How can the Milwaukee Bucks make the 2014 NBA Draft a memorable one? Follow these simple rules

The 2014 NBA Draft is finally here, and the landing spots for the top prospects are finally coming into focus. Wait...are they? No? OK, yeah...maybe not.

What we do know is that Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins are virtually everyone's guess to go 1-2 in some order on Thursday night, though there's still some doubt about whether Parker might sneak past presumptive favorite Wiggins when all is said and done. In case his opinion matters, Parker isn't among those expecting his name to be called first, as he reiterated his belief that he'll end up in Milwaukee during today's pre-draft media day in New York.

But otherwise? Well, we should probably expect the unexpected, though that doesn't mean the night's events will be completely unpredictable either. Different teams will have different motivations, but if you're looking for a cheat sheet on how Milwaukee can make the most of its night, here are a few guidelines:

1. Draft for talent, trade for need.

This one is fairly obvious, but it's a phrase John Hammond has recited in the past and figures to hold true again tonight.

For all the talk of upside vs. safe picks, length vs. athleticism, and polish vs. potential, the draft is ultimately all about picking the guy you think is going to be the best player. That might seem a bit reductive, but I think it's a good reminder that we shouldn't overthink the Bucks' motivations at #2; they're picking the guy who they think has the best chance of being a great player in Milwaukee--even if the Cavs' decision at #1 will presumably make the Bucks' selection somewhat anti-climactic.

So the "draft for talent" part may be somewhat obvious (and easier said than done), but what about the "trade for need" part? Conveniently, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker could both be great fits in Milwaukee, though their arrival would also have clear ramifications on the team's depth chart--and thus also the Bucks' willingness to deal on draft night. So try to worry less about how Wiggins or Parker may or may not fit with other players on the roster, and instead think about how they might enable the Bucks to cash in other assets for additional picks or young players.

Parker's arrival would seem to have the widest impact on the existing roster. His size and ability to play outside-in would likely make Ersan Ilyasova's stretch-four skillset rather redundant, especially at $8 million per season, and Parker could also end up stealing minutes from both John Henson (at the four) and Khris Middleton (at the three or small-ball four). Dealing Ilyasova would thus seem to be the obvious solution. Though his value has taken a hit after a miserable, injury-plagued 13/14 season, Ilyasova makes sense for any number of teams looking for a floor-stretching big man, and his value to a Bucks team looking to build for the future is more limited.

The Bucks would presumably have less urgency to deal one of their veterans if Wiggins is the pick, though that's not to say they shouldn't consider re-balancing the roster. While there's been no indication of Milwaukee's interest in moving Middleton--and with good reason--his long-term future would become murkier on a roster that features both Wiggins and Giannis Antetokounmpo. He'd always have a role as a bench shooter at the very least, but his value may never be higher than it is right now.

So here's the play for the Bucks:

  • If the pick is Parker: Try to find a team in the mid to late first round that could use Ilyasova's skillset and either doesn't want more raw youngsters or has multiple first round picks (ie Oklahoma City, Phoenix, Chicago). Take back some bad salary if you have to--the Bucks can afford it provided there's enough of an asset payoff (see more below).
  • If the pick is Wiggins: Test the market for Middleton. He may not be worth a lottery pick, but pairing him with another player (Henson? Ersan?) or some of the Bucks' 2nd rounders could presumably get you somewhere into the top half of the draft, right?
  • Regardless of who gets picked: Test the market for Henson, Brandon Knight and Larry Sanders. Hell, throw Nate Wolters in there, too. If ever there was a draft to add another first round pick, this is probably it, and there's no room for sentimentality when your team just went 15-67. The Bucks are clearly in rebuild mode, they have a number of young or in-their-prime players who would have value to the right team, and fans would be THRILLED to add a second pick in the top half of the first (for a non-ridiculous price).  SO LET'S DO THIS.

2. Focus on asset accumulation, not salary dumping.

The Bucks' mission on Thursday is fairly simple: add as much talent as possible, preferably the kind with a chance of being great. Teams that finish 15-67 should worry less about finding the perfect balance of talent (as noted, you can use trades for that later), and the Bucks' comfortable salary cap position means that they can afford to focus on talent without worrying about needing to dump their undesirable contracts.

So sure, it's great if someone wants to take O.J. Mayo off the Bucks' hands, but there's zero reason for the Bucks to give up any asset value to do it. With around $12 million in projected cap space come July, the Bucks should worry less about creating additional cap room and spend more time time thinking about creative ways to use their existing flexibility to add more picks and young players. That may well mean taking on a bad contract along with picks to facilitate another team's desire to open up cap space, though the huge number of teams with cap space may not make it entirely a buyer's market.

3. Future cap space is your friend.

To be clear, the Bucks don't have any cap space right now, but they do project to have eight figures' worth by the time the new cap numbers become official on July 10.  As a result, the Bucks should be on the horn with every team looking to clear cap space right now. So if the Rockets want to get rid of Jeremy Lin's deal to clear room for Melo? Sure, the Bucks can take him--provided the Rockets also ship Milwaukee some combination of the the 25th pick, future picks (like the protected first rounder they're reportedly getting from New Orleans for Omer Asik) or young players (well hello, Terrence Jones!). Bear in mind that a deal like that couldn't be made official for a couple weeks, but that wouldn't stop Houston from selecting someone on the Bucks' behalf and making the deal official in July.

We can debate whether that specific deal makes sense, but the bottom line is that some teams are always looking to shed salary and give up assets to do that. The Bucks also have a $3.25 million trade exception from the Gary Neal trade, so that provides further flexibility that doesn't have to wait until July.

4. Three second rounders = too many second rounders.

Don't get me wrong: I love seeing the Bucks with multiple second rounders. The problem is that it's hard to picture the Bucks (or anyone outside of the Sixers) being interested in adding four rookies to an already young roster with 12 players under contract before we count any of the 2014 picks. So something has to give: Either the Bucks package some of those picks to move up somewhere into the first round, one or more of them is swapped for a future pick, or the Bucks nab one or more international players who might stay abroad for another year or more (think Clint Capela, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Walter Tavares, Damien Inglis, etc). As we discussed in our latest podcast, it just feels like this is the year the Bucks trade for a second first rounder, though there figures to be plenty of competition for lottery picks even with a number of teams (Sacramento, Denver, L.A.) reportedly shopping their picks for veteran help.

5. Talk to teams that aren't trying to rebuild.

The best trade partners are typically ones with differing motivations, and with good reason. A solid veteran may do little to move the dial for a rebuilding team, but that same guy could prove the missing piece for a great team that just needs a little bit of additional depth. Likewise, a mid- to late-first round pick could be exactly what a rebuilding team would like as it tries to stockpile young talent, yet that same prospect might be little more than an end-of-the-bench guy with a guaranteed deal to a contender.

As a result, it stands to reason that the Bucks' best trade partners will not be other teams in the midst of rebuilding, but rather teams either already contending or those trying to make a leap to the next level. In the lottery that would point toward the Lakers (#7), Kings (#8) and Nuggets (#11), while any number of picks in the bottom half of the first round--especially those owned by teams with multiple picks--could be had for a semi-reasonable price.

So if you're daydreaming about possible trades, think about potential trade partners' general needs, what kind of assets they might want in return (veterans vs. younger guys vs. picks), and whether they have bad contracts they're trying to dump on someone else.

***************

Other news and notes from around the web and Twittersphere:

  • ESPN TrueHoop: Here's the Milwaukee piece we did for ESPN's "TrueCities" series
  • Grantland: Goldsberry: NBA draft prospect shot charts
  • SB Nation: NBA Draft rumor roundup

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