Monday, June 30, 2014

Building The 15 - A Quick Look at The 15 for John Hammond or Possibly Jason Kidd Following the 2014 NBA Draft

I planned a short post with advice for how Milwaukee Bucks general manager John Hammond should approach free agency following my review of the 2014 NBA Draft.  With that post in the can Saturday afternoon and ready to run first thing Monday as a little diversion for the start of the work week, news broke late Saturday night that the Bucks and Brooklyn Nets were engaged in serious discussions regarding compensation for the Nets to let current head coach Jason Kidd out of the last three years of the four-year, $10.5 million contract that he signed with the Nets before last season.  Apparently this stemmed from the fact that Kidd approached Nets ownership about an expanded front-office role that included say in roster moves but was rebuffed, which lead Kidd to look for a new employer.

Kidd experienced tons of turmoil as coach of the Nets, which was his first season moving from playing to coaching.  Sure the Nets had an over-priced and older but star drive roster last season but that was a big part of the reason the Nets hired Kidd because he was supposed to handle his "peers" given that he actually played in the NBA for the New York Knicks for the 2012-13 season.  Early in the season the Nets struggled but instead of shouldering the blame, Kidd tried to place blame elsewhere starting with lead assistant coach Lawrence Frank.  Despite being Kidd's hand-picked lead assistant, a little over a month into the season, Kidd made Frank the fall guy when he removed Frank from the bench to instead focus on scouting despite being reportedly the highest paid assistant coach (six-years, $6 million) in the NBA last season.

Prior to this Kidd debacle, the new Bucks co-owners Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens have handled everything perfectly since they bought the Bucks from Herb Kohl at the end of last season their first official act was to send Mallory Edens as the team representative to the 2014 NBA Draft Lottery, which made for one of the most awkward Twitter situations of 2014 as grown men digitally drooled over Edens.  Although Edens did not deliver the first pick despite the fact that the Bucks had the worst record in the NBA, she will go down as the most memorable thing from the 2014 NBA Draft Lottery.

Even though the Bucks posted their worst record in franchise history, the new ownership group along with the second pick in the 2014 NBA Draft gave fans hope that things could turnaround fast next year.  Instead of making flashy moves, the new ownership group went on a grassroots tour where they interacted with fans in-person and online.  The new ownership group openly discussed a new arena but stressed the need to improve The 15.  Instead of replacing coaches or members of the front-office, the new ownership group said they were going to give each group a season to keep their respective jobs.  Trust me, I did not like when Hammond hired Larry Drew as head coach last off-season but do believe Drew and Hammond should have at least one more season.  It looks like Hammond will get another season but I would he shocked if Drew is employed by the Bucks at the end of the week.

Apparently second round pick(s) are being discussed as compensation for Kidd.  Let's not confuse Kidd with the second coming of Phil Jackson.  I am not sure what Kidd has done so far since shifting from playing to coaching to prove that he is a even a quality head coach let alone a guy worthy of being a coach with say over personnel decisions too.  Let's see him handle just coaching before giving him front-office responsibilities too.  Thankfully the current reports are that the Bucks envision Kidd solely as a coach.

Before the 2014 NBA Draft I advised Hammond how to approach restricted (power forward Ekpe Udoh) and unrestricted (power forward Jeff Adrien and combo guard Ramon Sessions) free agents.  Following the draft, my advice remains essentially the same, especially if Hammond and/or Kidd can somehow how get teams to take on some of the bloated contracts on The 15.  Following the 2014 NBA Draft, here is my current depth chart for The 15:

Point Guard (1): Brandon Knight

Shooting Guard (3): Nate Wolters, O.J. Mayo, and Carlos Delfino

Small Forward (4): Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker, Damien Inglis, and Chris Wright

Power Forward (4): John Henson, Ersan Ilyasova, Khris Middleton, and Johnny O'Bryant III

Center (3): Larry Sanders, Zaza Pachulia, and Miroslav Raduljica

As you can see above, the Bucks already have 15 guys projected to be under contract for next season once they sign their three draft picks so that leaves the Bucks without any real open roster spots.  Thankfully the Bucks have some guys currently on The 15 like Wright and Radulijca with either a low cap number or only a partially guaranteed contract so that gives the Bucks some wiggle room.  Still Hammond's roster construction flies in the face of my theory of leaving the last three spots on The 15 for low-priced, non-guaranteed contracts that that you can churn on a weekly basis, if necessary.  Given that The 15 is currently front-court heavy, I would be shocked if the Bucks did NOT add at least one ball handler given that they are light at that position despite having a number of point forwards on The 15.

In order to have real wiggle room to actually sign free agents though, the Bucks would need to offload some of their expensive contracts without giving up draft picks or taking on more long-term money.  There are four candidates to move: Mayo, Ilyasova, Sanders, and Pachulia.  Last season teams tried to buy low on Ilyasova and Sanders but I would hold onto those guys because I see them being the third or fourth best player on a playoff contender when healthy and with their head screwed on straight.  That means I would trade Mayo's or Pachulia's bloated contracts, pun in the case of Mayo, in a heartbeat.  Unfortunately I see both of those as a long-shot without taking on equally horrible contracts.

I am not sure what the Bucks would do with the salary cap space anyhow whether the Bucks have Kidd in the fold or not because marque free agents are NOT interested in signing with the Bucks since thy do not yet have a Top 10 NBA player and the team plays in Milwaukee.  Thus the Bucks need to lure free agents by drafting superstars that entice free agents.  Thankfully there is hope on that front with The Greek Freak and Parker on The 15.  Right now that is hope more than production but if The Greek Freak and Parker backup their limitless potential with production, the Bucks might actually have a shot to sign marquee free agents.

I am not a fan of giving the Nets anything more than a bag of balls for Kidd's service as a coach and/or member of the front office.  Plus it will be super awkward to keep Drew as head coach if the Bucks "miss-out" on Kidd.  There is no way that the Bucks are landing one of the marquee free agents this off-season like LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony so my advice is to pass on Kidd and let the high-end market settle out before making a single free agent contract offer.  At that point, the Bucks should bottom feed to improve the bottom third of The 15 with rotational players on the cheap.  If any of those guys turn out to be worth having long-term, great.  If not, at least the Bucks are building a cost-effective, flexible roster.  Unfortunately I am not in charge so I see Kidd becoming a member of the Bucks by the end of the week.  Either way, it will be interesting to see how the next few days play out.

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