The many possible timelines of the Milwaukee Bucks 2013 offseason

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.


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.


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?


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.

Categories: The Off Season

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  1. I feel so much more optimistic after reading this article. Just look at all those options Eric laid out for us.

    When can teams make offers to Jennings and when do all things with respect to Jennings contract have to be decided upon by both parties?

    Is that the same deadline for signing other free agents like Dunleavy, JJ and any other free agents?

    • Teams can start making offers to him July 1st. The bucks then have the right to match any offer sheet Jennings may sign.

  2. i vote for the semi-tank. The last one, option C. The bucks get 2 draft picks this year, and they take back expiring deals. I wouldn’t start the veterans though. I would let the young nucleus of Sanders, Henson, and the 2 draft picks develop. This would yield a bad record thus giving us a high draft whereby we could hopefully obtain that “super star” that we need. Add some veterans in the 2014 off season around this young and exciting nucleus. They could be back to the playoffs in 2015 with cap space and a bright future.

    • Yeah I definitely want the Bucks to do something like that. If next year they could somehow trade those veterans that they would potentially pick up at this 2013 draft and get a few extra picks for the 2014 draft from them, that would be ideal. We would have a young team (which would give us a greater window for championships), and have a better chance of getting that “super star” in the 2014 draft as you mentioned. I just really think the 2014 draft has the answer for the Bucks. And though it’s a risk, I think it will show us fans that they are dedicated to get a winning team on the court that will stay competitive and exciting for a long time (think Spurs). Eh, just a dream…

  3. I hear the Thunder are trying to get the Mavs 13th pick. That is why they’re a winning franchise right now. They have ton of young prospects, are up against the cap, and are still looking for ways to add young players. Why couldn’t the bucks be more like them? Sorry, stupid question. I know, i know. We are the Bucks

  4. First off, I agree with EB about the no chance in hell theory the Bucks are trading Larry Sander or John Henson. Both of those players are the future.present front court.

    Amnesty Gooden. The guy is about as useful to the Bucks as I am.

    Let Ellis walk. I wouldve preferred that the Bucks traded him in February seeing as how last years product was not a title contender, but thats in the past.

    Do NOT overpay for Jennings. I like the kid and his continued growth at the position would be viewed as a positive. Consistency is the name of the game for him.If he will sign at a reasonable rate then so be it.If he wants to over value himself like EB eluded to, then let him walk.

    If the trade for WAS is possible then MIL needs to jump on it asap. Ilyasova is a scab on defense. I know the guy can stroke a J, but thats now what this team needs. Let the foundation be defense!

    Draft Oladipo or Jennings replacement at the 3 spot if MIL has no interest in keeping him. If the 15 isnt given to WAS, then pick up a SG there unless Oladipo is takena t 3 which at that point the Bucks should look at the SF position.

    Let Reddick walk. The fact that he was even traded for to begin with will go down as a horrific blunder by this franchise for years.

    Do NOT overpay for guys like Iggy or Smith.

  5. at least some version of rebuilding is necessary here. anything else is just a waste of time. now that ellis has decided to opt out, lets go ahead and let jennings leave too. would also love to see the ilyasova trade. larry is the leader of this team.

  6. I’d love to make the WAS trade and pick up a couple of good prospects for 1-3 positions. Another thought that may or may not fit into this scenario would be to try and trade fo Eric Bledsoe. It seems like the Clips are desperate for a big splash and some of the names heard in trade rumors (Aaron Afflalo???) don’t seem like huge compensation would be needed. Udoh+ a future pick for Bledsoe?

    • I would love that but i think the Clips are looking for a proven chip. I don’t think they want future assets. They want to win now

  7. Thanks for laying this out! If Kohl and Hammond are not already not thinking about any of these, they should use this article as a guide! Anyways, I am liking Option B for the rebuilding. I do not think we should be over-dependent on high draft picks, as a high draft pick does not equal a better player. I think free agents should be mixed in there, as they have already proven how good they are. If we have the cap space, we should be able to sign them. And if they do not work out, we can always trade them for either another veteran, or even a future draft pick! I would choose Option C as second, but Option B I think is more appealing because it gives a more variety of options for assets.

