On paper, and in the eyes of NBA orthodoxy, it made sense. Pair a defensive-minded center with a waterbug point guard that could pressure the ball. Stick an offense-first big forward up front to provide spacing, acquire a pass-first backup PG and a playoff-tested wing to potentially take over when all other options are exhausted. Rely on the smarts of a coach who has pushed overachieving teams to the brink before, and do it in front of a fan base that has proven to go exhilaratingly gaga over the hometown club.
Then the big center goes down with a scary injury, is ineffective after returning from injury, and then suffers another debilitating injury. The point guard fails to develop until the center is out for good, and the same goes for the offense-first power forward. "Playoff-tested," as we now know, means absolute jack (pun at first unintended but now wholly appropriate), and the coach's pushing may have gotten to all involved in a bad way. Stuck needing to make a deal, the Milwaukee Bucks made a sound one: acquiring oft-criticized scoring guard Monta Ellis and game-changing defender Ekpe Udoh from the Golden State Warriors for Andrew Bogut (that "big center") and Stephen Jackson ("jack," er, "Jack").
In November of 2009, Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings dropped 55 points on the Golden State Warriors, and though then-GSW guard C.J. Watson bore most of the brunt of that attack, Monta Ellis certainly got a taste. Now the two will play off each other in a backcourt that will be scattershot, indecisive, hesitant, brilliant, frustrating, dominating, and must-watch basketball throughout. These are two players that want to win, but also two players who really don't know how to contribute to winning basketball off the ball. This is more a function of how they were brought up after becoming NBA contributors as teenagers than inherent selfishness, but it will be tough to get over.
It might get the Bucks over the hump, though, and push them into the playoffs this season as the New York Knicks continue to swirl around the drain. Brewhoop's Frank Madden is right to wonder (in a must-read column, by the way) what, exactly, a first-round loss at the hands of the Chicago Bulls or Miami Heat (if Chicago's injury woes curtail their chances at a top seed) does for the team moving forward, but every little bit of scratch counts for a team in a small market, even if it just means two home games in the postseason.
Ellis shoots quite a bit, his decisions in the open court leave a lot to be desired, and he's a clear mismatch with Bucks coach Scott Skiles on all sorts of levels. The Bucks have been flailing away defensively since Bogut went down, though, and the quickest way into the playoffs was obviously going offense-first, and decision-making later. The Bucks will have plenty of conundrums to go over in this upcoming offseason and the next, but for the next 24 games Milwaukee is going out chucking. Good for them, because Bogut was never going to be a factor this season, and Jackson has absolutely no redeeming values at this point in his career.
What happens next is the killer, but at least the Bucks will have plenty of options moving forward. A 24-game-plus-possible-postseason sample size of Ellis and Jennings' cohesion probably won't be telling, but both are under contract for the next season. The Bucks, fresh off of Drew Gooden's career year, could waive either him or Beno Udrih with the amnesty clause, and have a good chunk of cap space to work with heading into 2012-13. And if the pairing isn't working, or Jennings wants out, the team could completely start over if Ellis decides he's worth more than the $11 million he's owed in 2013-14 and opts out of the final year of that contract, while letting Jennings walk in his turn as a restricted free agent.
In the meantime, they traded a guy who wasn't playing and a player in Jackson that was a team-killer on and off the court for two contributors. A host of new questions, and no real long-term certainty, but they've improved their team and payroll with a deal that could put them into the postseason. Hard to argue with this move.