Posted August 27, 2013

Offseason Grades: Milwaukee Bucks

2013 Offseason Grades, Larry Drew, Larry Sanders, Milwaukee Bucks, O.J. Mayo, Rob Mahoney, Zaza Pachulia
O.J. Mayo

O.J. Mayo is one of several new guards for the revamped Bucks. ((Ron Jenkins/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT via Getty Images)

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.

6 comments
PaulSharpe
PaulSharpe

Nothing is worse than a middle of the pack nobody, with no hope in the present & with no vision for the future.  Sadly, that is what Bucks have been, for approximately 30 years...

DAJS6
DAJS6

Pachulia was added to have more toughness and experience to a very young frontcourt. Remember him standing up to Kevin Garnett in 2008 during the Hawks-Celtics series? I also like the combination of Knight and Mayo in the backcourt. I believe they can be the go-to-guys at the end of games. Knight has a history of making game winning baskets during his time with the Pistons and when he was at Kentucky leading the Wildcats to the 2011 NCAA Final Four.

lionoah
lionoah

The Bucks have assembled a few pieces and the just want to see how these guys shake out. There will be pleasant surprises, injuries and disappointments. They have three bonified trade chips, a few other pieces of varying lesser value, and cap room and low-value draft picks. This is a refresh for a small market team. The Bucks are counting on picking up (via draft) or developing a star (surprise?), and using him to lure other potential stars or useful role players to contend in as soon as three, but likely 4 years. They are in the mediocre middle, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. It will get them into the playoffs eventually, but to become a contender a la Denver last year will take some skilled roster management. And not a little good fortune. What else could they have done...?

cheyenne11
cheyenne11

The Buck, IMO, have assembled a competent roster that will compete well for the first 46 minutes of a game. They don't, however, have a consistent go-to guy who can get his own shot at the end of the game. This will be why they will lose about 50 games this year, putting them into the lottery. With a little luck of the bouncing balls to get a high pick in next year's mega-draft, we would have a very, very good nucleus for the next few years...

spiderminion
spiderminion

I'm still scratching my head over that Pachulia signing. They already have Sanders, Henson, Ilyasova, and Udoh (Sorry Gooden, I'm not counting you), 3 of which are young prospects with potential. Even if they move Udoh, that's still a crowded frontcourt reminiscent of Utah's frontcourt last year. 

I like the replacements in the backcourt, especially getting rid of Jenning and Ellis. Mayo and Knight are huge improvements on D. They do lose a lot of playmaking though, but Knight and Mayo aren't huge drop-offs on O considering the inefficiency of last year's backcourt.

DAJS6
DAJS6

Bucks have a well balanced roster. Could be the surprise team of the 2013-14 season.