The thought sort of faded away because of the Celtics’ ridiculous playoff run, but there was a stretch during the second half of the year when people were seriously talking about the Celtics needing to do everything possible to avoid facing the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round. When the Bucks were in fifth place, the Celtics needed to dodge the fourth spot. When the Bucks slipped, ‘Hey, maybe the fourth seed isn’t that bad!"
These are the Bucks we’re talking about. The Milwaukee Bucks.
But they struck that kind of fear around these parts. They were a new incarnation of the Atlanta Hawks. Young, gritty, fearless. Of course, they had one rookie point guard who embodied every quality. Brandon Jennings talked trash by the truckload, but backed it up by helping push the Bucks to the playoffs for the first time since 2006. One of his memorably rebellious moments came when Kevin Garnett gave Jennings the patented “I’m crazy” face, Jennings gave Garnett a look that said, “Me too!”
What ultimately sabotaged the Bucks was a gruesome injury to Andrew Bogut, an all-star snub who did about as much damage as you could possibly do to an arm when he came crashing down on it after a dunk attempt late in the year. The good news for the Bucks is that Bogut’s recovering and could be back by the start of the season. The bad news for the East is that the Bucks see themselves as a legitimate threat rather than your run-of-the-mill nuisance. They’ve got the coaching in Scott Skiles. Their ownership showed a commitment to winning by paying to keep John Salmons (five years, $39 million). Now, they’ve got 50 wins in their crosshairs.
Key adds: Earl Boykins, Jon Brockman, Keyon Dooling, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Drew Gooden, Corey Maggette, John Salmons
Key losses: Charlie Bell, Dan Gadzuric, Royal Ivey, Darnell Jackson, Luke Ridnour, Kurt Thomas
Celtics games: Nov. 3 at Boston, Mar. 6 11 at Milwaukee, Mar. 13 at Boston
Strengths: Defense and rebounding were their foundation last season, and they added pieces to strengthen it. They brought in Drew Gooden, the 6-foot-10-inch vet who pulled down nearly eight boards a game last year, and Jon Brockman, who’s only in the league because of his rebounding ability. They also drafted Larry Sanders, the Defensive Player of the Year in the Colonial , grabbing 9.1 rebounds and swatting 2.6 shots a night for VCU.
Weaknesses: They finished in the bottom third of the league in scoring (97.7, tied for 27th) and brought in Corey Maggette (19.8 ppg on 51.6 percent shooting) to address the issue by adding a scorer they can go to when Jennings, Bogut or Salmons is off the floor.
Bogut’s uncertainty, Jennings’ confidence
A friend Marcus Vanderberg caught up with Jennings not too long ago, and from their chat, you can tell Jennings has a mental checklist of all the doubters -- people questioning his decision to skip college to play in Europe, people laughing at his choice to sign a shoe deal with Under Armor, people side-eying the Bucks as a playoff possibility -- and he absolutely lusts for the chance to prove them wrong.
MV: Do you have any regrets about skipping college to play professionally in Europe?
BJ: No. What’s crazy is everyone who was behind my back telling me that was a dumb decision, now they are all in my face saying how great of a decision it was along with signing with Under Armour. I just laugh.
MV: How would you grade your rookie year in the NBA?
BJ: I would have to give it an A. We got to the playoffs, won 46 games and everybody counted us out. For us to take Atlanta to seven games without our big man, that tells you a lot about our team.
MV: What are your expectations for this season?
BJ: Win 50 games, get out of the first round of the playoffs, win the Central Division and hopefully I can average a double-double.