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Big Dreams, Rude Awakening: Bucks Lack Clear Path to Blockbuster Trade

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NBA: Milwaukee Bucks-Media Day Milwaukee Journal Sentinel-USA T

The Milwaukee Bucks have a massive goal imposed by them by the fanbase: figure out how to get this team over the hump. They couldn’t do it against the eventual champs two years ago, they couldn’t do it against the Eastern Conference champs in the Orlando bubble, and something has to change to avoid a third consecutive disappointment. The Bucks need to make a big splash...but do they have the room for it?

Technically, you can arrange a trade for anybody in the league, no matter who they are or how much money they’re owed. But whether or not that trade is feasible is another question entirely; the whole premise of our Trade Proposal Bracket was to go through the realistic trades that Milwaukee could pursue that would both make the Bucks better and not be a laughable return for the other team.

As the offseason moves closer to an official start, though, the Bucks have been absent from many reports concerning some of the league’s more-talented players who may end up changing teams. Of course, there are players out there who are not a part of the rumor mill, who are “unknown unknowns” for those of us on the outside of the NBA’s inner machinations.

So let’s just do a quick rundown of every team in the NBA, and every player on a team who would be considered to be at least close to Khris Middleton in terms of overall impact and raising Milwaukee’s championship ceiling. We also want to maximize our top-end talent, so keeping Khris and Giannis Antetokounmpo would be a priority (but not a requirement if the return was worthwhile). Our barometer for whether or not to include a player is the question, “Would it be shocking for <Player X> to make an All Star team next year?” If the answer is “no,” they go on the list. Some of these sections are going to be pretty short, and some of them will require a bit more discussion. Overall, though, we’re probably going to see how unrealistic of a path Milwaukee has to acquiring anybody on this level.

Boston Celtics

Hypothetical Targets: Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, Marcus Smart, Kemba Walker

Kemba was a person of interest for Bucks fans for a long while, before he moved from Charlotte to Boston, and there is likely some truth to the Hayward rumors that could see move him elsewhere. Tatum and Brown are cornerstone players, though Brown could be moved in the right deal. Marcus Smart is one of the Celtics’ biggest trade assets, given his defensive acumen and shooting improvement, but stories about his availability trend towards what outsiders think the Celtics should do instead of what they would do. Boston is competing for their own chance to make the NBA Finals, and trading any of these five players to the Bucks for anyone besides Middleton or Giannis is hard to imagine.

Verdict: Not happening

Brooklyn Nets

Hypothetical Targets: Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie

Kyrie and KD specifically teamed up in Brooklyn together; neither of them is getting traded this offseason. Dinwiddie is far more movable and has garnered interest across the league, but nothing has been reported about Milwaukee. It’s possible, but only if Brooklyn gets a player that puts them into the Eastern Conference’s upper echelon, and Milwaukee would likely come out ahead if making a Dinwiddie deal.

Verdict: Unrealistic and unlikely

New York Knicks

Hypothetical Targets: none

There’s no one on the Knicks roster who is worth considering for the specific goal we’re looking at here. Mitchell Robinson might become something, and RJ Barrett is only 20 years old, but that’s not the type of trade the Bucks need to make right now.

Verdict: Move along, nothing to see here

Philadelphia 76ers

Hypothetical Targets: Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris

Philly isn’t trading Embiid, especially not now and especially not to the Bucks. Ben Simmons could be moved, but he makes less sense in Milwaukee than almost anywhere else and the Sixers have already declined interest in swapping him for the #2 overall pick in the draft, an asset Milwaukee simply can’t match. Harris is an obvious trade candidate, but there are over 32 million reasons why the Bucks wouldn’t bring him in this offseason (plus the positional overlap at forward, but that’s already paying too much attention).

Verdict: Nope

Toronto Raptors

Hypothetical Targets: Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam

Masai Ujiri has a tough task ahead, where three members of Toronto’s core (Lowry, Marc Gasol, and Serge Ibaka) are getting old and both Gasol and Ibaka are free agents anyway. The Raptors are at a crossroads where they need to pivot and rebuild around Siakam, and while Lowry would be a good get at point guard for the Bucks, few Milwaukee players would be worth Toronto’s while.

Verdict: Nothing here

Golden State Warriors

Hypothetical Targets: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson

Last year was a lost season for Golden State, and they’ve been retooling their roster to fuel another run back into the playoffs. Steph and Klay are at the very center of what Golden State does, making this as much of a pipe dream as the Giannis-to-Golden-State nonsense.

