Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Building The 15 - How We Got Here

The 2013-14 Milwaukee Bucks open the the season on the road tonight against the New York Knicks. There are just four players left on The 15 from the 2012-13 Milwaukee Bucks so I expect there to be some chemistry issues.  Despite the fact that I already looked at some of the moves Milwaukee Bucks general manager John Hammond made earlier this off-season, I thought it made sense to take a total look at all the moves that netted the 2013-14 Milwaukee Bucks 11 new players on The 15.

It is well known by now that Milwaukee Bucks owner Herb Kohl would rather see the Bucks creep into the playoffs as an 8th seed and get swept by the Miami Heat again like they did last year than bottom out.  Almost every move this off-season by Hammond looked like another middling move that caused me to try to get #FearTheMediocreDeer trending as a hash tag on Twitter.

Whether you view the moves that Hammond made as an attempt to pacify Kohl's mandate to stay relevant instead of bottom out or middling moves that will help the Bucks long-term, I find a few of the moves sensible but most of them and others downright ridiculous.  Here are my rankings (worst to best) of every move made between the end of last season and the start of this season to cobble together The 15:

Hire Larry Drew as head coach: For some reason teams would rather give retread coaches another chance instead of rolling the dice on a young, hungry defensive minded coach.  I gave a number of suggestions for where the Bucks should go at head coach, unfortunately Hammond ignored my suggestions.

Signed Zaza Pachulia (C ) to a three-year, $15.6 million contract: The Bucks are paying Pachulia a ton of money despite the fact that they have a bunch of young talent in the front that needs to play in order to see if their potential translates into production.  Given how much the Bucks are paying Pachulia, if he sits on the bench then he is most expensive insurance policy in the NBA or will take away valuable minutes from one of the young front court players that should learn on the job this season.

Waived Gustavo Ayon (C): The Bucks could have had a decent, young backup center on the roster for $1.5 million.  Instead they Bucks waived Ayon before his contract was guaranteed for the season.  I know $1.5 million is a lot of money in the real world but that is a pittance in the NBA for a legitimate backup center.

Renounced the rights to Joel Przybilla (C): Waiving Ayon made even less sense with Przybilla no longer on The 15.  I know Pachulia is a much better player than Ayon or Przybilla but I would rather pay Ayon or Przybilla 20% of what they are paying Pachulia since Ayon or Przybilla are are about 80% as effective as Pachulia.

Traded Viacheslav Kravtsov (C) and Ish Smith (G) to the Phoenix Suns for Caron Butler (SF): Given that Butler is a starting small forward, the Bucks got a ton of talent in return for spare parts in this trade but it came at a cost since Butler is due $8 million this season on his expiring deal.  I hope the Bucks added Butler in hopes of flipping him to a contender at the trade deadline because the goal this season is to hand out playing time to younger players not guys pushing their mid-30's.

The 15
1. Ersan Ilyasova (PF)
2. Larry Sanders (C)
3. John Henson (PF/C)
4. Brandon Knight (PG)
5. Giannis Antetokounmpo (SF)
6. Gary Neal (SG)
7. O.J. Mayo (SG)
8. Caron Butler (SF)
9. Nate Wolters (PG)
10. Khris Middleton (SF)
11. Luke Ridnour (PG)
12. Carlos Delfino (SG/SF)
13. Zaza Pachulia (C)
14. Ekpe Udoh (PF)
15. Miroslav Raduljica (C)
Signed O.J. Mayo (G) to a three-year, $24 million contract: For those that are unable to read between the lines, I would much rather see the Bucks sign one-year deals instead of shelling out large, multi-year deals.  In this instance the Bucks took a calculated risk on a player in his mid-20's that could actually improve over the life of his contract.  I think the odds are slim (not a word used to describe May's current weight) that Mayo ever turns into a superstar but I would much rather the Bucks pay Mayo instead of their other shooting guards (Monta Ellis and J.J. Redick) from last season.

