While you were likely sleeping, the NBA off-season got off to a blistering start, with the Milwaukee Bucks making a couple of significant moves to bolster their championship odds for next season.
The Bucks first made a big splash Monday evening by reportedly swinging a deal for one-time all-star, and two-way terror Jrue Holiday in exchange for Eric Bledsoe, George Hill and a slew of first-round draft picks and pick swaps.
Then, about two hours after that initial volley, they followed that up with a reported second salvo move, acquiring sharpshooter Bogdan Bogdanovic from the Sacramento Kings in a sign-and-trade deal that will see the likes of Donte DiVincenzo, Ersan Ilyasova and D.J. Wilson heading to Sacramento.
These are league-shaking maneuvers that figure to set up the Bucks, the holders of the best record in the NBA for the past two seasons, for a possible trip to the Finals — and maybe even a championship after back-to-back playoff disappointments.
Milwaukee will now feature a star-studded projected starting five of Holiday, Bogdanovic, Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez and, of course, two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.
That’s really strong-looking on paper and the work that Bucks GM Jon Horst did to create this kind of lineup is worthy of praise — especially if the season ends with a title, as these kinds of win-now moves always hope to end in.
But more pertinently, however, is what these trades may say about the future of Antetokounmpo.
The Milwaukee superstar has until Dec. 21 to sign a supermax extension. If he were to do so, it would alleviate all the anxiety over him potentially hitting the open market in the 2021 off-season. A closer examination at what the Bucks gave up to build their new starting five might provide insight into how confident they are in retaining Antetokounmpo’s talents beyond this coming season.
There are two schools of thought here when it comes to this: Because Milwaukee gave up so much in these trades, that means he’s either definitely going to sign an extension and these moves were made as a show of faith to him, or the Bucks are simply so desperate to try to convince him to stay or win with the Greek star that they opted to completely leverage their future to do so.
Here’s a closer look at both thought processes and how each may affect the planning of potential Antetokounmpo free-agent suitors, such as the Toronto Raptors.
Bucks are confident Giannis is staying
The reason for optimism if you’re the Bucks is really simple: Why else would you give away so much of your future if you’re sure Antetokounmpo was sticking around?
To put this into clear perspective, take a look at the draft pick compensation Milwaukee gave up to acquire Holiday, via ESPN’s Bobby Marks:
That’s three first-round picks and two pick swaps, essentially a completely leveraged future in a similar vein to the deal the Brooklyn Nets made with the Boston Celtics all those years ago to bring in Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.
Surely the Bucks wouldn’t be so foolish as to throw the baby out with the bathwater without some assurances that their franchise cornerstone would be coming for the long haul, right?
Well, even before the Bucks made their big splash Monday night, there was some reporting from The Athletic’s Sam Amick that the Bucks were feeling very optimistic that Antetokounmpo would sign with the team long-term.
And if that’s the case, then suddenly the fact that Holiday is on an expiring deal doesn’t hurt as much because he’s a piece of business Milwaukee could sort out later, in addition to however long Bogdanovic’s new contract may be, marking a new era of Bucks basketball that has the potential to see this core terrorizing the East for the next three or four years.
For the Raptors or any other team pinning their hopes on Antetokounmpo next off-season, this scenario would throw a serious wrench in their plans — but wouldn’t completely derail them.
Obviously many teams will be hoping for any intel to decide on what Antetkounmpo is going to do and then plan to keep as much financial flexibility to have a max slot open for him next off-season, and the decisions they make this off-season will certainly dictate that.
With that said, even if Antetokounmpo opts to remain in Milwaukee it’s not like squads need to completely change their strategies of keeping that cap room open for the 2021 off-season as, unlike this year, next year’s free agency class still looks to be killer with big names like kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Victor Oladipo, among others, expected to be available on the open market.
It’s logical to believe that Antetokounmpo will stay in Milwauke, particularly after this kind of short-term commitment to trying to to win shown to him, and as such, if teams weren’t already planning for this scenario for 2021 they probably are now.
Bucks are convinced Giannis is heading for free agency
The counterpoint to all that was just said is that the Bucks are, indeed, just so desperate and afraid Antetokounmpo wants to leave that they’re now pushing all their chips in for this one season to try to win it all and, hopefully, convince their star to re-sign with them.
