Friday, February 21, 2014

Building The 15 - First Look at 2014 NBA Draft

The 2014 NBA All-Star Weekend and the 2014 NBA Trade Deadline are both now in the books.  The only participant in the 2014 NBA All-Star Weekend for the Milwaukee Bucks was Giannis Antetokounmpo, who played in the 2014 NBA Rising Stars Challenge and participated in the NBA Skills Competition.  Sadly it looks like the The Greek Freak is the only player currently on The 15 for the Bucks that has a chance to play in the actual NBA All-Star Game down the road.

Bucks general manager John Hammond did not follow my advise for how to approach the 2014 NBA Trade Deadline.  Instead, Hammond traded guards Gary Neal and Luke Ridnour to the Charlotte Bobcats for guard Ramon Sessions and power forward Jeff Adrien.  The Bucks look no better or worse on the court following the trade and Bucks owner Herb Kohl saved a little less than $4 million over the next two seasons in the trade.  Unfortunately Hammond could not flip any of the other expiring contracts on The 15 (small forward Caron Butler or power forward Ekpe Udoh) besides Ridnour for draft picks or buy-low players with high upside.

There are three ways for general managers to build The 15 in the NBA: free agency, trades, or the draft.  Since the Bucks are a small market team we know they will never be able to add a franchise player via free agency and there is a minuscule chance that the Bucks could luck into a franchise player via trade so the best way for the Bucks to land another franchise player is through the draft.

The Bucks currently have the worst record in the NBA so almost all the focus for Bucks fans will turn to the much ballyhooed 2014 NBA Draft.  The good news is that barring a drastic turnaround following the All-Star break, the Bucks will finish with the worst record in the NBA this season.  Over the last 14 seasons, only two of teams with the worst record ended up with the first pick in the NBA Draft because even if you have the worst record you still only have a 25% chance to land the top pick in the draft.  Luckily even if the Bucks don't get the top pick, if they finish with the worst record in the NBA, the latest they can pick is 4thin the 2014 NBA Draft.

The last time the Bucks picked first overall was the 2005 NBA Draft when they had the 6th best odds of getting the top pick.  The consensus going into the 2005 NBA Draft was that it was a two person draft so the Bucks had to choose between center Andrew Bogut and small forward Marvin Williams.  It turns out that the Bucks smartly choose Bogut over Williams but missed out on two stud point guards in Deron Williams and Chris Paul that went with the next two picks.

How does this all map to the 2014 NBA Draft?  The consensus going into the college basketball season was that small forwards Jabari Parker (Duke) and Andrew Wiggins (Kansas) would go in the first two picks of the 2014 NBA Draft, in some order.  As the college season started to play out, center Joel Embiid (Kansas) worked his way into consideration to go first overall as well.  Besides that, power forward Julius Randle (Kentucky) and point guard Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State) look like strong candidates to go fourth and fifth in some order.  Despite having a decent season on the court, Smart hurt his chances to stay in the Top 5 when he got into an altercation with a fan in the stands during a game that resulted in a three game suspension.  The wild card of the 2014 NBA Draft is Australian combo guard Dante Exum.  May be it is my bias towards loving all things Australia but even leaving Smart's spat with a fan aside, I still like Exum's upside much more than Smart's.

Exum is the only player that has officially declared for the draft.  Assuming the rest of the guys just discussed declare for the 2014 NBA Draft, right now I see those six guys going in the first six picks.  Assuming that everyone we expect to declare for the 2014 NBA Draft does in fact declare, right now I see Aaron Gordon (F, Arizona), Dario Saric (SF, Croatia), Noah Vonleh (PF, Indiana), and Tyler Ennis (PG, Syracuse) rounding out the Top 10 in the 2014 NBA Draft.  There will be plenty of time to break down each of these guys in more detail.  Here is how I would currently rank the ten guys (best to worst): Parker, Embiid, Wiggins, Exum, Randle, Gordon, Saric, Smart, Ennis, and Vonleh.  I was tempted to rank Embiid ahead of Parker but Embiid has been going through some injury issues and looks to have a bad temper.  I see Embiid as a more polished offensive version of Larry Sanders but not sure whether his temper will undermine his skills.

