Thursday, November 21, 2013

I've Got Us at Twenty-Nine (But There's Hope)

The 2014 Bucks season is off to about as bad a start as one could imagine.  They have the worst record in the East.  Their home attendance exceeds that of only the Suns, Hawks and Sixers.  They also can't score and they get blown out a lot.

It's ugly, folks.  In some ways it's what I expected (a massive talent drain leading to scoring struggles) and in some ways it's worse (injuries; The Colonel's meltdown).  I have the Bucks as the 29th best team in the NBA.  Right now I have Cleveland thirtieth, but the Cavs are in a group with the Bucks, Magic, Celtics and Jazz as the true dregs of the league.  Maybe the Suns and Sixers belong in there.  Maybe the Jazz don't.  But does it matter?  These teams have problems.

There is hope for the Bucks and it is in the form of a wretched East conference.  The conference is so bad that any team -- including the Bucks -- could not only make the playoffs, but get a series at home.

The Bulls, Pacers and Heat are great.  They will make the playoffs.  They will have great records.

I picked the Knicks to win the East, and many experts thought that the Nets would be great as well.  In their current state the Knicks are awful, but they have a shot.  Bargs could still regain his confidence.  JR could become the guy he was last season.  A deal could still be made.  The Nets may also improve dramatically once Jason Kidd is fired.  We all understand the theory that as long as the assistant coaches know how to coach then things should be OK.  In this case, it isn't working.  Kidd will probably be fired and the Knicks will probably come together, but there are no guarantees.  The East may not have a good fourth team.

If the Knicks and Nets are going to stink, then the East is completely open.  What's more, if they stink then the Atlantic division champion will be beatable in round one.  The Bucks can still be the five seed that beats that terrible four seed.

The Bucks are not going to win the five seed with their current roster, but they could win the five seed if a move is made.  Tyreke Evans still doesn't seem to totally fit in New Orleans.  Rudy Gay, Demar DeRozan and Terrance Ross are all so similar that one would think Toronto would be opening to moving one of them.  And Detroit's big man situation is a problem.  Greg Monroe may be a plausible target.

The Bucks have two major assets that almost any other team would want: the Greek Freak and their 2014 first round pick.  The Greek Freak can't be traded.  The first round pick could be traded if the right deal came along.

Online Bucks fans would likely rise up in revolt if the Bucks threw away their chance at this year's draft class, but hear me out.  The scenario where the Bucks trade the pick may be better than the scenario if the Bucks keep it.

Scenario 1: Status quo

The Bucks keep their pick and start Riggin' for Wiggins.  At best, they'll have a 25% chance of landing Wiggins.  If they don't, then Julius Randle (a poor man's DeMarcus Cousins with a better attitude) or Jabari Parker (a possible Big Dog clone) could be available.

But what about the 2014 season?  Attendance will fall even further.  Milwaukeeans will become even less connected to the team.  Prospects for a new arena will become even less promising.  Star free agents will even less inclined to consider Milwaukee.  Solid veteran free agents will continue to only choose Milwaukee if the money beats every other offer.

And then what of the future?  Riding a 19 year old rookie and a 20 year old second year player to victory in 2015 ain't gonna happen.  The Thunder made the playoffs in Durant's third season (the Greek Freak's equivalent of 2016), but Durant is an all time great.  The Bucks could instead end up as the new Bobcats.  We could lose and lose and lose until we finally offer 20% more than anyone else is for an Al Jefferson equivalent.  Or like the old Warriors, who kept cycling overhyped draftees in and out until Don Nelson arrived from Dallas to save the day.

Scenario 2: Trade our first rounder

The Bucks trade their pick for a solid scorer and/or inside presence.  At best, they'll be able to put top six protection on the pick.  They should at least be able to secure top three protection for any of the aforementioned trade targets.

For the 2014 season, the Bucks will have a chance at the playoffs.  Right now they have only three more losses than the Hawks, who currently sit in fifth.  They have depth.  They have role players.  If The Colonel can regain his confidence they'll have great defense.  This can happen.

A run to a solid playoff berth would help attendance.  It would get Milwaukeeans interested in the team.  It might even prompt local politicians to attempt a Cobb County-style deal for a new arena.  Landing a star free agent would still be a long shot, but adding a solid vet for a reasonable price would become a snap, just like in the Fear The Deer summer of 2010.

