Michael Redd has been called many things in his 10 year NBA career. Most notably, and in chronological order: overlooked ('00-'01), underrated ('01-'03), all-star ('04), frequently unstoppable ('04-'08), and overpaid ('05-present)...to name a few. And yet since suffering a second season-ending knee injury in as many years, Redd has been something entirely different, something you wouldn't expect of a career 21.6 ppg scorer due to be paid $18.3 million this season.
After a 46 win season and the further additions of scoring wings Corey Maggette and Chris Douglas-Roberts, any concerns about how the Bucks will cope without Redd seem long gone. But as much as the Bucks may no longer need Redd or have real interest in seeing him return to the court this year, his next move could still have a major effect on the team--and its longer term future.
A year ago, the conventional wisdom went that the 09/10 Bucks would need Redd healthy and at least somewhat close to his old self to even contend for a playoff spot. It made sense. For most of the decade, Redd was the Bucks, no matter how much we wanted Andrew Bogut (or, briefy, Yi Jianlian) to take the reins from him. Besides, the one thing the Bucks needed in 2009 was reliable scorers. Not surprisingly then, John Hammond spent much of last summer reassuring us that Redd was on schedule with his rehab and expected to be ready by camp, just half a year after tearing his ACL and MCL. For us fans, it was reason for optimism.
And indeed, Redd was back, but he wasn't back. He struggled through the first two regular season games before suffering a strained patella that shelved him for most of November. And when he did return, Redd was occasionally great but mostly terrible. Another season-ending injury on January 10 was a cruel blow to Redd, but for the Bucks (6-12 with him in the lineup) it proved to be addition by subtraction. Milwaukee went 18-16 in games sans Redd even before the John Salmons acquisition, after which they went on a sizzling 22-8 run to close the season.
All that has left Redd as largely an afterthought. The fact that insurance covers 80% of his paychecks while he recovers from injury is a nice consolation, though the fact that Redd has targeted a February return means it might not be of any benefit to a team acquiring him for cap reasons at the trade deadline. Still, don't underestimate the importance of the Bucks and Redd having a target return date so late in the season. Because let's be realistic: while everyone would love to see Redd recover fully from his injury, the Bucks have little incentive to see a rusty Redd show up at practice looking for playing time. They've moved on, just as the Rockets had moved on when Tracy McGrady wanted to get back on the court last year. Certainty, or at least something close to it, is a good thing.
In many ways it seems a bit harsh, but the writing has been on the wall for some time. Redd has essentially vanished since his injury, quietly rehabbing at home in Ohio with the Bucks' blessing. The Bucks have in turn sought to fill out the roster with depth at the 2/3. And even if the Bucks lost a player like Salmons or Maggette around the time Redd is ready to return, is he the solution? If last year's struggles are any indication (35% shooting, -15.3 pts/100 possessions on/off differential), the answer is no. At least not until he gets his rhythm back, which may take more time than the Bucks can afford.
The Value of an Expiring Contract
Even if Redd has little value as a player, it's true that his expiring contract could still have value come the trade deadline. But the Bucks' offseason spending has also made me increasingly skeptical that we'll see a big deal involving Redd. With over $69 million committed for 10/11, the Bucks have a fairly narrow $1.1 million left to spare under the luxury tax, and the only major salary coming off the books in 2011 is Redd. So while it might be fun to speculate how other teams may value Redd's $18 million expiring deal, don't forget that it would mean something to the Bucks, too. If they let Redd's deal expire (or trade him for other expiring deals) and don't make any other major moves, the Bucks would enter the summer of 2011 with $50.6 million committed to 10 players. That's a comfortable number, even if it doesn't spell huge cap space the following summer.
Using Redd's deal to acquire a longer-term salary of similar magnitude--Andre Iguodala? Someone else?--could up the Bucks' talent level, but it would also put them right up against the tax again next summer. And that's assuming that there is a summer of 2011, with a tax level around where we're used to seeing it. There's no guarantee of either of those things given the strong possibility of a lockout. And unless they stumble on a superstar fire sale (good luck) it's not obvious how another good-but-not-great player puts the Bucks over the top.
What happens when Redd is ready?
While letting Redd's contract expire might be the most prudent decision financially, there's still the practical matter of what to do with him if/when he's healthy enough to return. Especially if the Bucks are playing well, I'd mostly worry about Redd's return upsetting the on-court and locker-room chemistry of a team that really found its way only after he left. It's not because he's a bad guy--far from it. But there's serious baggage that comes with Michael Redd putting on a Bucks' uniform at this point, and he's probably not going to be good enough to make it worth the hassle.
In theory, the cleanest answer is hanging on to Redd while he rehabs on the off chance he has some value in a trade, and then buying him out if/when he's ready to return--which at this point sounds like it will happen around the time of the deadline. A buyout of an expiring contract isn't likely to save the Bucks any real money, as there's no reason for Redd to take less than what's owed to him, especially given his limited options in catching on with another team this season (except for possibly maybe a min-level deal). So a buyout isn't a magic bullet; at least not financially. But it would insulate the Bucks from the potential awkwardness of having to reintegrate Redd into the team, while simultaneously letting Redd pursue a return to the court elsewhere. I'm not sure it's a win-win, but at least it's not a lose-lose.
Granted, this might all seem like a cold way to end a memorable career in Milwaukee for one of the game's "good guys." And yes, Redd deserves to be treated with respect...whatever that means. But let's not be naive, either. The Bucks can't afford to play Redd simply because of who he was, which makes it important that the two sides have an agreement about when he might return. That will hopefully allow the Bucks to avoid a situation like the Rockets had with McGrady, and February or March also works well since it gives the Bucks time to shop his expiring deal without having to pay him his full salary. What happens then is less clear, but odds are that Scott Skiles won't be doing backflips to find Redd minutes. And while it still seems strange to say it, that could very well mean we've seen the last of Michael Redd in a Bucks' jersey.