Sure the Bucks would rather choose first instead of fourth but I would be happy with the Bucks getting any of the guys I have currently ranked in my Top 4.  That means if the Bucks finish the season with the worst record in the NBA but still only get the 4th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft they would land Exum unless Parker, Embiid or Wiggins fell for some reason.  Sure picking 4th would be a huge disappointment if the Bucks ended up with the worst record in the NBA but as you can see that is not all the talent that is projected to be available at the top of the 2014 NBA Draft.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Building The 15 - Bucks trade Neal & Ridnour to Bobcats for Sessions & Adrien

For the second year in a row Milwaukee Bucks general manager John Hammond made a deal on the eve of the NBA Trade Deadline.  For those that do not remember, last season Hammond sent small forward Tobias Harris, point guard Beno Udrih, & shooting guard Doron Lamb to the Orlando Magic for shooting guard J.J. Redick, center Gustavo Ayon, & point guard Ish Smith.  Earlier today Hammond sent shooting guard Gary Neal & combo guard Luke Ridnour to the Charlotte Bobcats for combo guard Ramon Sessions & under-sized power forward Jeff Adrien:

This trade looks like nothing more than a money saver for Bucks owner Herb Kohl.  Neal is earning $3.25 million this season in first year of a two-year, $6.5 million deal while Ridnour is earning $4.32 million in the final year of a four-year, $16 million deal.  Sessions is earning $5 million this season in the final year of a two-year, $10 million deal while Adrien is earning roughly $900,000 this season in the final year of a two-year, $1.6 million deal.  That means Kohl saves roughly $3.75 million over the next two season: $500,000 this season ($1.67 million difference in salary this season multiplied by the percent of the 82 games left in the regular season) and $3.25 million next season given that everyone besides Neal is on an expiring contract.  Far be it for me to take money out of someones pocket but the biggest thing that jumps out to me about the salaries discussed above is that Sessions will earn $10 million over the last two seasons as a backup combo guard, which is about $8 million too much.

Just a quick look at the advanced stats this season for Neal (11.5 PER), Ridnour (9.3 PER), Sessions (14.9 PER), and Adrien (15.0 PER) confirm that over the long-haul all four guys are average NBA players, at best.  The only guy with a nice potential upside is Neal given that he is the perfect heat-check guy on a good team, which he proved last season as a member of the San Antonio Spurs.  I am sure that Neal is longing for the days that he got to come off the bench for the Spurs because since losing to the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals last season, he played for the worst team in the NBA and just got traded to a borderline playoff team in the watered down Eastern Conference.

Before you start to feel too bad for Neal let's not forget that he got into a locker room argument in early January with center Larry Sanders, which essentially confirmed that Neal would get trade before the 2014 NBA Trade Deadline given that the Bucks have $44 million over the next four seasons committed to Sanders.  In my advice for Hammond for how to approach the 2014 NBA Trade Deadline, I advised him to trade Neal to the Phoenix Suns for shooting guard Archie Goodwin.  We will never know but I hope Hammond at least floated the Neal/Goodwin deal and was shot down by Suns general manager Ryan McDonough because I like that trade much more than the one that Hammond actually made today.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Building The 15 - 2014 NBA Trade Deadline Advice for John Hammond

This is the fifth year that I've given Milwaukee Bucks general manager John Hammond advice for how to approach the NBA trade deadline (2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013).  I am not sure what is more shocking, that Hammond is still running the Bucks or that I am still writing this blog.  I am sure that Hammond planted some seeds at NBA All-Star Weekend 2014 in New Orleans with the 29 other NBA general managers to see if he can swing a deal to improve The 15.

Given that the 2014 NBA Draft is shaping up to be the best draft since the 2003 NBA Draft, the Bucks should do every thing in their power to add another first round pick in this year's draft.  I know that sounds overly simplistic but there are a couple NBA teams that are in win-now mode that might be willing to part with their first round pick to add a rotational player to help them down the stretch.  If that's the case, even if that pick projects to be at the end of the first round, the Bucks should consider making that trade.

