Sunday, February 22, 2015

Building The 15 - Building The 15 - Bucks Trade Knight for MCW, Ennis, and Plumlee

A few hours before the 2015 NBA Trade Deadline it looked like it would be one of the quietest NBA trade deadlines in the last decade until a flurry of moves that all emanated from the Phoenix Suns and rippled through the NBA almost broke Twitter.  As all NBA pundits besides my current favorite NBA writer Grantland's Zach Lowe since his wife just had a baby girl tried to get as much information out as possible about all of the franchise altering trades.

As a whole I ultimately think the Suns got much worse in the short term given that they traded three very interesting point guards in Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas, and Tyler Ennis as well as a tasty 2015 first round draft pick (L.A. Lakers pick that is Top 5 protected) for essentially combo guard Brandon Knight and three future first round picks (a 2016 first rounder from the Celtics via the Cavs with Top 10 protection as well as two first rounders from the Miami Heat one from the 2017, 2018, or 2019 draft depending on certain conditions and the other is 2021 unprotected).  Sure there are more players and details involved in those deals but if the Suns just tried to cultivate the back court of Dragic and Eric Bledsoe last off-season, they might have had the most interesting back court in the NBA besides the Golden State Warriors (Stephen Curry and Clay Thompson) for the next five years.  Instead the Suns took Ennis with the 18th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft and acquired Thomas in a sign-and-trade from the Kings, which basically guaranteed that Dragic was going to walk this off-season given that it left the Suns with a crowded back court and an unhappy Dragic.  There was no question that Dragic was going to get traded since his agent publicly said as much.  The question was where would Dragic end up.  Ultimately Dragic went to the Heat but the most interesting move the Suns made was a three-team deal that involved the Milwaukee Bucks and the Philadelphia 76ers.

The Bucks/76ers/Suns trade was the biggest surprise of the deadline because almost every one of the other big names moved at the trade deadline (Arron Afflalo, Dragic, Reggie Jackson, and Enes Kanter) were shopped for weeks leading up to the trade deadline while the two biggest pieces in the Bucks/76ers/Suns three-teamer, point guards Brandon Knight and Michael Carter-Williams ("MCW"), were NOT floated in almost any NBA trade deadline rumors.  Here are the general parameters of the Bucks/76ers/Suns trade with the former employee for each player in parenthesis:
- Bucks get MCW (76ers), Ennis (Suns), and power forward Miles Plumlee (Suns)
- 76ers get 2015 Top 5 protected L.A. Lakers first round pick (Suns)
- Suns get Knight (Bucks) and Kendall Marshall (Suns)

There is no question that Knight is the best player in the trade but he also has the most uncertain future give that he is scheduled to become a restricted agent this summer since he was the 8th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft but could NOT agree to an extension with the Bucks last off-season.  The real question is whether MCW or the draft pick is the second best player in the trade.  MCW is averaging 15 points, 7.4 assists, and 6.2 rebounds this season.  That makes MCW and Russell Westbrook the only current 15-7-6 guys but take that with a grain of salt because MCW is shooting just 26% from three-point land and 39.6% from the field.  That means MCW is a chucker on the worst team in the NBA, which is a far cry from what Westbrook is doing to keep the Oklahoma City Thunder in the playoff hunt sans Kevin Durant.

In order for the 76ers to get the pick from the Lakers it has to fall out of the Top 5, which is no guarantee given that the Lakers currently have the 4th worst record in the NBA with a fair amount of distance between the Lakers and the 5th worst team in the NBA right now the Orlando Magic given that the Magic currently have five more wins than the Lakers with less than 30 games to play in the regular season.  Given the dire cap situation for the Lakers, their only hope of being relevant for Kobe's last few years in the NBA is a Patrick Ewing-esque NBA Lottery fix.  I know the current commissioner Adam Silver seems like a much more upstanding individual than former NBA commissioner David Stern but the Lakers struggling is trouble for the NBA so I bet the Lakers keep the pick in 2015.

There are a million and one places that you can go to read in grave detail about how MCW is one of the worst three-pointer shooters in the NBA.  Given how much NBA teams besides the Phil Jackson lead New York Knicks and Byron Scott coached Lakers realize how important the three point shot is in 2015, it does perplex me a little that Hammond apparently doesn't care how damaging that is offensively that it is to downgrade from Knight to MCW.