The Bucks would lose out on having a top pick in 2014, but the core going forward would still be solid.  Monroe + The Colonel + Greek Freak is solid.  Substituting Tyreke for Monroe would also be strong.

I realize that the Bucks trading away a pick from this draft is super unlikely.  And I am OK with writing off this year as an injury/acquisition/departure disaster and hoping to move on in 2015.  Bad years happen sometimes.  But I see some possibilities with this group.  There are a lot of solid vets and if they are given a scorer to build the offense around, very good things could happen.  I hope that Bucks management considers that before deciding to take a Dookie for the Dukie.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Never Extend Anyone (the essay formerly knows as, "Top 10 Larry Sanders Trade Destinations")

This essay was supposed to be a hit magnet.  I was supposed to write a few hundred words on ten possible trade destinations for formerly (at least in some Bucks fans' eyes; I still love him) beloved Bucks big man Larry Sanders.  I was supposed to use the NBA Trade Machine from ESPN to figure out how he could get to the Pelicans (Tyreke?), the Lakers (Nash & Nick Young?), the Knicks (Bargnani?) and a slew of other teams.  But the trades kept failing.  Every single time, I would get one side or another needing to take back less salary.

Then I figured it out: Larry Sanders is LITERALLY UNTRADEABLE (at least for this season).  Why, you ask?  The stupid rules of the stupid new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that caused the stupid lockout that caused me to start dropping thousands of stupid dollars per year on L.A. Kings season tickets.  

In the CBA, players on the last year of their rookie contracts are required to have their deals include the Poison Pill Provision (PPP, which should have been a name reserved for Triple H's son in WWE) if they receive an extension.  The PPP makes it so that the team trading that player away uses the value of the rookie contract when trading away the player.  The team trading for the player uses the average annual value (AAV, see there's my NBA lockout-authored hockey fandom popping up again) of the contract.

In simpler terms:

If the Bucks trade Larry, they trade away $3 million .  Since the Bucks are within that amount of the salary cap, they are allowed to receive back 150% plus $100,000.  So the Bucks can only receive $4.6 million.

The team that trades for Larry receives the same Larry, but is trading for $9.4 million according to the  CBA.  That is because the receiving team must average out his entire extension along with his last rookie year.  That's $47 million divided by 5 years.

For a Larry trade to work, the Bucks would need to work with a team that has about $5 million in cap space.  That team would have to be able to take in $9.4 million while giving out less than $4.6 million.

So who does have $5 million in cap space at this point?  Phoenix and Philly.  That's it.  

If the Bucks decided to go the cap clearing route, Phoenix might make some sense.  They have Emeka Okafor in on an expiring contract.  Maybe they'd take back Caron Butler and Larry to make the salaries work.

That could actually work except the new CBA screws the Bucks AGAIN.  Since Phoenix already had Butler under contract during this league year (even though he never played a game and was long gone before training camp began), Butler can't be part of that trade.

So the Bucks are stuck with Larry.  It's not all bad since I like the guy and he has played Bill Russell like defense (F-off Boston/Russell fans; that comparison is legit), but it sure seems like trading Larry for a scorer would be an idea worth exploring.

The broader lesson in all of this is that players on rookie contracts should NEVER be extended under this CBA.  Once that player is extended, the player becomes virtually untradeable.  And you can still give that player the same amount of money the next year when the stupid PPP restriction is gone.  I get that there's a risk that Larry could've gone out and averaged 15/10/4 and demanded a max deal after this season.  But the PPP makes extensions so crippling that the Bucks needed to get a bigger discount than 4/$44M to make the extension make sense.

There is one possibility that this could work out.  It looks like this: Evan Turner for Larry & Caron.  

Evan Turner is in the last year of his rookie deal and he did not get extended.  He is playing great, and at the moment it looks like he is in line for something approaching a max deal.  (If you don't believe me ask the Blazers or Pelicans.  Nic Batum got 4/$46M.  Eric Gordon got 4/$64M.)  The Sixers are hot right now, but do they really want to may Evan Turner $50-$60 million over the next four years?  Wouldn't Larry be a nice defensive compliment to the offensive-minded Spencer Hawes in the middle?  Wouldn't one of these college guys like Wiggins or Parker fit better with Larry than with Evan Turner?  At the very least I would have to think that Philly would have to think about it.

