It’s been an exciting summer for the NBA, albeit a quiet one for our Milwaukee Bucks. The team’s only new additions were draft picks (D.J. Wilson and Sterling Brown), and their only free agency activity was quickly securing the services of Tony Snell back at the beginning of July. Despite a lackluster showing in Las Vegas, Milwaukee still projects to be a team on the rise in the East, thanks to a roster of intriguing players surrounding Most Improved Player/NBA All Star/Second-Team All Defense forward/smoothie connoisseur Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Boring, but not necessarily bad. Like we said last week, there is legitimate reason to be optimistic in Milwaukee. Optimism aside, though, this summer is crucial to the team’s future:
[T]his summer will set the table for the next 10 summers. You have Giannis, now you have to figure out what you’re gonna do to build for the next level.
In the current era, winning in the NBA boils down to how many stars you have on your squad. The Bucks have one, and recent history tells us that you need at least two to even be in the important conversations. Recent history also tells us that you can only get star players by, in order of most to least likely, drafting them, signing them in free agency, or trading for them if they somehow become available.
Jimmy Butler switched teams. Paul George switched teams. And Kyrie Irving, reportedly seeking to escape from the shadow of LeBron James, may yet switch teams. Of the 29 possibilities, why not Milwaukee?
There are a few obstacles. First, Cleveland wants to get the best return for their trade, and understands how to extract value, thus driving the price higher than Milwaukee may be willing to pay. Second, there are a number of teams who have allegedly made offers that are comparable (or superior) to any return the Bucks could offer. Third, Cleveland may not even opt to move Kyrie, if they think that his request is more about LeBron than himself (and that they can avoid a second Decision from James.)
Obstacles aside, the Bucks could overcome them all with a strong enough offer. Everybody’s favorite sportswriter Zach Lowe came up with an offer that would make sense for both teams (and later discussed it with fellow NBA insider Brian Windhorst):
The Bucks could dangle Khris Middleton, Malcolm Brogdon, and two unprotected first-rounders. (Milwaukee might top out at just one). Brogdon and Middleton are switchy defenders who both shot 40 percent from deep last season -- tailor-made for battling the Warriors. Irving would push Giannis Antetokounmpo off the ball, but Antetokounmpo can be effective in that role with Thon Maker spacing the floor at center; imagine an Irving-Antetokounmpo pick-and-roll, with three capable shooters around it.
The price is high. And with only two years remaining on his contract and Irving’s feelings towards the Bucks a complete unknown, the level of risk is even higher. So why should the Bucks worry themselves with such a proposition? Why bother cutting loose two very good players who make sense in the Bucks’ long-term plans? To answer those questions, I would pose the question asked by our good friend Eric Nehm on the July 27th episode of Locked On Bucks:
For those who haven’t listened, Eric asks a question that we’ve all danced around until last Friday, “Why does a significant portion of the Bucks’ fan base feel totally cool being mediocre?"
In other words, when there’s an opportunity to add an All Star-caliber point guard who can do as much on offense as Kyrie Irving can, you don’t question it. You pull the trigger and figure out the details (especially on defense) later. Talent rules the NBA, and teams win by combining talent in ways that other teams cannot match. Malcolm Brogdon is very good. Khris Middleton is great. But Kyrie Irving is awesome in ways that the Bucks need and the other two players cannot match.
The Bucks should win 50 games next year, and should position themselves to expect 50 wins every year while Giannis is wearing green and cream. “Should” is very different from “will” in this case; even though the Eastern Conference got worse, the Bucks are still not a part of the upper crust. They most likely won’t reach that bar if they stand pat. They might not reach it even with Kyrie, but they’d have a much stronger shot to put together something special when it counts.
Maybe it still isnt enough, and the Bucks stay the course and retain Middleton, Brogdon, and their picks. Or maybe it is enough, but Kyrie and Giannis can’t make it work, and Irving bolts in two years. There are legitimate downsides here.
But nothing ventured returns nothing gained. Go get Kyrie, Bucks, and let the chips fall where they may.