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Roundtable: Khris Middleton’s injury deals Bucks massive blow

Craving more sadness? The Brew Hoop Staff has you covered.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Milwaukee Bucks Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Giannis Antetokounmpo is locked up, Khris Middleton is out, Tyler Ennis is gone and Michael Beasley (?!?) is in. Yes, it’s been a weird few days in Bucks Nation, which is precisely why we need some more roundtable discussions to make sense of it all.

What was your exact reaction when you heard the news?

Mitchell Maurer: I had just put my son down in his crib. He had just fallen asleep, so I decided it was a good time to check out Twitter. Looking for more feel-good Giannis content, of course. Next thing I know, I’m sitting on the floor, the baby’s crying, I’m crying, the cats are crying, we’re all crying. I’m the only one who had a good reason, though.

Eric Buenning: Pretty much this.

Frank Madden: Honestly it didn’t really compute. I had been picking up dinner and groceries for my sick wife when the news broke, and when I finally got home I opened up my email and saw the Bucks press release and...wait, what? Just yesterday he was acting like a proud older brother at Giannis Antetokounmpo’s press conference, so to hear on Wednesday that he’s not only hurt but out for six months is just...jarring.

Dan Sinclair: I tweeted, semi-sarcastically, “Season over.” That’s maybe a bit of an overstatement, since the Bucks were likely competing for a fringe playoff spot at best anyway. But Middleton is so important to the Bucks’ actual success as a team/franchise that it’s now easy to write off the coming season as a throwaway before it even begins.

MORE: Khris Middleton Injury Podcast:

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Buy or Sell: Milwaukee trades for a wing before the season.

(Editor’s Note: these takes were pre-Beasley trade).

MM: Hard sell. I fail to see how the Bucks can “replace” Khris Middleton through a trade with their current trade assets. Greg Monroe and Michael Carter-Williams aren’t going to get you a wing that you want or need in late-September, at least not one that I can think of right now. I wouldn’t put it past the team to add a draft pick as additional incentive to take on either Moose or MCW in exchange for another swingman, but I think pushing through this massive blow for a chance at some short-term success would be counterproductive (at best).

EB: I think it’s important to determine what’s a short-term success move and a move that’s necessary, though. I think there are players (a Ben McLemore or Terrence Ross type) that can help via trade but also don’t run the risk of supplanting Middleton once he returns, if that makes sense. Of course, the Bucks have to give something up in order to get those guys, and they aren’t exactly carrying a lot of leverage in negotiations, but there is some type of deal out there that can both help but not hinder the Bucks going forward. It’s not easy, but it can be handled wisely, and I think it’s something the Bucks probably will explore.

FM: It’s awfully tough to see the Bucks making the playoffs no matter what they do at this point, so I think their best bet is the same thing they should have been trying to do anyway. They had an excess of centers and a shortage of playable wings even before the Middleton injury; the urgency to make a move is obviously now more acute, but the Bucks should tread carefully before making a desperation play for another shooting guard. I like the names Eric B mentioned — guys who can be solid backups when Khris returns and might be passable in more extended minutes while he’s out. Best case scenario they swap Monroe for someone who can help eat up some of the open shooting guard minutes, but they’re never going to replace Middleton per se. Moreover, if an obvious Monroe deal was there it probably would have already happened. So perhaps this puts John Henson more in play — he’s gotta have more value than Moose...right? — but the worst move would be a panic move.

DS: Sell, but with full acknowledgement that it’s unrealistic to expect the Bucks to just stay the course. Although there’s probably no risk that the Bucks overreact and trade away a bunch of high-value assets for an impact replacement, moving anything of value to fill this hole feels like something of a waste. Still, the Bucks had justified designs on the playoffs this season, and I really can’t blame them if some ancillary moves have to be made in hopes of keeping that dream alive. The best-case scenario (and that’s not saying much right now) is that somebody who would’ve been traded anyway (Monroe? Henson?) is leveraged for a short-term fix instead of long-term value.

The Bucks’ playoff hopes for 2016-17 are all but dashed, right?

MM: I had previously been thinking that the team could probably win 40 games. At this point, I would be surprised to see them hit 35, and honestly my expectation now is that they match last season’s win total. Middleton is really important, you guys.

EB: You can never say never, but Middleton was really, really good. You could have made a case that he was the Bucks best player right now, and losing him isn’t easy to overcome. What a freakin’ bummer.

FM: Before the injury I had them in a similar spot to Mitchell, so taking away arguably their most indispensable player would seem like a playoff death blow. Ironically, Eric Nehm and I had actually recorded an over/under pod Tuesday night where he made the case for the over 39.5 wins and I made the case for the under...which is kind of where I had been trending despite my well-documented 41-win prediction for most of the summer. Now? Tough to say. High-20s could be in play, or maybe they move one of the bigs, everything comes together, and they can somehow get into the mid/high-30s.

DS: I have to think so. Middleton’s importance to the team’s overall performance is undeniable. He was a strong bet to post the team’s best on/off-court efficiency differential—which means the Bucks will now be spending the majority or all of their season in the “off” category.

Is there any bright side to this terrible news?

MM: Call me a foolish optimist (or something worse, if the mood strikes you), but I think that this can be an opportunity for some other players to step up and show that they can hang on a team led by Giannis and Jabari. Again, there’s no “replacing” Middleton, but if Rashad Vaughn can prove that he can play in the NBA, or Malcolm Brogdon demonstrates the ability to hit threes at a decent rate, that is not the worst situation to be in when Khris returns in 2017. You also have the “opportunity” to treat this year as another developmental season, which gives Jason Kidd a chance to do one of the things he does best: get weird. Wanna see MCW or Brogdon at small forward? I know I do! Hell, put out a Henson/Plumlee/Thon/Giannis/Delly lineup just to see what happens. What’ve you got to lose?

EB: Maybe somebody will step up, but it would have been better if they played well with Middleton. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to throw on a sad Spotify playlist and watch the rain fall on my window.

FM: I felt really bad for Khris when the news broke — he’s worked so hard to become the player he is — but in a weird (and non-playoff-aspiring) way I’m just as intrigued by the team even without him. He’s the one guy in the core who was the closest to his full NBA potential; him losing six months isn’t quite as devastating from a developmental perspective as it would be for guys like Giannis or Jabari. So while Khris certainly makes those guys better, this is also a chance for them to step up and prove they can lead an offense with him out.

I’m less optimistic that any of the other guards can fill the void, but barring a major move we should also get a much better sense of whether Rashad Vaughn is going to be an NBA player, if Malcolm Brogdon’s shot will translate to the next level, and whether Jason Terry still has anything left in the tank. I don’t expect it to be pretty, but it should give us a much better sense of whether anyone else in the guard rotation can be a long-term contributor.

DS: Only in the “it could have been worse” sense—it could have been Giannis or Jabari. I’d echo what Frank said above: that this does, in a horrible, perverse way, open up an even greater opportunity for the Bucks other young stars to really explode. But even there, it was important to see them do that alongside Middleton. That’s how this team is building, and this is a major setback. We’ll all get by (I mean, we have to), but I think it’s necessary to acknowledge that this is just a huge bummer.