In truth I am torn on the Larry situation.  I want him to thrive and play well, but I get the feeling that having a player who compliments Big Ers and Henson a little bit better would be a little bit better.  One thing I'm not torn on, however, is the fact that this CBA has made most extensions of rookie contracts a bad idea.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Double-Ohs Disaster, Starring Michael Redd

Michael Redd retired today at the age of 34.  In a way, it's sad.  He was once a great scorer for the Bucks, and many great scorers continue solid play well into their thirties.

I was right up close when Redd's Bucks career effectively ended.  The 2010 season was my first as a full season ticket holder.  When the Bucks played the Lakers in Los Angeles, I was able to get friends and family tickets (which I had to pay full price for) about seven rows behind the Bucks bench.  Redd, who was having a poor game, made a move in the lane and collapsed.  He was helped off the floor just to the left of me, and I knew already that he was gone for the season.

Redd's absence in the 2010 season ended up being a textbook example of Bill Simmons's Ewing Theory.  After losing four of their first five post-Redd games to finish up an awful west coast road trip, the team righted the ship.  They were 16-23 (seven games under .500) at the end of that trip, but by the All Star break they had won seven of their last eleven.  One brilliant John Salmons trade later, and the Bucks began the short-lived Fear The Deer era.

Redd would return for a cup of coffee at the end of the 2011 season, but it was clear that he was done.  He signed with Phoenix for the 2012 season, ostensibly in an attempt to having his legs rejuvenated by their famous training staff (which I am suspicious of, but that is another story for another blog post).  He hasn't played since.

Redd is a fascinating case study for yours truly because his time with the Bucks was unusual.  He was a 20+ point per game scorer for six straight seasons.  Several great scorers -- Reggie Miller, for example -- can't say that.  But in those six seasons the Bucks made the playoffs only twice, losing to those dominant mid-00's Pistons teams in the first round both times.  So was he a great player on a bad team?  Or was he an overrated player who gave his team a ceiling?  It's a discussion that yours truly had with fellow Bucks fans numerous times.

To the author, Redd is ultimately a symbol of the Bucks' post-2002 demise.

The final game of the 2002 season was such a sad thing to watch.  NBA League Pass only was using home team feeds at the time, so I sat there on my couch watching the Pistons' announcers revel in the Bucks being run out of the playoffs.  The year before they were the conference finalists who might have had a shooter's chance against the Lakers.

After the 2002 season ended, Bucks management finally let George Karl have his way.  Long frustrated with the unwillingness of Big Dog, Ray Allen and Tim Thomas to "play the right way", Karl got Big Dog traded.  The 2003 season was one of underachievement, and when Redd emerged as a young scoring wing in Ray Allen was traded for Gary Payton.  Karl and the Bucks parted ways at the end of that season.

At the time, yours truly viewed Redd's rise to star status (at least, "star status within the Bucks' universe) as a positive.  The 2004 squad felt like a winner with TJ Ford, Redd and Tim Thomas leading the way.  2005 saw the Mo Williams/Redd backcourt show the potential to be amongst the best in the league.  In 2006 Bogut joined and Bobby Simmons was signed.  I remember an offseason conversation with a high school friend where we thought that team would have the potential to get near the level of the Pistons and Heat (the East finalists in 2005).  That began a series of seasons where the promise of a lethal Williams/Charlie Bell/Redd perimeter with Bogut manning the paint would sprout here and there, but ultimately the teams would fall apart due to poor coaching, injuries or some combination of those and other factors.

In some ways, the rise of the Splash Brothers in Golden State validates Redd's place.  Redd was every bit the scorer that Klay Thompson is, maybe more so.  If Bogut had matured to his current level and if Gadzuric rebounded like David Lee and if Mo Williams embraced his secondary role, then maybe the Bucks could have been special.

I've vacillated over the years on how I view the George Karl years and the double-ohs era that followed.  In some ways I wish that Big Dog would have been retained for a run at the 2001 magic in '03.  Or that the Bucks should have given Ray Allen a contract instead of Redd.  Or that Redd should have been moved for a big man to help Bogut during his early struggles.  Then there are the days when I say that they made the right moves.  Big Dog was always going to struggle on defense.  Ray was always going to be a jerk.  Redd was a dynamite scorer who just never had the right pieces placed around him.

Another side effect of the Redd retirement announcement is the way it reflects on this year's Bucks team.  This is the first year since 1994 that the team lacks a great scorer.  Big Dog to Ray to Redd to Brandon to Monta ended in July.  It's great to get excited about defense and teamwork and the Greek Freak, but I hope that the Bucks are looking to acquire a top notch scorer.