Earlier this week, Michael Scotto of HoopsHype buried a couple motes of gold in his trade candidates story that pertain to the Bucks. You have to dig a bit to find them—and skip past the part where he identifies Pat Connaughton as the Bucks’ top trade candidate, since that appears to be just (well-informed) speculation—but Bucks fans will probably be glad to hear that GM Jon Horst has checked in on two bigger wings: Chuma Okeke and Reggie Bullock.
Let’s start with Okeke, who has had an atypical career since being drafted sixteenth out of Auburn back in 2019. The 6’6” (sometimes listed at 6’7” or even 6’8”), 229-pound forward tore his left ACL in the Sweet Sixteen of that year’s NCAA Tournament, and thus his rookie year was pushed back to 2020–21. He was widely viewed as a lottery pick after two intriguing years for the Tigers, helping former UWM coach Bruce Pearl’s squad to the school’s first-ever Final Four berth. His frame (he weighed in at 233 as a freshman) and length (seven-foot wingspan) and likely piqued Magic GM Jon Hammond’s interest, so his boss Jeff Weltman decided a year was worth the wait.
As a pro, he’s had scant opportunities to prove he belongs in the league, still missing a big chunk of his rookie year with an injury to his surgically repaired knee, then another injury to the same knee kept him out an even bigger chunk of last season. In between those years, he showed some versatility as a regular member of Orlando’s rotation in 2021–22, though his numbers from the field (37.8% on 8.2 field goal attempts per game) left much to be desired.
He saw very sparse minutes upon his return last year and he’s simply been passed by in Orlando’s rotation by their bevy of other talent at the forward spots and wing. Budding stars Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner, 2023 draftee Anthony Black, 22-year-old Jalen Suggs, then veterans Gary Harris, Jonathan Isaac, and old friend Joe Ingles make for a crowded rotation from the 2 through 4: he hasn’t seen more than 7:45 of gameplay here in 2023 and was a DNP-CD in ten of their eighteen contracts.
With Okeke’s rookie contract set to expire at the end of the season and pretty clearly not in the Magic’s future plans, he seems destined for restricted free agency and makes a solid trade chip. Orlando has paydays for all these guys coming up whom they will want to save their resources for, much like Memphis’ situation entering 2021–22. That’s when the Bucks were able to swoop in and acquire Grayson Allen for the cheap price of Sam Merrill and cash. Okeke probably would be gettable for even less.
His $5.1m expiring salary doesn’t match any single Buck, though, so it would likely need to be part of a larger deal with a third team. A few minimum contracts would get them there, but if Milwaukee were to send out one of their mid-tier salaries like Pat Connaughton or Bobby Portis, they’d be able to take back a good $10–15m in salary, depending. Okeke could slide into that along with another salary or two.
They’d then have a partial season to see how he fits in Milwaukee—and if his troublesome knee can stay healthy—before making an offseason decision: if they don’t want to let him walk, they can match any contract another team gives him or offer him an extension of their own. Okeke will retain his bird rights in a trade, so the Bucks can go over the cap to sign him. Mid-tier salaries to 25-year-olds aren’t bad to have around either.
Scotto notes the Bucks have had exploratory interest in him “in the past,” which I guess could be any time, but he’d fit the Bucks’ current situation well as a younger, long wing with some athleticism and strength. That need seems pretty acute now given long-term injuries to Jae Crowder and shorter-term ones to Pat Connaughton and Andre Jackson Jr. but come trade season in February, it seems likely to still be there, especially with Okeke’s youth on an aging roster.
A similarly-built but older player who would work well on the current roster is Reggie Bullock, who Scotto notes that Milwaukee had interest in after he was waived by San Antonio on October 1st. They signed Cameron Payne to their recently-created open roster spot that day, though, filling a big hole as a backup point guard. It would have been nice to have both, but the 32-year-old Bullock went to a young team in Houston over other contenders.
The past couple years, the 6’6”, 205-pound wing was a key member of Dallas’ rotation, starting during their run to the 2022 Western Conference Finals and in 55 games last season. Regarded as one of, if not the perimeter stopper on the Mavs after Dorian-Finney Smith was traded, he has a good defensive reputation around the league. Even if he’s a bit smaller than Okeke and Crowder, he’d be a nice option to have off Milwaukee’s bench if they’re still interested.
With the Rockets, he’s not playing much behind veterans Dillon Brooks, Jae’Sean Tate, and dynamic young guard Jalen Green. Like Okeke, he’s only appeared in eight games but unlike Okeke, he’s gotten double-digit minutes in most of those contests. Seems like he still might have something left in the tank, and on a minimum deal, he’d be simple to acquire. He could also be bought out.
The trade deadline is February 8th and many of the free agents signed this past offseason become eligible to be traded on December 15th. Bullock, however, isn’t eligible until January 4th since he signed so close to opening night.
What are your thoughts on these guys? Personally, I’d wait to see if Bullock is bought out, or offer someone like AJ Green or Chris Livingston for him. The Rockets probably would prefer a second-round pick, and since the Bucks only have two of those, I’d rather hold onto them for a better acquisition like Okeke, who is at least younger. Milwaukee can only trade their 2027 second or Portland’s 2024 second-rounder, which is nearly as valuable as a first-round pick given its likely position in the low thirties. However, I’m not sure I’d trade that for Okeke either. I’d hope the Bucks could land him as part of a larger deal with Orlando that also sees the Bucks acquire another player.