A lot has been said around here, between the articles, comments, and always-excellent podcasts, about how Milwaukee seemed to eschew the "smart" move during the summer and build the roster to once again compete for a playoff spot. But they also avoided tying up big money in additional veterans while adding a number of interesting young talents, and now through either brilliant luck or more brilliant planning, the "be competitive" plan has gone awry as the Bucks "lead" the Eastern Conference with a winning percentage of .200 (only the Utah Jazz are more futile, clocking in at .077).
Obviously a huge part of this is having such massive turnover on the roster and staff, and was further exacerbated by the flood of injuries (both on- and off-court, happy birthday Larry Sanders!). There's time for the Bucks to claw their way back into the middle of the Eastern pack, but even at full-strength, the Bucks never projected to contend for anything higher than the 7th seed. Now? They're primed for the tankiest tank of all: the STEALTH TANK.
I, for one, am thrilled at the prospect of the Bucks landing a top-5 pick in the fabled 2014 draft. I'd feel even better if they could find a way to move pieces that don't seem to make sense long-term (say, Ekpe Udoh and Luke Ridnour) for more draft ammo, but there's still a few months for that to get worked out. Either way, with a shot at a top player in what Chad Ford describes as "a draft worth tanking for," things could turn around much more quickly for the Bucks than anyone feared.
All that said…who exactly should they be tanking for? And what will they do with the current roster if they manage to pull it off?
I've been looking at the (still premature, but whatever) draft boards for the upcoming class, and the wish list of top-6 players looks a little something like this:
-Andrew Wiggins, SF
-Julius Randle, PF
-Jabari Parker, PF/SF
-Dante Exum, PG/SG
-Aaron Gordon, PF
-Marcus Smart, PG
This list isn't comprehensive, and with so much longer in the NCAA season to go, there will be a fair amount of changes. A lot of people are in agreement, though, that these players have the potential to be really special and help turn a franchise in the right direction.
But if you look at the Bucks' roster and the investments they've made, it gets a little murkier. Obviously, everyone's top pick right now is Wiggins, and the only long-term answer at SF the Bucks have right now is Giannis Antetokounmpo, who will take years to fully develop into whatever he'll become. Would the Bucks be OK putting Giannis on the back burner if Wiggins comes available?
Then look at the glut of power forwards on this short list: Randle, Parker, and Gordon all man the 4…where John Henson is auditioning for the long-term spot and Ersan Ilyasova has positioned himself as a mainstay. Do the Bucks decide to peg either of those two as a bench option if one of these three fours is available? Does one (or both) get moved to clear space for a potential superstar?
Lastly, Exum and Smart, who look like the PG equivalent of the above forwards in terms of franchise impact, have less in their way if either were added to Milwaukee's roster. Nate Wolters looks the part of a super-sub, much like roster mate Luke Ridnour, and could carve out a productive career as a 16-22 mpg backup. Brandon Knight, for all his talent, seems to be someone who's constantly in the wrong place at the wrong time. A good player, but a low ceiling and a too-low floor. Either draft choice would be an upgrade over both current Bucks. But if you have a pick of the whole bunch, do you go with one of Exum or Smart when those other guys are options?
These are tough questions that I hope prominent members of Milwaukee's front office is asking. Ending up with any of these players could be a cornerstone in the effort to generate more support in the city for keeping the team here and (hopefully) in a new arena somehow. Ending the season with anything worse than a top-6 pick wouldn't be the end of the world, but could be yet another missed opportunity for a franchise desperate for one.
So what do you all think? Which player fits with the current roster the best? What moves would have to be made to accommodate the player(s) you think are worth building around? Whose development takes a back seat to that of a potential star?