For all of Hammond's blunders, he drafted very well in the first round the last two years.  In the 2012 NBA Draft the Bucks selected power forward/center John Henson with the 14th pick.  In the 2013 NBA Draft the Bucks selected little known shooting guard/small forward Giannis Antetokounmpo with the 15th pick.  It is very early in the process but it looks like the Bucks got the best player in the 2013 NBA Draft and one of the best players in the 2012 NBA Draft, which is pretty impressive since Hammond made both picks in the middle of the first round.

Recently I took a look at The 15 for the 2013-14 Milwaukee Bucks.  The biggest takeaway is that everyone besides The Greek Freak and Henson should be available at the trade deadline for the right price.  I will not be able to include all the other members of The 15 in the five trades I propose below for Hammond to consider but here is what I think is the right price for some of those 13 players.

Clearly the Bucks need to add talent, even if those players come with some baggage. I thought of floating trades like small forward Caron Butler to the Philadelphia 76ers for small forward Evan Turner or shooting guard Gary Neal to the Cleveland Cavaliers for shooting guard Dion Waiters.  I know both of those trades look way too slanted in favor of the Bucks since they are trading a veteran for a younger asset so the Bucks would probably have to include a future first round pick to get those deals done. Turner and Waiters have been mentioned in a number of trade rumors, which makes me think their current teams do not see them as long-term building blocks but neither are talented enough for the Bucks to part with a future first or second round pick to get these deals done.

I hate to see the Bucks part with any future first round picks given that is really their best way of adding talent.  I am even reticent to include a second round draft pick at this point even though the Bucks have a ton of second round picks at their disposal since I think second round picks are becoming an undervalued lottery ticket for small market franchises.  NBA trades are mostly about shuffling around expensive contracts in hopes that a change of scenery turns one team's trash into another team's treasure.  With the 2014 NBA Trade Deadline (Thursday, February 20th at 2:00 PM CST) rapidly approaching, here are my favorite somewhat plausible trades (least favorite to most favorite) that I put together for Hammond's review with an assist from ESPN's NBA Trade Machine:

#5) Bucks trade Caron Butler (SF), Zaza Pachulia (C), and Ekpe Udoh (PF) to the Los Angeles Lakers for Pau Gasol (C):

This is the second year in a row that I tried to bring Gasol to Milwaukee.  Last year I actually gave the Lakers back an asset in small forward Ersan Ilyasova.  Given that Gasol is in a contract year his value is at an all-time low, which is why the Lakers will not get much in return.  I am sure the Lakers would be too embarrassed to make this move but given how much they overpaid shooting guard Kobe Bryant, they do not have the salary cap space to resign Gasol this off-season and still fill their roster with anything other than minimum wage players.  At 33, it looks like Gasol is in the twilight of his career but I always thought he would thrive in a smaller market where he didn't have to share the limelight with Bryant.  This trade allows the Bucks to try to convince Gasol to re-sign in Milwaukee this odd-season while the Lakers can trot out a serviceable NBA center in Pachulia at a slightly inflated price for the next two years.

#4) Bucks trade Gary Neal (SG) to the Phoenix Suns for Archie Goodwin (SG):

Clearly the Suns are going to build long-term around the back court of Eric Beldsoe and Goran Dragic.  Bledsoe is currently hurt yet the Suns are relying on the likes of Gerald Green and Leandro Barbosa instead of Goodwin.  Since the Suns are in win-now mode, they could use an instant offense guy off the bench like Neal.  Let's not forget that Neal was instrumental in giving the San Antonio Spurs a 2-1 series lead over the Miami Heat in the 2013 NBA Finals.  Sure Neal got into a very public locker room spat with Larry Sanders this season but I am sure that is because Neal is frustrated by the fact he is playing for the worst team in the NBA.  The Suns have three first round picks in the 2014 NBA Draft, which they are apparently open to including in trades.  The upside of the Neal for Goodwin deal is for the Suns can hold onto their picks without adding too much salary since Bledsoe is going sign a long-term extension this off-season while adding an instant offense guy off the bench they desperately need for their playoff run.  The upside for the Bucks is that they get a potential lottery ticket in Goodwin while extricating a locker room cancer in Neal.