There are really only two far fetched on-court justifications that make sense to me.  One, Hammond is trying to build a defensive oriented team with the long longest wingspan at every position in the NBA by trotting out MCW at point guard, The Greek Freak at shooting guard, Jabari at small forward, John Henson at power forward, and a warm body at center. Two, Hammond actually thinks that Bucks head coach Jason Kidd can work with MCW to improve his shot much like Kidd did with Knight.  If Kidd is going to fix MCW's shot, he should look at what the New Orleans Pelicans were able to do with Anthony Davis.  I get that MCW is no Anthony Davis but we are talking about shot fundamentals.  Save used to release the ball in front of his face but now he has a much higher release point.  According to ESPN's Kirk Goldsberry that changed Davis from Josh Smith level of efficiency into Durant level of efficiency.  The first justification is potentially believable but the second one is a couple year project.

I was very critical about new Bucks owner Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry trading for Kidd.  I am not ready to recant that entire post because my main beef was not that I thought Kidd would be a horrible coach.  My two biggest beefs were that the owners handled the process incorrectly because they made the move behind Hammond's back.  I can honestly live with that but my bigger worry was that I thought it was a precursor to turning over the general manager responsibilities to Kidd, which gave me horrible flashbacks of when Mike Sherman served as dual head coach and general manager for the Green Bay Packers.  Given how well the Bucks have played despite being without rookie small forward Jabari Parker, arguably the most talented player on The 15, I see Hammond around a long time now unless this trade submarines the franchise thanks to The 15 that Hammond built for the Bucks.

Let's assume the Lakers somehow get the 6th pick in the 2015 NBA Draft so they have to give it to the 76ers.  Right now Chad Ford has UCLA power forward Kevon Looney rated 6th and Kentucky center Willie Cauley-Stein rated 7th in his Top 100 players in the 2015 NBA Draft.  Although both of those players have interesting upsides, I would probably still rather have MCW over both of those guys.  If the Lakers end up with a Top 5 pick then this trade looks borderline horrible for the 76ers since they gave away a great defensive but horrible offensive point guard to get yet another draft pick.  I know 76ers general manager Sam Hinkey seems like a smart guy but two in the bush is not always better than a bird in the hand.

One way or another the Bucks are going to commit a ton of money to their young nucleus over the next three or four years so I honestly think this is more about covering up that they made a $30 million mist this summer when they failed to get Knight signed to a contract extension last off-season than adding a better player.  As I mentioned in my first look at The 15 this season, it seemed like last off-season the floor for a contract extension for Knight was four-years, $32 million while the ceiling was four-years, $48 million.  Given how Knight thrived this season, I honestly think he could sign a five-year, $90 million extension since he posses a very unique skill set and there are a ton of NBA teams with cap space this off-season.

The most interesting player in the trade is Ennis.  My 2014 and 2015 NBA Trade Deadline advice posts for Hammond show my affinity for Suns combo guard Archie Goodwin.  The Suns used to have essentially seven guards on their roster (Bledsoe, Reggie Bullock, Dragic, Zoran Dragic, Ennis, Goodwin, Gerald Green, and Thomas) before they sent the Dragic brothers to the Heat, Thomas to the Boston Celtics, and Ennis to the Bucks.  Sure the Suns got Knight and Marcus Thornton back but I would rather have Goran Dragic than Knight, Thomas than Thornton, and time will tell whether Ennis is worthy of getting regular NBA minutes given that he is only a rookie.  It looks like Goodwin will be the beneficiary of increased playing time thanks to the mass exodus at the guard position from Phoneix.  It will be interesting to see if Ennis or Goodwin blossom into a better NBA player because I would have bet on Goodwin instead of Ennis but most of that is due to my unending desire to replace Ray Allen with a quality shooting guard as opposed to adding another backup point guard when the Bucks already had a couple in the fold.

Assuming the Bucks are able to buyout with center Larry Sanders, after all of the moves above that leaves the Bucks with roughly $15 million in cap space this off-season.  As crazy as it sounds, I could see both players that Hammond traded to the Suns actually playing for the Bucks next season.  Given that Marshall is coming off a season ending knee injury, I can't see another NBA team claiming him after the Suns waive him so I could see him coming back.  It will be much trickier for Hammond to get Knight to come back.  If I were Hammond, I would throw the a huge font-loaded contract with declining yearly salaries over the life of the contract at Knight this off-season.  If the Suns match, great.  If not, the Bucks get Knight back and possibly pay the tax next season until Mayo and Pachullia become free agents after next season, which will allow the Bucks to open up another $13 million in cap space to work out an extensions for their bevy of talented players still on rookie contracts.

