Why is a top 5 pick in 2014 essential to the Bucks future in Milwaukee?

The Bucks have done a nice job remaking the team during the 2013 off-season. They have acquired a number of young players and high-character veterans to complement their existing young players of Larry Sanders (age 24), John Henson (22) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (age 18).   However, the hard truth of the matter is that Sanders was selected with the 15th overall pick, Henson with the 14th overall pick and Giannis with the 15th overall pick of their respective drafts.  As we saw in the discussion on top five draft picks, the odds of any of these three players making at least two All-NBA teams is highly remote.

The Bucks have positioned their new strategy on these three players being part of a core that will turn the team into compelling “must-see” basketball that will help garner public support for a new arena.  That to us seems like a losing proposition. ESPN agrees.  Every few months, they do a feature called the “Futures Rankings” where they assess all the assets a franchise possess in the form of players and draft picks to determine which teams have the brightest future.  The September 2013 rankings put the Bucks at 28th out of 30 teams.

In his recent column on the Bucks, NBA writer Howard Beck noted:

“Other than Larry Sanders, a defensive dynamo with a bad temper, the Bucks have no foundational players and no clear future stars. Their best hope is Giannis Antetokounmpo, an 18-year-old rookie who needs much development.”

Despite the drafting of Sanders, Henson, and Giannis, even the experts don’t see much reason for optimism that the Bucks will turn things around in a meaningful way.

However, the Bucks have within their power this season the opportunity to truly remake the franchise.  Virtually every draft expert considers the upcoming 2014 draft as being perhaps one of the best in the past two decades.  ESPN Draft expert Chad Ford believes that there are seven to eight players that will be selected in the top ten picks that have strong all-star potential.  The consensus number one overall pick, Andrew Wiggins, is being compared with LeBron James.  However, some experts think that NCAA freshmen Jabari Parker and Julius Randle could be better than Wiggins. If your team is going to be bad, this is the year to do it in.  The rewards are potentially franchise changing.

Further, the Bucks possess a player in Ersan Ilyasova who has significant trade value around the league. Of equal importance, Ilyasova is the type of player who is going to help the Bucks win a few more games, while at the same time blocking playing time for the power forward of the future, John Henson.  A sharp organization would immediately trade Ilysova for a young prospect or draft pick while his value is at its highest point.

Do we suggest the Bucks intentionally lose games? Not at all. However, the Bucks have enough young talent that if they give their young players significant developmental minutes, the record should take care of itself.  However, we strongly fear that the Bucks organization will do their usual routine of playing crafty veterans such as Zaza Pachulia, Ersan Ilyasova, Caron Butler and Luke Ridnour heavy minutes in order for the team to win approximately 30 to 36 games, or just enough to either miss the playoffs or get swept by the Heat in the first round again.  And, come next summer, the team’s long-term fortunes will not be appreciably better, nor will the team’s public support for a new arena.

The crafty veterans mentioned above might be of interest to teams in playoff contention. Those players are not going to be part of the Buck’s long-term future, but they could help the Bucks have a long-term future if they are used creatively in trades over the next 90-days.

The Bucks have an opportunity to truly re-position the roster for significant long-term success if they trade these veterans and play the youngsters.  We hope we’ve made the case as to why those actions are critical to the long-term future of the franchise in Milwaukee.

The Bucks concept of “being competitive” has hurt them terribly the past two years

For those that think rebuilding is a hard proposition, let’s take a trip in the way-back machine to January of 2012.  After Andrew Bogut went down for the season with a broken ankle on January 25th of that year, any chance of the Bucks being a relevant team that season went away.  At that time, a number of fans advocated for the team to trade Bogut for a “future asset” such as draft picks or promising young players.  Further, a number of fans figured that with only three months left in a strike shortened season, the Bucks should play their youth and aim for a high draft pick in the talent-rich 2012 draft.

Instead, the Bucks attempted to stay “competitive” and made an ill-advised trade of Bogut for veteran Monta Ellis.  A side part of this trade was the requirement that the Golden State Warriors take the contract of yet another failed Bucks veteran player acquisition, namely Stephen Jackson. The result was bringing in a player in Ellis who absolutely didn’t fit, and the team finished with a 31-35 record, just bad enough to be unwatchable and not bad enough to get a top-five draft pick.

