The moves that led to the moves that led to Caron Butler’s arrival in Milwaukee

After we heard the news that the Bucks had acquired Caron Butler from the Phoenix Suns for Ish Smith and Slava Kravtsov, I had two initial thoughts:

1. Sure, that makes sense, the Bucks are going to need some more depth at small forward if Carlos Delfino is going to miss any time at the beginning of the season while recovering from his broken foot.

2. The departure of Smith means we can finally close the book on the Tobias Harris trade.

Before I get to the main point of this post, there’s one bit of housekeeping I’d like to do. I know that the mere mention of Orlando, Tobias, J.J. Redick, Ish Smith, or any other related topic starts many Bucks fans foaming at the mouth. But before you all flood the comments section with ranting about how terrible John Hammond and Herb Kohl are, I’d like to say something.

Get over it.

We’ve all spent plenty of time bemoaning the shortsighted moves the Bucks’ front office has made both this year, in the past, and (presumably) in the future. And I get it. I’ve felt the same pain, the same rage, the same sense of bewilderment that every one of you has. But all of that griping doesn’t change the fact that the Bucks are now where they are. Each of the 15 players on this roster has a chance to make an actual, concrete impact on this season without digging into “what ifs” and “if onlys”. There’s something to be said for moving on and looking forward rather than dwelling on things that happened in the past. “What could have been” is not what will happen, so what’s the point?

I’m hereby declaring a moratorium on Tobias Harris trade discussion. It’s for your own good, trust me. There’s plenty of other fun Bucks stuff to talk about.


Caron Butler’s trade lineage intrigued me because I couldn’t immediately think of where it started. To that end, I sought to reconstruct, from beginning to end, the train of players that resulted in the Bucks’ acquisition of Butler. I set myself several rules:

1. The trail must begin with players that the Bucks drafted or acquired with no interaction from other teams (i.e. via free agency or on waivers)

2. If a player involved in the Butler trade thread was involved in another trade, then that trade would be included in the equation and the tree expanded to include all players involved in that deal.

3. A thread can only be ended when all players involved have either been released outright by the Bucks or remain on the roster.

The results of my labor can be seen below: (Click to expand image.)

Caron Butler Family Tree - New Page (1)
Oh what a tangled web the Bucks have woven. Players in red have been released or left in free agency; players in green remain on the Bucks’ roster today. 

Here’s what I discovered as I dug through:

There was a really weird triplet of years when the Bucks made a deal that shuffled their first round pick back several picks. It worked out pretty well in 2010 as the Bucks selected LARRY SANDERS! and 2011 when they selected Harris (Whoa, easy there. Remember what I said earlier). Hopefully it worked out well in 2012 with the selection of John Henson. Time will tell.

Raise your hand if you remember having Darnell Jackson on the roster in 2010. Now put them down, you liars.

As it turns out, almost every transaction the Bucks made between 2010 and 2013 is involved in this somehow. The first deal, in 2009/10 for John Salmons during our favorite “Fear the Deer” playoff run, gave the Bucks players that were involved in or became other assets that were involved in trades every one of those seasons.

If you want to look at it from a before and after standpoint, the Bucks started out with six first-round picks (2004 and 2008-2012) and Hakim Warrick (free agent, 2009) and ended with Larry Sanders, Brandon Knight, Khris Middleton, Ekpe Udoh, John Henson, and Caron Butler.

In order to clarify the situation a bit, I’ll substitute in the players that were drafted with the picks not involved in trades. That leaves us with Andrew Bogut, Joe Alexander, Brandon Jennings, and three first round picks for the “after” group. Those three draft picks left us with Sanders, Henson, and (indirectly) Caron Butler and a second-round draft pick. Meanwhile, the spoils of Bogut, Alexander, and Jennings have turned into Knight, Middleton, Udoh, and the second of those second-round draft picks.

Have the Bucks become better or worse for this bevy of deals? Honestly, it’s difficult to say. For another point of comparison, I looked at the players taken with the picks the Bucks traded away in the drafts when they selected Sanders, Harris, and Henson. Instead of those three, the Bucks could have had Kevin Seraphin, Jimmer Fredette, and Jeremy Lamb. By that measure — again, so far — I’d say the Bucks have come out ahead.

And as far as the players – Bogut showed flashes of ability as a dominant defensive center with a developing offensive game but simply couldn’t stay healthy. Alexander may have been the most textbook definition of a “bust” that the Bucks have seen in recent memory. And Jennings held promise in his four years as a Buck but didn’t show noticeable improvement and didn’t seem as though he would ever reach his potential in Milwaukee.