#3) Bucks trade Caron Butler (SF) and Ekpe Udoh (PF) to the New Orleans Pelicans for Eric Gordon (SG):

The Pelicans have arguably the best player in the NBA under the age of 25 in center Anthony Davis.  Unfortunately besides power forward Ryan Anderson, David Stern the Pelicans put together a ton of mismatched parts to go along with Anderson and Davis.  With Anderson out a few months, Udoh gives the Pelicans a serviceable power forward without the need to make any long-term financial commitments.  Gordon is one of the biggest enigmas in the NBA because when healthy he looks like a Top 10 shooting guard.  Unfortunately Gordon has only played in 296 of a possible 461 regular season games so far in his NBA career.  This trade gives the Pelicans some clarity to their back court since they have point guard Jrue Holiday, combo guard Tyreke Evans, and Gordon but only two spots to play them.  All three are signed to expensive long-term contracts so they all expect to play.  Worst case scenario, this trade gives the Pelicans a ton of salary cap relief since Butler and Udoh are on expiring contracts while Gordon is scheduled to earn $15 million next season and holds a $15.5 million player options for the following season.  Current Bucks shooting O.J. Mayo is scheduled to earn $8 million each of the next two seasons.  That means this trade would give the Bucks the same problem that the Pelicans currently have.  Luckily the Bucks have point guards Brandon Knight and Nate Wolters signed to rookie contracts through the 2015-16 season so they can deal with committing $23 million to their shooting guard position each of the next two seasons.

#2) Bucks trade Caron Butler (SF) and Ersan Ilyasova (SF/PF) to the Detroit Pistons for Josh Smith (SF/PF) and Tony Mitchell (PF):

The Pistons signed Smith to a four-year, $54 million deal this off-season thinking they could get Smith to play down low instead doing his best Antoine Walker impression as he endlessly chucks 3's just like he did for the Atlanta Hawks.  Instead Smith has continued his lazy play, which means the Pistons are paying a ton of money for Antoine Walker 2.0.  This trade gives the Pistons a do-over on the Smith deal by adding a quality basketball player in Ilyasova.  Sure Ilyasova is struggling this season but I stand by my Poor Man's Dirk comparison.  This trade also gives the Bucks a Milwaukee native in Mitchell.  I know it seems like the last thing the Bucks need is a chucker like Smith but for some reason I still think he is redeemable in the right situation.  The Bucks are currently not the right situation but if they continue to struggle they can add another piece at the top of the 2014 NBA Draft to put together a pretty intriguing team for next season. If the Bucks and Pistons made this trade it would mark their second trade in less than a year.  In the first trade the Bucks sent Brandon Jennings (PG) to the Pistons for Brandon Knight (PG), Khris Middleton (SF) and Viacheslav Kravtsov (C).  So far it looks like the Bucks got the better end of the Jennings sign-and-trade since the Pistons took on all the risk.  In this trade the Bucks are taking on all the risk but with all the talent the Bucks have down low they can deal with Smith harnessing his inner Antoine Walker sometimes, just not all the time.

#1) Bucks trade Ekpe Udoh (PF) to the Los Angeles Clippers for Jared Dudley (SF):

After Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan the Clippers are trotting out the likes of Byron Mullens, Ryan Hollins, and Antwan Jamison as their front court reserves so clearly they need to get more physical up front.  Add in that the Clippers have a ton of shooters and Dudley is clearly expendable.  Dudley is scheduled to earn $4.25 million a season through 2015-16.  The last year of Dudley's deal is a player option, which I could see him declining to get out of Milwaukee as fast as possible.  If Udoh shows that he fits in, the Clipper can extend him a $6 million qualifying offer for next season.  If not, the Clippers get more physical up front for a playoff run while shedding some long-term salary.  The Bucks committed long-term money to a number of other guys in the front-court (Ilyasova, Pachulia, and Sanders) so if they held onto Udoh through this season, I bet they would not even extend a qualifying offer to Udoh anyhow.  Add in that Dudley is a quality locker room guy so he could be a great influence on The Greek Freak, this seems like the rare win-win NBA trade.

