Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Building The 15 - The Good, The Mediocre, The Bad, & The Ugly 1.0

Over the last few seasons Milwaukee Bucks general manager John Hammond has done his best to make the Bucks a playoff contender without going into full rebuild mode.  That dual approach was greatly helped when Bucks got the second pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, which Hammond used to select Duke freshman small forward/power forward Jabari Parker.  With Parker and The Greek Freak on The 15, assuming they sign extensions with the Bucks after their rookie contracts expire (knock on wood), for the first time since The Big Three left town the Bucks actually have two potential franchise pillars on The 15.  After Parker and The Greek Freak, the rest of The 15 has some interesting pieces that Hammond continues to tinker with in hopes of putting together the right mix of young guys and veterans to (barely) make the playoffs.  Here is my review of Hammond's moves since the 2014 NBA Draft.

The Good:
The Bucks claimed point guard Kendall Marshall after the LA Lakers waived him. I was not as high on Marshall as others going into the 2012 NBA Draft and so far Marshall has been a disappointment, which is probably why the Lakers waived him, but it is way too early to give up on a 23 year-old. Since the Bucks had the worst record in the league they had the first chance to claim Marshall after he was cut by the Lakers.  My guess is that a number of teams put in claims to buy low on Marshall but we will never know if that is actually true.  The move does make me wonder why the Lakers thought they could pass Marshall through waivers and resign him though. Best case scenario the Bucks get a backup point guard to groom behind Brandon Knight in hopes of turning him into a potential starter down the road. Worst case scenario the Bucks include Marshall as a salary filler in a trade or cut him with no salary cap ramifications if they find a better player.  That is a long way of saying that I see no downside in claiming Marshall.

The Mediocre:
The Bucks traded shooting guard/small forward Carlos Delfino, center Miroslav Raduljica, and a 2015 second round pick to the L.A. Clippers for small forward/power forward Jared Dudley and a 2017 first round pick.  Originally I did not think the Bucks gave up a second round pick in the deal, which is why I was higher on the trade yesterday than I am right now.  Both picks are the Clippers' picks so they fall where the Clippers select so odds are that they end up at the end of their respective rounds given the quality of The 15 for the Clippers for the foreseeable future.  A late first round draft pick is a nice assets for the Bucks given their inability to attract marque free agents.  Unfortunately the first round pick comes at the expense of a second round pick, which is not as good of an asset (obviously) but a nice asset nonetheless.  Given how many players the Bucks have under contract for next season, I understand the logic in trading two players for one and a 2015 pick for a 2017 pick.

When you add it all up, the Bucks actually save money this season with Delfino and Raduljica scheduled to earn $4.75 million while Dudley is scheduled to earn $4.3 million.  The 2015-16 season is where it gets interesting because Delfino and Raduljica are again scheduled to earn $4.75 million but both contracts are not guaranteed while Dudley holds a $4.3 million player option.  Even if Dudley picks up that option, it means the Bucks acquired a late first round pick for less than $4 million and a second round pick.  This trade would have been under "The Good" section if the second round pick was not included in the trade.

Given Delfino's injury issues (missed all last season and might miss part of this season), Raduljica might be the more useful of the two players for the Clippers.  Moving to the Bucks, Dudley played well in his last three seasons in Phoenix (2010-11 to 2012-13) averaging roughly 15 PER each season but struggled for the Clippers last season when he posted 8.91 PER.  In fact, Dudley played so bad last season that he couldn't even get on the court in the playoffs despite the Clippers being thin on the wing.  Best case scenario, Dudley plays like he did for the Suns while becoming a locker room leader next season and opts out before the 2015-16 season for one more big free agent deal. Worst case scenario, Dudley struggles and exercises his player option thus eating up $8.6 million in salaries for two seasons of lackluster play.

For those scoring at home, at the 2013 NBA Trade Deadline the Bucks turned Beno Udrih, Tobias Harris, and Doron Lamb into Redick, Gustavo Ayon, and Ish Smith.  Last off-season, the Bucks signed Raduljica to a three-year, $4.5 million contract.  The Bucks, Clippers, and Suns swung a three-team deal last off-season that allowed the Bucks to turn Redick into small forward Caron Butler and a 2015 second round draft pick from the Clippers via a sign-and-trade.  In that same trade, Dudley moved to the Clippers and the Clippers sent combo guard Eric Bledsoe to the Suns.

I presume Udrih would be playing elsewhere since his contract expired after the 2012-13 season so let's exclude him from this analysis.  The tenure for Butler and Redick was rocky to say the least, which is why neither is with the team right now.  Thus would the Bucks rather have Harris and Lamb or Dudley and a late first round pick in the 2017 NBA Draft?  I am not as big of a fan of Harris as other are so I would rather have the ladder.