Udoh is the most known quantity of the players received — a solid interior defender with offensive and rebounding limitations. He’s been and likely will be a useful rotation piece. Knight and Middleton are still relatively unknown – you can see the talent in Knight’s game, but questions remain as to whether he can develop into an NBA-caliber point guard. Middleton might be the biggest variable; as I wrote earlier, a knee injury pushed him out of the lottery and he got very little play in his first year in Detroit. (Don’t look now, but  Middleton’s first season compares favorably to Jimmy Butler’s, and Butler has developed quite nicely in Chicago.)

Well, wow. I came into this exercise expecting to perform a simple exercise and draw a parallel to determine if the Bucks have increased the value of their assets from Players X and Y to Caron Butler. As it turns out, that analysis requires taking a larger view of the Bucks’ transactions over the last four years. Can we say that they’ve become definitively better or worse? No. In fact, as far as I can tell, the team has more or less cycled their assets and come out with the same value in four years. There have been lows (the Stephen Jackson trade and the Deal Which Cannot Be Named) and there have been highs (the development of SANDERS!, finding a collection of players that generally enjoy playing in Milwaukee). But four years later, we’re seeing a situation similar to what we saw in 2009 — a collection of players, some young and full of potential, some proven commodities. What will happen this year? Heck, I don’t know. If I did, I’d be in Vegas laying bets like crazy. That’s the beauty of sports — the outcome is truly unknown. There are no spoilers, no one to ruin it for you before it happens. We can generally guess where teams will end up, but one injury or breakout season by an unexpected player can change everything.

For the Bucks, we can formulate more specific questions: How will the players respond to new coach Larry Drew? Will Henson and Knight take steps forward and become solid NBA players? Which of the many shooting guards on the roster will step up and be consistent contributors this season? How will Giannis Antetokounmpo react to playing in the NBA? Boy, I wish I knew the answers to those questions, but I don’t.

All I do know is that it’s about time for this NBA season to start. It’s been too long.

Categories: Bucks History,The Off Season

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  1. NEVER!

    The only way I, and probably most Bucks’ fans, will let that T.Harris debacle go is if (1) T.Harris has a reversal in his value this season by either being figured out and neutralized by all opposing teams (especially the Bucks) or unfortunately by injury which leads to him becoming a forgotten player in the NBA, or (2) that K.Middleton and/or Giannis A. prove to be truly valuable additions to the Milwaukee Bucks; so much so that T.Harris becomes an afterthought. Middleton would need to show that he’s a solid rotational player (perhaps a major 3 and I stress the ‘D’ type) and Giannis A. would have to prove he’s at least on par to T.Harris, but preferably a huge improvement by becoming a star player in the NBA; otherwise, grrrrr arrggg that T.Harris “what if” will sit there forever damn it regardless of any pleas to the contrary.

    • Me neither! It’s not like Hammond/Kohl. to my knowledge, have admitted any mistake on their part in trading Tobias. As far as I know, they would do it again. It’s strange that the Bucks didn’t even give Tobias half a chance to develop with the team last season — apparently he wasn’t ready — but then drafted a guy in Giannis who is about four years younger and about whom we know next to nothing. Anyway, I doubt if Hammond/Kohl would deign to explain any of this to us lowly fans, though I would be happy if they showed me to be wrong.

      What makes me even more mad is that they traded Ish Smith — not only because he was our last chance to salvage the trade of Tobias, but because he was our only true point guard and he looked really good in summer league.

      I think my recent postings on this site — for maybe a couple of months — have been totally or mostly Tobias-free. So I am tryng to move on… but I’m not forgetting this travesty. Either Hammond/Kohl made a bad pick two years ago at #15 overall in taking Tobias, or else they traded him for a handful of beans. Either way, those responsible need to be held accountable, and should at least own up to their mistake, preferably with an apology.

      Finally, the record of Hammond/Kohl in general makes it harder to give them a pass on anything. Their seemingly random shopping spree this summer has them looking more like managers of a fantasy-league team. Their choosing of Giannis without apparently any major scouting of the guy is goofy. If they have a good strategy for building a winner, I haven’t heard it in any detail. Also, I would like them to guarantee that they won’t move the Bucks, or sell to anyone who will, by putting it in a written contract to city and state, for at least 40 years and with no loopholes.

  2. I remember darnell Jackson… I will not put my hand down… I believe he was eventually involved in the jon brockman deal with the kings

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  5. I don’t understand why people are still upset about the Tobias trade, what are you going to do about it? Moan and moan and moan and nothing will change, it’s done. You can do nothing about it. Just stop.

