Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Building The 15 - Initial Advice for John Hammond

The 2012-13 Milwaukee Brewers were arguably the most disappointing playoff team in franchise history.  That might seem harsh but keep in mind the Bucks had their most talented roster since the "Big Three left town, but almost everyone saw the Bucks getting swept by the Heat in the opening round of the playoffs.

I don't normally include quotes in my posts but backup shooting guard J.J. Redick, despite joining the team in February from Orlando, summed up the season as succinctly as possible: "We had a losing record. We were the eighth seed and we lost, 4-0, in the first round...If you're taking positives from mediocrity, you're setting yourself up for a major fail in the future. Hopefully, every person takes it upon themselves to get better in the off-season...We'll see what the team looks like, if I'm back, and hopefully, we can be better and gain momentum for this franchise." Well said Redick because as you are about to see, it is time for the Bucks to bottom out instead of lingering as a fringe playoff team.

In case you missed my final player rankings for the 2012-13 Milwaukee Bucks, take a  quick look because it will help set the stage for how I think Milwaukee Bucks general manager John Hammond should approach next season.  Much like I did in 2011 and 2012, get ready for my advice for Milwaukee Bucks general manager John Hammond for how to approach this off-season.

The Bucks currently have seven guaranteed contracts totaling just $30 million next season: Ersan Ilyasova ($7.9 million), Drew Gooden ($6.7 million), Luc Mbah a Moute ($4.6 million), Ekpe Udoh ($4.5 million), Larry Sanders ($3.1), John Henson ($1.9 million), and Ish Smith ($1 million).

There are three players that are sort of guaranteed to be on the roster for next season.  Pending what happens with two options, the Bucks might be on the hook for another $12.5 million for two players: Monta Ellis holds a $11 million player option and the Bucks own a $1.5 million team option on Gustavo Ayon.  Besides that, Brandon Jennings is a restricted free agent, which means the Bucks can match any offer that Jennings receives this off-season.

That leaves fives players that are unrestricted free agents (their salary from last season in parenthesis): Samuel Dalembert ($6.7 million), J.J. Redick ($6 million), Mike Dunleavy ($3.75 million), Joel Przybilla ($1.4 million), and Marquis Daniels ($1.3 million).

With the backdrop set, here is my 10 Point Plan for Milwaukee Bucks general manager John Hammond should approach this off-season:

#10) Pick-up Gustavo Ayon's $1.5 million team option for next season. Worst case scenario Ayon is a super cheap contract (by NBA standards) that turns into a salary inclusion in a trade next season.  Best case scenario, Ayon plays 10 minutes a game as the 4th or 5th guy off the bench.

#9) Amnesty Drew Gooden. I would love to see #AmnestyGooden trend on Twitter. The beauty of the amnesty provision for Gooden is that he would get paid every dollar that he is owed under his current contract: two-years for $13.4 million dollars. As I've said many times, I see Bucks owner Herb Kohl spacing out that bloated contract instead of making it go away, which makes no sense to me since Gooden is the only amnesty worthy player left on the roster. This would allow both sides to move on with the Bucks getting even more salary cap space that they will most likely not use but would open up one of their 15 roster spots to take a flyer on a younger guy that could actually contribute instead of having an aging veteran that will not contribute anything meaningful for the next two seasons.

#8) Offer Marquis Daniels and Joel Przybilla one-year, veteran minimum contracts. That might be a little cheap for Daniels since he started 33 games for the Bucks but paying Daniels anything more than $1.5 million doesn't make sense because there are tons of similar players (i.e. Ronnie Brewer, Daequan Cook, etc). The same cannot be said for Przybilla because he only appeared in 12 games all season, averaging a mere 5.7 minutes so just being offered a contract should be a big deal for Przybilla.

#7) As I said last year for #7, please read my preview of the players the Bucks should target in the first and second round of the 2013 NBA Draft.  No I don't have a big ego, but I do a ton of research on all professional drafts, so Hammond and Company should benefit from that love.

#6) Thank Samuel Dalembert J.J. Redick for their services. Last season Dalembert was suspended and docked pay for "conduct detrimental to the team". To add insult to injury, Dalembert said he could see himself playing for the Miami Heat next season while he was a member of the Bucks as they were getting swept by the Heat in the playoffs. This is a long way of saying I wouldn't even re-sign Dalembert for the veteran minimum, which would be over $5 million less than the Bucks paid Dalembert last season. Transitioning from Dalembert to Redick. For those that don't remember, the Bucks traded Beno Udrih, Tobias Harris, and Doron Lamb to the Orlando Magic for Redick, Gustavo Ayon, and Ish Smith.   I see Redick as more of a complimentary player than a franchise player so don't compound the short-sided trade by offering him a John Salmons-esque extension. Someone will be dumb enough to offer Redick a four or five year deal for seven or eight million dollars a year, just don't let that someone be the Bucks because that is way too much money for Steve Kerr 2.0.  If a sign and trade can get the Bucks a draft pick or an interesting expiring contracts, great.  If not, let Redick leave via free agency.

#5) Offer Mike Dunleavy the identical two-year, $7 million contract he signed before the 2011-12 season. After how well Dunleavy played the last two seasons, he might deserve to earn more but he would only get that from a non-playoff team. I think Dunleavy has three options: sign with one of the Top 5 teams for the veteran minimum to be a deadly shooter that is the 9th or 10th man in the rotation, sign the two-year $7 million deal with the Bucks (or a similarly situated borderline playoff team), or break the bank one last time by signing for what amounts to the mid-level exception with a perennial lottery team.

