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NBA Trade Rumors: Bucks getting active on trade market, possibly involved in Asik talks?

According to Marc Stein (or rather, the wind around Marc Stein's house), the Bucks are getting more active on the trade front and could be discussing a deal with Houston for center Omer Asik.

Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports

The Milwaukee Bucks feature in the latest report on the Houston Rockets' efforts to deal center Omer Asik. According to ESPN NBA writer Marc Stein, the Bucks are ramping up their activity on the trade market after getting off to a dismal start. Before getting into the details, I would highly suggest reading Stein's post for yourself--there's very little context offered, so we're doing a lot of reading between the lines. I should also thank Jeremy at Bucksketball for cluing me into this whole thing in the first place after I spent most of Sunday off the grid.

So, let's jump right in, shall we? AAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH NOOOOOOOOOOO.

Time for a little game of "follow the rumor":

  1. Somebody is telling Stein that the Bucks are "about the get active on the trade front in the wake of such a poor start". We have no idea who this person(s) is or how he/she came into such information, but that's what Stein is hearing.
  2. Either that unnamed source or Stein himself has made the connection between the Bucks being ready to deal and Houston making it clear that Asik was available. Therefore, the Bucks are possibly interested in Asik. Logically it's a valid but not necessarily sound argument.
  3. Stein has also heard that Houston would prefer to ship Asik to the Eastern Conference so they don't have to face him as much. Milwaukee is in the Eastern Conference. Planets continue to align.
There's so little here that nearly every reaction is drawing on a bunch of other premises to explain why the Bucks might want Asik and how they could possibly acquire him. As always, it starts with Herb Kohl. The Bucks are currently terrible, and a significant factor in their awfulness is their poor interior defense and rebounding. Without Larry Sanders, the Bucks have been regularly battered on the boards and dominated in the paint (Milwaukee is currently 27th in opponent 2P% and 30th in defensive rebounding).

If Herb Kohl is seriously that dedicated to the Bucks remaining competitive at all costs, acquiring Asik certainly makes sense. Asik's primary strengths are interior defense and rebounding. He could fairly be considered "elite" in both regards. Putting aside the small matter of what the Bucks would have to give up, it follows therefore that Asik would improve the team immediately, allowing for a more competitive product this season. This premise (that Herb Kohl is directing John Hammond to upgrade the team this season by any means necessary) is probably the most abstract and also the most terrifying.

Also factoring into our reaction is the strangely persistent connection between Asik and the Bucks that has been bouncing around the internet for weeks. To my knowledge this report from Stein is the closest we've come to an actual report saying the Bucks are in trade talks with the Rockets, but Milwaukee has been a frequent partner in hypothetical Houston trades. Typically these deals involve a third team acquiring Asik and the Rockets receiving Ersan Ilyasova, if only because Ilyasova seems like a good floor-stretching complement Dwight Howard. Flipping Ilyasova, still a very valuable player when healthy, for assets is a popular idea among Bucks fans these days--dealing him for some type of future asset(s) would be the most obvious statement the Bucks could make that they're finally embracing a rebuild. So these rumors are probably a little self-sustaining, if only because of the wishful thinking that goes along with it. This leads to an echo-chamber effect of corroborating unconfirmed reports with other unconfirmed reports.

One more item propping up the rumor's believability: the Bucks are down one additional center. With Zaza Pachulia now out for at least a month, Milwaukee's depth at center will be sorely lacking until Sanders' return. That puts even more strain on Milwaukee's already taxed frontcourt. If the team is seriously concerned about losing even more than they already are (which is technically possible), addressing their depth would be a logical place to start.

Taking everything into account, you can understand why Bucks fans, who have been increasingly vocal in their acceptance and encouragement of punting this season in favor of a high draft pick, are nervous to hear rumors about win-now veteran acquisitions. The team has stumbled its way into a very good chance at a top-3 pick in the upcoming draft and few want to see those chances jeopardized for an outside shot at another four-and-out playoff appearance.

But take heart, aforementioned fed-up fans. Whether or not the Bucks want to make a win-now acquisition, their ability to do so is as limited as it has ever been, assuming there is even a minimal amount of critical thinking going on in the front office. The Bucks' most valuable assets, their young players, are quickly proving themselves indispensable to whatever success Milwaukee is bound to have this year. Khris Middleton and Nate Wolters, two cheap youngsters drafted in the second round, have the best on/off-court efficiency splits on the team. John Henson, still on his rookie contract, is the Bucks' best interior scorer and has been the team's most productive player thus far. You can go right down the list and see how many of Milwaukee's youngest players have also been their most successful. Meanwhile those crafty veterans, the ones brought in to lead the playoff push, have spent most of their time on the bench with injuries and been largely ineffective during their time on the court.

Provided management see things similarly, that leaves just a few truly tradeable pieces to upgrade the team this year: namely: Ersan Ilyasova, Giannis Antetokounmpo, future draft picks, and possibly Larry Sanders. Again, assuming even a base level of competence, we can probably take Giannis out of the mix: he's the most exciting player on the team right now, and after the Tobias Harris debacle it would be a PR disaster to trade him anytime soon. One would hope that first-round draft picks are off the table as well, considering how hyped the upcoming class is. The Bucks do own a truckload of second-round picks over the next few years, but it's questionable how valuable the rest of the league considers them.

That leaves Ilyasova and maybe Sanders. Ersan has, for the past few seasons, been a critical part of the Bucks' offense, providing a consistent scoring punch and desperately-needed floor spacing. But he's struggled this season while dealing with nagging injuries, seeing his scoring and rebounding rates plummet. That ineffectiveness could have him on the outs, especially if Larry Drew decides to play Henson, Middleton, or Antetokounmpo more heavily at the 4. I think most of this site's authors would view that as a poor decision from a "making the offense less terrible" standpoint. While the numbers haven't bore it out (yet) this year, the Bucks' offense has been hot garbage with Ersan on the bench the last three seasons. His impact on that end should never go overlooked, even if his long-term value may be best realized by shipping him out of Milwaukee.

The real question we should take away from these rumors, if there is any substance to them, is what they say about Larry Sanders' standing in the organization. There's no denying it has been a round year for Sanders and it's come at a very inopportune time for Milwaukee. Just as soon as he was installed as the de facto Face of the Franchise, he ends up in an embarrassing bar fight and suffers a serious injury that cripples the team.

Sanders already had a reputation for general on-court mayhem. On top of lots of other little slip ups (questions about his effortheated arguments with teammates, etc.), it may be worth wondering if his personality/temperament is truly an issue. He's too talented a player (with too low a trade value) to give up on right now, and maybe a few anger management courses or stronger coaching guidance are all it would take to clear things up. In addition, the CBA's Poison Pill provision makes Larry a more difficult player to trade before next summer when his extension takes effect. And if Sanders isn't dealt in conjunction with acquiring Asik, well then I don't know what the hell's going on. Asik isn't demanding a trade so he can be a backup in Milwaukee, a scenario that would seem likely if Sanders returns to the level of play we saw last season.

We're just 6 days away from the real show beginning. December 15th is the first day most free-agent signees can be traded, which really opens up the market (note that Sanders, Ilyasova and Asik are not affected by this restriction, but additional pieces in a hypothetical deal could be). Until Asik is actually dealt, there's going to be some uneasiness in Bucks Land. But for now, the likelihood of Milwaukee landing his services seems slim. Now if only that made me feel better.