OK, so by now you've probably heard about Tuesday's big-by-late-August-standards trade between the Clippers and Bucks, one that saw Milwaukee add a distant first rounder (probably in 2017) at the cost of two non-essential players, the 2015 second rounder that the Bucks ironically got from L.A. in last summer's J.J. Redick deal, and the potential obligation to pay Dudley $4.25 million in the 15/16 season. Later in the day Milwaukee also officially announced the signing of 31st overall pick Damien Inglis, the 19-year-old native of French Guiana whose official signing was only a matter of time.
So what does it mean for the Bucks now and what could it mean down the road? Let's start with an updated snapshot of Milwaukee's cap situation:
The Deal with Dudley
While the Clippers' motivations today were almost entirely financial in nature, the deal for Milwaukee looks like a modest but clearly positive one on a few levels:
- Numbers game. From a roster standpoint, the two-for-one deal trims the Bucks' roster to 14 guaranteed contracts in addition to the two non-guaranteed deals of Kendall Marshall and Chris Wright, giving the Bucks an obvious pathway to an opening night roster. While Wright continues to work out at the Bucks' practice facility (and vacation with the owners' families), logic would point to him as the obvious odd man out once the regular season rolls around. Then again, that could also change if we see additional player movement between now and late October (Ersan Ilyasova? O.J. Mayo? Larry Sanders?), which at this point probably shouldn't be ruled out.
- A late 2nd becomes a late 1st. Second round picks are nice; first round picks are generally better. In return for taking on Dudley's extra year of (potential) salary, the Bucks also swapped the 2015 Clipper second rounder they picked up in last summer's J.J. Redick sign-and-trade for a lottery-protected 2017 first rounder that becomes unprotected in 2018. Odds are that L.A. will be good enough over the next few seasons to make that a late first rounder, but it definitely beats picking from a similar spot in the second round.
And yes, I know 2017 is seemingly far off, but that's OK. Thinking long term is exactly how the Bucks should be thinking, especially given that it's unlikely Milwaukee will use their cap space to sign any worthwhile free agents this year or next. While contending teams like the Clippers understandably have high discount rates in terms of valuing future assets (read: they'll trade against the future to win now), the Bucks have the luxury of taking the longview.
- A modest incremental cap hit...if any. By recent standards the Bucks didn't have to pay much for their future first rounder, and that's assuming they end up paying anything at all. That's because the deal actually saves the Bucks money this year ($500k) and will only result in a net cap hit if Dudley doesn't opt out of the final year of his contract next summer. Because Delfino and Raduljica both had fully non-guaranteed deals starting next summer, there is a decent chance the Bucks end up seeing a $4.25 million rise in their cap 15/16 number if Dudley opts to stay in Milwaukee, cutting into their cap flexibility next summer.
Of course, that's not a terribly steep price in today's pick-hungry NBA. Consider that the Lakers took on Jeremy Lin's $15 million salary for what will undoubtedly be a late first rounder next year from Houston, while Utah took on $24 million in deadweight salary last summer for Golden State's 23rd overall pick this year and the rights to the Warriors' first rounder in 2017. Meanwhile, the Bucks actually increased their cap space this year and overall only added at worst $3.75 million in total salaries. That's pretty good value any way you slice it.
- The downside...could be upside? The worst case scenario for the Bucks would be that Dudley underperforms (thus keeping his trade value low) while stealing minutes from guys like Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo, a scenario that would assuredly earn the annoyance of most Bucks fans. Of course we'll also have to wait and see if Dudley is actually on the opening night roster first; while there's been no indication that the Bucks want to jettison Dudley, some comments he made last fall certainly raise questions about his interest in staying in Milwaukee.
But that also highlights the irony of this move--in many ways Dudley is more desirable if he doesn't want to stay in Milwaukee beyond this season, since it increases the likelihood that he opts out of the final year of his deal. If that happens the Bucks would basically have saved $500k in 2014 cap room while picking up a future first rounder for their non-existent troubles. It's not to say I'm rooting for Jared Dudley to be miserable or anything--he generally has a reputation as a good, likable guy--but it's important to consider that there's a natural hedge in the event Dudley's time in Milwaukee is a...well, dud (sorry, couldn't resist).
- Outlook for 2014. Along with the official signing of Inglis, the Dudley deal should leave the Bucks with around $6.5 million in potential cap room with Wright and Marshall on board, bumping to around $7.4 million if Wright were waived. That's also assuming the renouncement of the Bucks' MLE, BAE and the free agent rights to Ramon Sessions, whom the Bucks could theoretically still sign-and-trade to Houston thanks to their cap space (ie they don't need his Bird rights so long as his salary is less than the Bucks' cap room...which it would be). I wouldn't hold my breath on that--I don't know what the Rockets could offer that the Bucks would actually want--but then again I wouldn't have expected Delfino and Raduljica to facilitate the acquisition of a first round pick either.
Looking to 2015 and beyond. The obvious downside of the Dudley deal is also why the Clips were so intent on moving him: unlike Delfino and Raduljica, Dudley can decide himself whether he wants the $4.25 million owed to him in 15/16 or if he opts out to become an unrestricted free agent. If he did opt in, the Bucks as currently constructed would have under $6 million in potential cap space before accounting for the cap hold of their 2015 first round pick but including a nearly $9 million cap hold for potential restricted free agent Brandon Knight. The first round hold is a number that could be up to $4-5 million if Milwaukee ends up near the top of the draft again, and in that event they would just keep their mid-level exception since they'd have more money to spend operating over the cap than under it.
Of course all of this assumes the roster doesn't change between now and next summer, which is quite unlikely. Dumping any of the Bucks' big contracts (Ersan Ilyasova, O.J. Mayo, and Larry Sanders) for expiring deals would provide significantly more cap flexibility, which may or may not be useful. Much greater flexibility would be projected for the summer of 2016, when Mayo, Ilyasova and Zaza Pachulia could potentially come off the books and leave the Bucks with a mostly blank slate.
So the bottom line is that John Hammond, David Morway, Jason KIdd, et al deserve a nice golf clap for their efforts this week. The Bucks got closer to a final roster, upgraded a future draft pick, didn't have to give up any real roster assets, and only sacrificed a modest amount of summer 2015 flexibility to do it. It's not a home run, but it's at minimum a solid single.
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