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.

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