These is a slim chance that Knight returns to the Bucks this off-season, which second contract extension logjam given that the there are a ton of guys currently on The 15 that were taken in the first round of the the last three NBA Drafts so if they are worth anything they are due big contract extensions in the near future:

In the 2012 NBA Draft the Bucks drafted power forward/center Jon Henson with the14th pick and just added Plumlee, who was the 26th pick in that same draft.  That means Henson and Plumlee are due contract extensions following the 2015-16 NBA season, I expect Henson's to be in the $8 to $10 million per year range, which I would expect to be three or four times larger than Plumlee's on a per year basis.

In 2013 NBA Draft the 76ers drafted MCW was the 11th pick and the Bucks drafted The Greek Freak with the 15th pick.  Both players look like potential franchise players with The Greek Freak having a much higher ceiling but MCW having a much higher floor.  I say potential because both need to make big strides offensively in the next 18 months to fulfill their lofty expectations.  That means unless MCW or The Greek Freak suffer career ending injuries over the next two seasons (knocking on wood as I type), they will both most likely sign very lucrative contracts with some NBA team following the 2016-17 NBA season.

That leaves the 2014 NBA Draft when the Bucks drafted Jabari with the 2nd pick and Ennis was the 18th pick.  Injuries cut Parker's seasons short but absent that being a career ending injury, the Bucks would sign Parker long-term right now if the CBA allowed it.  The jury is still out on Ennis so luckily the Bucks have a couple seasons to see what he can do before they need to make any long-term decisions on Ennis.

The NBA's new revenue deal kicks in a few years from now, which will dramatically increase the salary cap but my hopes was that the Bucks would already have extended most of their non-max core, which would make each of those deals look even more cost-effective in a couple seasons.  One school of thought is that Hammond can continue to punt on rookies at the end of their first contract when they are on the verge of singing expensive extensions (Knight) for young guys that are NOT as talented but cost a fraction for the next few seasons (MCW, Ennis, and Plumlee).  Unfortunately those deals will become fewer and far between given that there are fewer Billy Kings still in charge of NBA teams.

The other thing that worries me about the Knight trade is that it opens up the Bucks to another silly mid-level deal for a useless veteran to help spend some of their available cap space since I find it highly unlikely that they will be able to attract a top-flight free agent this off-season.  Hopefully if The 15 continues to improve, the Bucks will be able to entice tasty free agents to sign with them down the road but I do NOT see it happening this off-season.

For the first time in a while I wanted Hammond to sit tight at the NBA Trade Deadline given how well the Bucks player recently (won 8 of 9 heading into the All-Star Break) but instead Hammond made a blockbuster deal.  Despite losing Jabari for the season in mid-December, the Bucks have continued to be a tough match-up for most teams because of how well they play defensively.  Once healthy, MCW will only add to that defensive prowess, the question is where the scoring will come from since Knight was the team's leading scorer before Hammond traded him to the Suns.  Sure MCW put up points for the 76ers but he did it as inefficiently as possible for the worst team in the NBA.  Remember, even the worst NBA teams still usually score 85 to 90 points a game so someone has to score.

It will be interesting to see how all the new pieces jell over the next few weeks.  If the Bucks can go on a nice winning streak, I could actually see them push the Bulls for the Central Division title.  The more likely scenario is that the Bucks struggle for a couple weeks to find their offensive identity and plummet to the 6th or 7th seed in the east.  Either way, it will be interesting to see how this plays out because if MCW is NOT a fit long-term, the 2015 NBA Trade Deadline will be the day Hammond NOT only traded Knight but also the day he started to process of agitating Parker and The Greek Freak to the point that they consider leaving Milwaukee for greener pastures.  If MCW learns how to shoot then the 2015 NBA Trade Deadline will go down as the day that Hammond turned water into wine...welcome to Milwaukee pressure.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Building The 15 - A Plea to Stand Pat at the 2015 NBA Trade Deadline

This is the 6th year (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014) that I've provided NBA Trade Deadline advice to Milwaukee Bucks (co) general manager John Hammond.  I used "(co)" because the last couple moves to The 15 had Bucks head coach Jason Kidd's hands all over them, which makes me think Kidd is transitioning into a role of head coach and general manager.  I've clearly been critical of Kidd in the past because he has only been an NBA coach for one season and already has ambitions of having his hand in front office moves too, which is what got him traded to the Bucks in the first place.  If I owned the Bucks, I would have Kidd focus on coaching and let Hammond handle Building The 15.

