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Putting the Bucks' summer spending in context

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FanHouse: Owners Had No Choice But to Pay Up in Free Agency
Tom Ziller with a must read over at FanHouse, using the Bucks as a case study or sorts in how the NBA has become a pay-to-play league. 

Milwaukee needs to do better to get over the hump and truly contend in order to make some money for owner Sen. Herb Kohl. And to do that, they really have to spend money. Salmons, a free agent, had to be re-signed. There goes $39 million. The offense needed a serious jolt, even with Salmons returning. There's the trade for Corey Maggette, due $30 million over the next three seasons. The frontcourt needed a great rebounder and low-post threat. There's our lightning rod Gooden, signed for the full mid-level exception.

Those three players alone earned combined commitments of $103 million from Kohl and the Bucks. And that's really not out of line with what most teams have done when approaching the conference elite. To go from "playoff team" to "contender," you simply have to spend this sort of money.

It's been easy to scoff at the size of the deals being dished out this summer, but the more we saw the less we could mock them. These deals could still end up looking ugly if a lockout brings the cap way down, but it does seem like the market reference point has moved. There were still some seriously idiotic deals--Joe Johnson, Rudy Gay, and Travis Outlaw get my top votes--but teams looking to improve found few bargains to be had. Jon Brockman is the only new Buck who might look like a bargain a year from now, but the Bucks were never going to find cheap solutions by adding veteran talent. That's not a criticism, just the way the game works. More on the Bucks spending habits after the jump...

Hollinger: Bucks among offseason winners
John Hollinger has been more pragmatic (read: he has a better sense of long-term context) about the Bucks' summer than most, so it's not surprising that he lists the Bucks among the summer's winners. 

Drew Gooden was another solid get, providing a massive upgrade from the likes of Kurt Thomas and Dan Gadzuric a year ago. Ideally his deal would be a year or two shorter, but given what other teams paid for frontcourt talent, the Bucks still got a good price. Meanwhile, retaining Salmons was crucial, albeit unfortunately expensive in this market. Remember, teams over the cap have an incentive to overpay their own free agents since it's impossible to replace them, so from that perspective Salmons' price makes sense.

That point about teams re-signing their own free agents is especially important, which also made it interesting that the Bucks didn't seem too worried about letting Ridnour walk. Fortunately they got Keyon Dooling for the BAE, but they could easily have gotten stuck with table scraps for the same price. And in case you're wondering, July 27 is "Bucks spending rationalization day." I kid, I kid...

Aldridge: Offseason rankings
David Aldridge has the Bucks at #7 on his list of offseason winners.

Every few years, owner Herb Kohl dips deep into his wallet, as he did when he gave George Karl $7 million a year to coach and paid big bucks to maintain the Glenn Robinson-Ray Allen-Sam Cassell trio. Kohl must feel it again, because he not only paid up to keep Salmons -- a trade deadline godsend from Chicago -- but he OK'd major money from Gooden, who's bounced through the league for most of his career, and the remaining three years and $30.7 million for Maggette, whom the Warriors couldn't wait to unload. But the Bucks finished next to last in the league in free throw attempts last season -- 833 fewer than league-leading Denver. And Maggette has been in the top10 in the league in FTAs five times in his career, including last season. Milwaukee's defense (seventh in points allowed last season) should only improve with the high-flying Sanders leaping all over Bradley Center.

I really like Aldridge in general, but a couple things I'd point out here. First, the Bucks' total payroll didn't suddenly spike this summer, and it's unfair to imply that Kohl is a cheapskate who only occasionally gets frisky with his wallet. In reality the Bucks are in better financial shape now than they were last year, and next year they'll be in even better shape if they let Redd expire.  

As an owner it's difficult to "dip into your pockets" every year because of the way the cap is set up, and the Bucks are a good example. Only a handful of teams gladly blow through the luxury tax limit each year, and the Bucks are like most other teams in that they've been spending right up to it in recent years. The problem was that guys like Redd, Simmons and Gadzuric ate up huge and often injured/unproductive chunks of the Bucks' cap number over the past three or four years, leaving them little flexibility to use the MLE and forcing them to be extra choosy with their own free agents (see Ramon Sessions and Charlie Villanueva). It's easy to look at this summer's spending as out of character, but that's what you can do when you're not overpaying guys who don't play.

Second, can we please stop using raw points as a means of offensive and defensive proficiency?  I realize the mainstream media gets nervous using anything pace-adjusted, but seriously...this is stats 101.  

Basketball-Reference.com: Who Ruled the Top Defenses in 2010?
Speaking of advanced metrics, our man Brick's House emailed over a cool link from Basketball-Reference. I generally use points/100 possessions as my simple metric for offensive and defensive efficiency, but they've taken it a step further by adjusting for opponent strength (ie teams don't play the same opposition because of unbalanced schedules) and then segmenting individual player performances against the best and worst defenses. Some interesting findings for Kobe, Wade and LBJ.

I'll let Brick summarize the Bucks' side of the story:

"What it seems to show is that the Bucks had the 4th best defense last year, that Maggette and Brockman are effective offensive players while facing above average defense, and Jennings was not an effective offensive player against any defense, but was especially dreadful against good defense."

Pretty much.