The Milwaukee Bucks' playoff hopes appear increasingly shot, but -- for better or worse -- that doesn't mean they're preparing to go down without a fight.
Sitting at 13th in the East and sporting one of the league's worst point differentials, the Bucks' underwhelming performance to date has created an unfortunate mountain to climb in the suddenly competitive Eastern Conference. But with the NBA's unofficial trade season beginning on December 15 -- when summer signings became eligible to be dealt -- the Bucks and the rest of the league are now officially open for business.
Whether that business is particularly exciting remains rather debatable however: rumors over the past week have linked them to free agent forward Carlos Boozer and Kings castaway Caron Butler, while suggesting that Bucks big man Miles Plumlee is very much available (wait, he wasn't before?). Not exactly silver bullets for a team languishing in the league's bottom five in both offensive and defensive efficiency, but nevertheless indicative of a team trying to find something to kick-start a young roster struggling to recapture last year's 41-win magic.
Bucks meet with Boozer in L.A.
Shams Charania of Yahoo! Sports reported on Thursday that Bucks officials met with free agent power forward Carlos Boozer while the team was in L.A., the sort of window-shopping that speaks to the Bucks' obvious lack of depth at the four position. On the one hand I'd agree that the Bucks could use an upgrade over Johnny O'Bryant; while he's done many more of the little things this season, JOB remains a poor rebounder and hyper-inefficient finisher (41.4% at the rim!) and scorer (45.4% true shooting). Still, he's gone from D-League-caliber to vaguely worthy of a fringe rotation spot, and if nothing else he's working harder than most everyone else on the roster. Note: that's probably the nicest thing I've ever said about JOB.
That said...Carlos Boozer? I'm not sure anyone over the past decade has engendered as much angst among home fans in spite of his relatively strong numbers than Boozer, who was last seen putting up 18 points, 10 rebounds and minimal defensive effort per 36 minutes with the Lakers last season. I don't doubt that his rebounding and inside-out scoring would make JOB's pale in comparison, but this just feels like a terrible trap, doesn't it?
Return for Caron Butler?
The possibility of the Racine native returning to Milwaukee seems increasingly likely according to ESPN's Marc Stein, who reports that the Kings have "pledged" to trade Butler to a team where he can see more minutes. Via Stein:
The Milwaukee Bucks, Butler's hometown team, have quickly emerged as the likely destination for Butler, according to sources close to him. He is a native of Racine, Wisconsin.
Aside from generally being one of the league's most reputable reporters, Stein has broken plenty of Bucks-related stories over the past year or two, so it would seem to be worth taking seriously -- though at this point the rumor also seems to be coming from Butler's camp rather than the Bucks.
As for whether this makes any sense for Milwaukee? Well, that's kind of complicated. On the one hand, Butler's locker room presence could certainly be a good thing for a young team like Milwaukee; he's a known quantity around the league and by all accounts had a very good relationship with Giannis Antetokounmpo (among others) during his previous stint in Milwaukee. For a team that traded away two key locker room guys in Zaza Pachulia and Jared Dudley over the summer, that alone could have real value.
But things get much dicier when you factor in Butler's interest in actually, you know, playing basketball. It's no coincidence that Butler was a central figure in the tanktastic Larry Drew Bucks of 13/14, or that the Bucks waived him and his $4 million non-guaranteed deal in June after acquiring him from Detroit in the Ersan Ilyasova trade. Though he can still knock down open threes, Butler really isn't cut out for rotation minutes at this point, and other than eating up some of Johnny O'Bryant's power forward burn there's really no easy way to shoehorn him into a rotation that should be trying to maximize the minutes of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker and Khris Middleton.
Chris Copeland has already failed to make any sort of impact in that regard, and while Butler would hopefully bring some useful intangibles that Copeland lacks, there's virtually no chance that either of them is going to turn into the sort of player Jared Dudley was a year ago -- which, in case it wasn't painfully obvious, reiterates how much the Bucks likely regret sending Dudley to Washington for effectively nothing.
Granted, the health of Dudley's back (he had surgery soon after he was dealt) paired with his desire to play consistently were the driving factors in that decision, so it's not like it was pure lunacy on the Bucks part. If Dudley had indeed been out until January then the dynamic changes somewhat. But Dudley returned much earlier than expected and is now hitting a sizzling 47% from deep in 26 minutes per night, while the Bucks eventually signed Copeland (who hasn't played at all) and are now being linked to Butler (who probably shouldn't either). So as many of us feared, the Bucks struggles to date have guaranteed Dudley (and Pachulia) a spot alongside Scott Williams, Jerry Stackhouse and Kurt Thomas in the annals of veteran glue guys whose departures coincided with marked downturns in the Bucks' fortunes. Odds are that neither Butler nor Boozer can fill the void, but you also can't blame the Bucks for trying to make right an earlier mistake.
The Final Word: Panic moves tend to be bad, patient moves tend to be good
Considering how much they were willing to shake up their roster last year when things were actually going well, it stands to reason that the Bucks will be looking to do something now that their season has gone off the rails. And in many ways that's understandable; if the Bucks want to tweak around the margins, that's not necessarily a big deal or worth getting bent out of shape over. Butler or Boozer likely aren't the answer, but there might be other modest moves that could move the needle in the right direction.
Then again, in the bigger picture less may well turn out to be more. As disappointing as they've been, now isn't exactly a prime time to move Michael Carter-Williams (who likes to write down an asset that quickly?), John Henson (his extension makes moving him difficult) or Greivis Vasquez (shockingly, expiring guys with long-term injuries don't fetch much). And while moving a useful veteran like O.J. Mayo or Jerryd Bayless could provide something in the way of a future asset, it's not likely to be much and it might be better to maintain at least some degree of continuity for the remainder of the season. Besides, someone has to shoot threes, right?
In other words, i might not be pleasant now, but swallowing their pride, letting it ride with the young guys and taking whatever comes their way in the mid-lottery could be a blessing in disguise for a franchise that that's still years away from seeing Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker in their prime. It doesn't mean the current "core" will be good enough to contend -- new blood at point guard already seems an inevitable necessity -- but they hopefully have at least a few key pieces to start with. Ultimately it's a marathon rather than a sprint. Let's hope they have the patience and judgment to see it through.