Why the Bucks acquired George Hill and what the trade means for the Cavs, Wizards

George Hill should fill a valuable role for the Bucks. (AP)
George Hill should fill a valuable role for the Bucks. (AP)

In a move that signals a playoff push on one side and the confirmation of a multiyear rebuild on another, the Milwaukee Bucks are trading Matthew Dellavedova, John Henson, a future first-round pick and future second-round pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers for George Hill. The Washington Wizards will also be involved in the deal and will acquire Sam Dekker from Cleveland in exchange for Jason Smith and a future second-round pick.

Milwaukee Bucks prep for playoff push

The Bucks have played most of the season without a traditional backup point guard behind starter Eric Bledsoe. Dellavedova has been out of the rotation for the bulk of the year, leaving the backup position in flux. Former starting point guard Malcolm Brogdon has started the season at the two-guard position and is generally the first player coach Mike Budenholzer subs out of the game. Then Brogdon comes back in as the nominal backup for Bledsoe.

With both Bledsoe and Brogdon hovering around 30 minutes per game — and both having injury histories — finding a quality backup was important.

Enter Hill, who immediately becomes the backup swing guard the Bucks have lacked this season. He’ll slot in behind both starters and will give Budenholzer a veteran he can trust. Acquiring Hill also affords Budenholzer the opportunity to spot Bledsoe or Brogdon rest days throughout the season.

In addition to acquiring a solid veteran for a playoff run, Milwaukee cleared out some long-term salary obligations for both Dellavedova and Henson. They are on the books for a guaranteed total of $20 million for the 2019-20 season. With some expensive deals already on the cap sheet for Giannis Antetokounmpo and Tony Snell, and Bledsoe, Brogdon and burgeoning star Khris Middleton hitting free agency this summer, the Bucks were facing some difficult decisions around the luxury tax. Clearing $20 million for two non-critical players is nice work by general manager Jon Horst. Upgrading a hole in the rotation makes it even better.

The picks Milwaukee are sending are enough down the line enough that the Bucks can take a “we’ll deal with it when we get there” approach. They still owe a protected pick to the Phoenix Suns for when they acquired Bledsoe last season, which is why the obligation to Cleveland is down the road. But if the Bucks are the team they hope to be while Antetokounmpo is under contract, that Cavs first-round pick should be a relatively late one.

Hill has just $1 million of his $18 million salary guaranteed for 2019-20. Depending on how free agency goes with Bledsoe and Brogdon, Hill could be back next year. If Bledsoe and/or Brogdon returns, Milwaukee can move on from Hill and eat his small guarantee without much worry.

The Cavs could eventually look to move Kevin Love. (AP)
The Cavs could eventually look to move Kevin Love. (AP)

Cleveland Cavs in full rebuild mode

The Cavaliers completed their second trade of the season after they sent veteran Kyle Korver to the Utah Jazz last month. In that deal Cleveland swapped Korver for Alec Burks and picked up a couple of minor draft assets. The Bucks trade signals the Cavs aren’t looking to rebuild on the fly.

Eating $20 million for Dellavedova and Henson for next season indicates that Cleveland is in this for a longer rebuild than maybe they previously thought. While both are still capable of being productive backups, that isn’t why GM Koby Altman acquired them. He’s taking on their contracts to pick up draft picks. It’s not about winning with the current talent on the roster. It’s about adding to players like Collin Sexton and Larry Nance to move this thing forward.

When Cleveland fired coach Ty Lue early this season to push forward with a youth movement, this was always the endgame. Expect Altman to continue to look for a trade for J.R. Smith, no matter how small the asset return is. The franchise could also flip any of the players they acquired this year (Burks, Dellavedova, Henson) because they completed the deals early enough that they can aggregate their salaries with another player for a deal before the trade deadline on Feb. 7.

And of course, this all calls into question the future of Kevin Love in Cleveland, and to a lesser degree that of Tristan Thompson. Both big men still have value despite their bloated contracts. If Altman can find a trade to clear their salaries, or in exchange for other bad deals while picking up young talent or draft picks, he’ll move quickly.

The Cavaliers played the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday, and it was a drastically different atmosphere from the team’s pressure-packed Finals battles. It’s a tough pill to swallow, because it will be a while before Cleveland is in that territory again, but this is a necessary step. And it’s a step the Cavs have been building toward since firing Lue in later October.

Washington lessens 2018-19 luxury-tax bill

The Wizards jumped in the trade at the last minute, swapping Smith and a future second in exchange for Dekker. The trade will save Washington approximately $2.7 million in salary and takes it down to being just $6.4 million over the luxury-tax line. This amounts to a savings of approximately $5 million in tax penalties. If the Wizards make any further trades this year, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that they can avoid being a taxpayer for 2018-19.

Given that Washington is reportedly considering trades for high-priced players such as John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr., it’s likely that they would take back less salary in any deal. The Wizards were taxpayers in 2017-18 and would love to avoid paying the tax for a second consecutive year. That could allow them to make moves further down the line and avoid the harsher repeater tax, which kicks in if a team is a taxpayer in three consecutive seasons or three of the previous four seasons. Trading a second-round pick to lessen tax payments by a considerable margin is good work, especially when you consider neither Smith nor Dekker is likely to make much of an on-court impact this season.

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