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Bucks Trade Candidate: Bruce Brown

Making an ally out of an enemy (for this season, at least)

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NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Indiana Pacers Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

After our series was interrupted by last week’s head coaching moves, we’re back with another trade candidate for the 2023–24 Milwaukee Bucks. Today, we discuss a player they’re painfully familiar with this season—having lost four of five games to his Indiana Pacers squad this season before the trade that made him a member of the Toronto Raptors—and one that many fans are bantering about due to his likely availability on the trade market. After highlighting potential trades featuring Kris Dunn, Matisse Thybulle, and others, today we look at the impact that adding Bruce Brown to the Bucks’ roster could have for the remainder of the season.

The Player

Bruce Brown, 6’4” 202 lb., guard

Season averages: 12.0 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.3 BPG, .479/.321/.821

Brown’s bonafides are well-known by this point. That’s why he got the contract that he did ($22 million for this season with a $23 million team option for 2024–2025) from the Pacers last summer, luring him away from the chance to repeat as an NBA champion with the Denver Nuggets despite Mike Malone’s parade proclamation that Brown would stick around.

He’s a switch-y defender whose versatile fit on the offensive side of the ball makes him a theoretical fit with just about any team. After playing point guard in college for the University of Miami, Brown entered the league as a capable ball-handler as a second-round pick of the Detroit Pistons in 2018. Two years later, he found himself playing primarily shooting guard and small forward with the Brooklyn Nets as he shared the floor with Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden.

That Brown wasn’t viewed as a perfect fit in Indiana could have something to do with his dramatic minutes shift back to an off-ball guard role, as 90 percent of his time on the floor came at the two during his half-season with the Pacers versus less than 35 percent in each of the two previous seasons when coaches slid him up and down the lineup more liberally. More than that, though, the Pacers were ready to make a seismic roster upgrade and Brown’s salary just so happened to make that possible, leading to his current situation with a Raptors squad that finally seems to have committed to a rebuild.

The Trade

While it is easy to see a role for Brown with the Bucks, the mechanism of getting him to Milwaukee is complex due to his contract—which includes $22 million this season and a $23 million team option for 2024–2025—and those of the players who general manager Jon Horst would send out in a trade, in order to get salaries to match across the board, not to mention draft compensation.

The price that Toronto has reportedly set for Brown is a first-round pick and a useful young player, but since the Bucks cannot currently trade either of the first-round picks they own due to the Stepien rule, it’s necessary to add other teams to the trade. Likewise, since such young players are usually signed to cheaper contracts, it’s implied that the Raptors would hope for an expiring contract to be included in the returning bundle. In this case, the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers would be able to facilitate a Brown-to-the-Bucks trade, and could both benefit from doing so.

As outlined above, Evan Fournier’s expiring contract—he is currently buried deep on the Knicks’ bench—could be packaged with the 2024 first-round pick that New York previously received from the Dallas Mavericks along with MarJon Beauchamp for a return that would seemingly fit Toronto’s expectations. The Raptors would not only get immediately richer in the draft, but they would also get to assess how Beauchamp would fit into their wing rotation beside their now-official foundational piece in Scottie Barnes while holding the option to either flip Fournier’s contract elsewhere or hold onto him as their token vet through the end of next season. In order to acquire two players while only sending out one, however, Toronto would need to cut a current player from its roster (sorry Garrett Temple, you just don’t fit the timeline) since they cannot aggregate another salary alongside Brown in a trade due to his recently-traded restriction.

In order to make room for Brown’s salary, the Bucks would have to say goodbye—unless they deal from the top of the roster, which seems counterproductive—to Bobby Portis, Pat Connaughton, and their two long-suspected-as-trade-piece contracts. Portis would return to New York, where he spent the 2019–2020 season, and immediately add a jolt to their injury-riddled big man rotation, which will now be without Julius Randle for multiple weeks. after already dealing with injuries to Mitchell Robinson. Connaughton would land with the Lakers, the latest veteran at risk of being washed but hoping to squeeze some remaining juice on a LeBron James-centric roster. As a sweetener, LA would also receive a good second-round pick from Milwaukee along with promising young guard Quentin Grimes (if you haven’t read Brew Hoop managing editor Van Fayaz’s piece on why Grimes would also be an excellent fit in Milwaukee, check it out now) and another ballhandler in Ryan Arcidiacono (who is needed to match salary).

The Lakers, looking to get off a big contract of their own, would send D’Angelo Russell to the Knicks—who reportedly are seeking more facilitation—to form a backcourt tandem with Jalen Brunson, either as a starter or off their bench behind Donte DiVincenzo. New York also is thought to want a player who is controlled into next season and could potentially be used in a trade this summer for the elusive star, and unless Russell opts out of his $18.7 million player option, he fits that bill well.

The Bucks would also receive some nominal depth at center in the Lakers’ Jaxson Hayes. Still only 23 years old and already in his fifth NBA season, Hayes has only played 36 games this season while averaging 9.5 minutes per contest, making the seven-footer mostly an afterthought in LA’s rotation. Having arrived from the New Orleans Pelicans as a free agent last summer, Hayes’s tenure with the Lakers has seen him posting some of the lowest and least efficient stats of his career, making him a prime change of scenery candidate. While he may not find any significant minutes in Milwaukee’s rotation, he would add youth and length to the roster at just $2.1 million this season with a $2.4 million player option for next season.

The Fit

Brown has already proven to be a useful contributor on championship-caliber teams laden with more lauded players, so it would seem that he would be an easy addition to Doc Rivers’ new locker room. On the court, it seems all but guaranteed that most of Brown’s minutes would nominally come at either the two or three, though he could moonlight at the point if the Bucks move Cameron Payne, who is apparently available. Given his versatility, inserting Brown into the starting backcourt next to Damian Lillard would allow Malik Beasley more scoring opportunities with the second unit and perhaps make it more potent. Alternatively, Brown could also be used as a bridge between positions off the bench, sliding up and down as needed to stagger minutes for Beasley, Payne, Khris Middleton, and Lillard as needed, all the while guarding the most potent offensive guards and wings on opposing teams.

In fact, deploying Brown as a defense-first menace across could help alleviate other issues the Bucks have been facing. As noted by Eric Nehm at The Athletic, Rivers may choose to reduce the amount of switching that Giannis Antetokounmpo has been doing as it has seemingly contributed to the backslide of Milwaukee’s defensive rebounding numbers—which have recently improved to ninth-best in the league, however. Having Brown on the court could instill more confidence in one-on-one defense outside of the perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidates on the roster and allow Antetokounmpo to stay nearer to the weak side glass where he can more effectively rebound and shot-block rather than potentially being drawn out to the perimeter.

While Brown’s 32.4% hit rate from beyond the arc does leave something to be desired on a roster that ideally spaces the floor for its two-time MVP, he finds his spots and is sinking 38.3% of his corner three attempts this season. With willing and capable facilitators like Lillard, Middleton, Antetokounmpo, and Payne on the roster, he would certainly receive plenty of opportunities to increase that percentage.

As the trade deadline nears, there are plenty of questions—new and old—surrounding the Bucks. Whether they shake up the roster, and whether Brown is part of that shake, are just two of them.

We’ll be back later this week with more Bucks trade candidates, but until then, let us know what you think of this trade. Is it too much/not enough to give up? Do you think one team balks at this offer? How do you feel about Brown and his fit on the Bucks?