Earlier this week we laid out the case for the Bucks taking a conservative approach to the usual NBA free agent feeding frenzy, though we did save special mention for two players who might be of interest for very different reasons: Suns restricted free agent Eric Bledsoe and Rockets guard Jeremy Lin.
Turns out the Bucks might be thinking along the same lines.
Story going online now: ESPN sources say Sixers have expressed interest in trading for Jeremy Lin. Sources say Bucks are also exploring it— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) July 5, 2014
In addition to weighing possible trade for Lin, I'm told Bucks are pitching offer sheet to RFA Eric Bledsoe and pursuing PG Greivis Vasquez— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) July 5, 2014
Trading for Lin all about asset(s) you can get from Houston WITH Lin. Teams with cap space want the future pick or prize that comes with him— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) July 5, 2014
It's been assumed that Phoenix will match any offer sheets for the 24-year-old Bledsoe, though his modest cap hold ($6.5 million) means that they've been hoping to delay signing Bledsoe in order to pursue other deals in the short term. The Suns acquired Bledsoe in a three-way deal last July, which also saw the Bucks sign-and-trade J.J. Redick to the Clippers for a pair of second round picks.
Though his season was short-circuited by injury, Bledsoe went on to a breakout season in Phoenix next to fellow combo guard Goran Dragic, and the idea for the Bucks would likely be similar. With Brandon Knight coming off his own breakout season, the Bucks appear intent on pairing him with another ball-handling guard as they often did with Nate Wolters and Ramon Sessions a year ago. Or they might consider shipping Knight to Phoenix in a sign-and-trade for Bledsoe--at this point it's a guessing game, as Phoenix's ability to match any offer sheets for Bledsoe give them a major leg up in any negotiations.
Either way, the names being mentioned underscore the Bucks' intent on rounding out a backcourt rotation that currently features only three "real" guards--Knight, Wolters and the disappointing O.J. Mayo. Bledsoe certainly represents the "go big or go home" option, as he's both the youngest and best player of the three mentioned. That's also why Phoenix would likely only entertain sign-and-trade options at a very high price--think a max deal exceeding $60 million over four years--at which point you begin to wonder if it even makes sense from a Bucks' perspective. Milwaukee could offer up to around $13 million in starting salary if they waived Chris Wright and his non-guaranteed deal, though it's not clear if even that would be enough to make Phoenix have second thoughts about matching. Shipping Miroslav Raduljica's $1.5 million deal to a team with cap space or a trade exception would be the most obvious route to clearing near-max cap space.
The 27-year-old Vasquez is a decidedly less exciting option, in large part because Wolters might offer about 80% of his productivity at only a fraction of the cost. Though he has the pick-and-roll game to facilitate an offense, Vasquez can also knock down open threes, a skill that allowed him to play off of Kyle Lowry in Toronto last season in addition to running the second unit. That would no doubt also be part of his appeal to the Bucks, who could play Vasquez on or off the ball next to the more ball-dominant Knight. Or if they really want to shake things up, the Bucks could try to use Knight (and perhaps other assets) to facilitate a sign-and-trade for Bledsoe and bring in Vasquez to complement Bledsoe. Who knows. Either way, Vasquez would no doubt be looking for at least mid-level dollars and possibly a bit more, all of which would give me major pause about a long-term deal. As of Friday Vasquez was supposedly closing in on a new deal with Toronto, so who knows how the Bucks' interest would fit in with that.
And lastly there's Lin, who still has a year left on his deal in Houston but would have to be dealt for the Rockets to make a run at a big-ticket free agent like Carmelo Anthony. With the ability to play both guard spots, Lin could also fit in well with the Bucks' existing backcourt, though the money owed to him will almost certainly require that Houston attach one or more other assets to find a suitor. That makes him an intriguing option: he can play a bit, he won't kill your cap long-term, and he would almost certainly bring at least one asset--2014 first rounder Clint Capela being the most obvious candidate--along with him.
The big issue with Lin is cost. Though Lin's cap hit is just under $9 million, the funky deal he signed with Houston in 2012 will pay him a whopping $15 million in cash this year. For reference, the Bucks as a franchise are expected to earn just under $15 million this year, so a Lin deal would serve as a major test of the Bucks' willingness to pay big money in order to acquire long-term assets (namely picks, not Lin). Using cap space to absorb Lin's deal would also prevent the Bucks from making a run at Bledsoe, so prioritization will be critical in terms of figuring out whether the Bucks can land any of them. Anthony's decision will determine Houston's timetable for moving Lin, while the Bucks would likely need to be the aggressors in order to sell Bledsoe on the idea of leaving a promising future in Phoenix for another fresh start (and a whole lot of money) with Jason Kidd in Milwaukee. That might leave the Bucks little more than leverage for Bledsoe and agent Rich Paul to use against the Suns, but if nothing else it shows the Bucks are barking up the right trees.