The weeks and days leading up to the trade deadline involve so many rumors that it’s hard to keep track of what’s reality and what’s fiction.

That’s where I come in.

I’ve constructed a handy guide of the Bucks players most likely to be on the move.  I’ll fill you in on where they could be heading, what the Bucks are looking to get back and why it does or doesn’t make sense.

Luke Ridnour

Rumored Destinations: New York, Indiana, playoff teams?

Ridnour was one of the quiet first half surprises, the kind of guy who likely caught the eye of many scouts, but wasn’t necessarily making headlines in the news.  While Ridnour hasn’t been able to maintain the absurd hallowed 50/40/90 shooting percentages he had earlier in the year, he’s not far off at 48/40/92.  Add those numbers up with his “the little tough guy” demeanor and veteran know how and you have exactly the kind of backup point guard playoff teams covet.  On top of that, Ridnour has an expiring contract worth $6.5 million.

Ridnour’s name has been connected with the New York Knicks, who would presumably like to dump the two remaining years of Jared Jeffries on the Bucks as they match up perfectly with Ridnour.  The Bucks would probably want Jordan Hill to be included in any deal with the Knicks, as they don’t have a first round pick to make taking Jeffries otherwise worth the Bucks while.

The Indiana-Milwaukee rumors have been running wild as of late, with Troy Murphy being the reported apple of Milwaukee’s eye.  Ridnour would be one of the expiring contracts included in that deal and would serve as little more than a cap figure, as Indiana won’t be making a playoff run or keeping him past this season.

A number of playoff possible teams could use an upgrade at the backup point guard spot, Atlanta and Memphis come to mind, but they all lack the assets to matchup with Ridnour’s contract, so they’d need to involve a third team to get a deal done.  Atlanta does have a first round pick that would attract the Bucks.

Kurt Thomas

Rumored Destinations: Portland, Atlanta, Indiana, playoff teams?

Thomas is the do-it-all backup veteran big man.  Playoff tested and mother approved, Thomas is always an attractive option for teams looking to add size come playoff time.  Word is that he can be had for a second round pick, though that may be changing as the Bucks have positioned themselves as a probable candidate for the eighth seed in the East.  Thomas is the Bucks only reliable backup center and while he occasionally fails to enter a game, is an important insurance policy for Andrew Bogut.

Portland has seen their centers do everything short of spontaneously combust this season, as both Joel Przybilla and Greg Oden are done for the year.  They’ve played frequently with undersized five men like Juwan Howard and Dante Cunningham and could use an upgrade.  They have the expiring contract of Travis Outlaw, a young player who has been productive and could be a good fit for the Bucks, that matches up nicely with Thomas’ expiring $3.6 million contract.

Atlanta has reportedly been dangling Mo Evans in front of the Bucks, but they may need to add that first round pick, or at least a second, to entice the Bucks.  Evans provides some athleticism that the Bucks currently lack, but with the more positive than negative play of Jerry Stackhouse since his arrival, the Bucks are less likely to pick up a wing just for the sake of athleticism.  Plus, the Bucks biggest weakness has been getting to the line, something Evans doesn’t really help with his 1.4 FT’s per 36 minutes.

Thomas has also been rumored to be a piece in the ongoing Troy Murphy talks.

It’s possible another playoff contender (Houston? Brian Cook and a first get it done, but they may be too smart for that, so maybe Boston with Brian Scalabrine and a first) could toss their name in the hat simply by giving up a first round pick.

Hakim Warrick

Rumored Destinations: Indiana

Warrick has found himself in and out of the Bucks power forward rotation, sometimes because of his own doing, and sometimes because of the play of his mates.  The sheer number of good but not untouchable by any means power forwards on the Bucks roster leaves them all as possible trade bait.  Warrick’s attractiveness lays in his athleticism and penchant for getting to the free-throw line.  Warrick is a very good attacking scorer off the bench, even if he doesn’t provide much on the defensive end.  He’s also an expiring $3.0 million dollar contract, which has tied him into the Indiana deal.  That doesn’t seem too likely though; Indiana is going to want SOMETHING for their future in return and Warrick would not figure into their plans.  If Ridnour and Thomas are packaged, don’t look for Warrick to be included too.

For a playoff team looking to add scoring punch though, Warrick could probably be had for a first or second round pick.

Joe Alexander

Rumored Destinations: None

Think of Alexander like milk in your coffee.  He’s not the main attraction, but he can make it a little easier to swallow in the end.  That’s the purpose he’ll serve in trades.  Alexander isn’t the focus of any teams calling the Bucks, but he is an expiring $2.6 million contract and is a young player with upside.  He can fill gaps in salaries for teams looking to acquire Thomas or Warrick and may be tossed into a larger deal as a prospect if a team is looking to dump a bigger salary on the Bucks with hopes of getting at least one future asset out of it.

Ersan Ilyasova

Rumored Destinations: Indiana

Ilyasova is the piece that makes the Pacers look at the Bucks when it comes to trading Murphy.  If the Bucks are willing to include Ilyasova, methinks the deal gets done.  Ilyasova has shown a desire to play defense and rebound, while including touch and shooting ability at the offensive end.  A lot of players can play one end of the court in the NBA, but not many are capable of giving a team stellar production on both sides.  At only 22 with two years left on his contract, Ilyasova has serious upside while coming in at roughly $9 million less than Murphy.  For a cost cutting team and rebuilding team like Indiana, he’s the piece that makes a deal go.  They don’t dump Murphy unless they get a quality young player back.

For the Bucks, they have to weigh the upside of getting a more consistent Troy Murphy for two years at an inflated price versus having a developing and inconsistent Ilyasova for the next three.  While Murphy is as good a rebounder and a better shooter, Ilyasova is the superior defender and higher upside player.   Trading for Murphy indicates a “win now” philosophy has resurfaced in Milwaukee, but the question is, does the trade for Murphy guarantee the Bucks a better playoff slot?  If it doesn’t, gambling that two years of Murphy is better than three years (and then who knows how many more) of Ilyasova isn’t worth it.  I get the feeling that Milwaukee recognizes this.

Final Thoughts

I can’t tell you whether or not the Bucks will make a trade on or before Thursday’s trade deadline.  Only John Hammond holds that knowledge.  The Bucks at the very least have some options.  In any event, don’t expect the Bucks to take on any contracts that extend past two years and only expect someone the Bucks think will put them over the top in regards to playoff position if it’s a player with a year left after this season.  The Bucks don’t want to take on big money, as is the case with most teams in the league.  Cases can be made in favor of some trades and against a few others, but the Bucks must keep an eye towards the future on any deal they do.  Judging from what Hammond has done thus far, I don’t expect that will be an issue.