Your Daily Playoff Positioning Briefing
After last night's slugfest with the Celtics, it would seem like kind of a letdown not to see the two teams get after it in a seven game series--we can't let all that bad blood go to waste, can we? But the reality is that there's still much to be determined over the last three days of the regular season, both in the Hawks/Celtics race for the third spot and Bucks/Heat battle for #5.
Atlanta maintains just a one-game lead on Boston, so they'll lock up the third slot if they win their final two (tomorrow and Wednesday in Cleveland, which may be resting LeBron). Same goes for the Bucks, who have the same record as Miami but hold the all-important head-to-head tiebreaker. So aside from having a tougher schedule than Miami, the Bucks' other problem is that they're caught in the middle of the 3/4 battle.
To complicate things even further, the Celtics are in Chicago on Tuesday night, and any chance the Bucks have of landing a lottery pick (via swapping picks with the Bulls) probably depends on Boston beating the motivated Bulls. It wouldn't be a tragedy if the Bucks had to settle for the 15th pick in the first round, but the 12th would be preferable, wouldn't it? That became less likely on Sunday when the Bulls crushed the Bosh-less Raps 104-88 in Toronto.
The last time Atlanta came to town on March 22, John Salmons outdueled Joe Johnson in a 98-95 Bucks win, scoring 16 of his 32 in the fourth quarter as the Bucks somehow overcame Atlanta's 53% shooting. Obviously the big difference between then and now is the loss of Andrew Bogut, but the weird, pseudo-silver lining is that Bogut didn't play particularly well against Al Horford in either of the first two games between the teams anyway. You couldn't say the same about Boston, which surrendered 25 points to Bogut in each of the teams' first two games. I'd never claim the Bucks won't miss Bogut against the Hawks, but they probably don't miss him as much as against the Celtics.
Overall, the Bucks have surrendered, 40, 34, 28, and 26 points in the paint since Bogut went down--an average of 32 ppg that is actually slightly better than the 37.2 ppg the Bucks have allowed over the course of the season (4th in the NBA). So the interior defense has actually held up reasonably well since Bogut went down, though I wouldn't expect that to continue over a larger sample size. Offensively the void is easier to see. The Bucks have talled 28, 24, 24, and 20 points in the paint, an average of just 24 ppg and well below the meager 37.3 ppg the Bucks average (already 3rd worst in the league). In case you're wondering how epically bad 24 ppg is, consider that Portland ranks dead last in the league at just over 36 ppg.
One other thing I'll be watching is how the Hawks' size in the backcourt impacts Scott Skiles' rotations. Joe Johnson made a mockery of the Bucks' smaller defenders last time out, backing down and shooting over pretty much everyone that tried to defend him. The Hawks can also go big at the point with sixth man-of-the-year-to-be Jamal Crawford, whom the Bucks really have no answer for in terms of PG size.
We'll be talking about Salmons' future plenty once the season is over, but there was some interesting news from PaulPressey25 over at RealGM about Salmons' potential future that I wanted to mention. PP (one of the forum's moderators and all-around intelligent Bucks fan) was at the season ticketholders Q&A the other day, where John Hammond alluded to a possible contract extension for Salmons.
Hammond said tonight that the team wants to sign Salmons to an extension. Also said that the Bucks can do so before June 30th. I got the impression that they will extend him before the FA period starts in July.
Per Larry Coon's CBA FAQ, Salmons is eligible for an extension because his current contract was at least three years in length (five years, $25.5 million), though the first year salary would be limited to 110.5% of the final year salary of the existing deal. That raises an interesting issue since Salmons is earning $6.429 million this year but he'd earn just $5.808 million next year if he doesn't exercise his early termination option. The FAQ notes that ETOs and options can be eliminated by mutual agreement, so my understanding is that the Bucks and Salmons could essentially wipe out next year's salary and then base an extension off the higher 09/10 salary figure.
Applying the 110.5% raise to his current salary would result in a max 10/11 salary of $7.1 million, with the possibility of additional annual raises worth $675k (again based on this year's salary). Using those parameters, a two year deal would be worth no more than $14.9 million and a three year deal no more than $23.3 million. Those numbers are all reasonable for a versatile 18-20 ppg scorer who can also play solid defense, especially considering how desperately the Bucks' needed a wing who could create shots.
But the real questions are whether a) Salmons can keep up his current level of play as he enters his early thirties and b) what the Bucks might otherwise be able to do with those cap dollars in 2011 and 2012. Next year isn't the big concern since the Bucks will still be waiting for Redd and Gadzuric to come off the books, though it could limit the Bucks' ability to sign an MLE free agent this summer. Barring another big move, the Bucks could still have plenty of cap room to play with in 2011 if Salmons was on the books for $8 million, which makes me a bit less concerned about committing to him when his market value is obviously at its highest. Odds are that Salmons will not be playing at this level two years from now--heck, he was on the outs in Chicago just a couple months ago--and committing three years would in many ways indicate just how fearful the Bucks are of losing Salmons and having to take a step backwards next year. But there's also a big difference between $7-8 million and, say, $18.3 million.
Bogut tweeted Sunday that he's due for a smaller cast today, which is welcome news considering the monstrosity he's been lugging around for the last week apparently prevents him from walking around for more than an hour. It's also the obvious reason why he hasn't been able to watch games from the bench. We've said it once and we'll say it again: feel better, Drew.