I would be shocked if Hammond pulled off any of the deals just discussed but if Hammond makes any moves before the 2014 NBA Trade Deadline, make sure to check back for full coverage.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Building The 25 - 2014 Milwaukee Brewers Spring Training Preview

Welcome to my fifth annual Milwaukee Brewers spring training preview (2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013).  The Brewers enter spring training with at least 58 players in contention for The 25. Absent injury, 16 roster spots on The 25 are virtual locks, which leaves nine available roster spots.  That is the most roster spots on The 25 "available" going into spring training since 2010.  Below you will find a quick analysis of the entire roster heading into spring training along with my pre-spring training thoughts on what players Brewers general manager Doug Melvin should keep on The 25.

- Guaranteed: Jonathan Lucroy and Martin Maldonado
- Borderline: None
- Long-shot: Robinzon Diaz, Cameron Garfield, Matt Pagnozzi, and Adam Weisenburger
- Cheesehead Sports Nut's Prediction: This is the least dramatic battle of spring training given that the Brewers seem committed to Lucroy and Maldonado for the near term.  At one point it looked like Maldonado might be a nice trade piece but he struggled last season so absent a huge change, Maldonado better bring something more to the table than quality haircuts if he wants a spot on The 25 past 2014.

- Guaranteed: Scooter Gennett (2B), Aramis Ramirez (1B), and Jean Segura (SS)
- Borderline: Jeff Bianchi (UTL), Taylor Green (3B), Juan Francisco (1B), Elian Herrera (UTL), Lyle Overbay (1B), Mark Reynolds (1B/3B), and Rickie Weeks (2B)
- Long-shot: Irving Falu (2B), Hector Gomez (SS), Sean Halton (1B), Hunter Morris (1B), Jason Rogers (UTL), and Eugenio Velez (UTL)
- Cheesehead Sports Nut's Prediction: If healthy, I see the left side of the infield settled much like the catcher spot with Segura at shortstop and Ramirez at third base.  Unfortunately the right side of the infield is anything but settled.  The Brewers want to play Gennett at second but they have a ton of money invested in Weeks.  Thus the Brewers hope Weeks has a huge spring training and another team suffers a serious injury at second base so they can move Weeks for a low-level prospect and some salary relief, but the likelihood of both of those things happening are fairly low so the Brewers will most likely keep Gennett and Weeks on The 25.  If you think second base is unsettled, first based is even worse.  The three front-runners seem to be Francisco, Overbay, and Reynolds.  Overbay and Reynolds might help this season but are not long-term answers at first base while Francisco could be a long-term answer if he figures out some plate discipline and how to play defense.  At some point the Brewers need to see what they have in Morris, which will not happen this year given all the other left-handed hitting first basemen currently ahead of him on the depth chart.  Although I am still a long-term believer in Francisco, I would give Overbay and Reynolds the inside track on making The 25 ahead of Francisco at this point.  With all due respect to Weeks, I hope a change of scenery helps him fulfill the promise that was expected of him the last two season so at this point I would keep Bianchi, Gennett, Herrera, Ramirez, Reynolds and Segura.

- Guaranteed: Ryan Braun (RF), Khris Davis (LF), and Carlos Gomez (CF)
- Borderline: Caleb Gindl (OF) and Logan Schafer (OF)
- Long-shot: Kentrail Davis (OF), Mitch Haniger (OF), and Kevin Mattison (OF)
- Cheesehead Sports Nut's Prediction: The Brewers moved Ryan Braun to right field and traded outfielder Nori Aoki to the Kansas City Royals to make way for Khris Davis to start in left field.  Professional baseball players are constantly under tons of pressure to perform.  Given all the changes the Brewers made to get Davis into the starting lineup after only 136 major league at-bats in 56 games in 2013, I almost feel like the Brewers are setting him up to fail.  That doesn't even factor in that Gomez will likely regress from his 8.9 WAR performance last season given that his previous high watermark was 2.3 WAR.  Plus Braun, the unfortunate face of the franchise for the next decade, is returning for a 65-game suspension for getting caught using PED's.  I see the Brewers keeping Schafer as their fourth outfielder unless Gindl has a huge spring training but the more important thing to watch is how the starting outfielders perform to open 2014.

