Luhm: Jazz, Bucks riding in the same leaky boat — for now
Published: January 5, 2014 12:36PM
Updated: March 24, 2014 11:31PM
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Steve Luhm

They are cold-weather, small-market brothers in a world where either characteristic can be a major obstacle on the road to success.

Milwaukee and Utah.

Two wonderful places — filled with good people — and home to NBA basketball franchises that find themselves floating in the same leaky boat.

The Bucks own the worst record in the abysmal Eastern Conference.

The Jazz own the worst record in the deep and talented Western Conference.

Both teams are as far away from championship contention as summertime in the north woods of Wisconsin or the high peaks of Utah.

“I see a lot of similarities,” Milwaukee coach Larry Drew said prior to the Jazz’s 96-87 win over the Bucks on Friday.

“Looking at personnel, we both have youth. We both sprinkle in some veteran guys. We’re looking to give the younger guys time because the more they play the [better] they are going to become. So I see a lot of similarities as far as where both organizations are right now.”

As the 2013-14 season approaches the halfway point, the Jazz are farther along the rebuilding trail than the Bucks.

Why?

Primarily, Utah took its first steps down this treacherous path almost three years ago, when it traded All-Star point guard Deron Williams shortly after Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan resigned.

Since those franchise-shaking events, the Jazz have watched Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter and Alec Burks emerge as legitimate NBA players.

Last summer, the Jazz took another huge step when they drafted Trey Burke, who has been better than anyone in the organization could have hoped.

“The thing I’m intrigued about in watching him play is his poise and his composure, particularly at that position,” Drew said. “To come in as a rookie at that point guard spot, that’s not an easy thing to do. ... You have a lot of things working against you.”

Specifically, Drew said, “Trying to get the respect of your teammates — particularly veteran guys who have been in the league — can be difficult. They say, ‘Here comes this rookie into our league. Can he control our team? Can he keep us organized?’ But I’m very intrigued by how composed he is.”

Milwaukee has its building blocks, too.

Against Utah, the Bucks’ starters included 22-year-old point guard Brandon Knight and rookie small forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, who just turned 19.

Antetokounmpo, in particular, looks like a star of the future.

The Bucks used the No. 15 pick on the little-known Greek teenager in last summer’s draft and they’re giving him a crash course in Basketball 101.

Antetokounmpo, who has a body-type similar to Kevin Durant, played 34 minutes in the loss to the Jazz. He stuffed his stat line with 10 points, seven rebounds, five assists and a blocked shot.

He is already the Bucks’ most noticeable player. It won’t be long before he is their best player.

“Giannis has really grown,” said Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin. “He’s quickly gotten better at understanding the NBA game. He’s getting a lot of time on the floor and he’s responded for them.”

Like their teams, Drew and Corbin find themselves in similar situations.

Their primary job this season isn’t winning. It’s developing players like Burke and Antetokounmpo.

“It can be very hard on a coach,” Drew said, smiling. “But that’s just one of those things we have to deal with. They’re playing their young guys. We’re playing our young guys. That’s just the nature of the beast right now.”

luhm@sltrib.com

Miller on the block?

Andre Miller is one of the last players I would expect to shout down his coach during a game and force punishment from his team. But it happened during the Denver-Philadelphia game Wednesday night, when rookie coach Brian Shaw benched a healthy Miller for the first time in his 15-year career. Miller’s uncharacteristic reaction initially earned him a two-game suspension, although the team quickly backpedaled. The Nuggets rescinded the suspension and announced Miller would simply stay away from the team until Monday for personal reasons. Translation: Miller gets punished, but he also gets paid. The question going forward, of course, is whether Shaw and Miller can co-exist. Not likely. Expect Miller to be a hot commodity before the Feb. 20 trade deadline.

Could Big Al finally be named an All-Star?

Former Jazz center Al Jefferson has been one of the NBA’s best low-post scorers for a decade. But he’s never played for a true contender and, not coincidentally, he’s never made an All-Star team. That could change this year. Jefferson averages 17 points and 10.1 rebounds for Charlotte. He’s helped make the Bobcats a playoff contender — albeit in the weak Eastern Conference. Besides Miami’s LeBron James and Indiana’s Paul George, there are no All-Star locks among frontcourt players. For now, Jefferson is taking a low-key approach to the issue: “I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it, man. Right now, we just need [to] win. ... I ain’t even thinking about the All-Star Game. That’s a long ways away.”

Lakers coach D’Antoni tries to keep it light

Injuries to Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Steve Blake have left the Lakers in ruins, but coach Mike D’Antoni hasn’t lost his sense of humor. Before playing in Utah last week, he was asked about L.A.’s Nick Young being one of the league leaders in 4-point plays. After hesitating, D’Antonio deadpanned, “Well, that’s one of our goals.” The Lakers’ lack of success has also led to a pair of games being pulled from the league’s national television schedule. “They will rue the day,” a tongue-in-cheek D’Antoni said. But he added, “They are doing business and you can’t blame them. It’s our job to say, ‘You messed up.’ “