Traded Luc Mbah a Moute to the Sacramento Kings for two second round draft picks: I am an unabashed lover of The Prince for the mere fact that he is a defensive stopper that can guard almost anyone in the NBA very well.  Injuries have limited his effectiveness over the last few seasons but when healthy, The Prince is one of the better one-on-one defenders in the NBA.  Despite The Prince's limited offensive game, two-years for $9 million feels about right.  I get trying to cut costs but it is hard to reconcile the decision with how much the Bucks overpaid Mayo and Pachulia.

Renounced the rights to Marques Daniels (SG/SF): The Bucks decided to upgrade this spot by signing slightly more expensive players in place of Daniels but I would have just brought Daniels back on a one-year deal for the league minimum to save money.

Traded J.J. Redick (G) for two second round pick: I guess it is better to get something instead of nothing for Redick since he was going to leave as a free agent but when you factor in that the Bucks got two second round draft picks for Tobias Harris and Beno Udrih, the Redick for Harris and Udrih doesn't look very good.

Renounced the rights to Mike Dunleavy (SF): According to various reports, the Bucks wanted Dunleavy to return but he wanted to play for a winner so I can't blame him for signing with the Chicago Bulls.

Signed Miroslav Raduljica (C) to a veteran minimum contract: For how horribly the Bucks messed up the Pachulia instead of Ayon or Przybilla move, they saved themselves slightly with the Raduljica signing.  My expectations for Raduljica are low in terms of on-court production but like the contract and extra six fouls he brings to The 15.

Renounced the rights to Samuel Dalembert (C): The Bucks traded Jon Brockman, Jon Leuer, Shaun Livingston, and the 12th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft to the Houston Rockets for Samuel Dalembert, the 14th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, a future second round pick, and cash considerations.  Let's not forget that Dalembert said he wouldn't mind playing for the Miami Heat during the playoffs.  Keep in mind Dalembert was a member of the Bucks as they were getting swept by the Heat when he made that comment.  The Bucks fined and suspended Dalembert a number of times throughout the season so this move was a no brainer.  Funny that the Heat thought so little of Dalembert that they rolled the the perpetually injured Greg Oden instead of signing Dalembert.

In a three team deal the Bucks traded the Oklahoma City Thunder the rights to Szymon Szewczyk (C) for Luke Ridnour (G) and a second round draft pick from the Minnesota Timberwolves: The Bucks facilitated a sign-and-trade between the Thunder and Timberwolves so they got a quality backup combo guard and a second round pick for their trouble.  I don't mind bringing Ridnour back into the fold, especially because he is the perfect mentor for the young Bucks back court since he is the older version of rookie Nate Wolters.

Signed Carlos Delfino (SG/SF) to a three-year, $9.75 million: Much like Hammond, I've always been a fan of Delfino's game.  When healthy, I would much rather pay $3 million for Delfino than $8 million for Mayo.  This move would have been even higher on the list but the Bucks are without Delfino's services through at least the first month of the season, if not longer, due to a foot injury

"Drafted" Nate Wolters (G) in the second round of the 2013 NBA Draft: The Bucks actually drafted Ledo and then traded his rights along with a future second round pick for Wolters.  Originally I wished the Bucks just held onto Ricardo Ledo instead of trading for Wolters because it cost them a future second round pick despite the fact that they own roughly 500 second round picks in the next dozen drafts.  I can't kill the trade because as I discussed in the Ridnour trade, Wolters looks like a potential ten year veteran that could be the 7th or 8th guy on a championship team.  As long as Ledo doesn't turn out to be a complete stud, I am fine with the transaction.

Signed Gary Neal (G) to a two-year, $6.5 million contract: The only player on The 15 that played meaningful minutes in the playoffs last season was Neal, which is why I was shocked the Bucks were able to get Neal for such a reasonable price.  Neal's shot selection is questionable but that is also what makes him a potential instant offense guy off the bench.

Traded Brandon Jennings (PG) to the Detroit Pistons for Brandon Knight (PG), Khris Middleton (SF), and Viacheslav Kravtsov (C): Some might like the versatility of Middelton's game but I have very low expectations for him so this trade will boil down to how Jennings and Knight pan out long-term.  Jennings is a shoot first point guard that did not want to be in Milwaukee so even though Knight has been underwhelming so far in the NBA, I look at this trade as getting something for nothing.  If Knight flames out at least the Bucks are not sullied with a high-volume shooter like Jennings.  The Bucks already exercised their option on Knight for next season.  I would much rather pay Knight $12 million than Jennings $24 million through 2015/16.

