Posted: Thursday November 3, 2005 1:57PM; Updated: Thursday November 3, 2005 7:16PM
Milwaukee has also benefitted from Ford's return, in effect giving the Bucks two lottery picks going into the season. Memories of Ford being carried off on a stretcher two years ago are still fresh in my mind, but the wiry point guard has played fearless basketball, attacking the basket and even mixing it up with 6-7 Richard Jefferson after a hard foul by the Nets forward.
No, I'm not preparing to engrave Milwaukee on the Larry O'Brien trophy, nor am I rallying Wisconsin for a parade past city hall. But are the Bucks a playoff team? Absolutely. Can they make some noise once they get in? Well, that depends on a couple of factors.
1. Terry Stotts
The Bucks coach makes me nervous, not because I don't appreciate his abilities, but because in the coaching ranks some men were meant to sit one seat over on the bench. Stotts was a great assistant for George Karl, first in Seattle and then for four seasons in Milwaukee. But being a good assistant doesn't mean he'll be a successful head coach (see Alvin Gentry, Randy Ayers). Stotts wasn't the first choice -- or second, for that matter -- to replace Terry Porter, and you can bet that even in his first season he will be kept on a short leash
2. The bench
Starters can't play 48 minutes a night, can they? Even with Magloire and Ford the Bucks are paper thin on the bench. Maurice Williams, Dan Gadzuric, Joe Smith, Charlie Bell and Toni Kukoc don't exactly strike fear as a second unit. An injury to a starter, any starter, would spell doom for the Bucks season.
Should Pacers coach Rick Carlisle start scheming for Redd? Is Pistons coach Flip Saunders lining up bigs to match up with Magloire and Bogut? Let's not get ahead of ourselves. But 96 minutes into the season, Milwaukee has shown it can play big, play small, play fast or play stall. Today, at least, they're the cream of the crop.
Down in Denver
Gotta feel for the Nuggets. On Opening Night last year they lost Voshon Lenard to a torn Achilles. Now word out of Denver is forward Nenę is out for the season with multiple ligament tears in his right knee. The Nuggets history of losing key players in the season's opening week is long, including the likes of Eric Williams ('98) and LaPhonso Ellis ('95). Nenę wasn't a starter like Lenard, but he was a key player off the bench, one who won't easily be replaced. Francisco Elson and Eduardo Najera are candidates to assume the third-year power forward's minutes.
No brotherly love here
Tough start for Philadelphia. Despite losing to Milwaukee in the opener Tuesday, Allen Iverson and Chris Webber looked to be on the same page for the first time since Webber joined the Philadelphia lineup at the trading deadline last season. Wednesday was a different story, as Webber struggled and the Sixers were hammered by Detroit. This is it for Philadelphia GM Billy King, who has fired or reassigned three coaches in two seasons. If Philadelphia continues to flounder early, it won't be head coach Maurice Cheeks who's shown the door, it will be King.
Told you so
Yes, I am the president of the Antoine Walker fan club, and at least for this week I can, in good conscience, tell his critics to keep it to themselves. Walker poured in 25 points (10-for-17 from the floor) and added 16 boards while blending in seamlessly in his first start at small forward. Yes, Walker is an enigma: he has an abundance of talent that sometimes gets blocked out by his perception that he's a perimeter scorer. But the man brings it every night, something that can't be said about a lot of players in this league. Maybe his detractors will give him half a chance.
Finally, a much anticipated shout out to my former college roommate and former high school backup quarterback (he claims) Adam Martin, who this week cemented his status as an overachiever with his recent engagement to former Boston College water polo star Andrea Lytle. My suggestion: a prediction that I made many years ago that turned out to be prophetic? Hold onto her like grim death. His response? "You don't think I know that?" Congratulations, kids
See you next week for the first Mannix Mailbag, where I will (finally) respond to some of the more insightful e-mailers who have filled my mailbox with questions and comments over the years. Agree or disagree, just keep it clean and fire away.