ashley etter

The Milwaukee Bucks usually don’t have a surplus of anything intriguing (unless you have some unhealthy admiration for the power forward position).

This summer, however, the Bucks do have something they haven’t had in quite some time: Options. They are at a unique crossroads where they could legitimately choose any direction for the franchise to head in and have it be justifiable. With the arrival of a new head coach and a sizable amount of money to spend (or not spend) however they please, this Bucks offseason could be one of the most important ones in recent memory.

Disclaimer: Having a lot of options isn’t necessarily a good thing.  Some directions that may be explored or experimented with may not be very wise.  Please keep that in mind when we dive in to the scenarios.

As with any team, there are really three directions your franchise can head: the rebuild (more commonly known as tanking), the stick with what you have/make minor tweaks/hope for the best, and the ”go for it” scenarios.  The Bucks technically can make a play at all three scenarios, but which one is the most likable and likely? Which one is the best?  Let’s dive in.

“GOING FOR IT”

1971 Milwaukee Bucks.  The last edition to win the NBA title.
The 1971 Milwaukee Bucks. The last edition to win the NBA title.

It’s important to stress here that the phrase ”going for it” is completely relative to where you stand right now. For most playoff teams (excluding Milwaukee, Boston, and Atlanta), ”going for it” means making the necessary adjustments and signings to make a run at the title eventually. As is the case in Milwaukee, ”going for it” would be making a charge towards the second round and, maybe if all things go absolutely perfectly, becoming a surprise conference finals participant. That is highly unlikely, considering the current competition in the top half of the Eastern Conference and Milwaukee’s track record since 2001, but crazier things have probably happened.

  • Likability factor:  10 out of 10.  Nobody in Milwaukee would be upset if the Bucks were suddenly in the mix to do damage in the playoffs.  
  • Likelihood: .5 out of 10.  Don’t even think about thinking about getting your hopes up.
  • How it would happen:  The Bucks would have to overpay Free Agent X and Free Agent Y to ensure they agree to come to Milwaukee, fill out the roster with average complimentary parts,and hope that regressions to Miami and Indiana occur, and hope that Brooklyn, Chicago, and New York don’t make any sort of progress to the top of the conference. 
  • Examples:  Think of last year’s Nets, ideally with less future sacrificing.

This simply is not something the Bucks could or should explore. They are not capable of making such an effort wisely, even if they think they can field a pretty good team in the next few years.  That leads me to the next category.

STAYING (AND TWEAKING) THE COURSE AND HOPING FOR THE BEST

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Cleveland Cavaliers

The Bucks are no strangers to this view. The “we’ll field the best team possible each and every year” recycled quote has nearly become the masthead of the franchise for the better portion of the last decade. The idea behind it is relatively respectable, but it can get difficult with the constant flurry of players moving from one team to the other. Also it never really guarantees that the unit you assemble is going to be around long enough to maximize its potential.  However, this may be considered the most safe option, so let’s see if the best plan for the Bucks is in here.

Option A: Bucks pair Brandon Jennings with free agent X and/or Y

Option B: Bucks pair Monta Ellis with free agent X and/or Y

  • Likability factor: 3 or 4 for Jennings, 4 for Ellis
  • Likelihood:  6/7
  • How it would happen: The Bucks decide to keep one of the back court tandem, decide to make a big-but-not-huge splash in free agency, fill in roster with complimentary parts.

Note:  The split vote for Jennings is dependent on what deal he is signed to. While neither scenario is met with much optimism, Jennings could either come back under the qualifying offer of $4.3 million (which I’ll address later) or sign as a restricted free agent for anywhere from $9-13 million, depending on what other teams are making offers and how eager the Bucks are to retain him.

This would be a slight improvement over the current roster, and may amount to being a scary sixth seed, a la 2010.  It’s not the most cost-friendly avenue to explore, either. Also consider that having three or more players making $10+ million on a team with no genuine star is not exactly a recipe for success (let alone not being a model followed by any other franchise).

