Offseason Outline: Milwaukee Bucks
The playoffs mark the formal conclusion of the NBA season, as teams depart from the postseason field upon their elimination. But as we bid farewell, we can also begin to look forward to what the summer might bring for each of this year’s fallen squads. The first of those teams is the Milwaukee Bucks, who on Sunday were dispatched in four games by the top-seeded Miami Heat.
• What’s the biggest priority for Milwaukee this offseason?
Establishing some sense of internal order. The Bucks’ roster is a bit cluttered with mismatched components and positional redundancies, but this summer presents an opportunity to forge a more definite direction moving forward. As many as eight Milwaukee players could become free agents if the team and early termination options break a certain way, with three of the Bucks’ top four scorers (Monta Ellis, Brandon Jennings and J.J. Redick) among them. From that trio in particular, Milwaukee GM John Hammond will need to suss out the best means of building a core that can establish and sustain forward momentum.
That effort likely begins with choosing between Jennings and Ellis, two scoring, ball-dominant guards who, as a tandem, create offensive overlap and defensive problems for the Bucks. In a perfect roster situation under a fantastic coach, Jennings and Ellis’ combination might prove tenable. Yet building around two players who present so many similar problems puts Milwaukee in a tough spot cap-wise, and it may well curb the development of both Jennings and the other promising young players on the roster. That shouldn’t be a compromise the Bucks are willing to make, and based on the midseason acquisition of Redick, it doesn’t seem one that’s likely to happen.
Redick and Ellis will both be free to sign with teams of their choosing this summer, but the Bucks will have the option to match any formal offer that Jennings might receive from another team. That makes him the sensible favorite to remain in Milwaukee, while the move to acquire Redick’s Bird rights may well signal the end of Ellis’ relationship with the Bucks.
• How can the Bucks best improve this offseason? Free agency, the draft or a trade?
That depends on your definition of improvement. From a win-loss standpoint, Milwaukee doesn’t seem likely to make any substantial gains. The glut of rotation-caliber wing players is likely to thin out, and the Bucks should lose the benefit of having such useful depth. Some of the principle players on the roster are likely to be gone, too, with no cure-all free agent available to elevate the team into a surefire playoff squad. All that awaits is the beginning of a gradual shift — a process of turnover and growth, empowered by the encouraging play of Larry Sanders and John Henson, in particular. Those two may not be franchise centerpieces, but they represent the most immediately available means for team growth beyond whatever free agency brings.
Still, while the Bucks may not improve record-wise, their situation almost certainly will. Milwaukee has spent this season with an outgoing roster and a lame-duck (and later, interim) head coach, and, if nothing else, it will soon be forced to commit to some general plan going forward. There should be a fair amount of cap space (approximately $9 million) in play, as long as players like Jennings and Redick aren’t given exorbitant deals to entice them back. Even in a free agent class short on top-shelf additions, that should leave Milwaukee with room to make a few smaller-scale moves for the sake of rounding out a more sensible roster, ultimately building toward long-term viability rather than fringe playoff contention.
• What should Milwaukee do with interim head coach Jim Boylan?
At this point, it may be best to move forward with a fresh personality and voice as the Bucks’ head coach. Boylan has done a serviceable job since assuming coaching responsibilities for the since-departed Scott Skiles, but he seems to have rather frosty relationships with some of the Bucks’ most important players. As a Skiles disciple, I’m not sure that Boylan is the most ideal fit to coach Jennings, who figures to be a prominent piece for Milwaukee as it redirects its roster and franchise goals. After all, it’s no mere coincidence that Jennings has been outspoken on the subject of potentially leaving the Bucks down the line, particularly when Boylan pulled Jennings from games on several occasions in the hopes of jump-starting his team’s second-half performance. Jennings, predictably, didn’t take well to those decisions, and pined about the possibility of playing out the 2013-14 on a qualifying offer before becoming an unrestricted free agent.
More recently, Boylan curiously chose to play Redick a total of 41 minutes in the first three games of Milwaukee’s first-round series against Miami without notice or explanation. From Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
Bucks coach Jim Boylan said in his pregame remarks [prior to Game 3] that he told Redick to shoot with confidence but Redick disputed that. “Jim never talked to me,” Redick said. “He didn’t say anything to me. I haven’t spoken to him during the playoffs. I did not get that message.
“I don’t need anybody telling me to be confident. I would have appreciated it.”
That’s certainly not a quote representative of a healthy player-coach relationship, which doesn’t bode well for Boylan’s viability for this specific job, or for his communication with his players in general. It’s important for head coaches to have autonomy and authority, but there’s also something to be said about treating players with a fundamental respect. Redick hadn’t played all that well for the Bucks since being acquired at the trade deadline, but he was nonetheless among the better two-way perimeter players Boylan had at his disposal. To cast that option aside without so much as speaking with Redick is a bit problematic, particularly if Milwaukee is interested in keeping Redick as something more than a two-month rental.