The classic Trolley Problem positions you in a situation where you have to decide whether or not to change the route of a trolley bound to kill five people so that it only kills one. Variations of it are limitless, but the analogy seems apt for the track (no pun intended) the Bucks are on. There are many in the Bucks fanbase that believe as good as the Bucks are as currently constructed, there is little chance of truly challenging for a championship. So the question becomes do the Bucks veer their best record in the NBA trolley for the chance to add another star (defined in this piece as top 20 player)?
The easiest answer is to keep this trolley on the tracks, the Bucks are 39-13 why shake anything up? There is some risk in never trying to make changes if you think that you truly are capped out below contention. But are the Bucks? They seemingly match up well with the Warriors and there is always a chance of either an injury or someone leaving this summer. If the Warriors didn’t exist the Bucks would be pretty close to clear cut favorites for the NBA title. The Bucks have excelled so much this year because of how well the systems work on both ends, Bud has managed to out math the rest of the league fairly convincingly.
The counterpoint to that would be this regular season success is meaningless and because the Bucks lack a second star, and teams like Philly and Boston have more star power despite looking less cohesive. This argument holds some water to me, because defenses do tighten up some in the playoffs. That said it is tough to see this Bucks offense falling apart, because of how good the fit is. Whereas in Philly, Butler and Simmons are a tough fit (particularly on offense) that does not project to improve against the league’s best in the playoffs.
What would a trolley diversion even look like? The most commonly suggested ones include trading for Bradley Beal, or signing Kemba Walker this offseason. The problem with the majority of these is they involve letting Khris Middleton go for salary cap reasons or they involve bringing in a player the Bucks don’t have the assets for. The reason the Beal or Anthony Davis trade proposals fall flat is they often center around Middleton, a man who hit unrestricted free agency in a few short months. What do the Wizards or Pelicans stand to gain by trading their best player for a worse All-Star that will either leave at seasons end or become incredibly expensive? The short answer is nothing, if you can’t win with Anthony Davis as your best player, I don’t think you can win with Khris as your best player. The sign Kemba Walker, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, or Klay Thompson this summer takes make some sense, but they require the Bucks to not only convince one of those stars to sign in Milwaukee but the Bucks would also have to waive the cap holds (and likely lose) Bledsoe or Middleton. Which is where this trolley problem becomes interesting, are you willing to risk losing one of the stars of this great team, for a chance at an even bigger fish?
If you strike out this summer you might end up driving the trolley off the cliff and end up with no other top 40 players around Giannis. Is the upside worth the risk? That is the decision Jon Horst will have to make both this week and again this summer. If the Bucks re-sign their core and try to keep everyone in Milwaukee, they might have lower title odds, but they know they will be an elite team again next year. There are no scenarios here that are risk free, which is what makes building an NBA team so fascinating. So what will Jon Horst do with his trolley?