  • Example (please note that this is just ONE example. Clearly other free agents could be in the mix):  The Bucks trot out a “big three” of Jennings/Ellis, Andre Iguodala, and Josh Smith/Danny Granger

That looks sexier than the last year’s roster, but that really doesn’t do much as far as building something potentially potent is concerned.

Option C:  Pair both Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis with free agent X

  • Likability factor:  1 out of 10
  • Likelihood:  3 out of 10
  • How it would happen: The Bucks somehow coming to the conclusion that they were only one piece away from being something special, and essentially replacing J.J. Redick with a small forward candidate to ball alongside the duo.

If there was a ever a move representative of being stuck in the mud, this is it.  I can’t imagine John Hammond and Herb Kohl would sign off on this, but for that very reason I can see it happening.  It may be the darkest of timelines, but it’s not an impossibility.

  • Example:  Starting Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis, and Josh Smith/Danny Granger/Andre Iguodala.  Though Iggy would be a decent defensive combination with Larry Sanders, none of these trios suggest either immediate success or future growth.

Option D: Pay free agent X and Y, but at market value

Truth be told, this isn’t much different from the ”going for it” scenario.  The only difference would be in the type of player the Bucks may go after.  We’ve discussed possible third banana-type players in the last few options, but the ”going for it” types of Free Agents were more of the Chris Paul and Dwight Howard mold.  Just wanted to clear that up.

  • Likability factor: 6 out of 10.
  • Likelihood:  4 out of 10.
  • How they would do it:  Be one of the few teams willing to shell out money for good-not-great players, plain and simple.

Depending on who the free agents are, the Bucks could be able to lure a few more fans in with bigger names on the roster.  Fans in the seats doesn’t equal a better product, though; it’s just heading down the same disappointing road but with more style.

  • Example: (see previous free agents mentioned in this category, and maybe add a Jeff Teague).

Option E: Bring back both Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, sign slightly better role players

This would basically be a re-creation of the 2012-2013 product, but with a different supporting cast (and a more expensive backcourt)

  • Likability factor: 1 out of 10
  • Likelihood: 0 out of 10 (hopefully)
  • How it would happen:  Management decides that the eighth seed is the place they are destined be forever and ever or sees something in Jennings and Ellis that we all are blind to.

This just shouldn’t even be listed, but for sake of being thorough, here we are.

  • Example: 2012-2013 core, but with Devin Harris and Kyle Korver

Option F: Keep Brandon Jennings or Monta Ellis, draft backcourt replacement

  • Likability factor: 5/6 out of 10
  • Likelihood: 9 out of 10
  • How it would happen: This one is pretty obvious.  The Bucks would decide which guard they want to roll with for the next three or four seasons, draft the replacement of whoever departs, and fill the rest of the roster with decent role players.
  • Example: Shane Larkin/Dennis Schroder and Monta Ellis, or Monta Ellis/Brandon Jennings and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope or Jamal Franklin

The reason this one has a decent likability factor is that the contract of Brandon Jennings may not be too awful. Ellis, if he chooses to re-sign, would get a gross amount of money, so that isn’t appealing, but if Jennings takes that $4.3 million qualifying offer and gets paired with someone who doesn’t need the ball as much as Ellis did, Jennings may be able to re-work himself into becoming a promising young point guard, whether he’s motivated by incentive (big free agency money) or insult (they didn’t offer me a deal (money), so I’m going to make my value super high and walk at the end of the year (money)) .

I doubt the tutelage of  Nick Van Exel or the scheme of  Larry Drew would change the mentality of Jennings, but perhaps a motivated Jennings is better than anything the Bucks could put  together for next season. Possibly wishful thinking, but again, crazier things have happened.

This would appear to be the front-running strategy this offseason, as the Bucks have already made an extension offer to Ellis.  There also hasn’t been an expressed desire to move on from either of these two guards.  Is it the best strategy, though?  Could the Bucks be the architects of anything better?

