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Michael Redd ready to return--but don't hold your breath

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The headlines today sounded surprisingly definitive: "Michael Redd set for return Monday." 

Of course, when you read the comments from John Hammond and Scott Skiles about Redd's decision to rejoin the team, it becomes obvious that there's nothing particularly imminent about his return to the NBA hardwood. Judging from Hammond's roadmap for getting him on the court, it would seem the Bucks are in no rush to get their one-time star back on the court.

"He will be on the floor with some individual work. From that point, then how soon can he progress to doing more basketball-related movements. And from that point, how soon can he progress to having an opportunity to actually practice. I would say he will go from 1-on-1 live to 2-on-2 live to 3-on-3 live and actually have a chance to go 5-on-5 live. And then progress to being on the floor with our team in a live practice situation."

It's been a long, strange journey for Redd, and a long, tough year for the Bucks, which has begged the obvious question of whether Redd could be a useful piece in the stretch run. Redd couldn't actually hurt, could he?

Given the Bucks' struggles of late there might be some truth to that, but I still see Redd's return as making much more sense for Redd than the Milwaukee Bucks. After all, the former Ohio State star is a free agent this coming summer, making it all the more important that he gets back on the court this spring to show he can still play. And to be honest I think the Bucks owe him that chance--if and when he can play, you'd hope they don't stand in his way. But that may very well mean waiving Redd and letting him sign elsewhere for the final weeks of the season. There's also little hope of the Bucks converting his huge expiring deal into assets, not with the Bucks desperately needing to shed salary and little hope of dumping the long-term deals of John Salmons and Drew Gooden

Where you stand on Redd has a lot to do with how optimistic you are about his rehabilitation. If the 2011 Redd was something like the Redd we saw from 2002-2008, then a return to Milwaukee could make a lot of sense for both sides. It's painfully obvious the Bucks need a shot in the arm--especially on the offensive end--so it's easy to like the idea of Redd parachuting in to save the day.

But let's be clear: Redd flat-out stunk on both ends the last time he tried to come back from a major knee injury, mixing in a few good games with far too many anonymous, bricklaying efforts. And if Redd isn't going to be a useful scorer, then I'm not sure I see a compelling reason to give him important minutes down the stretch, especially if he's unlikely to return next season. Besides, we all remember his defense before he destroyed his knee, right?

Hopefully this time he's actually going to be ready to return--after all, his last rehab may well have been a bit rushed--but if he did come back in March he'd have precious little time to get his rhythm back.  So does that really help the Bucks? Is it worth trying to re-integrate the Bucks' former franchise cornerstone given all the baggage that comes with it? Superficially it strikes me as a lot of emotional energy for a highly speculative payoff.

In the meantime, the Bucks continue to cash in on insurance checks that cover 80% of Redd's $18.3 million expiring salary. With around two-thirds of the season in the books, that means the Bucks have been able to recover over $9.6 million of Redd's salary through insurance, though his full salary still counts against the Bucks' cap number. That's not money that the Bucks can use directly, but it certainly softens the blow of paying $18 million to a guy who doesn't play. Privately, the Bucks would probably be quite happy to collect insurance on the remainder of Redd's deal and not have to deal with re-introducing him back into the rotation, but Redd would appear to have different ideas--and that may put the Bucks in a no-win situation a month from now.