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.)
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.