I saw a lot of speculation in the sports pages and blog posts this past week prior to the NBA trade deadline advancing the idea that the Milwaukee Bucks should deal away forward Richard Jefferson. It’s often been said that some of the best moves are the ones that aren’t made and I believe this one falls into that category.
After paying only scant attention to the Bucks for the better part of the last decade (for the most part, they’ve made that easy), this year I’ve found myself following their fortunes more than normal. A big part of the reason for that is the tone set by new coach (gritty, gutty) Scott Skiles; a tone that would not be possible without the addition of a player like Jefferson. With all the Bucks injuries this season, imagine where the team would be without Jefferson. They’d likely already be computing how many ping pong balls with their name would be entered in the draft lottery. They may still end up with that fate but at least there is some hope in the interim.
Advocates of a Jefferson deal cite his upcoming salaries and the need to create cap space to have the flexibility to pursue free agents. On the surface, that sounds like a plausible plan but it ignores an unfortunate reality in today’s NBA. Any player who is capable of making that much of a difference on his own is going to be steered away from playing in Milwaukee. If there is so much smoke about LeBron James leaving his home state Cleveland Cavaliers for a bigger market, what chance do the Bucks have of landing a player of a similar ilk? The answers are slim and none.
There is also concern that the Bucks won’t have the resources to re-sign upcoming free agents Charlie Villanueva and Ramon Sessions. As I see it, those are replaceable parts. Yes, they’ve provided much needed scoring punch in the absence of starters Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut. But once those two return, Villanueva and Sessions will become much less effective. Sessions has done a lot to improve his game but is too much like former point guard Mo Williams in that he is more of a scorer than a distributor. And, as much as I like Villanueva, he doesn’t provide enough of a defensive presence from the power forward spot for the Bucks to go to the next level. It would be better for the team to risk losing these players without compensation than to make the mistake of overbidding for them like they did with Charlie Bell.
The best chance a team like the Bucks has of competing for a title is to stockpile a number of very good players and hope they catch lighting in a bottle. At 27 years old, Jefferson should be just coming into his prime years. To trade him away would send the wrong message and set back the Bucks program for little gain. Milwaukee would be better served by keeping him and point guard Luke Ridnour. Unlike too many recent Bucks, those two are good without the ball and have an interest in playing both ends of the court. Joining them with Redd and Bogut provides the Bucks with a solid nucleus to build around.