The Bucks won 8 of 9 games going into the NBA All-Star break but have really only beaten up on the scrubs with a 23-6 record v. sub-.500 teams and 8-19 v. above-.500 teams.  Either way, the Bucks still have two members of The 15 participating this weekend in some of the 2015 NBA All-Star Weekend festivities.  The Greek Freak is playing in the NBA Rising Stars Game and is in the slam dunk contest while Brandon Knight is participating in the skills competition.  I will do my duty and post fake trades for Hammond but this is the first season in a while that I hope the Bucks sit tight at the trade deadline unless they are able to pull of a one-sided deal with a desperate team in "win-now" mode that does NOT compromise the top of The 15 because I like the top end of The 15.  It should take a huge return to pry away Brandon Knight or John Henson but The Greek Freak and Jabari Parker are truly the only two untouchables on The 15.  Had things not gone so far south with center Larry Sanders, this advice column might have been similar to 2012 when I focused on every way possible for Hammond to trade Stephen Jackson but the Bucks and Sanders are currently working on a buyout so there is no way another NBA team would trade for Sanders at this point.

As I've said many times in the past, I would 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 too because although the Bucks still have extra second round picks, they don't have that many extra picks given that they traded two to the Brooklyn Nets to acquire head coach Jason Kidd.

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, which is why I wrote my first (annual hopefully) NBA General Manager Buyer's Remorse Day post.  With the 2015 NBA Trade Deadline (Thursday, February 19th 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 that he could float to other general manager this weekend at NBA All-Star Weekend in New York:

#5) Bucks trade John Henson (PF/C) to the Utah Jazz for Enes Kanter (C):
There have been rumblings for months that Kanter wants out of Utah and given that he is a restricted free agent at the end of the season, I am sure that Jazz management has evaluated a number of ways to get something in return for Kanter.  It is too bad for the Jazz that the situation has deteriorate so much because Kanter is an offense first big man that shows flashes of being a dominate NBA center.  I know Kanter struggles defensively but the Bucks need offense much more than defense at this point. Sure there is an outside chance that the Jazz could hold onto Kanter instead of trading him in the hopes of mending fences but given that their relationship is most likely beyond repair, it would be nice for the Jazz to get another legitimate defensive presence to pair with Rudy Goebert in Henson.  Add in that Henson is under team control on the cheap for a season longer than Kanter and this trade actually looks to favor the Jazz so I think they would actually have to throw in a future second rounder to get this deal done.

#4) Bucks trade Johnny O'Bryant III (PF) to the Orlando Magic for Andrew Nicholson (PF):
The Magic apparently do NOT see Nicholson as a part of their long-term plans, which makes his $2.3 million salary for the 2015-16 season awfully expensive if they do NOT view him as a potential building block.  This trade allows the Magic to save a little money given that the rookie O'Bryant signed a three-year, $2.4 million contract but only the first two years are guaranteed so the Magic could keep O'Bryant for the 2016-17 season for roughly $1 million or could cut him without any salary cap ramifications.  Given that O'Bryant is only a rookie it seems too early to give up on him but this trade has more to do with the fact that I am bummed that the Bucks drafted O'Bryant instead of Big Dogg's son with the 36th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.  There is a good chance that Nicholson wallows on the bench if Hammond actually acquires him but I am still not ready to give up on him so I am fine with the Bucks taking on slightly more salary in this trade (hey, its not my money anyhow since I am no longer acting like I am Bucks owner) on the off chance that Nicholson can figure out his game in Milwaukee.

