Friday, February 17, 2017

Building The 15 - (Another) Plea to Stand Pat at the 2017 NBA Trade Deadline

This is the 8th year (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016) that I've provided NBA Trade Deadline advice to Milwaukee Bucks (nominal) general manager John Hammond.  I used "(nominal)" because Jason Kidd's fingerprints are all over The 15 and the Bucks have their future GM in assistant GM Justin Zanik so while Hammond is still technically in charge, it is hard to determine whether he actually has final say on moves and I haven't even mentioned the trio of guys that bought the Bucks from Herb Kohl.

While the Bucks won their last three games going into the 2017 NBA All-Star break, they dropped seven of their last 11 games and literally limped into the All-Star break after Jabari Parker tore the same ACL for the second time in just three NBA seasons.  I'd like to think that my advice in this column would be the same if Parker were healthy but frankly it changes things slightly now that the Bucks have what looks like a reason to tank just once more before they open their new arena for the 2018-19 NBA season that I will forever refer to as The Beer Barrel.  I say what looks like a reason because the Bucks were struggling before Parker's injury but now they can semi-couch tanking as a result of losing Parker for 12 months.

The financial ramifications of Parker's serious knee injuries could be catastrophic for not only him but frankly the Bucks too.  After Parker missed most of his rookie season in the NBA due to tearing his left ACL in mid-December of 2014, he actually started his second season in the NBA healthy and put up pretty decent numbers given that he returned to the court in less than 12 months following a serious knee injuryThis season Parker's offensive game went to the next level averaging just a nick over 20 points a game while adding a three point shot to his offensive repertoire.  NBA players can sign extensions that start after their rookie contract following their third NBA season but given that Parker will miss more than half of his fourth NBA season recovering from a second tear to his left ACL, it will be hard for the Bucks to commit a max contract before next season because there is no way to know whether Parker will ever be the same player again.  I hate to be too fatalist about Parker's career given that he is still only 21 years old but midway through this season I thought there was a chance he would push for an All-Star appearance in the next couple seasons, now I (sadly) question whether he will ever make an All-Star team.

On a more positive note, the Bucks have two members of The 15 participating this weekend in some of the 2017 NBA All-Star Weekend festivities.  Rookie Malcom Brogdon aka Right Handed Michael Redd is playing in the NBA Rising Stars Game and The Greek Freak is participating in the NBA All-Star game to give the Bucks their first All-Star since the aforementioned Michael Redd played in the 2004 NBA All-Star Game in Los Angeles.

I will do my duty and post fake trades for Hammond/Kidd/Zanik/ownership but unless the Bucks are able to off-load another one of the crap contracts they signed this off-season, I would rather they just stand pat.  Realistically The Greek Freak is the only untouchable on The 15 but despite injury concerns for both, I would classify Khris Middleton and Jabari Parker as virtually untouchable so it would take a very special package to land Middleton or Parker.

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 only way of adding transcendent talent to The 15; see Freak, The Greek and Parker, Jabari.  I am even reticent to include a second round draft pick too because although the Bucks still have extra second round picks, given some of the crap contracts the Bucks currently have on The 15, I would much rather see them focus more on drafting and developing instead of overpaying on the free agent market.

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 an NBA General Manager Buyer's Remorse Day post a couple years ago.  With the 2017 NBA Trade Deadline (Thursday, February 23rd 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 the 2017 NBA All-Star Weekend in New Orleans:

#5) Bucks trade Jason Terry (G) to the Atlanta Hawks for a second round pick:
Terry recently said that he wants to play two more seasons in the NBA but not sure he will have that option.  Either way, this trade would bring things full circle for Terry by taking him back to where his NBA career started.  Not sure what Terry brings to the table at this point other than a strong locker room presence for a playoff bound team that might be able to occasionally give you a spark off the bench.  Of the five trades potential trades that I am going to float, I actually think this one has a realistic change of happening but barely registers on the sexy scale.  I see the Hawks looking to do something bigger than a deal like this to help their playoff push so I don't see this deal going down unless the Hawks strike out across the board with all other bigger deals and try to pull this one off right before the trade deadline.

Bucks trade Matthew Dellavedova (G) to the Indiana Pacers for Jeff Teague (G):
Whenever a team is trying to pander to their star that could leave town, they inevitably overpay; see James, LeBron's first rodeo in Cleveland.  Indiana Pacers small forward Paul George can opt-out of his contract at the end of next season and he has yet to commit to the Pacers long-term so word is that the Pacers are willing to overpay to keep George happy.  I've admired Teague for a long time and given that he is an expiring contract, the Pacers get a worse player but more cost certainty in Dellavedova.  I love this deal for the Bucks and hate it for the Pacers so that is why it is the first one floated because Pacers president Larry Bird would be foolish to make this deal.  Then again, desperate times sometimes call for desperate measures.

