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Latest on the Memphis deal

Update:  Chris Herrington writes that the deal is not dead, but negotiations are still ongoing.

All has been quiet in Milwaukee for the past day or so, but a couple sources in Memphis now indicate that the Bucks could (justifiably IMO) be getting cold feet about the proposed deal that would send Mike Conley and a pick of some sort to Milwaukee for Ramon Sessions and Joe Alexander. 

Chris Herrington of CMI Memphis writes:

I was told by a different team source today that the scuttle around FedExForum is that this is a real trade, but that Milwaukee has backed out. There are two possibilities — that this is all true and the latest report out of Wisconsin just hasn’t caught up with the Bucks nixing the deal. Or, that the info about the Bucks pulling out is not correct. As near as I can tell, the only people who really know everything about Grizzlies transactions are Chris Wallace and Michael Heisley, so I don’t entirely trust this. And, in fact, I have reason to believe to proposed deal is still active.

Over at 3 Shades of Blue, Chip Crain has a comment at the bottom of Matthew Noe's story that he's also hearing the deal could be off.  This comes after Gery Woelfel wrote on Sunday that the deal was essentially done but still needed Herb Kohl's approval

I know the immediate reaction to that might be concern about Kohl continuing to "meddle" with his basketball people, but at this point I won't rush to judge--though the fact that I'm hoping Kohl kills the trade makes me less than objective.  In an ideal world GMs would get the final call on all personnel-related matters, but in reality it's both common and understandable for owners to have a final call on major decisions (wouldn't you?). 

This deal would also be at least partly financially motivated--Sessions and Villanueva being RFAs makes the Bucks vulnerable to luxury tax concerns next summer--so Kohl's involvement could also be a good thing if it means he's reconsidering the Bucks' budget (this is where I'm probably thinking wishfully).  Like most teams these days, the Bucks' upper limit on spending is set by the tax. Last year teams that stayed under the threshold received about $3 million in total disbursements from the teams that went over the tax, which is a big deal for a small-market team like the Bucks. 

John Hammond and company have obviously been looking for a solution to the sticky tax situation they're facing next summer, which means that any deals the Bucks make will likely be at least partly inspired by financial issues.  That said, it's also possible that the Bucks are in love with Conley and would swap Sessions/Alexander for him even if it didn't help their tax situation.  Given how little Conley has developed in Memphis I can't put myself into that category, but it's certainly possible that the Bucks' brass feels otherwise--director of player personnel Dave Babcock was around when the Bucks closely scouted Conley before the '07 draft. 

Still, if you assume that they wouldn't do this deal if not for the tax situation this is the exactly the type of situation where Kohl's opinion is important.  Who knows, Kohl might tell Hammond he can be more patient waiting for the right deal, rather than jumping at the first chance to gain more cost certainty.  And yes, there's a good chance I'm totally off base, but it's at least worth thinking about before complaining about Kohl's meddling.  And if the deal does go through, it will seem somewhat irrelevant anyway.

One other thing to keep in mind as we ponder the Bucks' situation: the luxury tax is not assessed until the end of a season.  So if the Bucks were to retain both Sessions and Villanueva next summer but go over the tax level to do it, they'd still have until April 2010 to get below the tax (the Nuggets recently got under the tax for this season by swapping Chucky Atkins and a first for Johan Petro).  However, the mechanics of doing so are a bit tricky, since trade rules require a team over the cap (ie most teams) to take back no more than 125% of what they send out + $100,000. 

In other words, if the Bucks went into the 09/10 season $500,000 over the tax, they could get back under it if they swapped Charlie Bell ($3.6 million salary) for someone making ($3.6 million - 100k) / 125% = $2.80 million.  That works under the cap and shaves $800k off their cap number.  Moving a big contract like Redd or Jefferson provides the opportunity to save more money since their contracts are so big (thus the 125% number is bigger).  For instance, you could swap Jefferson's $14.2 million salary for someone making "just" $11.28 million and Redd's $17.04 million deal for someone making $13.55 million.

Finding a team below the cap (like the Grizz at present) or one with a sizable trade exception would allow the Bucks to ship out substantially more salary than they get back, but keep in mind that usually requires giving up value--no one wants to add Dan Gadzuric unless they're giving up a similarly bad contract.  So that's not a realistic way to both retain talent and shed salary.  That's why the Bucks might be willing to bite the bullet now on a Conley deal--it's looking increasingly likely they'll have to give up something sooner rather than later.