Over the next month, CBSSports.com's Eye On Basketball will take a team-by-team look at the 2012-13 NBA offseason. We continue with the Milwaukee Bucks, who have it all.
How they finished 2013
Well, see, first Brandon was like ...
And then LeBron was all...
Look, it was a typical Bucks year. I actually had them as my favorite League Pass team last season. They were really entertaining for long stretches of the year, just disjointed enough to be infuriating, but really fun for long stretches. They found out Larry Sanders might be a franchise center, and found out that Monta Ellis does not have it all.
They just seemed like yet another Eastern Conference team spinning its wheels for no apparent reason, with no long-term goals in mind.
Needs entering the offseason
They had a lot of decisions, more than needs. You don't really need much to sneak into the 8th seed and lose in a sweep to Miami, honestly. But they were facing their starting backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis being free agents. Ellis and Sanders reportedly had a conflict during the playoffs and reports had swirled that the Bucks preferred every possible scenario.
("Bucks plan to keep Ellis," "Bucks plan to keep Jennings," etc.)
They needed to upgrade their wing shooting, and add some backcourt depth. They also needed direction and vision, but with owner Herb Kohl still struggling with a small-market budget but with no intentions of tanking, that vision is hard to find.
They also made it clear they were not bringing Jim Boylan back, so they were going to need a coach. They settled on Larry Drew, in one of what was a series of decisions that made you say "That's so Bucks."
Giannis Antetokounmpo/Gianni Antetokunpo/Giannis "The Greek Dude Who's Name We Can't Spell Or Pronounce" was a daring pick, really, but could work out. He can shoot, and that's something they need right off the bat. He could be a long-term option on the wing if he can make the jump from Euroball, which is rarely easy. But it was a position of need and he was well within their range of picks.
Nate Wolters can play, and that was another smart pickup, he could be a steal if he can overcome size issues.
Free Agency and Trades
In the end, they decided to keep ... neither one. The Bucks wisely set a price for what they were willing to pay Ellis and Jennings, and when neither would go that low, they moved them. Ellis left for the Mavericks, while Brandon Jennings was traded to Detroit for Brandon Knight and Khris Middleton.
Knight has the DNA of a shooting guard playing point guard but not shooting well. But he's young, has a great attitude, and plays consistently, which is more than a lot of point guards give you. He's not consistently great, but the Bucks are hoping he gets there. Middleton is an underrated, cheap prospect with great shooting ability.
So that was pretty great, not getting trapped in re-signing players who simply weren't efficient enough. But what did they use the money on?
Players who weren't efficient enough, mostly.
Let's start with O.J. Mayo, fresh off a stint in Dallas where he started off red hot and had Rick Carlisle's blood pressure reaching explosive levels by season's end. Mayo doesn't have great explosiveness and isn't the playmaker Ellis is, but he does shoot much better from the floor and is a superior defender.
Carlos Delfino came cheap, and is a versatile forward who can shoot. He makes the team better, even if he's better set on a contending team as a role player, rather than a major offensive weapon.
Gary Neal is a chucker, but he gives them some point guard depth and he also came cheap. Not bad.
Zaza Pachulia at $5 million a year is the one I slam the brakes on. I love Pachulia's game. He's a veteran warmonger who's not afraid to stand up to anyone, Kevin Garnett included. He makes you team tougher, smarter, deeper. But at $5 million, you had better be a contending team looking to go over the top. Not a rebuilding middling team trying to find an identity. If all goes well, Larry Sanders will play 35 minutes a night and now you're already down to just 13 for Pachulia. It just doesn't make a lot of sense. Like the rest of their free agent moves, it's a good decision in a vaccuum, but none of us live in vacuums.
The Bucks also picked up Luke Ridnour who probably starts the year at point guard and Caron Butler who probably starts the year at small forward for cheap. They're fill-ins but if you want a good locker room atmosphere, you can do worse. The team's already going to be inefficient, so adding them dosn't hurt much.
They did lose a bunch, though. On top of Ellis and Jennings, Samuel Dalembert walked. Mike Dunleavy left to ring chase in Chicago, and they had to trade J.J. Redick in a sign-and-trade, meanining that the Bucks got only a second rounder long-term for Tobias Harris. Whoops. That trade went south in a hurry. They traded Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, which only kind of makes sense if you squint at the offense and crook your neck. They waived Gustavo Ayon (mistake) and used the amnesty on Drew Gooden (not mistake).
All of this ignores their real best move of the summer, re-signing Larry Sanders to a four-year, $44 million extension. Basically a player who was a Defensive Player of the Year candidate last season and looked like the face of the franchise was booked for the same amount of money JaVale McGee got. It was a steal for the Bucks, and while players never leave after their rookie deals, it's still a good sign they locked him up ealry and long-term.
Overall grade and accomplishments: D
The Jennings trade was fine. It's good they drew a line in the sand. But if they were going to lose him, you would have hoped they would have worked out something to get more back sooner. Same with Ellis, especially since they and the Mavericks wound up swapping several pieces anyway.
Knight isn't great, but he could be pretty good, and they picked up a ton of second-round picks to try and move up over the years. Their core of Knight-Henson-Sanders is young and the veterans aren't obtrusive with their contracts.
They mostly get a D for not having a vision. They don't seem to know where they're going or what they're doing, outside of praying for an "Angels in the Outfield" type situation. They don't have a star or a real core of players, but they added a bunch of window dressing veterans. They won't be as much of an issue in the locker room, but will they be better on the court? There are ways they can, but the overall impression is that they got worse without shedding money, and opted for prolonged mediocrisanity than crazed tank warfare.
The Bucks, as always, are trying to have it all and wind up having very little.