#4) Let Brandon Jennings test the market. I see Jennings as an entertaining player but nothing more than a third banana on a playoff team, which does not make him worth the max contract that he is seeking this off-season. Last off-season Jennings wanted a big extension like some of his other draftmates signed: Blake Griffin (five-year, $80 million), James Harden (five-year, $80 million), Stephen Curry (four-year, $44 million), DeMar DeRozan (four-year, $42 million), Jrue Holiday (four-year, $41 million extension), Ty Lawson (four-year, $48 million), and Taj Gibson (four-year, $38 million). The Bucks and Jennings never came to an agreement so I see three ways to proceed.  If an NBA team wants to pay Jennings like Griffin or Harden, let him leave via free agency.  If the Bucks can get a sign and trade similar to what I discussed above for Redick, take that for Jennings on his way out of town. If Jennings will take $10 million a year then re-sign him. If Jennings does not garner the type of interest he is expecting, sign Jennings to his one-year, $4.4 million qualifying offer.  I favor trying to get Jennings to sign his $4.4 million qualifying offer because at that price, Jennings would be woefully underpaid but that would give the Bucks a nice trade chip that could hopefully net the Bucks a draft pick at the trade deadline.

#3) Talk Monta Ellis into picking up his $11 million player option. Even before Ellis joined the Bucks I thought he was the perfect irrational confidence fourth banana volume shooter on a contender, which means $11 million a season is way too much to pay Ellis. As a result, Ellis should pick up his $11 million for next season for next season because he will never earn that much in any season for the rest of his career. The beauty of having Ellis for $11 million next season is that he becomes a valuable expiring contract at the 2014 NBA Trade Deadline. If Ellis declines his player option, let him leave via free agency if he wants to be paid more than the mid-level exception (four-year, $20 million deal). We can all agree that $5 million a year is too little to pay Ellis but $11 million is way too much so I know that seems like I am undervaluing Ellis by only authorizing paying him the mid-level exception but you can't afford to overpay for an offense-only point/shooting guard.

#2) Pass on any "marquee" free agents besides Chris Paul. The Bucks took Andrew Bogut with the 1st pick in the 2005 NBA Draft ahead of Marvin Williams (2nd), Deron Williams (3rd), and Chris Paul (4th). Although it is easy to look back and complain about passing D-Will and Paul, the consensus top two players in the 2005 NBA Draft were Bogut and Marvin Williams. Oh dang. The best "potential" free agents this off-season at each position are: Chris Paul (PG), Manu Ginobili (SG), Josh Smith (SF), David West (PF), and Dwight Howard (C).  All these guys will either re-sign with their team or never consider Milwaukee. The next best "potential" free agent this off-season at each position are: Jose Calderon (PG), Kevin Martin (SG), Andre Iguodala (SF), Paul Millsap (PF), Al Jefferson (C).  All those guys look like they are going get paid like franchise players even though none of them are even close to being one of the best 25 players in the NBA.  That is a long way of saying that unless Chris Paul will shot the world to sign with the Bucks, they should sit on the sidelines at the start of free agency. Signing cheaper, short-term deals later in free agency is what the Bucks need to do as a part of bottoming out.

#1) Hire a cheaper, defensive minded head coach as the 13th head coach in franchise history. I generally respect Michael Hunt's take on the Milwaukee Bucks but he missed the mark recently when he said the Bucks should go after former Orlando Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy and have current Houston Rockets assistant coach Kelvin Sampson as their backup plan. Van Gundy is a poor man's Phil Jackson meaning he does well meshing big personalities in the locker room but without the rings to show for it. The Bucks have very few big time players on their roster right now so hiring Van Gundy seems like overkill. In terms of Sampson, I think the NCAA rule book is arcane and out of date, but that doesn't change the fact that Sampson was under investigation for rules violations at Oklahoma when he left for Indiana. Instead of cleaning up his act at Indiana, Sampson continued to break NCAA rules thus he was precluded from coaching in the college ranks for rules violations at Oklahoma and Indiana. Leaving two of the Top 20 basketball programs in disarray because of recruiting violations is a character issue since Sampson was the head coach so the responsibility falls on his shoulders. As one of the top assistants in the NBA since 2008, there is no doubt that Sampson deserves to get a head coaching gig in the NBA this year, I just hope it is not in Milwaukee.  According to Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski the Bucks narrowed their head coaching search to Los Angeles Lakers assistant Steve Clifford, Atlanta Hawks coach Larry Drew, and Sampson.  Obviously I do not support hiring Sampson and I am indifferent on hiring Clifford or Drew.  As it turns out, only two of the three will be coming back for second interviews because Clifford was already hired by Charlotte Horbobnetcats.  I haven't been involved in the interview process obviously but if I were in charge I  would hire a younger, defensive minded coach such as: J.B. Bickerstaff, Mike Budenholzer (hired by Atlanta Hawks), David Fizdale, Alex Jensen, Dave Joerger, Mike Malone, Robert Pack, or Brian Shaw.

As you can see, I want to see the Bucks bottom out for the next few seasons to build a long-term contender for the next decade so the 14th (or 15th) coach in franchise history can reap the benefits.  Check back as the 2013 NBA Draft approaches to find out my specific thoughts on what the Bucks should do with the 15th and 43rd pick in the draft to start the rebuilding process.

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