In The Battle For Minutes, The Young Bucks Are Winning

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Caron Butler's recent lamentations have generated some buzz in Milwaukee, but Larry Drew's comments about playing time are far more telling about the Milwaukee Bucks' change in fortune and philosophy.

Not all homecomings are created equal. In the eyes of Caron Butler, a Racine native, his triumphant return to the Cream City has been anything but romantic, bordering on disastrous.

On Thursday, Butler shared concerns about his role on the Milwaukee Bucks, and how it's devolved as the season tumbles further into the depths of irrelevance.

Courtesy of Andrew Gruman, Fox Sports Wisconsin:

"I knew it was going to be a process to win, but me as a basketball player and as a competitor, the information I received before coming here was, 'You are going to play a lot,'" Butler said after practice Thursday. "And I want to play. I want to be out there to help the situation. If we are developing on the fly -- and I know Giannis has to play, guys have to play -- but there are a lot of ways those guys can play and we still can be out there and developing those guys as well."

Butler also expressed skepticism about Milwaukee's ability to attract quality veterans when roles and playing time are ambiguous, but to be frank (Hi Frank!), these sentiments are nothing new or surprising from atrophying, older players on really bad teams. Vets don't like sweeping mid-season changes. It lowers their future earnings potential and, more simply, they want to play basketball and win games.

Butler's been a quality player for 11 years, and like his fellow cadre of veterans (OJ Mayo, Luke Ridnour, Gary Neal, Zaza Pachulia), came to Milwaukee expecting to sherpa the Bucks to a second straight playoff appearance. Suffice to say, things have gone south, thanks in part to these same vets, however consummately professional they are.

While Caron's comments received most of the attention in Milwaukee, a quote from Larry Drew buried in Gruman's article does a much better job of revealing this organizational shift in philosophy (emphasis mine):

"I understand his unhappiness about his playing time, and I explained the situation to him and explained the situation to his representative," Drew said. "I think right now there's a level of commitment to certain players as far as playing time. For any of the guys, if they are not happy with their playing time, they are going to have to contact our front office, John Hammond and those guys, and talk to them about it.

"If there's unhappiness there, I guess they are going to have to do something."

There are a few things to take away from those 17 words:

1. As Frank said in his Bucks vs. Rockets preview, Drew seems to distance himself from decisions about playing time. It's slightly preposterous for a head coach to blame the front office for something he literally controls game-by-game. Especially since, before the season, Drew was very up-front about his open door policy with player communication. This would make sense if Drew felt playing vets meant his job would be secure past 2013-14. But if John Hammond wants to see the young Bucks play, wouldn't that be in Drew's best interest, and wouldn't pushing back put him on a faster track to unemployment? It's possible we're reading too deep into an innocuous comment, especially since Drew's last comment implies the young guys are here to stay and frustrated vets are expendable.

2. Win or lose, expect to see more Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, John Henson, Brandon Knight and Larry Sanders (YAY!). However begrudgingly, the Bucks know it's in their best short and long-term interests to see how these young, affordable players gel together. Losing NBA basketball is compelling when there are glimmers of hope and fulfilled potential, and the 2013-14 Bucks are nothing if not young, undeveloped losers.

3. Youth movement or not, Drew and/or the front office are making a basketball decision based on logic and a realistic view of the team's situation. It makes zero sense to play Butler, sporting a 46.3% TS, simply because he's from the area, has a robust resume, and was told before the Bucks played a game that he would have a critical role on the team. Butler is a great locker room presence, but he has not played better than Giannis. Increasing Butler's minutes would likely eat into Middleton's floor time, but at this point, playing Middleton creates a greater confluence of options for the Bucks (higher value in a trade package, more defined role in the team's long term plans).

4. The commitment to youth is real, but it's peculiar to see Luke Ridnour taking minutes from Nate Wolters. Are they showcasing him as trade bait? If that's the case, why has Gary Neal, a solid three-point shooter with "San Antonio Spurs playoff star" on his resume, stacked up a hefty collection of DNP-CDs? If the team is evaluating their core, how does Ersan Ilyasova fit with Henson and Sanders?

I suspect we'll have more answers to these questions in the coming weeks and months, but these are questions and discussions we want to have. Looking back on the previous three years, that's a very welcomed change.

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