#3) Bucks trade Zaza Pachulia (C) to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Anthony Bennett (PF):
This trade is mostly to needle my Minnesota friends, especially my buddy Nick given that he is one of the biggest NBA fans I know.  My buddy Sug and I were on record as saying Wiggins for K-Love alone felt like the Timberwolves were getting the better end of the deal.  The fact that the Timberwolves got (fat) Anthony Bennett too honestly seemed like gilding the lily.  At this point it seems like only the Cleveland Cavaliers thought that Bennett was worth the first pick in the 2013 NBA Draft.  What makes that pick even more painful is that the Cavs could have just taken combo guard Victor Oladipo (my unabashed draft crush of the 2013 NBA Draft), which would have been a huge upgrade over Dion Waiters.  Before the 2013 NBA Draft it seemed like the debate was whether Oladipo or Nerlens Noel should go 1st overall but Noel had a knee injury that hurt his draft stock.  Even if the Cavs passed on Oladipo, they should have taken Noel because it would have saved them from giving the perpetually injured Anderson Varejao a three-year, $30 million extension.  Sadly it looks like Bennett will be a bust, which is why I am trying to give the Timberwolves an out to add a somewhat cost-effective NBA center while the Bucks get a perpetually overweight power forward to go to the fattest NBA city.  On second thought, may be this is a better deal for the Timberwovles so let's just move on.

#2) Bucks trade O.J. Mayo (SG) and Jerryd Bayless (PG) to the Phoenix Suns for Goran Dragic (SG), Zoran Dragic (SG), and Archie Goodwin (SG):
Much like Kanter, the relationship between the better Dragic brother and Suns management is so strained that it is beyond repair.  I guess the Suns got here when they signed combo guard Eric Beldsoe to a five-year, $70 million contract and Isaiah Thomas to a four-year, $27 million contract (deescalates in annual value each season).  I am not sure what money that leaves for Dragic but it certainly means if he is on the Suns past the trade deadline that he is going to decline his $7.5 million player option for next season so the Suns will get nothing in return for a borderline Top 10 point guard.  Given the salary structure of the NBA, I bet Dragic signs an even bigger deal that Bledsoe did and apparently is only interested in playing in a big market so it feels like the Bucks might actually be giving up too much to rent Dragic for a playoff run but the cherry on top is Goodwin.  Unfortunately for Jordan Crawford, I've moved onto Goodwin as my sneaking good shooting guard that I think could have a relevant NBA playoff moment off the bench.  I see Goodwin as Gary Neal without the locker room baggage.  That or Goodwin is the Desmond Mason of the Ray Allen heist.  Trust me, I know Mayo is no Allen but I mention it only because at the time of the Allen/Payton deal some justified it by saying that Mason could be the best long-term asset in the deal, which was clearly NOT the case.

#1) Bucks trade O.J. Mayo (SG) and Jerryd Bayless (PG) to the New Orleans Pelicans for Eric Gordon (SG):
It is Masters-esque so cue Jim Nance's voice. "Hello friends and welcome to Cheesehead Sport Nut's annual tradition of somehow fake trading for the perpetually injured shooting guard Eric Goron.  I want to welcome in my boyfriend partner Sir Nick Faldo to break down how crazy this is."  What can I say, I am a sucker for Gordon.  If the Bucks just held onto Ray Allen, I would NOT be forced to try to conjure up deals for (potential) franchise shooting guards.  Honestly with how well Brandon Knight has been playing this year, I somehow think that can rub off on Gordon to somehow make him not only healthy but potentially salvageable.  Plus, I secretly want to give The Brow an unencumbered salary cap this summer for the Pelicans to go after another useful player, which is totally doable if they can move Gordon's crazy contract ($15 million this season and $15.5 million player option for next season).

If Hammond actually makes a move, which I am on records as hoping he doesn't do, check back for full coverage in this space.  In the meantime, enjoy watching The Greek Freak and Brandon Knight participate in the NBA All-Star Weekend festivities.  Hopefully one of them will actually play in the NBA All-Star Game in the next couple seasons.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Man City Report - January 2015 Transfer Window Roundup

A little over a month ago I gave Man City manager Manuel Pellegrini advice on how to approach the January transfer window.  Unfortunately Pellegirini didn't follow my advice, so I will provide my critique after I give you an update on the six competitive (seven total) matches Man City played since my last post: four EPL matches and two FA Cup match.

