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Trade Deadline Recap: Nothing

OK, so let me put on my optimist's hat and give you the positive spin on the Bucks' inability to make a deal happen by this afternoon's trade deadline: by not shipping Richard Jefferson (and possibly Luke Ridnour) to Portland for Raef LaFrentz and mostly filler, the Bucks would seem to have a decent shot at hanging on to the eighth and final playoff spot.  And given how things have gone the past couple years, that'd be a pretty impressive accomplishment, even if it means getting toasted in the first round.

Now here's the bad side.  Looking at the Bucks' $64.4 million in committed salary next season, I can't really figure out a legitimate way that they can keep Charlie Villanueva unless they're willing to go over the luxury tax--something we keep hearing that they won't do.  All this we thought would be a problem for a while, but now it's even more acute considering Chad Ford's report of a league-wide memo advising teams that the luxury tax could very well fall below $70 million:

The league sent out a memo this week describing a number of different potential luxury-tax scenarios this summer. The league's hypothetical case had the luxury tax dropping to $69.4 million. That's one reason teams are scrambling this week.

Yikes.  Let's start with the basics and some assumptions:

  • Francisco Elson ($1.7 million) and Malik Allen ($1.3 million) both have player options and I would assume they'll take them considering the market for their services is likely to be very limited this summer.  
  • That leaves the Bucks with $64.412 million committed to 10 ten players: Redd, Jefferson, Bogut, Ridnour, Gadzuric, Charlie Bell, Joe Alexander, Luc Mbah a Moute, Allen, and Elson.
  • So they have about $5 million to spend on the rest of the roster, namely: re-signing Sessions and Villanueva, their first round pick, and anyone else (like a second rounder).  It's common for teams to only carry 14 players rather than the max 15, but the Bucks at this point would be best off carrying only the minimum number of 13. 
  • Given the current standings, the Bucks' first round pick would be 14th overall and have a first year scale amount of $1.472 million.  Players can sign for up to 120% of their scale number, which would be $1.77 million. 
  • The rookie minimum next year is $457,588, which is the lowest-cost way for the Bucks to fill out their roster.  In other words, the Bucks could have saved over $2 million if Elson and Allen had only one year deals and were replaced by rookie min players.  And yes, I find this very frustrating. 

First off, I don't think the Bucks' lack of moves was due to a lack of effort.  As DoD noted in the fanposts, the Bucks reportedly spoke to the Blazers, Cavs, and Spurs about possible Jefferson deals, some of which might also have included Luke Ridnour.  And if the Blazers indeed continued to insist on Ramon Sessions' inclusion in a Jefferson deal, then you can't blame the Bucks' brass for saying no thanks.  Afterall, the whole point of trading Jefferson was to allow the Bucks to retain both Sessions and Villanueva--dumping RJ and Sessions leaves you with just Villanueva, so you'd have to really want draft picks and the option of using the MLE to prefer that.  And it doesn't seem like Hammond and Skiles are all that interested in that path.  If the Bucks had offers for Jefferson that didn't involve any of their young players then it's hard to justify their inaction.

So what can the Bucks do?   Sessions and Villanueva must each receive qualifying offers for the Bucks to retain the right to match any offer sheets they receive from other teams.  Sessions' QO is only $1 million, so he has a major incentive to reach a multi-year agreement this summer, though the starting salary of any new deal is capped at the MLE ($5.585 million this year, possibly less next year) because of the Arenas rule.

Villanueva's situation is different because his $4.6 million QO is more palatable--he could accept that and hope for a better free agent market in 2010 when he'd be unrestricted.  But if you haven't noticed, the two QOs combined--the minimum they'd be able to get both for--are more than what the Bucks might be able to budget for the whole summer.  As it stands now, it's possible the Bucks don't even give Villanueva the QO if the luxury tax is as low as Ford suggests, which would be the ultimate testament of how badly the Bucks have managed their salary structure over the years (though the tax coming down wasn't foreseeable per se). 

Still, the Bucks can also go over the tax during the summer and get back under it before the end of the 09/10 season without penalty, though that's harder since trading for expiring deals is no longer an option.  What if the Bucks re-sign Villanueva at the QO, sign Sessions for a $3 million starting salary (perhaps optimistic), and keep their first rounder?  That would add up to about $9.4 million, about $4.4 million over the tax. 

What can the Bucks do?  I don't see a team with cap space or a trade exception taking RJ or Ridnour's salaries for free, but I suppose you never know.  Assuming that's not an option, here are a couple other possibilities off he top of my head:

  • Trade Ridnour for someone with a lower 09/10 salary.  There's no longer any chance to acquire contracts that expire this summer, so that's out the window.  But you could trade Ridnour's deal ($6.5 million expiring in 2010) for someone making as little as $5.12 million next year.  Afterall, Ridnour's had a solid season and as an expiring deal he's fairly attractive by himself. 

    For instance, Rafer Alston's expiring 2010 deal pays him $5.25 million next year, so getting the Magic to bite on that would trim $1.25 million off the payroll.  Plus wouldn't it be great to have Rafer back in a Bucks uni???  Don't answer that.
  • Trade RJ for someone with a lower 09/10 salary.  Same idea, though RJ's $14.2 million salary next year means you could save more money (because the 125%+100k matching rules).  The minimum another team over the cap could send the Bucks' way when taking RJ's salary would be $11.28 million, which means a maximum possible savings of $2.92 million in that kind of scenario. 

    The problem is that you'd again likely be taking a talent downgrade or picking up longer-term deals.  Josh Howard and Carlos Boozer (if he doesn't opt out) were the first guys who came to mind as potential targets, but if they weren't available now then I'm not expecting that to change in a couple months.  Then again, Howard will probably do something stupid once he has free time, so that could make him more readily available. 
  • Sell the first rounder.  I know, not cool.  But the Bucks could get up to $3 million for ditching their first rounder, and more importantly they don't need to take back actual salary if they trade the pick before the pick signs (though the pick's more valuable before the Bucks use it). 

    Alternatively--and less frustratingly--they could trade their '09 first for another team's future pick(s), thereby deferring the salary they'd have to pay this year's pick.  

Anyway, that's all I've got for the moment.  We could be in for a very frustrating summer unless Herb Kohl is willing to lose even more money than he already is.