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.

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