THE REBUILDING PROCESS

Re "building."  Get it? Heyooo!
Re “building.” Get it? Heyooo!

This is regarded the most unpopular process, if you’re anything like Herb Kohl. He is vehemently against ”tanking” or dramatically rebuilding.  While that may seem ludicrous, he [kind of] has a point. Just because your team is deciding to bottom out in the hopes of finding a superstar in the top three picks of the upcoming draft, doesn’t mean you’ll automatically climb right out of the dregs of the league.

However, the Bucks are lucky enough to have some cap room to work with. That number can increase greatly if the team decides to part ways with Jennings, Ellis, and Redick. They may also decide to use the amnesty clause on Drew Gooden, which would free up even more money to use however they please.

Is there a strategy in here that is better than anything discussed heresofar?

Option A:  The supertank

  • Likability factor: 2/3 out of 10
  • Likelihood: 0 out of 10
  • How it would work:  The Bucks get a little insane and decide that the 2014 draft is where they’ll establish the new edition of the franchise.  They trade Larry Sanders and John Henson for pick(s), and they take on expensive expiring deals for more and more picks.

This is not going to happen.  There’s no chance the Bucks are dealing either big man this offseason.  The only reason some people may be in support of this is because they are married to the idea that the 2014 draft will provide the Bucks with multiple stars.  Too bad that won’t happen.

Option B: Drafting someone respectable at pick no. 15 and buy time until 2014

  • Likability factor: 7 out of 10
  • Likelihood: 5 out of 10
  • How it would work:  The Bucks let the backcourt trio walk, draft the best guard available at 15, sign enough role players to small or tradeable deals to meet the cap floor (90 percent of the salary cap), hope that you’re bad enough for a solid 2014 draft position.

This doesn’t seem too far-fetched.  Though it’s expected that the Bucks may dip their toe into the deep end of the free agency pool, they by no means have to.  The Bucks would have enough decent players to make the year watchable, and they wouldn’t be in any type of stranglehold financially.  Some people (myself included) are not fans of waiting for a player or draft position to fall into your lap, so this isn’t the most satisfying direction the Bucks could take.  It is close to ideal, though.

Option C: The Bucks get multiple 2013 first-round picks via trade, keep cap space, keep 2014 pick

  • Likability factor: 9.5 out of 10
  • Likelihood: 5 (but hopefully higher) out of 10
  • How it would work:  The Bucks would give truth to the rumor out there, and make some sort of variation of this deal.

There are two likely ways this could get done:

#1: The less likely one, but still possible

WAS gets: Ersan Ilyasova, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, other player and/or future draft pick compensation (not the 2014 first-rounder)

MIL gets: One of the Wizards expiring deals (Emeka Okafor or  Trevor Ariza), no. 3 overall pick

#2:  The slightly more likely one, but one that makes a little more sense

WAS gets: Ilyasova, no. 15 pick, other player/pick considerations

MIL gets: Okafor or Ariza, no. 3 pick, DAL no. 13, Shawn Marion‘s expiring deal

DAL gets: rid of their pick they’re not high on, cap relief for a huge free agent push in the next two summers

Eureka!  This must be it, correct?  Not only would the Bucks get two first-round picks, but they would have plenty of cap space to work with despite the pricey expiring deals, and an extremely young nucleus to construct a legitimate basketball blueprint around.  They could completely re-invent the backcourt with any combination of guards that fit Larry Drew’s new vision, too. If there was ever anything a small market can do to simultaneously win over a pessimistic fanbase* and demonstrate a dedication to a promising future, a future that isn’t exactly certain in Milwaukee, this is that move.

If you were to ask any knowledgeable Bucks fan or media member, and I can assure you that they would accept a year or two of unimpressive basketball if it meant that they could be making deep-to-very deep runs in the playoffs in the semi-near future.

Larry Drew said at his introductory press conference that he was committed to putting out the best product that the city could be proud  from day one.  He may be good enough of a coach to back up his talk.  It could just look a little different than what we are expecting, and that may not be a bad thing.