Verdict: Zero chance

Los Angeles Clippers

Hypothetical Targets: Kawhi Leonard, Paul George

The Clippers are all-in on Kawhi, who has already reportedly clamored for an upgrade at point guard. Eric Bledsoe might be of some interest, but any returns that include Kawhi defy logic. Paul George would make slightly more sense and reportedly isn’t well-regarded by his teammates, but a George trade would almost necessarily include Middleton, and simply swapping Khris for PG13 isn’t going to immediately catapult Milwaukee into front-runner status.

Verdict: You can see something if you squint real hard

Los Angeles Lakers

Hypothetical Targets: LeBron James, Anthony Davis

They just won the championship, come on.

Verdict: Maybe the Bucks trade for Kostas Antetokounmpo, just for fun?

Phoenix Suns

Hypothetical Targets: Devin Booker

Booker is the centerpiece of the Phoenix franchise right now. There is no Bucks trade outside of Giannis that Phoenix would have interest in.

Verdict: This one’s empty

Sacramento Kings

Hypothetical Targets: none

We have to be honest here: De’Aaron Fox or Buddy Hield making an All Star team this year would be a big surprise, and the Bucks have already been tied to Bogdan Bogdanovic anyhow. No matter what, there is no Kings player who fits the description we’re after today.

Verdict: A trade could happen, but not a blockbuster

Chicago Bulls

Hypothetical Targets: Zach LaVine

We made a case for LaVine during the first round of the Trade Proposal Bracket, and on the most recent episode of the Brew Hoop podcast. It’s not a particularly strong case, but it’s a case nonetheless. LaVine is the only Bull worth considering at this level, and while the Bucks maybe could swing something, they’re not as natural as a trading partner as other teams.

Verdict: Unlikely, but at least feasible

Cleveland Cavaliers

Hypothetical Targets: Kevin Love

Kevin Love would be a fun small-ball center to pair with Giannis on offense, but Cleveland is in full-on rebuilding mode and the Bucks have very little to offer in the way of assets. The Cavs aren’t exactly motivated to gift Love to Milwaukee, but you could try to persuade them that getting off of his long-term salary (Love is owed $91.5M through 2023) is in their interest. Good luck getting it done without any draft picks!

Verdict: A gargantuan “if”

Detroit Pistons

Hypothetical Targets: Blake Griffin

Everything we said about Kevin Love basically applies to Griffin, except he’s not as well-suited for the 5, has a more concerning injury history, and is owed less money (only $75.5M through 2022). But Griffin is somehow less likely to get moved than Love, since he’s the face of the Pistons franchise and they would have all of their eggs in the Christian Wood basket. Would Brook Lopez and Eric Bledsoe be enough of a return for the Pistons?

Verdict: Highly doubtful, on both sides

Indiana Pacers

Hypothetical Targets: Domantas Sabonis, Victor Oladipo, Malcolm Brogdon

I keep forgetting that Sabonis made an All Star team already, so you can safely assume Indiana won’t want to move him for anything less than another All Star. Brogdon and Milwaukee is a reunion that’s just not in the cards this offseason. Victor Oladipo? Well...

Milwaukee has already been linked to Oladipo, and has had preliminary discussions. His trade value is at a low point, given his health concerns, poor recent performance (mostly due to coming back from injury), expiring contract, affinity for the Miami Heat as a long-term destination, and a hard-to-believe report about him actively advocating for a trade in front of his teammates. The Bucks bought low on Bledsoe when he was a Sun, maybe they do it again here?

Verdict: Some fire behind the smoke, but not yet an inferno

Dallas Mavericks

Hypothetical Targets: Luka Doncic, Kristaps Porzingis

The Mavs want to land Giannis in free agency somehow, which means they need to hang onto both Luka and Porzingis to remain a desirable destination. Also, Luka is an MVP candidate.

Verdict: Not in the cards

Houston Rockets

Hypothetical Targets: James Harden, Russell Westbrook

We already addressed Russ’ request to leave Houston on Twitter:

In short, the Bucks already have a lead ball-handler who excels in transition and scoring at the basket, but struggles with shooting. His name is Giannis. We don’t need a mini-Giannis.

Harden is a far more interesting candidate as one of the best offensive players in league history. The fit isn’t perfect, but the Bucks would be happy to try and work it out. The same likely can’t be said for the Houston front office, but with Daryl Morey no longer in the picture, who knows what direction they go?

Verdict: Keep dreaming

Memphis Grizzlies

Hypothetical Targets: Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr.

