December 15 arrives and trade season officially begins for Bucks and rest of NBA

Jonathan Daniel

The Bucks were among the most active teams leading up to last season's trade deadline, and they've got a ton of work to do in rebuilding a roster that currently sits dead last in the league at 5-19. But will that mean an active two months leading up to the February 20 trade deadline?

December 15th is just another day in between the lines of the court, and it doesn't even show up on the NBA's official calendar of "important dates."

But for GMs it's anything but just another day, because it marks the first day that most players signed during the summer are eligible to be traded. Hint: it's no coincidence Rockets GM Daryl Morey supposedly set this coming week as his deadline to trade disgruntled big man Omer Asik, even though Asik himself could have been traded at any time.

With that as backdrop, let's take a closer at the state of the Milwaukee Bucks and what that may mean for their involvement in the trade market--and when you're done, be sure to check out SB Nation's trade rumor hub for similar looks at every other team in the association.

Is your team a buyer or seller?

They should be a seller, but in practicality...well, that's more complicated.

Despite a publicly stated desire to once again compete for a playoff spot, the Bucks are the worst team in basketball at 5-19 while providing few indications that they'll be able to snap out of a season-long funk. Getting Larry Sanders back will help, but at this point the biggest question about the current season is where they'll end up in the lottery standings.

What that means for the Bucks' trade ambitions isn't terribly clear, however. They should be thinking long-term and gauging the value of selling off veteran pieces like Ersan Ilyasova, O.J. Mayo and Gary Neal, but no one would be surprised by a short-term move meant to bolster Larry Drew's injury-depleted squad. The good news is that it's difficult to see the Bucks dealing any of their valuable young assets after last season's Tobias Harris debacle, and the reality is that guys like John Henson, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton have outperformed their veteran counterparts anyway.

On the positive side, Chad Ford offered Bucks fans hope that ownership may finally be embracing reality in his latest "Tank Rank" column:

Not only is Larry Drew finally giving big minutes to his young players, like John Henson and Giannis Antetokounmpo, but the Bucks have been steadfastly rejecting trade offers (for players like Rudy Gay and Omer Asik) that would make them better now.

It's looking clearer that management may finally have owner Herb Kohl on board with the idea that one bad year could lead to many, many good ones.

That evidence sounds circumstantial more than anything, but it's not as if Herb Kohl is going to come out and announce the team had given up on the season even if that was the case. Still, we can probably take the Bucks' bystander role in the Gay, Asik and Kyle Lowry rumors as signs that the Bucks haven't flipped the desperation switch.

If buyer, what are the needs? If seller, what are the objectives in potential moves?

How about a young superstar?  Any of those lying around available on the cheap?

Let's start with the obvious: the Bucks' struggles aren't the kind of thing you fix with a single move, and ultimately Milwaukee's best opportunity for wholesale improvement will begin with next summer's much-hyped draft. Moreover, the possibility of adding "win now" pieces is made all the more complicated by the presence of young players already playing pretty well.

As for what might actually go down? Well, ESPN's Marc Stein hinted at the possibility of the Bucks becoming active a couple weeks back when the Asik rumormill started churning in earnest, though Sam Amick has since reported the Bucks were no longer in the running for Asik.

The Bucks have struggled on the boards and in the paint, but with Larry Sanders expected back in the near future a move for a big man seems less obvious unless one of the Bucks' current bigs are shipped out--Ilyasova or Ekpe Udoh being the obvious candidates. And if the Bucks traded for a big man now...well, why wouldn't they have just done that six weeks ago?

Meanwhile, the Bucks' backcourt has struggled to create quality looks for themselves and others, but are the Bucks willing to throw in the towel on Brandon Knight after talking him up as their starter all summer? Have they already changed their mind on O.J. Mayo after making him the team's highest-paid player?  The Bucks would almost certainly be better if they had a guy like Kyle Lowry to run the point, but it doesn't make much sense to ship future assets to Toronto for a few months of good-but-not-great work from Lowry.