#3) Bucks trade John Henson (PF/C) to the Phoenix Suns for Brandon Knight (PG):
I wanted to dangle Matthew Dellavedova instead of Henson but even though Knight has struggled this season so much that he is relegated to a reserve role, Dellavedova has had an even worse season so the Bucks need to part with a guy that seems to have a ton of promise but sadly doesn't deliver as much on the promise as much as he should.  I am talking about Henson but that last sentence describes Knight's tenure in Phoenix too so this seems like a perfect trade for both teams.  In hindsight there is no question that Hammond should have taken the Top 5 protected pick instead of MCW when he traded Knight to the Suns.  I see Henson and Knight as slightly distressed assets.  Given that the NBA has a glut of big-men and unless you can shoot a three you are becoming a dinosaur in the league, I would rather see the Bucks take a flier on Knight regaining his 2013 through 2015 form than hold onto Henson.

#2) Bucks trade Greg Monroe (C) and Jason Terry (G) to the Orlando Magic for Nikola Vucevic (C) and Mario Hezonja (SG):
I am obligated to float at least one Greg Monroe trade.  Initially I thought about Monroe to the Denver Nuggets for power forward Kenneth Faried.  I've long been a fan of the Manimal and it seems like the Nuggets are always looking to move him but don't think the potential of only a few months of Monroe is enough for Manimal even though Monroe has had a nice offensive resurgence this season after a disappointing first season in Milwaukee.  There are very few subpar GM's left in the NBA but thankfully Rob Hennigan is one of them and still in charge of the Magic.  Sure the Magic got the better end of the J.J. Redick/Tobias Harris deal but this is the same guy that in the last 12 months turned Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova, and Domantas Sabonis into a couple months of Serge Ibaka only to flip Ibaka to the Toronto Raptors for Terrence Ross and a late first round pick in the 2017 NBA Draft.  Pretty easy to say you'd rather have Oladipo/Sabonis than Ross/2017 late first rounder.  While Vucevic seems like the headliner of the deal for the Bucks given that he is a quality front court player, I actually still think Hezonja is a superstar in the making despite struggling so far in his NBA career.  While Monroe has developed into a quality offense first guy to bring off the bench at center, there is a chance that Hezonja develops into a starting shooting guard or worst case a heat check guy to bring off the bench in crunch time.  Given what I said earlier about the NBA having a glut of quality big guys and skewing towards shooting as many three as possible, I would much rather have an offense first shooting guard than an offense first center.

#1) Bucks trade Khris Middleton (SG/SF) and Jason Terry (PG/SG) to the Boston Celtics for Amir Johnson (C), Jaylen Brown (SF), and the Brooklyn Nets' 2018 first round pick:
I know this is going to make Celtics fans head explode because they always overvalue their guys but frankly the Celtics get more long-term cost certainty at the expensive of a couple super interesting lottery tickets in this deal, which is exactly what they need given all the potential flux that their roster is going to go through in the next 18 months.  Middleton is on a criminally team friendly NBA contract given that he is in the second year of a five-year, $70 million contract that actually pays him less each season starting next season.  The one caveat to that is Middleton owns a player option on the last season but if Middleton is playing so well that he is going to opt-out to sign a big money deal, better to have him plant some roots in Boston ahead of signing that extension.  While Middleton is not truly a superstar, he is a prototypical 3-and-D guy.  Besides having a Top 10 player on your team, the most valuable thing in the NBA right now is having as many 3-and-D guys as possible.  Speaking of 3-and-D guys, Brown is the wildcard.  Right now Brown is shooting 30% from three but take that with a grain of salt because he is a 20-year old NBA rookie.  Some thought the Celtics reached for Brown with the 3rd pick in the 2016 NBA Draft but there is a chance that he becomes one of the best defenders in the NBA in a couple seasons, which is the perfect guy to pair with The Greek Freak and Parker.  If Brown can develop a long-distance shot, the Celtics will be kicking themselves for trading him away but there is no guarantee that Brown can add that dimension to his game.  There is a chance that Tony Snell can give the Bucks 75% of Middleton's production at 75% of Middleton's price so that allows the Bucks to proactively push back their window of being a real Eastern Conference contender a season or two, which coincides perfectly with the opening of The Beer Barrel.  Finally, the Celtics have to cash in some of their draft picks because there are only 15 players allowed on NBA roster and it feels like they have 15 picks in the next three NBA Drafts.  Sure the 2018 Brooklyn Nets could be a Top 3 pick but a Middleton in the hand is definitely better than a Brown and a bird in the bush given that the Celtics are making a legitimate run at winning the Eastern conference this season.

If Hammond actually makes another move before the 2017 NBA Trade Deadline, which I am on records as hoping he doesn't, check back for full coverage in this space.  In the meantime, enjoy watching Right Handed Michael Redd and The Greek Freak in the 2017 NBA All-Star Weekend festivities in New Orleans.

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