The Bad:
The Bucks signed Jerryd Bayless to a two-year, $6 million guaranteed contact.  That means Bayless will play for his sixth team in seven NBA season. That feels expensive for a guy that posted low teens in PER at everyone one of his stops in the NBA besides 17.7 PER in 31 games for the Toronto Raptors in the 2011-12 NBA season.  Instead of forking over that much for Bayless, I would have offered the mini mid-level exception to combo guard Ramon Sessions.  Not only do I think Sessions is more useful than Bayless but the Bucks could have saved about $3 million over two years in the process.

Truthfully the Bucks should have kept a spot The 15 open for rotating non-guaranteed contracts instead of signing Bayless or Sessions but Sessions is clearly an asset given that the Houston Rockets are interested in acquiring him via a sign and trade so that is the only reason why I even broached the idea. The Bucks need to continue to amassing cost-effective contracts (think Kendall Marshall and Chris Wright) as opposed to overpriced contracts (think Bayless, O.J. Mayo, or Zaza Pachulia). Case and point, the Bucks were able to use Delfino and Raduljica to acquire a first round pick.  I sure don't see that being the case with Bayless.

The Ugly:
Last but certainly not least, the Bucks traded two second round picks to the Brooklyn Nets for the coaching rights of Jason Kidd.  That meant that the Bucks fired head coach Larry Drew after just one season to make way for Kidd.  Trust me, I am not a huge Drew fan but I am worried that Kidd is coming to the Bucks to become a dual head coach and general manager despite the fact that he only has one year of experience doing either job. Sure it is problematic that trading for Kidd cost the Bucks two second round picks (one in 2015 and another in 2018 or 2019) as well as an average annual salary of $4 or $5 million a year for three years but the way the transaction was handled worries me even more.  When the Kidd rumors started to swirl, I broke down in grave detail how much I was against the Bucks trading for Kidd.  I think Hammond agrees with me because the new co-owners Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry pulled off the deal behind Hammond's back.  After the fact, Edens and Lasry admitted that they made a mistake by trading for Kidd without including Hammond in the process but the damage was already done to Hammond and the franchise so I find the apology hollow.

When Herb Kohl owned the Bucks he held veto power (apparently said no to a trade that would have brought Zach Randolph to the Bucks) but I do not think he tinkered that much other than publicly stating that he did not want the Bucks to go into full rebuild mode.  Now the Bucks have new co-owners that clearly want to meddle in their new investment that resulted in them bringing in a new coach that asked for more control over front office decisions after just one season with his former employer that was turned down and is ultimately why he works for the Bucks as opposed to the Nets.  Unfortunately for Hammond the writing is on the wall so he better dust off his resume because I think it is more likely that Kidd is the general manager of the Bucks for the 2015-16 season than Hammond.

With all of the above as the backdrop, here are my current thoughts on how the 16 players stack-up for The 15 for the 2014-15 Milwaukee Bucks:

Point Guard (3): Brandon Knight, Jerryd Bayless, and Kendall Marshall

Shooting Guard (2): Nate Wolters and O.J. Mayo

Small Forward (4): Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jared Dudley, Damien Inglis, and Chris Wright

Power Forward (5): Jabari Parker, John Henson, Ersan Ilyasova, Khris Middleton, and Johnny O'Bryant III

Center (2): Larry Sanders and Zaza Pachulia

The Bucks repeatedly said that they want Inglis to play in the NBA this season, which they confirmed today when they signed him to a three-year contract worth a maximum of $2.75 million.  The first two years of the contract are guaranteed (roughly $850,000 each season) while the Bucks hold a team option for the third year (a little less than $1 million).  I wish the Bucks kept Inglis in Europe one more season because that would allow Marshall and Wright to both stay on The 15 next season.  Unless the Bucks make another move that means either Marshall or Wright will have to be cut before next season.

There are rumors that the Bucks are actively shopping Ilyasova and that teams are asking about Sanders.  If the Bucks move Ilyasova or Sanders now they are selling low though so I hope they hold onto both to see if they can improve next season to turn each into a tastier trade asset.  I don't feel that way about Mayo or Pachulia though so if the Bucks can move either of those guys without taking on more long-term guaranteed money, I am fine with that.  Don't hold your breath though because I have a better chance of joining the Bucks' front office than another NBA team being that gullible.

I hope you enjoyed my first installment of "The Good, The Mediocre, The Bad, & The Ugly" for this off-season for the Bucks.  I am hoping to be able to add "The Great" to the front of the name of the post and drop "The Mediocre, The Bad, & The Ugly"; but that is up to Hammond, Kidd, Edens, Lasry, or whomever is currently in charge of the Bucks.  If the Bucks make any more moves this off-season, make sure to check back in this space for full coverage.

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