Alex Kennedy has potentially good news for anyone hoping the Bucks go after one of the top picks in the June 28 draft.
They would like to move up in the lottery and they fueled the trade rumors at the NBA Draft Combine when they met with a number of top prospects who likely won’t be available at No. 12. Milwaukee has been working the phones, trying to find a trading partner in the top ten. The Bucks and Bobcats have discussed a deal for the second overall pick, but no trade is imminent.
Let's start with a disclaimer: when it comes to draft rumors, where there's smoke there's usually...well, smoke. Plenty of teams talk about plenty of things this time of year, but typically nothing happens until the days leading up to the draft. And with many teams reportedly open to moving picks--both ahead and behind the Bucks--it's only reasonable that the Bucks would be looking at their trade options. After all, the Bucks have made a big trade around the draft in each of John Hammond's four seasons as GM.
Then again, this summer could be different. After the season Hammond suggested the Bucks would prefer not to shake up their roster yet again, instead hoping that Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis could excel together after a solid finish to last season. No one should have expected Hammond to say otherwise--even if the Bucks are open to dealing Ellis (or Jennings), there's not much value in admitting it publicly. But there's also no getting around the obvious limitations of the Bucks' backcourt, to say nothing of the possibility of Ellis departing as a free agent next summer. Presumably the Bucks' front office likes Ellis or they wouldn't have acquired him in the first place, and the challenge of dealing Ellis now is that it might not be compatible with improving the Bucks' playoff odds next season. But a realistic view of of the Bucks' roster would suggest another big trade would not only be possible, but necessary for the long-term good of the franchise.
In the same article Kennedy writes that Charlotte is looking for a "young star" in the mold of Rudy Gay or James Harden, so I'm not sure the Bucks would have the ammo to move up to number two in the first place--or for that matter if anyone available at that spot would be worth the price. Most agree that there's a clear drop-off after Anthony Davis, with Michael Robinson, Bradley Beal, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Andre Drummond and Harrison Barnes seemingly guaranteed to go in some order from picks 2-6. Charlotte reportedly prefers Beal, Barnes and Robinson, but who knows if that's just another pre-draft smokescreen.
Portland would seem the next likeliest team to deal out of the top six, and we've already discussed how they could be a good trade partner for the Bucks. Presumably dealing up would require the Bucks part with some combination of Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis, and their #12 pick, while young players like Ekpe Udoh and Tobias Harris could also be used to make a deal happen. So the Bucks have some assets that could hypothetically be used to swing a deal, but it's not clear how much it would take or if the Bucks like any of them enough to make a deal happen.
Trading back or even out of the draft is also possible, and would seem to jive with the Bucks' unrelenting pursuit of a playoff spot; a pick now should be worth a more proven veteran who could help a team win now, and there's no shortage of potential deals the Bucks could pull off in that sense. The Bucks have worked out a number of players with late-first round potential (Fab Melo, Tony Wroten, Evan Fournier and Will Barton among them), which on its own would suggest the Bucks are keeping all their options open.
Andre the Giant?
We do know the Bucks interviewed Drummond in Chicago and have been closely studying their big men options at #12, so it wouldn't be shocking if Drummond was the guy they would target should they pull off a move into the top six. Though far less refined than Tyler Zeller and even Meyers Leonard, Drummond won't turn 19 until August and has the physical talents to be the best player in the draft. Yet his indifferent freshman season at Connecticut makes it only reasonable to wonder if he's more DeAndre Jordan than Dwight Howard, which is precisely why less risky options like Kidd-Gilchrist, Beal, Robinson and Barnes could all hear their names called ahead of Drummond on June 28. Looking for a boom or bust guy at the top of the draft? Drummond's your guy.
But while I wouldn't be surprised by the Bucks trading up or down from their current spot, I'm less optimistic that they'll end up with multiple first rounders. Don't get me wrong, I would certainly be all for a deal that converts Ellis into another lottery pick (see the Portland idea), but adding two more youngsters? It's appealing enough for those of us interested in seeing the Bucks swing for the fences with as many young talents as possible, but more difficult to reconcile with the Bucks' short term goals of making the playoffs.
Ekpe Udoh, Larry Sanders, Tobias Harris and Jon Leuer are among a slew of players with one or two years of NBA experience hoping to earn regular rotation minutes in 12/13, and it's easy to forget that Jennings won't turn 23 until training camp. Overall, the Bucks were already one of the NBA's younger teams last year, so they aren't exactly betting the farm on crusty old veterans--at 31, Mike Dunleavy is the team's oldest player--which I'd say is a good thing. It also makes all the "win now" talk a bit misleading. Whether it's a viable model or not, the reality is that the Bucks have been hedging between the present and future for some time, as Chuck eloquently pointed out in the comments this weekend. But with the Bucks already toeing the line between low-level contention and building for the future, it also makes me skeptical that they'll look to get significantly younger this summer.
In that sense trading up could be a quality over quantity play--converting one or more of the Bucks' young assets (players or picks) into a higher value young player could help now and in the future, while clearing up any potential roster logjams. As someone who can never make up my mind about draft prospects, I like the idea of picking up multiple picks as a natural hedge. The more talented guys you get, the more likely it is that one of them sticks, right? Unfortunately NBA teams don't always have the luxury of taking the shotgun approach to talent acquisition, or at least they don't view it in the same way. Bound by short-term pressures and roster limitations while armed with theoretically superior information, front offices are supposed to be decisive rather than guess, even if draft certainty is mostly an illusion.
Trade up, trade down, stand pat? All we can hope for now is that the Bucks guess right.