What players are available?

In the frontcourt, Antetokounmpo and Henson are the only guys we might venture to call "untouchable" (a relative term), and for all of Larry Sanders' troubles it's difficult to see them moving him in the short term either. His extension makes him a poison pill contract that's tricky to move, and in general his value couldn't be any lower following a bar fight that has cost him plenty of fan goodwill and the first quarter of the season. That leaves Ilyasova, Zaza Pachulia (once he's healthy) and RFA-to-be Udoh as the obvious pieces available, as each of them could certainly be useful to contenders looking for added depth up front.

Other than that? Well, Nate Wolters and Khris Middleton have done well to earn minutes over the first month-plus of the season, but they're not transcendent guys and likely will top out as role playing starters/rotation guys. No one wants to move them given they're both cheap and productive, but they shouldn't be off the table if a move for a quality young player or pick presented itself. Just don't expect it to happen. Brandon Knight has only sporadically shown his talents, but given his age and injury-plagued start to the season you'd have to think the Bucks will give him every chance to prove himself for the remainder of the season.

As for the other vets, it's difficult to see the Bucks prying too much out of a trade regardless of what they're trying to get. Gary Neal and Luke Ridnour could be useful to contenders in need of backcourt depth, but both have been battling nagging injuries that should give trade partners pause. Caron Butler has become surplus to requirements with the emergence of Middleton and Antetokounmpo, but honestly I don't see the Bucks cutting bait on him during the season. Consider:

1) He's the team captain and has been lauded for mentoring the Bucks youngsters.

2) He's a local-boy-makes-good story, and the Bucks need all the warm-fuzzies they can find.

3) Expiring contracts aren't as valuable as they used to be, which combined with his age and mediocre production mean he's not worth much to begin with.

3) He's going to be a free agent next summer, so the Bucks' logjam on the wing figures to take care of itself.

What are your top three trade ideas?

Truth be told, I'm not a big fan of dreaming up trade scenarios. But I suppose it's no fun to spend this much time pontificating about the Bucks' trade strategy and not try to rustle up some deals, eh?  OK, here's my best shot to make deals that I think help the Bucks in the big picture without being completely oblivious to the needs and tastes of other teams. I didn't factor in roster constraints, but be aware that the Bucks currently have 15 guys under guaranteed contract so any deal bringing in more guys than it ships out would require a follow-on move to clear a roster spot.

1) Ilyasova, Udoh and two of the Bucks' 2014 second round picks to Oklahoma City for Kendrick Perkins, Jeremy Lamb, and OKC's first round pick in the 2014 draft.

Perkins is deadweight in OKC, which is the only reason I'll delude myself into daring to include both Lamb and OKC's late 20s first rounder. Besides, wouldn't it be fun watching Perk make the stinkiest stinkface in NBA history when he shows up for his first game for the last-place Bucks? No? OK, maybe the Bucks can just buy out the last year of his deal instead.

I didn't include Neal because OKC needs to watch itself on the luxury tax front, but he's obviously available as a throw-in if they wanted him to replace Lamb. The likely deal-killer from an OKC perspective is that Lamb is playing well and this deal leaves them short on backcourt scoring. But the added spacing of playing an Ersan/Serge Ibaka big combination with Durant and Westbrook has to be appealing, right?

2) Ilyasova to the Spurs for Boris Diaw, Cory Joseph, Jeff Ayres and the Spurs' 2014 first round pick (currently 27th or 28th).

I was first thinking of including Matt Bonner (basically a more one-dimensional Ersan), but needed Diaw's slightly larger expiring deal to make the salaries work. Joseph's played very well this year, so he'd be more than just a throw-in. Doesn't it seem like Ersan would be a terrific piece playing next to Duncan in Pop's system?

3) Nothing.

Given this season is likely toast no matter what happens, just keep playing the young guys and let the chips fall where they may.

What did we miss?  Give us your thoughts--and best trade ideas--in the comments!

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