The Grizzlies are a young team that needs time to grow around Morant and JJJ. They’re not going to rush their process in a loaded Western Conference.

Verdict: Horst gets hung up on

New Orleans Pelicans

Hypothetical Targets: Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, Jrue Holiday

The Pelicans are building around Zion and won’t trade him for anybody the Bucks could offer. Ingram is perhaps more questionable as a building block, but he’s a free agent and has a hefty contract lined up for himself, no matter who offers it. We have been big Jrue Holiday fans for a while now, but there’s no direct path for Milwaukee to acquire him without help from a third team, and other teams (like the Hawks) are coming out of the woodwork.

Verdict: Big “maybe” for Jrue, big “nope” for the others

San Antonio Spurs

Hypothetical Targets: DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge

These two have been All Stars before but they’re simply not at that level anymore. It would take a massive discount for the Bucks to pick up either of these two, and the fit for both is awkward in Milwaukee.

Verdict: Maybe 4 years ago

Atlanta Hawks

Hypothetical Targets: Trae Young

Atlanta is on their own timetable, and no one on the Bucks’ roster that’s movable would change that strategy.

Verdict: It’s not you, it’s me

Charlotte Hornets

Hypothetical Targets: none

There are some prospects on this roster but nobody who would fit the description of a star this season.

Verdict: Why bother calling?

Miami Heat

Hypothetical Targets: Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo

Miami wants Giannis if he doesn’t sign the supermax. If he does sign it, they can try and beat the Bucks the same way they just beat them in the playoffs. Moving Jimmy or Bam to the Bucks doesn’t compute.

Verdict: Error: trade not found

Orlando Magic

Hypothetical Targets: Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon

Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz are the young players the Magic are banking on to develop. Vucevic is a hugely talented offensive player that Orlando has no incentive to move and the Bucks have little incentive to add. Gordon, on the other hand...

The source is less than reputable, and the fit in Milwaukee is just as bad. Perhaps the Bucks use Gordon as the main prize for a three-team trade, but he’s not likely to end up in Milwaukee at the end of whatever scheme Jon Horst is cooking up.

Verdict: Maybe to re-route Gordon somewhere, but otherwise nah

Washington Wizards

Hypothetical Targets: Bradley Beal, John Wall

I wasn’t serious about John Wall, honest! Not as serious as the Wizards are about keeping Bradley Beal, at least in the short term. There’s not a match to be made here until something changes in Washington.

Verdict: Not now, maybe not ever

Denver Nuggets

Hypothetical Targets: Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray

Jokic is an MVP-level player and Murray already got a max extension. The Nuggets made the Western Conference Finals last season. What are we doing here?

Verdict: Seriously, what are we doing here?

Minnesota Timberwolves

Hypothetical Targets: Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell

Similar to the situation in Brooklyn, these two players were specifically planning on playing together. Nothing is going to split them up until they get a chance to try it out.

Verdict: Not worth asking

Oklahoma City Thunder

Hypothetical Targets: Chris Paul

There’s all sorts of reasons to like Paul for Milwaukee. Paul himself had interest! But the Bucks don’t seem to reciprocate that interest, so now...

Verdict: It’s complicated

Portland Trail Blazers

Hypothetical Targets: Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum

If you want to see what loyalty looks like in today’s NBA, Giannis could prove to be the gold standard...but right now the title of “most loyal player” belongs to Dame. Fans love him, coaches love him, and he loves Portland. Him getting moved now is a non-starter. McCollum is nowhere near as entrenched, but even rumors surrounding him are driven by the media, not CJ or the Blazers.

Verdict: Not gonna happen

Utah Jazz

Hypothetical Targets: Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert

Donovan Mitchell is the franchise in Utah, and there appears to be very little interest in moving Conley. That leaves Gobert, who is approaching free agency and will want a max (or near-max) deal. Whether the Jazz pay him or not, it’s highly unlikely that the Bucks would want to bring in Gobert, due to both fit and financials.

Verdict: It never hurts to ask

So that’s my read on things, at least as of today. Of course the Bucks want to catch a big fish...but they simply don’t have a boat big enough for it. Partly because of their cap situation, partly because of the structure of contracts they control, and partly because of the return that other teams might need for their star all adds up to a highly unlikely chance that Milwaukee can keep Giannis and Khris and add a third star, or even move Khris for a major star, at least this offseason.

Where did I get it wrong? Which players do you think are more available than my analysis suggests? And do the Bucks really need a player that meets the “Could they be a 2020-21 All Star?” criteria? Let us know in the comments, the offseason is just around the corner!