Named Scott Williams assistant coach: For how much I hated hiring Larry Drew as a retread head coach, I love adding Williams to Drew's staff.  Williams worked in the media at various spots for the Phoenix Suns and Bucks after retiring from the NBA.  Last season Williams was an assistant coach for the Idaho Stampede in the NBDL, which was his first real taste of professional coaching.  When Williams played for the Bucks he had a sweet baseline jumper that would be a great shot for Sanders to add to his offensive game. Sure guys like Jim Cleamons, Bob Bender, and Nick Van Exel are going to get more acclaim than Williams but he was my favorite Buck of all time besides Big Dog so yes, I am excited to see him on the coaching staff.

Signed Larry Sanders (C) to a four-year, $44 million contract extension: The last two off seasons the Bucks committed long-term to Ersan Ilyasova and Sanders.  If the Bucks could somehow morph Ilyasova's offensive game and with Sanders' defensive game into one player, they would have the perfect two-way NBA player.  The ceiling for Sanders is much higher than Ilyasova but the floor is also much lower for Sanders.  For how good Sanders is defensively, unfortunately he still struggles offensively and always seems to get in trouble off the court.  As long as Sanders can keep his off-the-court issues in check and improve offensively, the sky is the limit so I like the calculated risk of the contract extension.

Exercised contract option on John Henson (F): If they choose, the Bucks could have Henson under contract through the 2016/17 season on his rookie contract.  I never thought the Bucks would get Henson with the 14th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft but luckily he fell into their lap.  Henson has not been a stud by any means so far in the NBA but looks like a front-court starter, which is a pretty nice haul with the 14th pick in a nine player draft.

Signed Jeff Teague (G) to a four-year, $32 million offer sheet: The Jennings/Knight trade never happens if the Atlanta Hawks declined to match the Bucks offer.  If you take salaries out the equation I like Teague slightly more than Knight although Teague has a lower ceiling than Knight.  When you factor in contracts, I favor Knight just a little more than Teague.

Renounced the rights to Monta Ellis (G): A high-volume shooter is the last thing the Bucks need.  Add in that Ellis was one of the worst three-point shooters in the entire NBA and I am happy to see the Ellis-era end in Milwaukee.  Sure trading for Ellis cost the Bucks center Andrew Bogut but given Bogut's injury history and their front-court depth, the Bucks are better off long-term without Bogut and Ellis.

Amnestied Drew Gooden (F), which wiped two-years and $13.4 million off the books: Kohl still owes Gooden the money, we luckily just don't have to watch Gooden languish on the bench any longer.  In what turned out to be another Dan Gadzurich-esque overpay with the mid-level exception, hopefully Gooden is the last incarnation of 

Drafted Giannis Antetokunbo (SF) with the 15th pick in the 2013 NBA Draft: Despite only playing in the second division in Greece, I love that the Bucks rolled the dice by taking The Greek Freak with the 15th pick in the 2013 NBA Draft.  Small market teams cannot attract free agents so taking flyers on potential studs like The Greek Freak is a no brainer in my book.  With The Prince in Sacramento, if I had to buy a Bucks jersey there is no question it would be The Green Freak's jersey.

I thought Hammond was trying to follow Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey's model of amassing assets in hopes of making a bigger move down the road but there are two problems with that approach for a small market team like the Bucks.  One, there is always pressure to put a winner on the court to keep fans going to the games.  Two, no big-time free agent will ever sign in Milwaukee.  Unless the Bucks are perfectly healthy throughout the season, I could see them severely regressing this season.  That would not be the worst thing though because the Bucks need to bottom out and get a Top 3 pick this off-season to build a long-term winner.

Much like I do with The 53 for the Packers, I plan to do the same thing with The 15 for the Bucks.  I probably will not update the rankings on a weekly basis unless there is a sudden string of moves over a short period of time.  I want to see the Bucks play in-person before updating my rankings so look for updated rankings in late November or early December once I get to see the totally revamped roster in-person.

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