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Mo Rumors: Williams out, Ridnour in?

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Both Charles Gardner of the Journal-Sentinel and Ric Bucher of ESPN are reporting that the Bucks could be closing in on a three-team deal that would send Mo Williams to Cleveland and Luke Ridnour from Oklahoma City to Milwaukee.  Bucher further names Joe Smith as the primary piece headed to Oklahoma City, but cautions that Cleveland is now "balking" at Williams' contract (five years, $43 million) and that the deal has stalled.  Earlier, Gardner reported that both Smith and restricted free agent guard Delonte West could be involved on the Cleveland end. 

The Cavaliers have been unable to come to a contract agreement with point guard Delonte West, who is a restricted free agent this summer, and he could be part of the deal in a sign-and-trade, according to reports. Or Oklahoma City could receive former Bucks forward Joe Smith, who has an expiring contract and will be paid $4.8 million next season.

The Bucks are interested in Ridnour, according to league sources. The 6-foot-2 guard from Oregon has played five seasons for the SuperSonics since being selected 14th overall in the 2003 draft.

Three-way deals generally aren't simple to begin with, but the differing cap/luxury tax situations of the three teams only further complicates things.  Let's take a look at the different angles.

Cap-wise it doesn't work...yet. First thing's first: the deal would have to be more complicated given that Cleveland would be taking on too much salary in the simple Williams/Ridnour/Smith scenario.  Williams is owed $8.353 million next year while Smith makes $4.795 million, so while nothing would stop the Bucks or OKC from sending out more salary than they take back, Cleveland would have to add in more salary to make the deal work.  Teams over the salary cap can't take back salaries in excess of 125% of the salaries going out plus $100,000.  That means that for the Cavs to get Williams, they'd have to ship out at least $6.6024 million. 

The Cavs have a slew of possible guys they could add in to make the deal work, such as the expiring deals of Damon Jones ($4.46 million) or Sasha Pavlovic ($4.50 million).  But at that point the Bucks would be taking on surplus players for little reason, and adding either player to Smith means that OKC would have to include additional players to make it work from their end.  First round PF J.J. Hickson is the only obvious piece of value who makes sub-MLE dollars ($1.33 million), but Hickson doesn't make enough by himself to make the deal work. 

However, the Cavs could still use the non-guaranteed minimum deals of Lance Allred and Billy Thomas in addition to Hickson to make the deal work (assuming Allred/Thomas haven't been cut yet).  Hickson signed on July 10, so the Cavs can now trade him immediately, but they'd likely prefer not to trade both Smith and Hickson without getting another big man back. And it's very possible Cleveland would prefer to keep Hickson given the age of Ben Wallace/Joe Smith and the likelihood that Anderson Varejao (still smarting from the ugly holdout last year) will be gone by next summer at the latest.

Speaking of which, Varejao has always been the Cav who most interests me, but he's oddly been left out of most rumors thus far.  Given he has a no-trade clause until December 5, that might imply he and agent Dan Fegan have already told the Cavs he doesn't want to be a Buck, or that the Cavs want to keep him for a later deal and don't feel they need to use him to acqure Mo.  Keep in mind Varejao will be an unrestricted free agent next summer and thus will want to get major minutes next year, something he might be nervous about with Bogut/Villanueva on the Bucks' roster.

Typical of most RFAs, West has been at odds with Cleveland over a new contract and reportedly wants more than fellow combo guard Daniel Gibson's five years, $21 million deal.  As such, doing any deal involving West would be complex since a new contract would need to be negotiated that satisfies West while also working under the cap.  West will likely be a base year compensation player as soon as he signs, though a big three-team trade could probably accomodate the restrictions on trading BYC players

The strange part is that OKC GM Sam Presti just traded away West at last year's deadline in the big Bulls/Sonics/Cavs three way deal that sent Ben Wallace to Cleveland.  Given OKC's logjam at the point--lottery pick Russell Westbrook, Ridnour, and Earl Watson--it'd make some sense if Presti wants to lose Ridnour in exchange for an expiring deal and/or frontcourt help.  But it'd be a bit odd if he was trying to get West back on a long-term deal. 

From a Bucks' perspective, West would be of interest given he's big, solid defensively and a decent shooter, though he's probably too much of a combo guard to ever be a long-term starter.

That's it?  While I can't speak as well to the Cleveland and OKC perspectives, Bucks fans will no doubt question whether shedding Williams' salary and poor fit is worth more than...well, Luke Ridnour. Of course, this is all premature given I just said that Bucher's version of the deal doesn't actually work.  But let's consider Ridnour's merits anyway.

