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.

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