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A frantic week of Bucks trade rumors culminated in J.J. Redick's arrival in Milwaukee, but a much-talked-about deal for the Hawks' Josh Smith reportedly fell apart at the last minute.
1) Adding Josh Smith would have been fun and no doubt given the franchise a major shot in the arm from a PR perspective. Those things matter. But from the perspective of long-term cap flexibility and rational roster construction, the Bucks may well have also dodged a serious bullet as well.
The Bucks might not have needed a hybrid forward per se, but going after Smith was never about filling a positional or tactical need. This appears to have been purely a matter of big-game hunting, and you can't fault John Hammond and company for going after the biggest name on the (trade) block. Given the challenges of luring big name free agents, hunting for risky stars via trade is the most direct way for the Bucks to land impact talent, and in that light their pursuit of Smith is understandable.
But pursuing Smith only made sense if the Bucks were also expecting to offer him a monster deal this summer, which may well have been in excess of $80-90 million over five years (teams other than the Hawks will be able to offer him "only" four years and $70-75 million, including the Bucks). OK, let those numbers sink in for a moment. Putting that much coin into one sub-superstar talent is always risky, a fact the Bucks found out all too well with Michael Redd. You can argue that's a risk the Bucks need to take, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows.
And that risk was all the more acute if Smith's apparent desire to play with Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis led the Bucks to re-sign all three over the summer as part of some watered-down $40 million per season Superfriends trio. Would the average fan be excited about putting all three on the court together? Of course. Hell, the 12-year-old in me would have been pretty excited about it. But would it have lifted the Bucks into the rarified air of contending for a conference championship? I'd guess not. And would it have made keeping Larry Sanders or adding another high-cost piece more difficult? Absolutely.
Because as fun as they can be to watch, Ellis and Jennings are already an exceptionally inefficient pairing around which it's difficult to build an effective offense. And unfortunately adding Smith to the mix likely wouldn't make the situation any better; he's posted ugly sub-50% true shooting figures each of the past two seasons, largely driven by his inability to make free throws (51%) and obsession with jacking up ill-advised jump shots (31.4% on long twos). Smith's defensive presence makes up for much of that, but all in all he's a lot of sizzle with inconsistently applied steak.
So rather than pay Smith $80 or $90 million starting next year, the Bucks will have to settle for owing Ersan Ilyasova $24 million for the following three seasons, with John Henson hopefully growing into another starting-caliber power forward as well. That combination won't ever excite like Smith, but they're likely always going to be a better value and will give the Bucks continued trade flexibility going forward.
2) I like J.J. Redick and he makes the Bucks better, but giving up assets for a guy you will need to likely overpay or risk losing two months from now doesn't feel like an optimal solution.
For now Redick is the NBA best player in the trade (always a good thing) and he fills the Bucks' most obvious need: perimeter shooting. But like Smith he'll be a free agent this summer, and it's anyone's guess if the Bucks will be able to retain him at a reasonable ($6-7 million) salary going forward. The Bucks were supposedly doing their diligence on that question a week ago, so their continued pursuit would imply that Redick is open to staying. Presuming (hoping) Ellis opts out, Redick would be a solid option option as a starting shooting guard at that price, though if he commands a salary much higher you'd just as soon look elsewhere.
That's why it was disappointing for many to give up anything of real value for a player like Redick. To be clear: as much as I've always wanted Tobias Harris to develop into something special, I'm not sure it will ever happen. Still, Harris is still just 20 years old and has the innate offensive talent and hoops IQ to be a high quality NBA player, which makes him the kind of asset that teams like the Bucks should hold onto whenever possible. The Bucks were high enough on Harris over the summer that they let Carlos Delfino walk, but he's fallen out of the rotation completely since December. Was it really time to give up on him?
It's also not as if Redick was the only shooter on the market--now or last summer. Consider that Dallas picked up the Hawks' Anthony Morrow for next to nothing on Thursday (sorry, Dahntay Jones), or that Vince Carter, Marco Belinelli and Randy Foye all signed for less than $4 million last summer. Redick might be better than all of them, but he'll cost at least twice as much in free agency, in addition to the cost of sending Harris and Lamb to Orlando now.
3) Let's hope Monta Ellis' exclusion from any deals doesn't mean the Bucks want him around long-term.
Even last February when Ellis was freshly acquired, common sense suggested he was never going to be a long-term piece of the Bucks' puzzle. Fast forward 12 months and it's obvious that Monta Ellis is indeed not a long-term piece of the Bucks' puzzle, especially if he's expecting an eight-figure salary and automatic starting spot going forward. Brandon Jennings' trigger-happy approach is polarizing enough, and everything the Bucks have said and done since last fall suggests he's likely going to be a Buck for a while (well, we'll see). If true, then finding him a higher-efficiency backcourt partner should be priority one for the summer. Conveniently, Redick could be that guy.
So why is Ellis still a Buck? Why didn't Milwaukee try to cash out on Ellis before he potentially opted out the final year of his deal and hit unrestricted free agency this summer? There was initial talk of Atlanta wanting Ellis as part of a Smith deal, though that quickly went by the wayside at the same time that talk of Smith wanting to play with Ellis surfaced. Indeed, Charles Gardner suggests Ellis was never part of the discussion.
Monta Ellis was never part of Bucks trade discussions regarding Josh Smith, according to source.— cfgardner (@cf_gardner) February 22, 2013
I'd hope that the Bucks' insistence on keeping Ellis wasn't behind a Smith deal falling through, because if you're going to gamble on a low-efficiency expiring contract you'd much rather make it Josh Smith than Monta Ellis. Perhaps Milwaukee was just looking to appease Smith by keeping Monta around, though I'd rather take my chances on that front and ship Ellis out vs. move heaven and earth (or in this case, players and huge amounts of cash) to just fall short of getting the guy you really want. Or perhaps Atlanta never really wanted Ellis, which would also be understandable given their existing personnel (notably the injured Lou Williams) and Monta being, you know, Monta.
Whether Ellis had much value around the league isn't clear; there weren't exactly a bunch of teams rumored to be vying for Ellis' services (none published at least), and you'd imagine the Bucks were wary of giving him away for nothing. But the Bucks will have some serious explaining to do if a) Ellis' exclusion held up a Smith trade and b) they had other options to pick up anything resembling an asset for Ellis.
Keeping Ellis also opens up a new worst case scenario: Ellis doesn't opt out of the final year of his current deal, Redick signs elsewhere because he doesn't have a starting spot in Milwaukee, and we start next year with the exact same problems in the backcourt that we've seen this year.
4) J.J. Redick is now the most productive shooting guard on the Bucks' roster, but that doesn't mean he'll get 30 mpg.
Ellis' continuing presence will likely relegate Redick to a sixth man role for the remainder of the season, which is a shame given Redick is playing much more effective basketball at the moment. You'd have to respect Boylan if he had the guts to move Ellis into a sixth man role, but I don't think anyone expects Boylan to wade into that minefield.
Fortunately, Redick has come off the bench most of the season in Orlando anyway, so it's not like it will be a huge adjustment for the former Duke sharp-shooter to do the same in Milwaukee. Even so, it's on Boylan to get his new asset major minutes, something Beno Udrih publicly bickered about more than once during his two years in Milwaukee.