State of the Bucks – 3/14/12
It has been quite the week for the Milwaukee Bucks. First was the climb back into the playoff race. Then, amid a week of trade rumors, came the execution of a transition that ended the Andrew Bogut era in Milwaukee.
Where to begin? Last week the trade rumors started to swirl involving basically everyone on the Bucks roster. Was this going to suddenly become a rebuilding situation, something the Bucks have tried hard to avoid? Or could they swing something their way for the betterment of the club?
We’ll soon find out how it works, in the short term at least. Milwaukee, desperately wanting to unload from the Stephen Jackson experiment, packaged him with Bogut in a deal for Golden State’s Monta Ellis, Ekpe Udoh and Kwame Brown.
Gut reaction: this works. In the short term, Bogut and Jackson would be contributing nothing for the remainder of this season. Bogut is iffy to return from injury, and Jackson had fallen completely out of grace with Coach Scott Skiles. So instead of two players adding nothing this season, the Bucks now gain one of the more reliable shooting guards in the league.
We’ll get Kwame Brown out of the picture right away. Brown made a name for himself as a former #1 pick turned bust, but he’s injured, won’t see any action this season, and has an expiring contract. Non-factor.
Ekpe Udoh is an interior player with a lot of potential. Look at that, suddenly Milwaukee is building a young developing team. Udoh brings a physical presence to the Bucks, something a team can never have enough of. His style focuses on his tough upper body strength, and he collects plenty of blocks because of it. Udoh seemed to be a player Golden State was eager to develop in their system, but now he gets to craft his defensive game with Coach Skiles. Udoh has a relatively modest salary, so certainly not a big hit for the Bucks.
Monta Ellis is the focal point of this trade for Milwaukee. The main thing to watch is the way he fits in with Jennings. Both players seem to thrive in run-and-gun offenses, and now they get to work off each other. The big question will be to see how they share the ball and the points. Ellis suffered through some tough years with the Warriors and seems excited about the chance to start over.
Perhaps Ellis’ acquisition will lead to a more up-tempo Bucks team. Let the guards fly around the court, and allow your interior to do the heavy lifting. Ellis has an $11 million price tag each of the next two seasons, but if he plays well it will be worth it. And if it’s a bad fit, he has the option of opting out after next year. If it’s a bad fit, I’m sure he won’t be able to opt out fast enough.
With the extra salary space available, perhaps General Manager John Hammond will go out and make a decent free agent splash to help the team. He’s finally constructed a roster of players who don’t mind playing in a market like Milwaukee. That’s all part of the challenge of running a small market sports franchise. Just a couple weeks back, Milwaukee Brewers’ GM Doug Melvin discussed the importance of finding free agents who actually want to come and play in Milwaukee. Jackson was never one of those players. Ellis seems like he might.
So here we are again, Hammond working a bit of transaction magic. Sure, it’s nothing like the way he unloaded the contracts of previous salary hogs like Mo Williams or Bobby Simmons, but it’s hard not to be impressed by this one. Andrew Bogut was a terrific ambassador for Milwaukee, a guy who played hard through some miserable Bucks seasons. He always held a positive attitude about the team, whether it was true or not. In the end however, Hammond unloaded $37 million worth of two players who contributed nothing all year, and brought in someone to help a flat offense. Overall, another steal of a trade by Hammond.
So what does this mean for the rest of this season? The Bucks enter play today tied as the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Can they make a run up the standings? It would be nice to avoid Chicago or Miami in the first round, but it’s a blind guess at this point how the season will play out. The Bucks host Cleveland tonight without its new players, still dealing with the formalities involved with a trade. They should be available Friday as Milwaukee travels to…..Golden State. Should be a fun reunion.
The schedule across the final 24 games favors Milwaukee, but they’ll still have to make a hell of a run to climb to the 6th seed or higher in the playoffs. In the end, it’s a good situation to be in. If the added offense doesn’t propel the Bucks this season, it should at least set up for a more exciting product next year.