Biggest Needs for Milwaukee Bucks During 2014 Offseason
It's a good time to be a Milwaukee Bucks fan. No, really.
That may sound like a strange thing to say since the Bucks have the worst record in the league, but changes are coming. According to ESPN.com's Marc Stein, longtime owner Herb Kohl has sold the team to a new ownership group with the condition that the team stays in Milwaukee.
That's a big deal, and perhaps now the Bucks can really start fresh and make moves with the confidence that the team isn't going anywhere.
Typically when a team is sold, new management and a whole new staff is brought in. That's what we saw happen with the Sacramento Kings, and given the recent history of this franchise, there's little reason not to do the same.
With that in mind, let's take a look at five of the biggest needs for the Bucks this offseason.
Clear House for New Owners
Will the new owners (Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry) find anyone worth keeping around? Let's start with head coach Larry Drew, who was hired this past offseason. Here's Eric Buenning's take at SBNation blog BrewHoop:
However, 14 wins, an ugly loss per week, and no discernible pattern of improvement or emergence of an identity has to leave some people wondering what's going on. There have been plenty of injuries that can kill the rhythm of a ball club, and horrible teams generally aren't executing whatever game plan they set out to accomplish, but the frequency with which the Bucks play without direction has to be somewhat alarming at this point.
While the Bucks would have to pay Drew to go away since he just signed a four-year deal worth $10 million this past offseason, it might be worth it to get a fresh face in there to energize both the team and the franchise.
Maybe it would be different if Drew was a promising young coach, but he's a retread who hasn't had the type of overwhelming success that would necessitate him staying on board. The Bucks are probably better off making a gamble and hoping they land the next Brad Stevens.
As for general manager John Hammond? It's hard to tell how much of the personnel decisions were his and how much came down from Kohl in an effort to try to make the playoffs, but regardless, there isn't much positive history that will warrant him such a valuable position with new owners. A new hire is much more plausible.
The Bucks probably shouldn't stop there, though. Sometimes the easiest way to change the direction and culture of a franchise is to blow it up and start from scratch. It's hard to advocate for people losing their jobs, but some hard decisions from top to bottom are going to be necessary.
Trade Ersan Ilyasova, O.J. Mayo and Zaza Pachulia
Starting fresh on an organizational level won't mean much if the team on the court stays as is. The Bucks have multiyear investments in O.J. Mayo, Ersan Ilyasova and Zaza Pachulia, three veterans who probably don't belong anywhere near a rebuilding team trying to create cap flexibility.
The problem is, can the Bucks really shed so much salary so quickly? It's hard to imagine there's much of a market at all for Mayo, who has two years and $16 million remaining after a lackluster season where he was out of shape and often glued to the bench.
Pachulia will be much easier to move, but with two years and $10.4 million remaining, teams may look for a player with more upside. Pachulia is a solid backup big man, but he's not going to provide anything we haven't already seen him from him. With that in mind, getting back fair value will be almost impossible.
Ilyasova should be the easiest of this bunch to trade, as he has two years and $15.8 million left guaranteed on his deal, with a third year that's essentially nonguaranteed. When Ilyasova is right, he's a highly competent stretch 4 who can also hit the boards pretty well. Unfortunately, it's been a long time since we've seen Ilyasova look right, as injuries and poor starts to the last few seasons have really made his trade value dive.
Even though the Bucks might receive pennies on the dollar in return, these three players clearly aren't critical at this point given their age and their inability to help Milwaukee not be the worst team in the league.
The goal here should be to stockpile assets however possible, whether it be cap space for the big 2015 offseason or draft picks down the line. Those two things hold much more value for Milwaukee than their veteran players do.
Don't Spend in Free Agency
One of the biggest mistakes the Bucks have continuously made over the years is overpaying for mid-range talent that doesn't move the needle instead of waiting for a max player who can actually make a difference.
Even if Milwaukee would have a hard time recruiting elite talent, finding better uses for the cap space should be easier than ever. Teams all around the league are going to be avoiding the luxury tax, so franchises that can take on bad deals in exchange for draft picks will be in high demand.
The Bucks can be one of those teams, just like the Utah Jazz did this past season with the Golden State Warriors in the Andre Iguodala deal. Instead of signing a few players who likely won't make a difference, the Bucks would be wise to load up on draft picks, which are essentially lottery tickets. You never know when a Giannis Antetokounmpo is going to fall to you, after all.
Even if the Bucks can't swing a creative deal with their cap space, there should be no rush to add any players who aren't willing to sign on one-year deals. Milwaukee already has a youth movement in place, and those players (Antetokounmpo, John Henson, Brandon Knight, Khris Middleton) need to be the primary focus.
Shedding long-term salaries, acquiring draft picks and building up cap room for the 2015 offseason are the biggest needs right now, and signing any substantial free agents to long-term deals doesn't jive with that.
Don't Trade Larry Sanders Yet
This probably seems a little contradictory, as Sanders will be due $44 million over the next four years. Why shouldn't he be dealt?
Maybe my faith here is misguided, but we've seen Sanders be one of the league's best defenders as recently as two seasons ago. Yes, this year was unmitigated disaster, but we know the potential for great things is there. We've seen it.
While a good deal of the blame for this season's poor performance belongs solely to Sanders, he wasn't dealing with ideal circumstances from the start. Here's what he told Steve Aschburner of NBA.com a few games into the season:
"I feel like I’m capable of being in the game at the end and helping my team win, coming up with blocks and rebounds,” Sanders told NBA.com before exiting the locker room swiftly. “I haven’t been able to get my rhythm out there. I understand foul trouble situations, but tonight I wasn’t in foul trouble.
“Last year I finished so many games. I feel like that’s when I lock in the most. But I haven’t been able to get in the game to finish. That carries over to the next game. When you sit the last three quarters of each game, I can’t have no carryover. And it’s hard for me. I’m still a young player. It’s only my eighth year playing basketball.
Is it possible that Sanders, 25, could benefit greatly from a fresh start and be part of this young core? Absolutely. Is it possible he could have a worse season than the one he put up this year? Probably not.
That's probably the biggest point. Selling Sanders when his value has hit rock bottom isn't the best idea. There's at least a decent chance he plays well next season and the off-court trouble is limited, which would increase his trade value exponentially.
The Bucks may want to trade Sanders with Henson blossoming and perhaps a young big man like Joel Embiid coming in the draft, but exercising a little patience now should yield a much better return down the line.
Draft the Best Player Available, Regardless of Position
The Bucks are guaranteed a top-four pick in this year's loaded draft, but what should be the plan going in?
While some teams are liable to get caught up in drafting for need, the Bucks should avoid that at all costs and draft strictly who they feel is the best player available.
That's easy to do when you're the worst team in the league, but history shows us how rarely teams actually do that. Poor Sam Bowie is shaking his head somewhere.
The versatility of Milwaukee's young core should lend perfectly to this strategy anyhow. John Henson can play the 4 or the 5. Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo can play three different positions in a stretch. Brandon Knight can play both backcourt spots with ease. This is a roster that should be able to adapt and mold around any young star.
And, really, the Bucks need everything. A talented two-way big man like Joel Embiid would be great. A slashing wing scorer with length like Andrew Wiggins would fit in just fine. Dante Exum can pick up the Aussie torch left behind by Andrew Bogut and make for a dynamic backcourt pairing with Knight. Jabari Parker can be the offensive centerpiece this team needs.
Whoever ends up in Milwaukee should provide the team with some serious hope for the future, and that's what the Bucks need more than anything else.