experience for him. And he’s not afraid of the moment. He’s going to give you everything he has.

There’s more out of the Central Division tonight:

  • After battling back from a ruptured hamstring that required surgery, Khris Middleton has wasted no time getting into a rhythm beyond the arc for the Bucks, Alex Boeder of writes. All of Middleton’s shooting numbers since he returned nine games ago are outpacing his career averages.
  • The Pacers have put an emphasis on putting smaller lineups on the floor of late with mixed results, Nate Taylor of the Indianapolis Star writes. Since the implementation of the changes the team has shot better from the field but struggled on defense.
  • Injured Bucks forward Michael Beasley will be out at least two more weeks, Charles Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel tweets. Beasley, sidelined with a hyperextended knee, will be re-evaluated at that time.
  • The Cavaliers are in danger, Joe Vardon of, more so now that Andrew Bogut has broken his leg and will miss the remainder of the 2016/17 season. Injuries, coupled with upcoming road games, general fatigue and lingering defensive woes could spell trouble for the squad, he writes.

Lowe’s Latest: Clippers, Raptors, Wizards, Suns

The Clippers are trying to acquire a small forward without giving up one of their four core players and ESPN’s Zach Lowe reports that Austin Rivers and Jamal Crawford aren’t drawing much interest from opposing teams. The franchise called the Wizards trying to bring Otto Porter to Los Angeles, but Washington was disinterested in engaging in trade talks.

A package of Rivers, Crawford, and a “distant” first-rounder won’t be enough to pry Wilson Chandler from the Nuggets, Lowe reports. Denver is seeking a lottery-protected first-round pick and swap rights on another pick for Chandler or Danilo Gallinari. The Nuggets intend to compete for the eighth seed in the Western Conference and they believe they can do it without one of their veteran small forwards.

Here’s more from Lowe’s latest piece:

  • The Raptors would like to add another rotation player, sources tell Lowe. The Raptors currently have 15 players under contract, but they could waive Jared Sullinger should they need an open roster spot. Lowe adds that any deal that sends out a high-priced veteran is not likely to occur until the offseason.
  • The Wizards are also eager to add a rotation player. The team has been linked to Lou Williams and it has explored trading a protected first-rounder in exchange for him. Lowe believes that’s too much value for Washington to give up and opines that two second-round picks may be able to get a deal completed.
  • The Suns are listening to offers on most of their veterans and Lowe writes that P.J. Tucker is the player who is most likely to be traded. The scribe names the Clippers and Raptors as teams to watch.
  • The Bucks are willing to listen to offers for anyone besides Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker, Thon Maker and Khris Middleton. Lowe adds that the Wolves have expressed interest in Tony Snell.
  • Jahlil Okafor was close to being acquired by the Blazers before the team traded for Jusuf Nurkic. Lowe adds that the Sixers did not hold Okafor out of two contests to simply drive up his price.
  • The two-way contracts for players who play in the NBA as well as the D-League could increase the value of second-round picks going forward, Lowe speculates. The scribe adds that front offices are still examining the new CBA and it could cause some teams to wait until after the season to make major deals.

Khris Middleton To Return Wednesday

Khris Middleton announced on a Fox Sports Wisconsin telecast that he will make his return from a hamstring injury on Wednesday against the Heat. Middleton will be making his season debut, as a torn left hamstring caused him to miss the season’s first 50 games.

Middleton wasn’t given a timetable for his return after undergoing surgery in October, but remained optimistic that he would play in 2016/17, telling Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel “I feel like I’ll definitely be back this year, barring a setback or anything like that.”

Middleton will be a much-appreciated presence in Jason Kidd‘s rotation. The Bucks currently sit one game out of the Eastern Conference eight-seed, having gone an anemic 1-9 over their last 10 games. Middleton, who averaged 18.2 points in a breakout 2015/16 campaign, will likely supplant Tony Snell in Milwaukee’s starting five.

The 25-year-old Middleton is in the second year of a five-year, $70MM contract.

Central Notes: Rondo, Middleton, Ellenson, S. Johnson

Rajon Rondo gained respect by standing up for his “rank-and-file” teammates and is unlikely to be traded before the Feb. 23rd deadline, writes Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report. Discord in the Bulls‘ locker room was aired publicly last week when Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler both went to the media with complaints that some players don’t care enough. Rondo responded on Instagram with a post saying that the veteran leaders on his former Celtics teams never would have done that. Rondo not only improved his standing in the locker room, he has also been productive in his role with the second unit, creating shots for younger players rather than fighting Wade and Butler for the ball.

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • Bucks swingman Khris Middleton is getting closer to making his season debut, tweets Charles F. Gardner of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He has been participating in contract drills and is expected to be ready soon, although not during the team’s current road trip. Middleton had surgery for a torn hamstring in September.
  • Henry Ellenson has only played in 14 NBA games, but the rookie big man has performed well enough in the D-League to the keep the Pistons optimistic about his future, according to Keith Langlois of Ellenson averaged 20 points and nine rebounds per game during his most recent trip to Grand Rapids. Langlois notes that he was taken with the pick that Detroit traded last year for Donatas Motiejunas then regained when the deal was rescinded. “I think the guy is a really, really talented offensive guy and I have great confidence in his work ethic, that he’ll work at it and get better,” said coach/executive Stan Van Gundy.
  • Pistons second-year swingman Stanley Johnson credits weight loss for his increased playing time, relays Rod Beard of The Detroit News. Johnson has dropped about 15 pounds and has become a reliable backup to shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope“The two things to me are he’s gotten in shape — which he wasn’t to start the year — and he’s gotten much more coachable,” Van Gundy said.