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Bucks turn nothing into something with Dudley deal

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The Milwaukee Bucks made a clear play for future value, and it barely cost them a thing.

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

There are a bunch of moments one could point to as the so-called "Beginning" of the New Era Milwaukee Bucks. The day the sale of the team to Marc Lasry and Wes Edens was made official. The day the team selected Jabari Parker with the second overall pick. Maybe it won't start until *fingers crossed* a new arena opens its doors in Milwaukee.

But in at least one way, yesterday's trade that brought in Jared Dudley and a future 1st-round pick from the Los Angeles Clippers marks a true first for the new Milwaukee Bucks. Because for the first time in John Hammond's tenure as General Manager, the Bucks have acquired an additional first-round pick in a future draft. The team made a move with a clear, unquestionable eye on the future.

What's perhaps most remarkable about the three-player deal, though, is how little it costs the Bucks in the present. The biggest loss is either a center with a "sneaky-good" offensive game and lead feet, or a second-round pick likely to fall in the final sixth of the draft. In other words, not much. Despite taking on more potential long-term salary in the trade, Milwaukee actually sliced a half-million dollars off its cap number. The long-term increase isn't even certain--Dudley can opt out of his deal next summer.

It might be tempting to write off the return as nothing too exciting. The Clippers have a new billionaire owner, a pair of MVP candidates on the roster, and a glamorous market to attract free-agents, so a pick-boosting collapse seems highly unlikely. Dudley himself is an unspectacular player, a solid scorer but otherwise limited. And if he is, in fact, miffed about being transplanted from L.A. to Milwaukee, he could just be another locker-room agitator blocking the development of young players.

But that all seems unlikely or trivial. Dudley has a strong reputation and could probably be flipped to another team if he plays reasonably well this season, as Kevin Pelton points out in his trade grade post on ESPN Insider:

At best, it's not inconceivable that Dudley becomes a trade chip for Milwaukee. Remember, we're barely a year removed from Dudley being considered a good asset in the trade that sent Eric Bledsoe to the Phoenix Suns. Dudley's one season with the Clippers was a disaster. He was out of shape, a source of frustration to the coaching staff and unable to keep up defensively on the wing. But he's only 29. If Dudley commits himself to conditioning, a return to the useful 3-and-D specialist he was in Phoenix is a possibility.

Since the real prize here is the pick, Dudley would basically have to break both of Giannis Antetokounmpo's arms in practice to really make the whole thing a net-negative.

In fact, the trade seems like such an obviously good move for the Bucks that it's almost difficult to rationalize. Normally when a contending team makes a deal with a bottom-feeder, there's a clear win-now/win-later dichotomy. The immediate reaction on our site was overwhelmingly positive, and nearly everyone took the move as another sign that the organization's new focus is squarely on the future where it belongs. All this despite the Bucks not hurting their current position or jeopardizing current priorities much at all. Clippers fans were less thrilled. Normally that's a sign that a trade was made for reasons not strictly confined to the court itself, and that seems to be the case here. For L.A., the move gives them a chance to dodge the luxury tax down the road. Considering the net worth of the guy now writing the checks, Clips fans have a right to be a little annoyed. However, this move does have some strategic value to the hard-capped Clips as well. Because Delfino and Raduljica signed their contracts under the current CBA, both are eligible to be waived via the "stretch" provision, which L.A. is expected to use on Delfino and possibly Raduljica. That gives the Clippers a bit more breathing room to add a few minimum-salaried free agents to bolster the roster.

So if you're wondering what that strange feeling is, Bucks fans, that one that asks "did my team just totally fleece another team?" That's the feeling of leveraging financial flexibility for future assets instead of squandering it on veteran free-agents. Did it earn Milwaukee a windfall? No. But was it worth the cost? The best answer to that question might be, "What cost?"