As logical as the first argument we went over is, this idea would seem to be on equal footing.
Again, looking at what was given up and the fact Holiday is an expiring deal, there’s good reason to believe the Bucks are acting desperately after two seasons of disappointment.
Bringing in Bogdanovic figures to help solve the issue of needing more three-point shooting around Antetokounmpo as he’s an efficient, high-volume three-point shooter with plenty of big-game experience dating back to his professional career in Europe.
And as for Holiday, he’s among the best two-way players in the league and figures to be a demonstrable upgrade at point guard over Eric Bledsoe, who had fine regular seasons the past two years but came up short in each of the last two post-season runs, contributing to the past two doomed playoff efforts from Milwaukee.
Holiday doesn’t have a ton of playoff experience, but the last time he played post-season basketball in 2018 he managed to raise his game over the level he showed in the regular season. At the very least, given his size, he will be a more valuable defender than even Bledsoe was due to the fact he can comfortably check both guard spots and even some threes.
It’s unknown how long the Bogdanovic deal might be for as his contract can’t be signed until Sunday at 12:01 p.m. ET, but it’s likely he’ll be in Milwaukee for a little longer. Holiday, as mentioned before, is on an expiring deal with a player option for the 2021-22 season worth about $26.3 million.
Now there’s certainly a scenario where Holiday opts in, but if he ends up having a big season he will almost certainly opt out and look to command a new max deal — a price tag that may be out of the Bucks’ budget.
Horst and Co. had to have weighed this scenario. But they pulled the trigger on the deal anyway, trading Bledsoe, a good reserve point guard in Hill and, essentially, their entire draft future for just a one-season rental of a very good player in Holiday, but not one who’s a superstar.
That’s just foolhardy business, but becomes necessary if you’re trying to convince, arguably, the best basketball player on the planet to stay rather than take his pick of the litter.
And if you’re one of those other teams who Antetokounmpo might bolt to in free agency seeing the Bucks make this all-in move you’re probably laughing because, sure, Milwaukee will be more formidable for this one season, but beyond that? The careful building that’s turned Milwaukee into a power in the East just went by the wayside and this is a team that’s going to be a non-factor for years to come — if Antetokounmpo leaves.
Without Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee won’t be much of anything, nor will it be able to rebuild itself without any draft picks to take advantage of the inevitable losing that will come.
So if you’re the Raptors or any of the other teams pinning their hopes on Antetokounmpo then go ahead and tip your hat to the Bucks for this season, because it may be the last one we see from them for a while.
Berrettini ends Murray’s comeback at Queen’s
The 34-year-old two-time Wimbledon champion, playing in his first singles tournament on grass for three years, could not handle the ferocious pace of Berrettini as he slid to defeat.
Murray eased past Benoit Paire in his opening match on Tuesday but world number nine Berrettini was too big a step up.
Berrettini’s huge first serve and forehand did most of the damage but the Italian also showed plenty of silky touch on the slick lawns to register his first career win over Murray.
Berrettini, 25, finished the match off with a powerful hold of serve, banging down four massive first serves before sealing victory with a clubbing forehand winner.
He faces British number one Dan Evans in the quarter-final after Evans beat Frenchman Adrian Mannarino.
Murray, a five-time winner of the traditional warm-up event but now ranked 124 after long battles with hip injuries including resurfacing surgery in 2019, has been handed a wildcard for the Wimbledon championships.
Apart from a slight groin niggle, Murray said he was reasonably happy with his condition, considering this was only his third Tour-level tournament of the year.
“I think obviously I need to improve,” Murray told reporters. “I actually felt my movement was actually quite good for both of the matches. My tennis today was not very good today. That’s the thing that I’ll need to improve the most.
“I felt like today that that sort of showed my lack of matches.”
Spanish veteran Feliciano Lopez, who won the singles title in 2019 and the doubles alongside Murray, was beaten 6-2 6-3 by Canada‘s Denis Shapovalov.
(Reporting by Martyn HermanEditing by Toby Davis and Pritha Sarkar)
Be Like the King of the North Division and Develop Skills
It’s been a year unlike no other for Canadian hockey teams, with COVID-19 travel restrictions forcing the creation of a new NHL division made up entirely of Canadian teams. The previous generation of NHL hockey was known as the “Dead Puck Era” because referees tolerated slowing down the game with clutching and grabbing.
