Monday, April 29, 2013

Where do the Bucks go from here?

The Bucks just finished a season that was pretty much what everyone expected. They had enough talent to play about .500 basketball and get into the last playoff spot. For the first time in a while the Bucks will have some roster flexibility when free agency opens this summer. The Bucks only have salary commitments to 7 players beyond this season including 6 forwards/centers- Ilyasova, Gooden, Sanders, Udoh, Mbah-A-Moute, and John Henson. Monta Ellis has an 11 million player option for next season that you would assume he will opt out of in favor of a long term guaranteed deal. Jennings is a restricted free agent and the Bucks can match any offer he gets. I see basically 3 ways forward for this team.

1) Blow it up. The Bucks have no chance of winning a championship in the next 2-3 years unless the Heat team plane goes down in a crash, or their big 3 all suffer major injuries. Neither of which seem very likely. Championships should be the goal, so why not go in the tank yet again, hope for a couple top picks in the next couple years and hope you hit on a superstar in the draft you can build a roster around for a decade. The Bucks can clean up their salary cap even more and then spend in a few years when they Heat will be older and Lebron may have opted out of his contract and moved to L.A.

Seems simple, but it's not. It's harder to land a superstar in the draft then it seems. Not every team is lucky enough to land Durant, Westbrook and Harden in consecutive drafts, let alone one player of their caliber. A team has to lose a lot to get those high picks, and fan support can fade a lot in that time. As you may recall Seattle lost the Thunder in 2008 in the midst of all that losing. The losing wasn't the only issue, but it was a factor.

The Bucks have a less than stable ownership situation as Kohl isn't getting any younger and he has been trying to sell the team to someone who will keep them in Milwaukee for a decade without success. The Bradley center is old and the Bucks and the city are still in the process of finding a long term stadium solution. All of this means that tanking the team just isn't good business, unless your goal is to move out of Milwaukee. I don't see Kohl going that way, so I put the chances of the Bucks Blowing it up at about 2%.

2) Go big. With the flexibility the Bucks have they could take some chances and try to pull off some big moves to make this team a contender in their division. This would mean taking some risks and moving some of the young talent they have acquired. The Bucks could start by resigning their two best players in Ellis, and Jennings. They could find a team looking to dump a big salary and bring in some talent by trading some of their young players. Think if the Lakers blow up their roster and dump Pau Gasol's 2 years for 40 million, and the Bucks give up Ilyasova (a nice stretch 4 to play next to Howard) and throw in Udoh (center depth) and Mbah-a-Moute (a replacement for Artest). Yes, I used the ESPN trade machine and this trade would work within the NBA rules. I doubt the Lakers would do this, but you get the idea.

Don't see this happening, but it's more likely than Blowing it up. It would fit the business model of winning now and trying to get in new ownership and a new stadium. Kohl wants his team to win now to sell more tickets which makes the team more attractive to potential buyers. If the team is winning and draws local support it becomes easier to sell public financing of a stadium than a team that is losing and no one cares if they leave. There is still the possibility the big contract player gets hurt, or gets old and sucks, then they are back to blowing it up in a couple years. Chances- 8%.

3) Stay the course- you can do the math. Chances- 90%. The Bucks have the right to match any contract offer Jennings gets, and he is the only marketable player on the roster so he will almost certainly be back. Sorry frontcourt fans, but no one is coming to games to see Ilyasova or Sanders play even if they are more efficient players by some measures. The Bucks may try to bring back Ellis or JJ Redick, or they may just sign a couple other free agent guards. The Bucks are high on their front court and all the young players, especially Sanders and Henson. Seems likely they give those guys another year of seasoning before they start making decisions about trading them or making long term commitments to them.

This is not a super exciting path, as it likely leads to another season of about .500 basketball and maybe a last playoff spot. Not very exciting, but probably in the long term interests of keeping a team in Milwaukee, so I guess it may be the best path for now.

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