    • Less wiggle room for error and less potential upside of team would be the downside. The nice aspect of getting a free agent is that you kind of know how good they are; however, if they fail to live up to their contract or expections(along with being more expensive)=the present day Milwaukee Bucks stuck in no mans land. Draft picks have higher upside, cost less, and if you don’t need the free agents you picked up because the draft picks pan out, well then you have trade able assets while also having cap space and resurgence of youth every year to be able to groom them at your own pace. Ie, the Spurs.

  8. Great article. Tough decisions. Draft picks are sexy but all you have to do is look at the Bobcats so see what trying to do it without free agents may not be the best option. I think trying to make a smarter choice in FA and taking what we can get out of the draft may be our best option… But I know rocking three undersized, expensive guards sure isn’t it.

  9. I hope Kohl was watching the Finals and seeing how important it is to have a perennial All-Star, future Hall of Famer on your team. That’s why once again we need to rebuild for Wiggins or Parker, not just settle for mediocre free agents

  10. What if we combined a semi-tank with some tweaking? I really like that Illiasova deal. The higher/more draft picks the better. If we can keep either Jennings OR Ellis for a reasonable price then do it. However, letting them go wouldn’t be so bad too. Then, this year, do not so good and get a good pick in the 2014 draft. It seems like that draft is FILLED with super star players. Then, in next year’s free agency period, spend our money! If executed properly, we could end up with a great, deep team in only one more year of rebuilding. Herb will be happy because although we rebuilt, it is only a 1 year plan.

    Possible 2014-15 lineup
    PG: Jennings/ Schrodner (Other pg we get at pick 15)
    SG: Oladipo (Or other sg we pick up with 3 pick like Porter)/ Reddick
    SF: Wiggens (lol if we tank this year)/ Moute
    PF: Henson

    Plus more players if we use our money in free agency!

  11. Not to rock the boat or make anyone angry, but I keep seeing people saying “tank for Wiggins”. What happens if we tank, have the worst record, have 25% of the lottery balls, and end up with the 4th? Who do we take then? I know the draft is supposed to be loaded, but we can’t keep forecasting lineups with Wiggins since 1) other teams are thinking the same thing and will probably be tanking just as hard, and 2) its a lottery for crying out loud.

    I’m not saying that’s not what I want. I’d much rather see a full-on rebuild hoping to find a superstar in the draft than trying to run with what we have now, but I think a lot of people think that tanking will get us Wiggins, which is FAR from a given…

  12. I see your concern but even if they do end up with the fourth, this draft is like lebron’s draft. You can get a franchise/all star player with the fourth pick. Parker, Smart, Randle would all be great options

  13. I personally would love to see the bucks let Jennings, Ellis and Reddick all walk, amnesty Gooden, and begin the rebuilding process around Sanders and Henson. Draft Shane Larkin in the first round as the point guard going forward and Vander Blue in the second as a spark plug coming of the bench. This team would spark more interest by tanking yet investing in giving young talent adequate playing time, than the Jennings/Ellis eight seed monstrosity ever has. 2014 draft Wiggins and another solid bench player in the second round and invest in young talent going forward.
    2014-2015 Starting Lineup (In a Perfect situation)
    PG Shane Larkin
    SG Wiggins
    SF The Prince
    PF Henson
    C Sanders
    Vander Blue, Illyasova, Udoh, Daniels and fill in the blanks locking down the bench
    This team would reignite Wisconsin’s long lost interest in the Bucks and could potentially contend in the East over time, with the additions of a few more pieces via draft, as well as a starting SF other than the Prince, Maybe Dekker in a few years?
    I personally would love to see this occur and honestly believe a team constructed similarly to this around young promising talents would reignite interest in the Bucks and contend in the East down the road.
    NBA Finals Bound 2020!!

    • Yep, except you are forgetting one thing. We have the dumb leading the dumb for the Milwaukee Bucks. I’m with you but i wouldn’t get my hopes up. except for the amnesty Gooden part. If we do tank, we still need our team salary to hit the base salary a team can have and i would rather have Gooden who has a good attitude sitting on the bench than someone else. If they amensty him, they will have to use their excess money on someone, and we have seen what Hammond has done with money to spend

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