Man City dropped two points at home to close out 2014 when they surrendered a 2-0 lead to Burnley to tie them 2-2.  Sadly Man City almost did the same thing against Sunderland to open 2015 but thankfully midfielder Frank Lampard notched another important EPL goal for Man City to give them a 3-2 victory over Sunderland.  Man City followed that up with a 2-1 victory over Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup.  That form didn't carry back over to the EPL when Man City went back on the road to face Everton because they tied them 1-1.  Sadly that wasn't rock bottom as Man City lost consecutive home matches by a scoreline of 2-0.  Man City first lost to Arsenal in the EPL and then to lowly Middlesbrough to crash out of the FA Cup. In between home 2-0 loses, Man City won a friendly in Abu Dhabi against Hamburg.  I know Man City needs to expand their global brand and play in front of their oil barren owners occasionally to appease them but that came at the expense of the FA Cup given that Man City returned from Abu Dhabi less than 24 hours before their home loss to Middlesbrough.  That is hardly the form Man City wanted to be in ahead of their most important EPL match of the season when they went on the road to face EPL leaders Chelsea.  Man City trailed Chelsea by five points going into the match and that margin remained the same as Man City tied Chelsea 1-1 despite actually being the better side.

With the January transfer window closed, here are my updated thoughts and rankings to the roster:

2014-15 Player Rankings 4.0
1. Sergio Aguero (F, LR 1)2. Yaya Toure (M, LR 3)
3. Vincent Kompany (D, LR 2)
4. David Silva (M, LR 4)
5. Wilfred Bony (F, LR N/A)
6. James Milner (M, LR 9)
7. Pablo Zabaleta (D, LR 5)
8. Samir Nasri (M, LR 6)
9. Jesus Navas (M, LR 10)
10. Edin Dzeko (F, LR 7)
11. Joe Hart (GK, LR 8)

12. Fernandinho (M, LR 14)
13. Gael Clichy (D, LR 16)
14. Eliaquim Mangala (D, LR 11)  
15. Aleksandar Kolarov (D, LR 13)
16. Bacary Sagna (D, LR 18)
17. Fernando (M, LR 15)
18. Stevan Jovetic (F, LR 12)
19. Martin Demichelis (D, LR 17)
20. Willy Caballero (GK, LR 19)
21. José Ángel Pozo (M, LR 20)
22. Dedryck Boyata (D, LR 21)
23. Sinan Bytyqi (M, LR 24)
24. Frank Lampard (M, LR 25)
25. Richard Wright (GK, LR 26)
Loaned Out
1. Scott Sinclair (M)
2. Matija Nastasic (D)
5) Wilfred Bony (F, LR N/A): I am on record as saying I would rather have kept Alvaro Negredo instead of essentially selling him in a move that was called a "loan" before the season to balance the books.  That decisions was exacerbated by all the injuries Man City suffered at striker at the end of 2014, which forced Pellegrini to start midfielder James Milner at striker since he did NOT have a healthy striker available despite being arguably the richest club in the world.  Man City tried to fix that when they bought Wilfred Bony from Swansea.  There is no doubt that Bony is a quality striker given that he was the top scorer in the EPL in 2014 when he scored 24 goals.  In fact the first two of those goals came against Man City at home to open 2014 in a 3-2 loss to Man City.  I presume Pellegrini never forgot that performance, which most likely factored into his decision to buy Bony.  Whether Bony is worth a $40 million transfer fee is another matter.  To put the $40 million transfer fee in perspective, it eclipses the fee that Man City paid to Arsenal for Emmanuel Adebayor in 2009 to make Bony's transfer fee the most expensive transfer fee of all-time for an African footballer.  That is a ton of money, especially given that Man City already have three accomplished strikers on the roster that are all currently in a collective injury/scoring drought but don't forget that Bony is off at the African Cup of Nations tournament as a member of the Ivory Coast so he doesn't even provide immediate help for Man City's striker woes anyhow.  Not only did Man City pay almost $40 million for Bony's services but Man City signed him to a four-and-half year contract worth upwards of $150,000 a week and includes a clause that pays Bony an additional $30,000 per appearance for the club.  The appearance fee seems like it is gilding the lily for Bony but I presume that "bonus" was included to somehow skirt UEFA's Financial Fair Play rules.  That is great business for Swansea given that they paid $20 million for his services just a few years ago even though selling Bony will mean Swansea sold one of the most prolific goal scorers in Europe.  Bony's 56 goals (25 EPL goals since the start of the 2013-14 EPL season) are the 5th most goal scored in Europe's top six leagues since the start of the 2012-13 season behind heavyweights Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and Graziano Pellè.  Bony has found the back of the net regularly in the Eredivisie and EPL for less glamorous clubs than Man City so I expect that to continue as long as Bony can get regular first-team action. Let's hope this deal goes better than the last time Man City purchased a player from Swansea though given that Man City purchased winger Scott Sinclair for roughly $12 million in 2012 but Sinclair only made three starts and 19 appearances total over a couple seasons for Man City.  Given the lack of regular playing time, Man City loaned Sinclair to Aston Villa with an eye towards a permanent move over the summer.