    • You’re right, but in a different way.
      Yes, nothing will change as far as Hammond/Kohl making stupid, irresponsible moves unless they are held accountable. As far as I know, they haven’t even admitted their mistake at all, or at least in any meaningful way.
      There’s a ploy going around that people don’t have to own up to their mistakes and take responsibility for them; instead, they think that people will eventually forget or at least stop caring.
      By allowing people to get away with this ploy, nothing ever changes. In the case of the Bucks, we will continue to lose and lose and lose and lose and lose… and then maybe the team will move to another city.
      What have Hammond/Kohl done to earn our respect and trust? Why do people on this site give them so much deference, and let them off the hook so easily? If there are truly good reasons, let me know; I am trying to be open to changing my perceptions.

        • Even if Tobias doesn’t make it in the NBA, the trade was highly flawed, anyway. To trade a promising young player the way they did is a terrible move as a matter of principle. (At the very least, Hammond/Kohl would have to own up to making a lousy draft pick of Tobias at #15 overall.) There was more than enough reason before the trade to hope that Tobias would become a very good player, if he ever got a fair opportunity to play. Whether Tobias becomes a stud or a dud, it’s still an awful trade.
          The case is similar with Giannis. I truly hope he becomes a star. However, unless the Bucks really scouted the guy and got to know him to a good degree, it was a lousy pick. Maybe the Bucks will get lucky, maybe not, but either way it’s an awful pick.
          Finally, there’s our shopping spree this off-season, which seems to have been done without rhyme or reason. Instead of getting four or five new guys including draft picks, we have 11 — and none of them a true point guard. How is that supposed to make for building a top team, for now or for the future? Here again, I hope the Bucks have a good season, even a great one, and a wonderful future — but regardless, this is a highly questionable way to put together a team. I would call it reckless and foolhardy, although I realize that just about everyone at this site, maybe everyone, including our leaders, seems to be good with it, possibly even enthusiastic.
          As usual, I am more or less out on a limb with Tobias, Giannis, and the remade team in general. I’m also the guy who likes Ish, Scott Suggs, and Mike Bruesewitz, so…

  6. I’m not sure what you’re complaining about. Over the offseason Hammond was able to stock pile 5 additional draft picks, along with forming a formidable team. Granted this team probably won’t go very far in the playoffs but has great potential in developing younger players, while still keeping games competitive. If Henson develops they could really become quite strong, they’d only need to get lucky with 1 extra player honestly. Look at Indiana, their point guards have been pretty bad over their past few playoff runs, it’s not hard to do work with a good front court.

    • I’d like to add at this point in their career I would prefer to take the potential that Brandon Knight brings over what George Hill brings to the Pacers. If the players on the Bucks all developed well, it really doesn’t look too much off of the idea that the Pacers have. Give it time, do you expect the guy to work miracles over one COMPLETE REVAMP offseason? You just dropped your 2 largest point scorers, just shut up and let the guy work honestly. It’s going to take time. And again, whoopdie doo Tobias is gone, let it go, it’s done. He is doing his best to amend that.

      • Most of all, I appreciate the opportunity to talk sports with you, Brandon, even though we disagree.
        After more than a decade of lousy basketball from the Bucks, I’m not as patient as most of the fans on this site, or as willing to defer to our leaders in the front office.
        I’ve heard little, if anything, about why it’s a good idea to bring in 11 new guys in one season, why it’s okay not to have a true point guard, why it’s so wonderful to draft an 18-year-old phantom phenom from overseas at #15 overall, why we should forget the casual trading of another guy we drafted at #15 just a couple of years ago who actually showed real promise in summer league and in official NBA games. (As an example, does anyone remember the stats for Tobias in the season opener against the Celtics less than a year ago?)
        I’m quite willing to say that I might be wrong about a lot of this. It’s just that I haven’t heard many compelling reasons for why I am wrong. Even our experts for this site (who I like and respect) haven’t thought it worthwhile to address these concerns.
        Again, if this is the San Antonio Spurs, maybe I give management more of the benefit of the doubt; it’s a lot harder to do with the moribund Bucks. I think we fans deserve better, but then again I think we should have higher expectations.

        • Okay, we get it, you don’t like the Tobias trade, believe me I was just as upset about it as you were, however you can’t change it so it is best to move on. You haven’t seen if Brandon Knight is a true point guard, you haven’t even seen him play in a Bucks uniform yet so who knows. Maybe he isn’t, but only time will tell that. You need to give Hammond credit for saving the team in some way though. He got rid of the main 2 toxic bodies in his locker room, replaced them with young players who, may or may not, have potential and created a happy locker room, all while stockpiling an extra 5 draft picks. He is gearing for the future. People talk about Milwaukee being a bad place to play, the only reason they have a bad rep is because they don’t have a winning culture. If you begin getting younger players that show a lot of promise, that is what is going to draw some larger free agents. The players Hammond have on his roster are expendible and I believe he looks at them the same way, he is trying to build for the future. I understand that they’ve been bad for a long time, and believe me im 100% with you that its annoying. But what can you do about it? Do you want them to fire Hammond? That’s not going to happen.