The Bucks had an alternate route they could have taken.  While yes, it is easy for fans on a website to be “armchair” GM’s, the Houston Rockets were interested in acquiring Bogut.  Some reports had the Bucks with the ability to acquire the Rockets 2012 first round pick, which ended up being the 14th overall and later acquired by the Bucks to draft John Henson.  Thus, John Henson could have been obtained for Bogut, and the team would still have their own draft pick to select an additional player. Had the Bucks “gone young” that year, their record would have suffered, but they would have been better positioned to acquire a higher draft pick than the number 12 overall selection that they did receive.  Higher up in the draft were talents such as Anthony Davis, Bradley Beal or even Andre Drummond, who inexplicably fell to the ninth overall pick.

The truly depressing scenario was one posited by a Bucks “insider” who has insisted that the Bucks had on the table the opportunity for the team to trade Andrew Bogut to the Warriors for Stephen Curry and Kwame Brown. According to the story, the Bucks organization was concerned about Curry’s ankle issues and did not want to take a chance on a player with Curry’s injury history. The source further noted that the Bucks wanted to obtain players who could immediately help the team with a playoff push during the remaining second half of the 2011-12 season rather than obtain an injured asset like Curry.  If this account is accurate, it would be another example of the Bucks inability to focus on the long-term best interests of the franchise in exchange for some nebulous  short-term gain.

2012-13 Season – Another missed opportunity

The Bucks compounded their problems with the “be competitive” strategy last season.  By retaining veterans such as Monta Ellis and Ersan Ilyasova and bringing in other vets such as Marquis Daniels, it blocked the development time for second year player Tobias Harris.  Since being traded to Orlando (for yet another low-impact veteran JJ Redick), Harris has flourished with the playing time provided him by the Magic.

The wiser approach would have been to try and trade Ellis or Ilyasova for an additional first round draft pick.  That additional pick could have perhaps garnered the Bucks the ability to draft point guard Dennis Schroeder, whom they reportedly liked, in addition to Giannis Antetokounmpo.

What Milwaukee fan wouldn’t be excited about a core of Larry Sanders, John Henson, Tobias Harris, Dennis Schroeder, Giannis Antetokounmpo and an additional high 2012 draft pick (ranging from Anthony Davis to Andre Drummond) taking the court at the BMO Harris Bradley Center this fall?

While we acknowledge that the above scenario has a lot of “moving parts” to it, the same story repeats itself every year.  The Bucks always acquire enough “veterans” to win their 30-40 games while never positioning the club for true long-term relevance.  As veteran NBA writer Steve Aschburner noted “I took the Giannis pick as a sign they were going to do it the hard way but the right way for rebuilding but then they signed Mayo, Delfino and Zaza…One hand is doing well and the other hand is working against it”

As the Bucks bring in these washed up veterans year after year, it comes at a heavy financial price. While some think the contract mistakes of Drew Gooden, Corey Maggette, John Salmons, Stephen Jackson, etc are in the past, this offseason the team committed $6.2 million to Carlos Delfino, $15.5 million to Zaza Pachulia and approximately $8 million to Caron Butler, none of whom are going to turn around the fortunes of the franchise.  That collective $30 million dollars could have better been saved for future payroll flexibility or even contributed as part of the team’s “equity” towards a new arena.

The “Close” to our appeal

As we saw in the 1980′s, the Bucks do not have to win titles to be extremely successful. However they have to put a product on the court that can be a consistent 50-game winner. The alternative to consistent winning is to give fans hope in the form of exciting young players acquired with top five draft picks.  Unfortunately the Bucks provide fans with neither.  And that in a nutshell explains why we are here today and the purpose for this website.

We remain hopeful on the Bucks long-term future in Milwaukee, however meaningful changes need to take place in how the team is operated for that to happen.  We are grateful to Senator Kohl for his commitment to the team and to the City.  Without him, there are no Milwaukee Bucks. However a segment of the core fan base realizes that the concept of the Bucks being here long-term will not happen unless the team embarks on a new management strategy.

So as the 2013-14 season unfolds, we are hopeful that the team truly will engage in a meaningful and well planned front office overhaul and rebuilding project.  It is the only path to re-energizing the dormant fan base, selling out the Bradley Center and helping to ensure the future of the franchise.