Starting Pitching:
- Guaranteed: Marco Estrada (R), Yovani Gallardo (R), Matt Garza (R), Kyle Lohse (R), and Wily Peralta (R)
- Borderline: None
- Long-shot: None
- Cheesehead Sports Nut's Prediction: Melvin locked in the starting rotation when he drastically overpaid Garza instead of keeping the 5th spot in the rotation open for a cost-effective competition between guys like Fiers and Thornburg.  Making all five guys locks for The 25 is based on all five starting pitchers staying healthy through spring training.  If that turns out to be true, for how anticlimactic the starting rotation competition will be, the fight for the seven spots in the bullpen will be very interesting.

Relief Pitching:
- Guaranteed: Tom Gorzelanny (L), Jim Henderson (R), and Francisco Rodríguez (R)
- Borderline: Zach Duke (L), Mike Fiers (R), Brandon Kintzler (R), Will Smith (L), Tyler Thornburg (R), Wei-Chung Wang (L), and Rob Wooten (R)
- Long-shot: Michael Blazek (R), Hiram Burgos (R), Jose De La Torre (R), Alfredo Figaro (R), David Goforth (R), Brooks Hall (R), Donovan Hand (R), Johnny Hellweg (R), Dustin Molleken (R), Jimmy Nelson (R), Michael Olmsted (R), Ariel Pena (R), and Kevin Shackelford (R)
- Cheesehead Sports Nut's Prediction: The Brewers will give Duke, Smith, and Wang every chance to make The 25 for different reasons.  Duke will most likely ask for his release if he does not make The 25, there will be egg on Melvin's face if Smith struggles since he gave up Aoki to get his services, and Wang must be offered back to the Pittsburgh Pirates if he doesn't make The 25.  I would personally keep Duke, Gorzelanny, Henderson, Kintzler, Rodriguez, Smith, and Wooten.  That would allow Thornburg to keep his arm stretched out as the ace of the starting rotation of their minor league AAA affiliate.

Opening Day Lineup:
1. Carlos Gomez (CF)
2. Jean Segura (SS)
3. Ryan Braun (RF)
4. Aramis Ramirez (3B)
5. Mark Reynolds (1B)
6. Jonathan Lucroy (C)
7. Scotter Gennett (2B)
8. Khris Davis (LF)
9. Matt Garza (R)

Starting Rotation:
1. Matt Garza (R)
2. Kyle Lohse (R)
3. Yovani Gallardo (R)
4. Wily Peralta (R)
5. Marco Estrada (R)

1. Jim Henderson (R)
2. Francisco Rodríguez (R)

If Melvin makes any more big signings or trades, check back for full coverage in this space.  If Melvin proceeds with the status quo throughout spring training, make sure to check back on opening day for my initial The 25 post.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The 15 - All-Star Break Thoughts

The 2013-14 Milwaukee Bucks headed into the All-Star break with a whimper thanks to a league worst 9-43 record.  Bucks general manager John Hammond overhauled The 15 last off-season.  Although the Bucks have a horrible record, part of that is due to the fact that The 15 has been at full strength just a few times this season but my guess is that even if everyone on The 15 was healthy all season, the Bucks would still only be a borderline playoff team.  That is embarrassing for Hammond given how weak the Eastern Conference is this season.  I plan to write a lengthy post in the next few days for how Hammond should approach the 2014 NBA Trade Deadline. As an appetizer to that lengthy post, let's take a look at The 15 to see what assets Hammond has at his disposal.

The 15
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo (SG/SF, LR 2) 
2. John Henson (PF/C, LR 1)
3. Brandon Knight (PG, LR 4)
4. Ersan Ilyasova (PF, LR 7)
5. Larry Sanders (C, LR 3)
6. Khris Middleton (SF, LR 5)
7. Nate Wolters (PG, LR 10)
8. Gary Neal (SG, LR 6)
9. Caron Butler (SF, LR 9)
10. O.J. Mayo (SG, LR 8)
11. Miroslav Raduljica (C, LR 11)
12. Luke Ridnour (PG, LR 13)
13. Zaza Pachulia (C, LR 14)
14. Ekpe Udoh (PF, LR 12)
15. Carlos Delfino (SG/SF, LR 15)
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo (SG/SF, LR 2): When the Bucks drafted John Henson with the 14th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, I said that if I bough a Bucks jersey it would definitely be a Henson jersey.  Sadly for Henson that torch was officially passed to The Greek Freak early this season.  Sure The Greek Freak's PER (10.6) is not very impressive right now but he reminds me of a poor man's Kevin Durant.  You think that is hyperbole but despite the Bucks struggles this season, The Greek Freak is participating in the NBA Rising Stars Challenge and the Skill Competition.  I know The Greek Freak has not even finished his rookie season but he finally gives the Bucks their first potential franchise player since Ray Allen, which is perfect since The Greek Freak wears Allen's old number 34.

