Winners and Losers from Rockets-Bucks P.J. Tucker Trade

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistMarch 18, 2021

Winners and Losers from Rockets-Bucks P.J. Tucker Trade

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Shortly before Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks tipped off against the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday night, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Eastern Conference contender had just acquired reinforcements from the Houston Rockets.

    "Houston is trading PJ Tucker, Rodions Kurucs and Bucks' 2022 first-round pick back to Milwaukee for DJ Augustin, DJ Wilson and 2023 unprotected first-round pick," he tweeted. "Houston also gets right to swap its 2021 second-round pick for Milwaukee's FRP pick unless it falls 1-9."

    As noted by ESPN's Tim MacMahon, there's almost no way that pick swap won't happen. FiveThirtyEight gives the Bucks less than a 1 percent chance to be in the lottery. That part of the trade almost feels more like an exercise in semantics than anything else.

    Ultimately, this looks like the Bucks landing Tucker, one of this trade season's prized targets, and the Rockets netting one first-round pick for a soon-to-be-36-year-old posting career lows (or near career lows) in field-goal percentage, three-point percentage and effective field-goal percentage.

    In the immediate aftermath, it feels like the Rockets are the biggest winners, but this is good for a number of parties, potentially bad for one and probably tough for the outgoing Bucks.

Winner: P.J. Tucker

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    As soon as James Harden was shipped to the Brooklyn Nets back in January, Tucker's destiny (or lack thereof) with the Rockets appeared clear. He's spent the last several years contributing to playoff teams and fringe title contenders. The idea of him spending the twilight of his career on a stealth tanker felt far-fetched.

    Now, he heads to one of the league's bona fide contenders, led by the two-time reigning MVP. It certainly looks like the kind of situation that might revive him, much like Nicolas Batum's move to the Los Angeles Clippers did for him.

    Motivated by a legitimate shot at a title, Tucker may launch his threes with a bit more confidence, defend with a bit more focus and generally play with the kind of effort that made him such a valuable contributor to the Rockets and Toronto Raptors.

    When he's sharing the floor with Giannis, Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday and really any other Milwaukee rotation player, Tucker figures to be the fifth option on offense. And that's perfect at this stage of his career.

    During the four seasons prior to 2020-21, Tucker took 71.7 percent of his threes from the corners and hit 39.2 percent of those attempts. He's sure to get plenty of open looks in the corners for the rest of the season.

    If he can hit them at a decent rate, provide some positionless defense and raise the intensity level of his teammates from time to time, he should have a place in this rotation.

Losers: D.J. Augustin and DJ Wilson

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    The players Milwaukee sent to the Rockets seem like early losers—Augustin, in particular.  We can't get inside their heads, but it'd be hard to fault them for being unhappy while going from a title contender to a team that may end up with the worst record in the league.

    Again, this may be tougher for Augustin than Wilson. He's 33 years old, has been in the league for over a decade and has already played for his fair share of sub-.500 teams. This season was supposed to be his shot at a title.

    All the same reasons relayed for Tucker not wanting to play for a possible tanker apply to Augustin, though perhaps to a greater degree. Tucker has experienced some playoff highs, but Augustin hasn't been past the second round since 2013.

    You may be able to find a more positive spin for Wilson. At 25, he's still a couple of years shy of his prime, and he certainly has more of an opportunity to play significant minutes with Houston than he did with Milwaukee. In the long run, this could be good for him.

    But he misses out on the same chance Augustin does. Even before this trade, the Bucks had a shot to win the title. The Rockets don't.

Winner: Rockets

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    Back in January, The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor reported that "Houston is currently demanding three second-round draft picks for the upcoming unrestricted free agent."

    At the time, that price for Tucker felt exorbitant, and he has only gotten worse. He was averaging 5.5 points and shooting 44.1 percent from three to that point, compared to 3.8 points per game and a 23.1 three-point percentage since.

    Houston securing a manageable (and probably movable) salary in Augustin and a young(ish) forward who can play some prove-it minutes would've felt like a fine return. Add the fact it netted a first-round pick, which it'll use in this loaded 2021 draft, and this feels like a grand slam.

    As soon as Harden made it clear he wanted no part of the Rockets, the front office went into asset-accumulation mode. General manager Rafael Stone has worked wonders helping this organization recover from the Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook trades, which could've been crippling.

Loser (Maybe, Kind Of): Bucks

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    This is not a sure thing for the Bucks.

    Tucker has been objectively awful this season. He's shooting 31.4 percent from three, and he's 240th in box plus/minus among the 250 players qualified for the minutes leaderboard.

    He's never been known for top-tier athleticism or lateral mobility, and even that appears to have noticeably declined. The toughness that made him an effective defender was sapped in Houston, and the primary source of his offensive value, corner three-point shooting, abandoned him.

    If that Tucker shows up in Milwaukee, it might be tough for Mike Budenholzer to play him much. And in that case, giving up Wilson and two firsts, even if Houston is sending one back, would be a huge loss.

    The gamble is understandable, though. Just last season, Tucker shot a more respectable (but still below this season's average) 35.8 percent from three. He was engaged on defense and switchable, and he made a positive impact on a playoff team.

    If the motivation of a title hunt resurrects that version of Tucker, he may indeed move the needle a bit for Milwaukee.

    Imagine the defensive versatility of lineups with Giannis at the 5 and Holiday, Middleton, Tucker and Donte DiVincenzo or Pat Connaughton around him. The amount of defense and shooting there could cause problems for anyone in the East.

Winner: Torrey Craig

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    In a separate move, the Milwaukee Bucks also agreed to trade Torrey Craig to the Phoenix Suns without receiving a player back. ESPN's Bobby Marks shed some light on the possible motivation:

    "Milwaukee goes from $441,539 below the hard cap to $3.5M by shedding the DJ Wilson ($4.5M), DJ Augustin ($6.7M) and Torrey Craig ($1.6M) contract.

    "They now have 2 open roster spots.

    "PJ Tucker is extension eligible for 2 years-$17M with Milwaukee."

    Like Augustin and Wilson, Craig now leaves one of the top teams in the East, but he'll have an opportunity to go from a cap casualty on one contender to a contributor on another.

    In Milwaukee, he could never secure a substantial role. And though he'll also have to battle for minutes in Phoenix, at least it's a new and unique situation.

    The Suns are currently second in the loaded Western Conference, and they boast a deep and balanced rotation. But if Craig can bring the defense he displayed with the Denver Nuggets and the improved three-point shooting he showcased in limited minutes with the Bucks, he could shore up a wing-forward group that includes Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson and Jae Crowder.