Offseason In Review: Milwaukee Bucks

November 12 2013 at 3:58pm CST By Luke Adams

Hoops Rumors is in the process of looking back at each team’s offseason, from the end of the playoffs in June right up until opening night. Trades, free agent signings, draft picks, contract extensions, option decisions, camp invitees, and more will be covered, as we examine the moves each franchise made over the last several months.

Signings

Extensions

Trades

  • Acquired the No. 38 pick in 2013 from the 76ers in exchange for the No. 43 pick in 2013 and the Rockets’ 2014 second-round pick.
  • Acquired a 2014 second-round pick (less favorable of Raptors’ and Sixers’ picks) from the Suns and a 2015 second-round pick from the Clippers (51-60 protected) in exchange for J.J. Redick (signed-and-traded).
  • Acquired Luke Ridnour and the Lakers’ 2014 second-round pick from the Timberwolves in exchange for the rights to Szymon Szewczyk (sent to Thunder).
  • Acquired a 2016 second-round pick (more favorable of Pelicans’ and Kings’ picks) and the right to swap 2019 second-round picks from the Kings in exchange for Luc Mbah a Moute.
  • Acquired Brandon KnightViacheslav Kravtsov and Khris Middleton from the Pistons in exchange for Brandon Jennings (signed-and-traded).
  • Acquired Caron Butler from the Suns in exchange for Viacheslav Kravtsov and Ish Smith.

Draft Picks

Camp Invitees

Departing Players

Rookie Contract Option Decisions

The Bucks’ roster was expected to undergo some turnover this summer, considering four of the team’s top five scorers were on expiring contracts. But I’m not sure even the Bucks themselves anticipated the extent to which they’d be overhauling the roster. None of those four notable free agents – Monta Ellis, Brandon Jennings, J.J. Redick, and Mike Dunleavy – re-signed with Milwaukee, and a handful of other trades and free agent moves ensured they weren’t the only guys on the way out. While each of the East’s other 14 teams brought back at least seven players from last year’s roster, the Bucks only have four returning players: Ersan Ilyasova, Larry Sanders, Ekpe Udoh, and John Henson.

For a team like the Lakers or Knicks, having a ton of expiring contracts and the opportunity to clear a big chunk of cap space would likely result in the pursuit of many of the top free agents on the market. For the Bucks though, signing free agents means convincing them to play in Milwaukee, which could result in above-market prices. As such, the Bucks were more active on the trade market than in free agency, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise — reports suggested that Ellis and Jennings likely would have received more years and more dollars had they been willing to re-sign with Milwaukee. However, their desire to play elsewhere meant the Bucks were able to avoid being locked into pricey, long-term contracts for low-efficiency scorers who led the team to a No. 8 seed in 2012/13.

The Bucks didn’t entirely sit out the free agent period. Rather than re-signing their own players, they landed other team’s unrestricted free agents, such as O.J. Mayo and Zaza Pachulia. I didn’t love the price for either player (3/$24MM for Mayo and 3/$15.6MM for Pachulia), but Mayo at least represented a solid alternative to high-volume offensive players like Ellis and Jennings. Milwaukee’s most impressive summer signing may have been Gary Neal, who came to terms with the club on a two-year, $6.5MM contract shortly after the Spurs withdrew his qualifying offer. Neal has the ability to create his own shot, but may be more valuable as a three-pointer shooter, filling a role vacated by Dunleavy when he signed with the Bulls.

While they made a handful of free agent signings, the Bucks also filled out their roster by completing six offseason trades, more than any other team besides the Sixers. In some cases, Milwaukee was simply attempting to recoup some value on assets that were on their way out anyway. That was certainly the case in the sign-and-trade deal that sent Redick to the Clippers — Redick had a number of free agent options that didn’t require Milwaukee to facilitate a sign-and-trade, so the Bucks opted to pick up a couple future draft picks by getting involved. The club received any even more substantial haul by accommodating Jennings’ sign-and-trade to Detroit, acquiring point guard Brandon Knight, among others. Knight may not be Milwaukee’s long-term solution at the point, but he showed signs of improvement during his two seasons with the Pistons, and is still just 21 years old.

The other most active teams on the trade market this summer – Philadelphia, Phoenix, and Boston – seemed to be intentionally weakening their rosters in the short term, with an eye toward the long-term payoff. But that wasn’t the case for the Bucks, whose owner Herb Kohl doesn’t believe in tanking. For Kohl, a postseason berth is always the goal, so rather than shopping veterans in search of draft picks, the Bucks acquired a few players capable of helping the team contend immediately. A deal with the Timberwolves landed Luke Ridnour in Milwaukee, while the Bucks also traded for Caron Butler, who had been merely a salary throw-in for the Suns when they acquired Eric Bledsoe. Both Ridnour and Butler are on expiring contracts, so they’ll allow the Bucks to retain some flexibility in addition to helping the team on the court.

The Bucks’ final major offseason move involved locking up cornerstone big man Larry Sanders to a long-term deal. Sanders’ four-year extension, worth at least $44MM, will take effect in 2014/15, and looked like a reasonable (and necessary) gamble when it was signed. The 24-year-old’s slow start and off-court trouble early in the 2013/14 season is a little worrisome, but there’s still plenty of time for him to turn things around, so it’s premature to conclude that the signing was a mistake for the team.

Despite the arrival of 11 new faces on the roster for ’13/14, the Bucks’ expectations and projections for the new season remain mostly unchanged. As it did a year ago, this team still looks like a middle-of-the-pack club in the Eastern Conference — it wouldn’t be a real surprise to see Milwaukee finish anywhere between seventh to 13th in the East.

I liked many of the team’s offseason moves, and think this is a more balanced roster than the one led by Ellis and Jennings a year ago. But it’s worth questioning whether the new pieces are the right ones for Milwaukee in the long term. With so many players on the way out over the summer, the club had the opportunity to rebuild more aggressively, perhaps trading Ilyasova in an effort to get younger and more cap-flexible. Instead, it’s more of the same in Milwaukee, where the best the Bucks can hope for next spring is winning a game or two in a playoff series against a more talented Eastern Conference contender.

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