Offseason Grades: Milwaukee Bucks
The Point Forward will grade every team’s offseason over the next few weeks. Click here for the complete archive.
Additions: O.J. Mayo, Brandon Knight, Luke Ridnour, Giannis Antetokounmpo (No. 15 in the 2013 draft), Carlos Delfino, Gary Neal, Zaza Pachulia, Khris Middleton, Nate Wolters (No. 38), Miroslav Raduljica, Viacheslav Kravtsov
Losses: Monta Ellis, Brandon Jennings, J.J. Redick, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Mike Dunleavy, Samuel Dalembert, Drew Gooden, Gustavo Ayon, Marquis Daniels, Joel Przybilla
Other moves: Hired Larry Drew as coach, extended Larry Sanders’ contract
What Went Right: Bailing on the team’s previous core. Inertia often comes easy for teams facing Milwaukee’s internal pressures to compete, but the Bucks opted to shake things up by parting ways with both Ellis and Jennings this summer. The result isn’t exactly a blank slate, but a roster refresh without the baggage of two ball-dominating guards.
Ellis and Jennings never created much basketball traction as a pair. Without them, Milwaukee is better primed to move toward a gradual, asset-driven rebuild. Such a process could require a patience not afforded by the Bucks’ mandates, but at the very least Milwaukee was able to avoid committing long-term salary to two supposed “stars” as flawed as Jennings and Ellis.
Redick, too, is a Buck no more, which unfortunately may be for the best in light of Milwaukee’s reboot. The new Clippers’ guard is a solid role player who is being paid accordingly (four years, $27.8 million), but he likely makes far more sense as an over-the-top addition for a potential contender such as Los Angeles than a foundational signing for the new-look Bucks.
Even that line of thinking, though, assumes that re-signing Redick was even a possibility for the Bucks, which may not be true given how strangely he was treated after being acquired at the trade deadline. Former interim coach Jim Boylan did a poor job of managing Redick’s playing time and communicating with his team’s new addition, all of which makes the move to acquire Redick — in a six-player deal that cost the Bucks Tobias Harris, Beno Udrih and Doron Lamb — seem especially odd in retrospect.
Still, that bridge was already burned heading into the summer, and it was unlikely that even a coaching change and a fair contract offer would have persuaded Redick to stay. So Milwaukee looked elsewhere (the Bucks received two second-round picks in a sign-and-trade deal for Redick), and signed the superior Mayo to fill in as a backcourt scorer, drafted Antetokounmpo, signed Delfino and Neal to fill in off the bench and traded for Knight and Ridnour. Considering how stagnant (and costly) the backcourt otherwise could have been with the return of Jennings and Ellis, that’s not too bad.
Beyond that, Milwaukee made sound decisions in hiring the underrated Drew and reaching a four-year, $44 million extension with Sanders, the team’s most promising young player. Neither choice really transforms the Bucks in any way, but both should help Milwaukee in its long-term efforts to grow into a steady playoff team.
What Went Wrong: The team’s hazy big-picture roster construction. Nice as it is to start fresh, general manager John Hammond has made a series of moves that don’t yet represent a particularly coherent plan. Most are individually defensible, in part because the players acquired are fairly solid and the contract terms largely sound. But even if I’m fine with Milwaukee’s trading Jennings for Knight and filler, for example, it’s hard to understand that deal in relation to the signing of Pachulia — a somewhat limited, 29-year-old center on a team with good young big men — to a three-year, $16 million deal.
Nothing quite makes sense in the context of what the Bucks should be trying to accomplish. There are still some interesting components in play (Sanders and John Henson chief among them), but the Bucks are running a bit heavy with merely decent veterans (Delfino, Neal, Pachulia, Ridnour, Smith) — a tilt that leaves Milwaukee with slightly less cap flexibility than it should have and fewer interesting young pieces than would seem prudent.
It’s a strange brew, with Sanders, Henson, and Mayo as its base. Each of those three is valuable, but together they don’t even vaguely resemble a potential contending core. That leaves Milwaukee to execute a quasi-rebuild around three quality players without a clear star-in-waiting. There are worse fates, surely, and the Bucks didn’t exactly have the means to acquire top-tier talent this summer. But so far, Milwaukee has saved itself from the long-term headache of dealing with Jennings or Ellis on multiyear deals only to pare its cap room with uninspiring deals. Cap space often isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, but the practical application of it is still in many ways preferable to picking up this amount of roster filler.
The Bucks still have room to flesh out their roster and get better. At best, though, this summer is a precursor to those later maneuvers. At worst, this is merely the beginning of a similarly mediocre stage of Bucks basketball, albeit with a different cast from before.
Grade: C. The Bucks did well to let Jennings and Ellis go, but this team will be worse in the short term (though not bad enough to challenge for a really high lottery pick) and has taken only very preliminary steps toward long-term viability.