The tallest building in Milwaukee’s skyline is the U.S. Bank Center (also the tallest building in Wisconsin). On top of that building, we might as well put up a giant billboard with Giannis Antetokounmpo’s face on it: to signify how sky-high the Bucks’ expectations are with the ascent of their young Greek superstar. But with expectations comes responsibilities, and Milwaukee has an increased responsibility to do right by Giannis in order to keep this going. At the very least, the Bucks have to be deliberate and thoughtful about how they want to go about building the team.
If you want to nitpick, I’m sure you could find transactions the Bucks have made that, in hindsight, range anywhere from bad to egregious. John Henson has come around and is playing really well this season. His contract once looked like a wasteland. Now it seems rather team-friendly. He makes $11,422,536 this year, then it goes backwards in dollar amounts the next two seasons: $10,577,466 in 2018-19 and $9,732,396 in 2019-20. Compare that to some other big men around the league, combined with his improving play, and it’s something the Bucks can definitely live with. As for Matthew Dellavedova and Mirza Teletovic, paying those two a combined $20 million this year and next year, plus $9,607,500 the year after that, those are the contracts that kill potential contenders.
But for the most part, Milwaukee has done a good job building around Giannis.
Jason Kidd’s job security is a big point of debate amongst Bucks fans right now. But if nothing else, give him partial credit for Giannis’ development. Remember when Kidd directed Giannis to play some point guard in Summer League? It was laughed at. It turned out being a stroke of genius.
At some point, Milwaukee could likely have a best-player-in-the-world on its hands. It’s the easiest thing in the world to jump the gun on team-building and end up doing more harm than good.
The Bucks should use how Cleveland handled getting LeBron James out of high school as a template of what not to do. The Cavs surrounded a young LeBron with win-now veterans who not only didn’t help LeBron, they were actively working to prove they were better. If you look back on it now, the roster construction around young LeBron is kind of inexcusable. Always a roster chalk-full of overpriced, over-the-hill, ego-driven veterans.
Milwaukee can’t let that happen. And it feels like acquiring DeAndre Jordan might be one of those get-rich-quick moves that carry a good deal of risk with it.
Jordan can be in the last year of his contract, assuming he opts out of his player option for next season (at $24,119,025).
Now, the big caveat with all this is it all hugely depends on what the Bucks would have to give up for the Clippers to agree to a deal. Making the salaries work complicates things a bit, but the players Milwaukee (or at least fans) would give up are the following: Dellavedova, Henson, Teletovic (who is probably borderline untradable at the moment, given his health). In order to make it worth their while, L.A. would probably ask for somebody back of the Malcolm Brogdon, Tony Snell, Khris Middleton ilk. Or at least a decent draft pick or two.
However you work it – unless you’re giving the bare minimum trade of Henson and Dellavedova – does DeAndre Jordan give Milwaukee a better chance to make it out of the East in the playoffs? Probably not. Jordan’s a great rim protector and has a good amount of strengths, but has some weaknesses too. Are we even sure Jordan’s a better rim protector than Giannis? Jordan is bigger, but probably a little less athletic and more plodding than Henson, is that a good fit for the uber-athletic Bucks? Even at his best, it just doesn’t make up the gulf between the Cavs in the East and everybody else.
(I know, I know, Milwaukee just beat Cleveland … but if you’re willing to mortgage the future to make a run this season, more power to you. But just remember how horrible the “go for it” move of acquiring J.J. Redick for 20 games turned out.)
So we’re still acquiring DeAndre Jordan, great! But doesn’t that mean, in order to maximize our return on investment, we’re in on the DeAndre Jordan free agent market? It might take a max (or close to it) to keep Jordan. In the program, you might as well replace Jordan’s “center” demarcation with “obsolete.” And by this time he’d be 30. Plus the Bucks are now really capped out, and would still have Jabari Parker’s contract figure out. That’s what Milwaukee is moving forward with? Giannis, Bledsoe, Jordan, Parker, and whoever’s left on the roster is your dynasty?
Instead, you could wait it out. When the summer comes around, if you want to make a run at DeAndre Jordan, cap room could probably be carved out if the guys who would’ve been involved in the trade are given away for nothing. At least this way, the Bucks get Jordan on their terms, not the Clippers’.
If there’s one move that, in a nutshell, could sabotage a team’s chances, wouldn’t that move be to overpay a declining center? Or can we settle for Henson giving a third of Jordan’s production at half or even a third of the cost? And shouldn’t the Bucks try out this “Giannis at the five” thing a little bit more before they commit assets and a bunch of cap space to a center who can’t shoot beyond ten feet at a time when being able to shoot beyond ten feet is at maximum importance?
When trades come up, it’s always easy to want your team to get the best player available in the trade. But it’s always more complicated than that. Milwaukee has done a really nice job of surround Giannis with talent that can grow with him, plus some veterans to lead the way.
Acquiring DeAndre Jordan – whether signed long-term or not – has ramifications that could define the direction of the franchise. Are you willing to put all your eggs in the DeAndre Jordan basket? If after reading this you still want to make the deal, that’s fine. But at least be thoughtful in your evaluation of the situation, not just be knee-jerk, in-the-moment about it. Sometimes the best moves can end up the moves a team turns down.