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Big step forward
by Gery Woelfel / October 28, 2005

Bigger is truly better.

That's especially true when it pertains to success in the NBA.

Take a gander at all the legitimately good teams in the Association, and virtually every one of them has not just one legit big man but two of them.

Exhibit A: The San Antonio Spurs. Yes, Tim Duncan is the best player on the planet, but would the Spurs have attained their high level of success without first, David Robinson, and now, Nazr Mohammed playing behind Duncan? Probably not.

Exhibit B: The Detroit Pistons. The Pistons were a very good team a couple of years ago but were they truly a championship-caliber out. Again, probably not. But then Pistons general manager Joe Dumars made a gutsy move - one that more than a few NBA officials told me at the time would backfire - and acquired talented but enigmatic Rasheed Wallace in a trade with Atlanta.

With the addition of Rasheed Wallace, Ben Wallace didn't have to shoulder all the responsibilities in the paint. Suffice to say, the Wallace & Wallace combination has worked out extremely well for the Pistons.

And there are other examples of teams that have benefited from the Twin Tower concept. Take the Indiana Pacers. They have an All-Star power forward in Jermaine O'Neal, who is flanked by Jeff Foster. Now Foster won't be coming to any All-Star Game in your town soon, but he is a warrior on the boards and willing to do all the so-called dirty work.

And then there's the Phoenix Suns. They have a superlative big man in Amare Stoudemire, who was a one-man wrecking crew up front last season. But the Suns' hierarchy shrewdly realized that Stoudemire couldn't do it on his own, that he needed assistance from another big man. So the Suns went out last summer and acquired Kurt Thomas from the New York Knicks. Again, Thomas won't be coming to any All-Star Game in your town, but he is a solid, all-around performer who figures to complement Stoudemire nicely when the returns to action.

And that brings us to the Milwaukee Bucks. Coming into training camp, most NBA mavens regarded the Bucks as a fringe Eastern Conference playoff team even though they made a spate of sweet moves during the offseason - including re-signing Michael Redd, signing free-agent small forward Bobby Simmons and selecting center Andrew Bogut with the No. 1 overall pick in the June draft.

But Bucks general manager Larry Harris was keenly cognizant of how his team was clearly a strata below the elite teams of the Eastern Conference, teams like Detroit with the Wallaces and Indiana with O'Neal and Foster and Miami with Shaq - does it really matter who plays besides The Diesel?

So when the opportunity arose for the Bucks to acquire an established big man in Jamaal Magloire from New Orleans, Harris didn't blink. He sent the Hornets a starting small forward in Desmond Mason and an unprotected first-round pick in next June's draft.

In Mason, the Bucks lost an amazingly athletic player, someone who'll deliver a highlight reel dunk in every game, someone who has seen every facet of his game improve.

What's more, the Bucks lost a player who had endeared himself to the fans and especially his teammates.

Said Bogut: "Desmond is a very caring guy. He cared about you whether you were the first guy on the team or the last guy on the team.''

Added Redd: "I really hated to see Desmond go.''

But while his teammates were sincerely disappointed to see Mason depart, they were eagerly awaiting the arrival of the 6-foot-11, 259-pound Magloire. Just 27, Magloire figures to be entering the prime of his career. He is a dependable low-post scorer and reliable rebounder.

Magloire was chosen to the 2004 Eastern Conference All-Star Game in Los Angeles . It was also the same one where Redd made his first All-Star appearance. Redd came away suitably impressed with the man known as "Big Cat.''

"I played with Jamaal in that All-Star Game and I saw what he could do,'' Redd said of Magloire, who scored 19 points and grabbed eight boards in just 21 minutes. "He can be a force.''

Redd's opinion apparently is shared by a lot of teams, among them being Memphis, Toronto, the Los Angeles Clippers, Indiana and the Los Angeles Lakers, who all actively pursued acquiring Magloire.

But the Bucks outbid the field and, in the process, instantly altered their image of being a team on the playoff periphery.

"Everybody outside of this organization didn't think of us as a playoff team,'' Bucks guard Mo Williams said. "Now, after this trade, we're considered a playoff team.''

An Eastern Conference player personnel director echoed those sentiments.

"I'll be honest with you: I didn't Milwaukee was a playoff team before,'' the player personnel director said. "I do now.''

With Magloire and Joe Smith starting at center and power forward, respectively, Bucks coach Terry Stotts will have the luxury of bringing Dan Gadzuric, who had the team's starting center last season, and the talented Bogut off the bench.

Stotts will also have an unusual amount of flexibility since all four of the aforementioned Bucks' big men are capable of playing both center and power forward. He should also sleep a little more comfortably on the nights before games against teams with imposing front lines like Detroit and Indiana and Miami .

"Getting Jamaal makes us a better team,'' Stotts said. "At the offensive end, we'll get better shots. Defensively, he makes us more solid in the paint.

"The best teams are able to defend the paint and score in the paint. When you're big, you're able to do those things.''

And compete against the big boys.

Gery Woelfel covers the Milwaukee Bucks and the NBA for The Racine (Wis.) Journal Times

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