9) Jesus Navas (M, LR 10): With Nasri out injured for a few more weeks, Navas is getting regular starts at winger despite the fact that his crosses have been sub-par besides his most recent outing against Chelsea.  I know that might seem like a fairly general criticism but Navas is essentially on the field to combine with the right back to provide good service to the strikers so when his crosses are sub-par, there is not much reason to play him  Unfortunately Man City doesn't really have a better option than Navas at this point since Silva thrives as a playmaker in the middle and Milner is a nice option opposite Navas on the other wing.  I wonder whether Man City need to consider something somewhat unconventional like playing Kolarov or Zabaleta as a winger as opposed to their regular spot as an outside defender.  Kolarov has played as a winger a couple of times for Man City so moving Zabaleta or him to winger from outside back might not be all that revolutionary, especially given how much they already push forward from their outside back positions.

17) Fernando (M, LR 15): The Mangala signing is clearly the biggest disappointment of the summer transfer window for Man City but Fernando is not that far behind.  That is exacerbated by the fact that Yaya Toure is playing with new teammate Bony for the Ivory Coast in the African Cup of Nations.  Given how invisible Fernando has been in place of Toure, Man City need to consider starting Frank Lampard along side Fernandinho ahead of Fernando now that they secured Lampard's services through the end of the season.  I would even rather see James Milner play in central midfield ahead of Fernando at this point. When Toure returns, Lampard can move back to his super-sub role, which will essentially relegate Fernando to spot appearances till next season unless Toure, Fernandinho, Lampard, or Milner are injured for an extended period of time.

22) Dedryck Boyata (D, LR 21): Pellegrini loaned central defender Matija Nastasic to Schalke through the end of the season.  Much like Negredo's loan, Nastasic's loan to Schalke includes a purchase option.  Apparently Pellegrini holds Dedryck Boyata in higher esteem than Nastasic, otherwise this loan makes no sense.  The structure of the loan means the proverbial ball is in Schalke's court now for how they want to proceed with Nastasic.  Unless Man City can recoup almost all of their original $20 transfer fee they paid Fiorentina for Nastasic's services, which I think is highly unlikely, I hope Schalke passes on their purchase option for Nastasic because I still think he could be a useful defender for Man City given that he is still only 21 years old. 

With the transfer window closed till the summer, Man City will have an uphill battle in the Champions League (face Barcelona in their quarterfinal home-and-home match up) and the EPL (currently in second place, five points behind Chelsea).  Check back at the end of the next international break for my updated thoughts on the squad.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The 15 - Super Bowl Diversion Thanks to Rampant Roster Turnover

I figured I would run my monthly look at The 15 on Super Bowl Sunday as a nice diversion for Cheesehead sports fans like me that are probably still reeling from the improbable loss the Green Bay Packers suffered in the NFC Championship Game against the Seattle Seahawks.  In much more positive Cheesehead sports related developments, it is official that the 2014-15 Milwaukee Bucks are not only inching towards becoming a lock for the NBA playoffs but besides the Atlanta Hawks they are arguably the best story in the NBA right now.  The Bucks won four of their last five games (only loss was a close one on the road the San Antonio Spurs) to close out the month of January with a record of 25-22.  This is all coming as The 15 is suddenly in major flux.  I thought the biggest shuffle to the minutes on The 15 was going to be filling the 29.5 minutes per game from the fallout of rookie small forward Jabari Parker's torn ACL.  It turns out that was just the start of not only a churn in the minutes on The 15 but also the members of The 15.  Keep in mind that The 15 contained 15 guaranteed contracts at the start of the season when Milwaukee Bucks general manager John Hammond guaranteed backup point guard Kendall Marshall's contract two and a half months early than he needed to, which loomed large on the roster decisions that I am about to discuss.  Here are my updated thoughts on The 15:

