Kenyon Martin is in, Nate Wolters is out.
The Bucks made Thursday's reports official on Friday morning, announcing the free agent signing of Martin to a 10-day contract while formally requesting waivers on their second-year point guard. From the Bucks' official release:
"Kenyon provides some needed depth to our front court and brings an additional veteran presence to help develop our young team," said Hammond. "He has always been known for his tough-minded, physical approach to the game and we're excited to welcome him to the Milwaukee Bucks."
"We appreciate everything Nate gave to the Bucks both on and off the court," said Hammond. "We know we will see him again in the NBA and wish him well in the future."
Kenyon Martin meets the Milwaukee media after shoot around. pic.twitter.com/KPIjixMnsX— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) January 9, 2015
Reports on Thursday night suggested the Bucks were still scrambling to find a taker for Wolters via trade, with the final decision to waive him suggesting the Bucks couldn't find any palatable offers. Presumably the Bucks had been shopping Wolters for at least a little while; he's been a peripheral figure since the start of the season, and the Bucks have been dealing with injuries to their big men for over a month. But evidently the Bucks never found any teams willing to part with a future asset (a low second round pick?) or veteran big man in exchange for Wolters, who now would seem likely to be claimed off waivers rather than become an unrestricted free agent. Good luck to Nate.
It's a disappointing end to Wolters' short stay in Milwaukee, which featured an encouraging rookie season but sputtered with the arrival of Jason Kidd and the additions of Jerryd Bayless and Kendall Marshall. Despite proving an able game manager (3.3 assists/turnover) and posting some of the best advanced defensive metrics on the team as a rookie (+1.57 defensive RPM, 5th among all PGs), Wolters couldn't escape the end of the Bucks' bench as a sophomore, and a slew of injuries to Bucks' big men ultimately made him dispensable in the eyes of the organization.
Wolters is also the latest in a long line of Bucks' second round picks to wash out rather abruptly. Since drafting Luc Mbah a Moute in 2008, the Bucks have had ten second round picks: 2014 second rounders Damien Inglis and Johnny O'Bryant are still around, while the other eight all were either traded or waived before they finished their second seasons in Milwaukee. It's not that the Bucks have drafted particularly poorly in the second round -- Jon Leuer and Jodie Meeks in particular have carved out nice careers since being traded -- but no one has been able to stick.
As for Martin, the first overall pick in the 2000 draft is now long removed from the all-star form he once showed in New Jersey, but he was at a minimum serviceable during his most recent stint with the Knicks last season. Playing mostly as a power forward with occasional spot duty at center, Martin posted per minute rebound, block, and steal rates right around his career averages, and the Knicks were also 6.9 pts/100 possessions better defensively with him on the court. Still, he's not much of a threat offensively anymore (he doesn't even really try to shoot much) and it's unclear what offseason ankle surgery and another year of wear on his 37-year-old body will mean going forward. Replacing O'Bryant in the rotation means it's likely Martin can still help the Bucks in the short term, though it's not clear how needed he would be if/when Ersan Ilyasova and/or Larry Sanders ever return. I'd guess he'll ultimately be signed for the season, but for now the Bucks have ten days to give him a test drive.
And what does all of this say about the Bucks more broadly? Well, I certainly get the frustration for many in seeing a rebuilding team swap a young player for an old veteran who happens to be buddies with the coach. Cronyism is a thing in the NBA; sometimes for good, sometimes for bad. But this also isn't Tobias Harris for J.J. Redick, and the Bucks' early season success has necessarily put them in a different place than many expected at the outset of the year. It appears obvious that rebuilding meant a focus on playing Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker and Brandon Knight tons of minutes, and I can't see the Bucks dealing any future first rounders for veterans no matter what happens. These are good things, and ultimately the most important. Whether rebuilding should also mean playing every other young guy more than every other veteran is more debatable, but for now it appears the Bucks' approach is more nuanced than that. The remaining healthy young guys will get minutes, but maybe not as many as fans would like.
Needless to say we'll be watching with interest how Milwaukee's thinking evolves leading up to the trade deadline, especially how the Bucks balance the momentum of a promising start with their longer term ambitions. In that sense the Martin/Wolters move is only a big deal in that it hints at more of a "two masters" strategy than was implied over the summer. That will disappoint some, but there's also an arena to build, and the good vibrations about the team's recent success have broader benefits for the team's brand. It's not the return of Kohlism, but it's a reminder that this isn't Philadelphia either.