3. Brandon Knight (PG, LR 4): Currently leads the team in scoring (16.6 PPG) and assists (4.8 APG) but even horrible teams like the Bucks score at least 85 points a game so someone has to get numbers.  I can see Knight's career going one of two ways.  If Knight plays for a team that struggles offensively I see him turning into a combo scoring guard, a Rich Man's Mo Williams if you will.  If Knight ends up playing on a competitive team with better scoring options, I see him becoming more of a traditional point guard that is more selective with his shot.  Either way, the Bucks are much better off long-term with Knight running the show than Brandon Jennings.

5. Larry Sanders (C, LR 3): Earlier this season Sanders missed 25 games due to a hand injury suffered during a bar fight, which is totally on him.  Just as Sanders was getting back to full strength he suffered a broken orbital socket that will keep him out of the lineup for another six weeks.  The broken orbital socket was not Sanders' fault so I will cut him some slack.  This season is lost one for Sanders anyhow so there is no need to rush Sanders back.  Plus, next season marks the first year of the four-year, $44 million contract extension that Sanders signed in the off-season.  If I were in charge, I would chalk this season up as a lost one for Sanders with an eye (no pun intended) towards next season.  In case I wasn't clear, I would not play Sanders again this season, even if he is healthy.

I think it makes sense for Hammond to build The 15 long-term around Knight, Nate Wolters, The Greek Freak, Khris Middleton, Ersan Ilyasova, John Henson, Miroslav Raduljica, and Larry Sanders but only two of those guys are truly untouchable: Henson and The Greek Freak.  After that, the Bucks have a couple interesting expiring contracts (Butler, Ridnour, and Udoh) and long-term deals (Ilyasova, Mayo, and Sanders) that they could move at the trade deadline.  Unfortunately the Bucks would be selling low by moving any of the players currently signed to long-term deals so if I were Hammond I would be focused on leveraging the expiring contracts for long-term assets but make sure to check back for my extended thoughts on exactly how Hammond should approach the 2014 NBA Trade Deadline.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Building The 25 - K-Rod Returns, Again

In Milwaukee Brewers general manager Doug Melvin's annual reconstruction of the bullpen he decided to add Francisco Rodriguez (K-Rod) to The 25 for the third time in the last four years.  K-Rod signed a one-year deal with a $3.25 million base salary and $500,000 in incentives.  Although $3.25 million feels a too rich for a player K-Rod's ability, thankfully the Brewers only inked him to a one-year deal.

For kicks let's trace the relationship between K-Rod and the Brewers.  Melvin originally traded for K-Rod following the 2011 All-Star break to bolster the bullpen for a playoff run.  K-Rod pitched well in 2011 but struggled in 2012, which kept him out of baseball to start the 2013 season.  The Brewers brought K-Rod back last season when their closer spot was in disarray due to John Axford's struggles.  K-Rod performed well, which allowed the Brewers to trade him to the Baltimore Orioles for minor league third-baseman Nick Delmonico.  K-Rod struggled for the Orioles, which is part of the reason he was still available so close to the start of spring training this season.

With K-Rod in the fold, apparently the Brewers are planning to start the season with Jim Henderson as their closer but K-Rod would most likely be the next option if Henderson struggles.  After that the Brewers do not have another viable option at closer, which shows you the lack of depth the Brewers currently have in their bullpen.  Given all the young arms the Brewers have in their farm system that project as middle to end of the rotation starters, Melvin should start looking at whether any of those guys could help in the bullpen over the next few years in preparation for starting down the road.