Ridnour's remaining deal (two years at an even $6.5 million each) is palatable, and in the absence of additional salary coming to Milwaukee it provides more breathing room against the luxury tax, which could be of use if the Bucks make further deals this year that add salary.  Still, his deal doesn't do much for the Bucks' 09/10 luxury tax issues, which would be one of the main appeals of moving Williams for a package of expiring contracts.  In the latter scenario the Bucks could at least free up enough dollars to use their MLE next summer, but adding Ridnour's two-year deal instead brings that into question, depending on what the Bucks do with Charlie Villanueva and Ramon Sessions (both RFA's next summer, with CV eligible for a $4.62 million qualifying offer).

Then there's the issue of talent.  Fit-wise, the 27-year old Ridnour is more of pass-first PG, which on a team boasting Michael Redd, Richard Jefferson, Andrew Bogut, and Villanueva would be appealing.  But Ridnour has regressed notably since a solid 05/06, and calling him pass-first is also a convenient way of glossing over the fact that he's a very poor scorer whose shot abandoned him entirely last year (.399 fg%/.296 3fg% in 07/08). Not surprisingly, he lost his job to Earl Watson last year as his PER declined considerably (for the second straight year) to a well below-average 11.35. Granted, that might also come in part as a byproduct of playing on bad teams the past two seasons in Seattle.  It's very possible he would bounce back and becomes a serviceable starter once surrounded by some talent, but that's a gamble.

Ridnour doesn't have a rep as a defensive player, though he's probably better than Mo at this point.  Ridnour's size causes him problems against big guards, but to his credit his on/off differentials improved last year, as did his opponent stats. Though teammate Watson (currently shelved with a broken finger) has the rep for being the better defender, Ridnour had a notably better opponent PER (14.7) and the Sonics were better offensively and defensively with Ridnour on the court. 

The 07/08 Bucks had easily the worst opponent PER in the NBA at the point guard position (20.4), and Ridnour's number was a full point better than even Charlie Bell's (15.7), the Bucks' best defender by that measure.  That's by no means conclusive evidence that he's a good defender, as his numbers weren't as good in previous seasons when he was starting.  But it's worth considering and provides at least some hope that Ridnour could provide a modest defensive upgrade over Mo (19.4 opponent PER).

Positional need.  Another hope of a Williams trade would be better balancing out the roster, which could still stand to swap a small for a big even if Francisco Elson is added to a 4/5 group that at the moment includes Andrew Bogut, Dan Gadzuric, Charlie Villanueva, and Malik Allen.

While having just Ramon Sessions and Tyronn Lue (with Charlie Bell available as third string) would make the point a question mark, it would also be a relative bargain given a) Sessions/Lue combined will only make around $3 million next year and b) there's a solid chance that Sessions develops into a reliable or better PG very soon.  Considering the tight dollars the Bucks are working with--only $2.06 million under the luxury tax threshold pending the Elson signing--John Hammond and company could conclude that the $8+ million Williams is owed this year is better spent on additional frontcourt help (and never mind the big dollars he's owed beyond that).

In that sense, even Joe Smith could be of more use than Ridnour, especially given his deal expires next summer.  OKC also has the expiring deal of Chris Wilcox ($6.75 million) and three years of Nick Collison at an average of $6.42 million, so it seems a bit odd that we're hearing all this talk about Cleveland and OKC yet Varejao, Wilcox, and Collison aren't be mentioned.  Especially with OKC in rebuild mode, you'd think former Oklahoma St. star Desmond Mason and his expiring deal could also have some appeal to the former Sonics, but no mention of that either.

As a result, swapping Williams for a less talented PG making only marginally less would say a lot about the negative chemistry the new regime feels Williams would bring the 08/09 Bucks.  While Mo has generally been well-liked and was voted a captain last year, 07/08 was a turbulent season that also included a physical confrontation with assistant Tony Brown over Williams' defensive problems.  And it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that Mo's shoot-first, defend-last style doesn't mesh all that well with the Bucks' current personnel--or new coach Scott Skiles.

Hammond warned at his first press conference that retooling the Bucks could be painful and that he might have to make an unpopular trade to get things going in the right direction.  A Williams-for-Ridnour swap would be something of a head-scratcher, but we also know that it would have to be more complicated than that; draft picks and additional players would change the equation.  The only thing we know for now is what we've assumed for some time--that the Bucks don't seem interested in making Mo a key part of their future.