With the NBA Trade Deadline less than a week away, the air is growing thick with rumors. No team is immune, not with so many stars potentially in the mix, plus a new salary cap structure to accommodate.
The Milwaukee Bucks stayed quiet at last year's deadline, but the reality of this season has largely forced Milwaukee's hand. With the current group seemingly destined for nothing more than continued mediocrity, Bucks general manager John Hammond needs to decide where this franchise is headed.
The answer to that question is intricately intertwined with the future of Andrew Bogut. Since selecting him with the first overall selection in 2005, the Bucks have done their best to build around their big center, but they've earned only two playoff appearances in the interim. All the while, management has insisted that Bogut was staying put no matter what.
That stance appears to be softening, with ESPN's Marc Stein reporting that the Bucks no longer consider Bogut "untouchable". Perhaps even more surprising are the words of Gery Woelfel, who suggested that there was a 70% chance Bogut would be moved by the deadline. To what extent the wind has truly shifted is unclear, but the Bucks have apparently already received inquiries about the 7-footer, including "strong" interest from the Washington Wizards. The Wizards boast a roster even more dilapidated than Milwaukee's, including some high-paid ineffective veterans of their own.
A decision to trade Bogut represents the most drastic shift in franchise direction Milwaukee is realistically capable of. The team has been treading water just above the "rebuilding" line for years, buoyed only by the surprising "Fear the Deer" run two years ago. Financial flexibility isn't the big issue--the Bucks still have their amnesty provision and two big expiring contracts next year in Jackson and Beno Udrih (player option). Instead, the issue is a supreme lack of star power, or even a reliable core around which to build. Brandon Jennings seemed to be making the jump this season before a long slump knocked him off track, and it's unclear how much either he or the franchise are dedicated to each other. Rookies Tobias Harris and Jon Leuer have impressed but have a long way to go, while Ersan Ilyasova and Drew Gooden are probably playing right up against their respective ceilings.
In short, the Bucks desperately need a shot in the arm, and trading Bogut might represent the best opportunity to get one. It's concerning, then, to hear that any deal for Bogut is being discussed only in association with an accompanying trade of Stephen Jackson. Yes, it would be nice to move Jackson without having to bring back a bunch of junk in return. But if the Bucks are serious about starting over, they need to avoid making decisions based on short-term discomfort. It may be true that the NBA requires being bad before one can be good, but a little creativity could position the Bucks for a much brighter future.
Bogut's value is difficult to gauge, with injury concerns offsetting the immediate defensive boost he would bring to any acquiring team. Smart general managers will consider whether Bogut is indeed "injury-prone" or just the unluckiest guy in the league, and make a decision based on that sort of forward thinking.
Even if Bogut doesn't qualify as a "star", the Bucks are still likely to suffer the fate of all teams that trade elite players: value is never an easy thing to recoup. Leaving behind the stagnant mediocrity of the past decade would be an improvement in all terms, realistically, but it's a delicate process. We can only hope that John Hammond treads carefully.