While I don't love the K-Rod signing, I like it much more than the Garza signing or the Aoki trade.  I presume this is Melvin's last big addition to The 25 before spring training.  If not, check back for full coverage in this space.  If things remain quiet for the next week, make sure to check back on the eve of pitchers and catchers reporting for my traditional spring training preview for the Brewers.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Man City Report - January Transfer Window Closes With a Whimper

After Manchester City spent over £90 million on four players in the summer transfer window, I thought chances were very low that City would spend as much in the the January transfer window.  Still when the January transfer window opened, I implored City to target younger, long-term acquisitions with not a very expensive price tag to inject some young legs into their squad since they are chasing four trophies.  City did not follow that strategy given that they did not purchase a single player.  Instead, City either released (22-year old midfielder Abdisalam Ibrahim) or loaned out (forward Harry Bunn to Huddersfield Town, midfielder George Evans to Crewe Alexandra, midfielder Emyr Huws to Birmingham City, striker John Guidetti to Stoke City, and midfielder Albert Rusnak to Birmingham City) a number of their younger players.

Player Rankings
1. Yaya Toure (M, LR 1)
2. Vincent Kompany (D, LR 3)
3. Sergio Aguero (F, LR 2)
4. David Silva (M, LR 5)
5. Alvaro Negredo (F, LR 4)
6. Jesus Navas (M, LR 7)
7. Fernandinho (M, LR 6)
8. Pablo Zabaleta (D, LR 12)
9. Joe Hart (GK, LR 11)
10. Edin Dzeko (F, LR 9)
11. Samir Nasri (M, LR 9)
12. Gael Clichy (D, LR 13)
13. Aleksandar Kolarov (D, LR 14)
14. Stevan Jovetic (F, LR 17)
15. James Milner (M, LR 15)
16. Matija Nastasic (D, LR 10)
17. Javi Garcia (M, LR 16)
18. Joleon Lescott (D, LR 18)
19. Micah Richards (D, LR 19)
20. Jack Rodwell (M, LR 20)
21. Martin Demichelis (D, LR 22)
22. Dedryck Boyata (D, LR 21)
23. Costel Pantilimon (GK, LR 23)
24. Alex Nimely (F, LR 26)
25. Erik Johansen (GK, LR 27)
26. Marcos Lopes (M, LR N/A)
27. Richard Wright (GK, LR 25)
City were linked to the Porto pair of central defender Eliaquim Mangala and central midfielder Fernando.  Instead of purchasing what might have been two pieces of the club's spine for the next decade, City purchased an entire soccer club.  After purchasing New York City FC as an expansion MLS team set to join the league in 2015 less than a year ago, City purchased Melbourne Heart FC in Australia.  That means City now owns teams on three continents.  It looks like New York City FC and Melbourne Heart FC could be dumping grounds future homes to current City players with expensive wages that are no longer useful to City given that the MLS allows three "Designated Players" and the A-League allows one "Marquee Player".  That means the likes of Gareth Barry and Joleon Lescott could be on their way to the United States or Australia in the January transfer window next year.

City manager Manuel Pellegrini was named Barclays Premier League manager of the month in January but unfortunately he has no chance of winning that same honor in February following City's 1-0 home loss to Chelsea.  With Fernandino injured, Pellegrini started Martin Demechelis in central midfield alongside Yaya Toure against Chelsea, which almost seemed like an April Fools joke when I saw the starting 11 announced.  Pellegrini had a healthy James Milner, Jack Rodwell, and Marcos Lopes on the bench.  I favored starting Milner, Rodwell, or Lopes over Demechelis.  That also shows you how much City missed out by not purchasing Fernando in the January transfer window.  City's loss to Chelsea snapped their perfect record to start the Premier League at The Etihad and their 20-game unbeaten streak.

City is showing some financial discretion in order to conform with the Financial Fair Play rules.  That makes sense long-term because City lost £197.5 in 2011, £97.9 million in 2012, and £51.6 million in 2013.  City's owners have deep enough pockets to float the losses just discussed without thinking twice but City still need to get their books balanced in the next 12 months or they risk being banned from Champions League play.  While City's inactivity in the January transfer window makes sense long-term, it clearly will have a negative short-term impact on their pursuit of four trophies this season.