The leading scorers today score in jaw-dropping fashion and routinely pull off stickhandling dangles that were unimaginable until only recently. The Canadian team that will win the North Division will be the one with the most skill.
Here are the training aids that will help you develop your skills all year long.
Innovators like HockeyShot Canada make “passers” so that players can develop pinpoint accuracy and the soft hands necessary to cradle and control a pass when it lands on your stick. The high-quality rubber bands return the puck with the same force which passed it, so you can give yourself one-timers or work on accuracy.
Whether you’re on a two-on-one, sending a breakout pass from the defensive zone, or holding down the blue line on the power play, every positional player needs to pass accurately.
A player is lucky to get a few shots on net each game, and they can’t let them go to waste. Until recently, players needed to rent ice in the off-season to practice their shots in realistic game-like conditions.
Now, players can use shooting pads at their home that let pucks glide as they do on real ice. Shooting is perhaps the one skill that requires the most repetition because one inch can be the difference between going bar-down and clanking one wide off the post.
Practice your quick release and accuracy and develop an arsenal of shots, including wrist shots, slapshots, one-timers, and more. The more tools in your tool kit, the deadlier a sniper you’ll be.
Having the puck on your stick is a responsibility, and you don’t want to cough it up to the other team and waste a scoring chance or lose possession. The ability to stickhandle helps you bide time until a teammate is open, so you can pass them the puck and continue attacking.
If you’re on a breakaway, you may want to deke the goalie rather than shoot if your hands are silky enough. Develop stickhandling skills, and you’ll keep goalies and opponents guessing – being unpredictable helps make a sniper’s job easier.
Of course, you also need to handle the puck in your own zone without causing a turnover. Stickhandling is a crucial skill in all areas of the ice.
When the coach sends you over the board, you need to be prepared for whatever comes your way. Maybe you’ll get the puck in the slot or somewhere else, but when it’s playoffs, you always need to be ready. The Kings of the North Division have all of the above skills and more, and you can too if you practice all year.
Australia swim trials calendar shift to reap Tokyo rewards
Australia broke with tradition to hold its swimming trials just six weeks before the start of the 2020 Olympics and former world champion Giaan Rooney said the move could reap rich rewards in Tokyo after disappointments at London and Rio.
Australia has typically held its trials up to six months before an Olympics but that gap has been drastically cut this year with swimmers vying for Tokyo spots this week in Adelaide.
Rooney, who won individual world titles at Fukuoka and Montreal and a relay gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics, said Australia is gearing up for a much improved Games after its swimmers flopped at Rio and London.
“I think we needed to make it work,” she told Reuters. “The shift started about a year ago to bring the trials into line with the rest of the world and qualify five or six weeks before.
“In sport and swimming, six months is a long time,” Rooney added. “From a coaching perspective, it’s much better to know you have chosen the team in form.”
After winning five gold medals at Sydney 2000 and seven in Athens, the Australian team was rocked by accusations of disruptive behaviour by some of its top sprinters at the 2012 Olympics.
Australia won just one gold medal in the London pool and three in Rio five years ago.
Australia knew something had to be done if it was to close the gap on the powerful Americans and moving the trials is part of the strategy.
“I think it’s to make your swimmers more resilient to change,” Rooney said.
“In the USA they get to race every week regardless of illness or breakups and under all circumstances. Nothing rattles them.
“Australia doesn’t have that racing continuity. This is about making sure you are prepared for anything. I think our swimmers are more resilient than they have been in the past decade, COVID is part of this.”
Rooney said there might even be an “upside” for Australia with the Olympics postponed by a year due to the global health crisis, with the emergence of swimmers like teenager Kaylee McKeown, who broke the women’s 100m backstroke world record on Sunday.
“We are now talking about athletes who are not only going to make the Olympics but are medal chances,” Rooney said.
“We wouldn’t have been talking about her this time last year. She might not have been ready for a position on the team. She is now a legitimate gold medal chance in Tokyo once she gets there.”
For all her confidence about Australia’s performance in Tokyo, Rooney was wary of making predictions about a gold rush for her compatriots.
“I think this will be a more successful Olympics for us than Rio in the pool but individual goal medals will still be difficult to come by,” said the 38-year-old.
“The biggest challenge is to make the jump from minor medals to gold.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)