2) Brandon Knight (PG, LR 3): I know this seems borderline crazy to put Knight ahead of rookie small forward Jabari Parker but I did this for two reasons.  One, Parker is out for the season with a knee injury so that hurts his trade value even though it seems like his ceiling is potentially limitless.  Two, Knight is putting up a very impressive 18.4 PER so far this season.  I know that Knight is going to be a restricted free agent this summer and could be a borderline max contract guy but the Bucks hold the cards for how they want to handle Knight going forward so the better Knight plays, the more he is going to cost the Bucks.  The real question that I do not quite know the answer to yet is whether Knight is truly evolving as a player or if Jason Kidd is really a much better NBA coach than I am thought he could ever be.  Only time will tell but so far the results are impressive.

The 15 4.0 for 2014-15
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo (SG/SF, LR 1)
2. Brandon Knight (PG, LR 3)
3. Jabari Parker (SF/PF, LR 2)
4. John Henson (PF/C, LR 4)
5. O.J. Mayo (SG, LR 6)
6. Khris Middleton (SF, LR 7)
7. Ersan Ilyasova (PF, LR 5)
8. Jared Dudley (SG/SF, LR 8)
9. Kendall Marshall (PG, LR 10)
10. Zaza Pachulia (C, LR 11)
11. Jerryd Bayless (PG/SG, LR 12)
12. Johnny O'Bryant III (PF, LR 14)
13. Damien Inglis (SF, LR 15)
14. Kenyon Martin (PF, N/R)
15. Jorge Gutierrez (PG, N/R)
Larry Sanders
Nate Wolters (PG)
4) John Henson (PF/C, LR 4): My favorite full-time NBA writer is currently Zach Lowe from  Lowe's boss Bill Simmons is close but he is NOT a full-time NBA writer, which gives Zach the nod.  Leaving my parsing of Grantland's content aside, Lowe had a great post on The Arrival of John Henson.  I am not sure I can add anything more to what Lowe wrote about Henson on the court.  Off the court though, we now officially know that Henson is a real building block for the Bucks.  The questions is how much will that building block cost.  My guess is in the $10 to $12 million per year range, which seems awfully expensive until you realize the Bucks signed currently suspended center Larry Sanders to a four-year, $44 million contract for his defense alone.  While Henson might not be quite as good defensively as Sanders yet but there is no question that Henson is much more polished offensively than Sanders, which might push Henson's price even higher when he is a restricted free agent following the 2015-15 NBA season.

14) Kenyon Martin (PF, N/R): The Bucks waived young, promising point guard Nate Wolters to clear a roster spot for over-the-hill power forward Kenyon Martin.  After the Bucks signed Martin to a couple 10-day contracts, they signed him for the rest of the season even though he has contributed just 1.6 points per game while averaging only 8.5 minutes a game in his 10 appearances.  I know Kidd and Martin are former teammates but that does NOT qualify the 37 year old Martin for a spot on The 15 over Wolters despite the lack of front-court depth.  Let's not forget that Martin played just 50 games over the last two seasons for the New York Knicks so it is not like the Bucks found this diamond in the rough.  I thought Kidd would stick to coaching and Hammond would stick to Building The 15 but this move makes me think Kidd is slowly taking over the front office too, which is what initially worried me when the Bucks traded for Kidd.

15) Jorge Gutierrez (PG, N/R): Just to add insult to injury, literally.  The Bucks lost promising backup point guard Kendall Marshall to a torn ACL when they played the Knicks on January 15th in London.  Let's not forget that the Bucks cut Wolters less than a week before that game to make way for Martin.  Since the NBA foolishly does NOT employ an injured reserve list that meant the Bucks needed to add another point guard so they added another player with ties to Kidd (played for the Nets last year when Kidd was the coach).  Again, it begs the question, is Hammond or Kidd running the front office?  Either way, it seems like Kidd didn't like Wolters very much.  I am not sure why but I can tell you that 99 our of 100 NBA personnel people would rather have Wolters than Gutierrez sadly Kidd, I mean Hammond, is that one guy.

Make sure to check back in a couple weeks for my 6th annual NBA Trade Deadline advice post for Hammond and/or Kidd depending on which one is making the roster decisions at that point.