March 09, 2012
According to Marc Stein of ESPN, the Milwaukee Bucks have made it known that Andrew Bogut is available. And, yeah, that sounds about right. This particular team, with coach Scott Skiles, has run its course. And no amount of luck, internal development, relative health, and potential add-ons can make this team work up to the level of a conference contender. Milwaukee is stuck at 15-23, and with six weeks left in its season it's not a given that Bogut will return to the court for the Bucks after he recovers from his fractured left ankle. And if the Bucks can find a team to take Stephen Jackson's contract in the transaction, then this is a no-brainer assuming the team can take in some talented assets in return.
The run is up. Scott Skiles' typical three-year window has been exhausted, he's wearing on players and his players (if we can be sympathetic to Skiles' plight) are wearing on him. Bucks GM John Hammond (a guy that has made some sound and at least understandable moves as Bucks boss) has not put an easy roster together for the veteran NBA coach, which is something he should have considered strongly following Skiles' fallouts in both Phoenix and Chicago.
As a partial result of this, the Bucks will miss the playoffs for the second year in a row. More important than Skiles' unease and the dodgy roster is the team's health -- this squad was rightfully built with an inside-out attitude surrounding Bogut's dominating defense and ability to clear space offensively; even if he wasn't the one finishing the play. With the big man essentially working as a non-factor for the last 24 months because of two significant injuries, Milwaukee has faltered, and it doesn't have many assets to fall back on as a result. Tobias Harris is nice for his age, and Ersan Ilyasova has been playing terrific basketball, but anything else is a bit of a reach.
Which is why the squad should look to move Bogut while it can, especially if it nets the team some semblance of payroll flexibility moving forward.
It's understandable as to why the Bucks decided to work around the fringes following the team's inspiring run to the 2010 playoffs. Adding Drew Gooden that summer didn't work out last season, but Gooden has put together perhaps the finest season of his career in Bogut's absence this year. With nearly $20 million due on his contract after this year, though, you sell high on Gooden if a deal is available. Adding Beno Udrih last June was understandable, but he'll have a player option worth nearly $8 million that he's bound to pick up this summer. Sell if you can. Adding Stephen Jackson was rightfully considered a terrible move then, and it looks even worse (somehow, Jackson made that happen) now, and you have to move the guy if anyone's offering.
Each of these moves would have to be paired with a Bogut deal. And though Bogut isn't injury prone (his career-altering shoulder injury from two years ago and his fractured ankle were both fluke accidents), this is the price of doing business.
Provided, of course, you do smart business. Skiles' time is clearly up in Milwaukee, he recently put his house on the market and the Bucks would presumably be passing on the win-now ideology should they decide to move Bogut and a millstone contract with him. Skiles (a brilliant basketball coach at his peak) doesn't do rebuilding projects, so it's unlikely he'll be around for that turnaround. This is why you have to go for assets in return for Bogut, as opposed to names people have heard of. This is a hard sell to a fan base, particularly the 70 percent that have four favorite sports to think about and don't want to consider payroll flexibility or long-range rebuilding, but it could be a franchise-saver.
Franchise-saving moves aren't always job-savers for GMs, though, which is why they tinker and hope for 45 wins. We wouldn't blame John Hammond for not making a startling deal, and clearing his decks, but we also reserve the right to criticize him if he continues apace. Or especially if he deals for a guy like JaVale McGee.
Of course, even Stein points out that dealing Bogut is a longshot. Not because some other team couldn't step up and make sense of things, but because no team is going to essentially pay $23 million next season for the right to play Andrew Bogut, while telling Stephen Jackson to go home. If Bogut returns to his 2009-10 level of brilliance, then you should do that deal. You do that deal in a heartbeat, because Bogut would absolutely turn your team around (or put it over the top). This isn't a guarantee, sadly. Even though Andrew is only 27.
Toss in the tightening financial landscape around the league, and these deals are dead before they start. Bogut's potential is highly respected in basketball circles, but NBA team owners don't often reside in basketball circles. They know All-Stars, not potential All-Stars, and would understandably pass on that sort of price for a player who may never make it all the way back. As one of Bogut's biggest fans, this is tough to write.
And as a fan of Bogut, and the city of Milwaukee, this is tough to write. Should the opportunity present itself for the team to clear room with Bogut and the dumping of a millstone contract, though, the Bucks have to consider it. Giving up on a healthy Bogut running with Brandon Jennings for the next few years, assuming Jennings stays, is tough. But the Bucks may have backed themselves into a corner with all this tinkering, and with such little payoff.