By RICK SOLEM
The NBA draft is Thursday and news has started to swirl as to what the Milwaukee Bucks will do.
But that news has nothing to do with the Bucks’ No. 2 pick. With the news of Joel Embiid’s injury, nobody knows who’s going first to Cleveland or who Milwaukee would take next.
The baffling news over the weekend revolves around the Bucks’ current roster.
First, they’re taking offers on 6-foot-10 forward Ersan Ilyasova, looking to get a late first-round pick back.
Second, the Bucks are also shopping 22-year-old point guard Brandon Knight and 23-year-old power forward John Henson, according to the Journal Times.
The first bit of news wasn’t too surprising – almost last year’s news – though a late first-round pick for a guy capable of 20 and 10, while stretching the floor with his 3-point shooting is not enough. But more on that later.
Trading Henson – an old-school power, low-post forward who will command a double-team in the near future – and Knight, who just proved he’s capable of putting a team on his back – even if that team only won 15 games … someone had to take on the scoring – at this point in their careers is just baffling, which makes the story seem far-fetched, siting nobody in an NBA front office with the rumors.
Both are still on their rookies deals, which is huge in today’s market. And both made strides last season. Knight went from averaging 13 to 18 per game, while increasing his assists (4.9 avg.) and his field-goal percentage (.422).
Henson shot 54 percent from the field, averaging 11.1 points, 7.1 rebounds in just 27 minutes a game.
The coaching staff saw fit to play free-agent-to-be Jeff Adrien down the stretch over Henson for some odd reason. The same coaches who decided rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo – a main cog in the Bucks’ future – only 25 minutes a game, despite having no other small forwards needing to get minutes and develop in a lost season.
Just because the Bucks can’t find anyone to simply take – for free – center Larry Sanders, who’s been injured, in bar brawls (and injured because of bar brawls) and supposedly headed to rehab this summer, doesn’t mean you throw away other guys, because the team was putrid the season before (15-67).
The alternative should not be to trade the power forward who loves Milwaukee or the point guard who you rescued from Detroit, where he was made fun of for trying to block 6-foot-11 DeAndre Jordan on an alley-oop.
Last I checked, it’s pretty hard to find a guy who doesn’t care about his image or being “posterized,” and instead tries to stop an easy basket.
And it may be even harder to find players that love Milwaukee, unless you throw too much money at them (Sanders – $44 million; O.J. Mayo – $24; Zaza Pachulia – $15.6 million).
Knight and Henson are guys the Bucks should be building around. Ilyasova, too, if they work an offense through him, like the Dallas Mavs do, Dirk Nowitzki. It hasn’t happened in two years since he signed a five-year, $45-million deal – thanks to ball-hogging Brandon Jennings/Monta Ellis and injuries.
Ilyasova has two years left at $7.9 million per and a team option for a third. A contract a lot of teams would love to have for a stretch-four that will also crash the boards.
The Bucks will likely make at least one move before the draft, as teams like Phoenix have too many first-round picks.
But selling Ilyasova short to a team that’s desperate to get rid of its pick isn’t the right thing to do. The Bucks should value him and their young studs more highly in trade or just roll with who they have now and who they draft at No. 2.
Last season was bad, but if you really think about it, it makes perfect sense. Nobody is talking about how Philadelphia was so bad and needs to revamp their entire roster.
The Bucks were in the same predicament, except their players got experience together.
The Bucks’ entire backcourt was revamped last season, including adding a rookie SF and a third-year PG. Basketball is a team sport that relies heavily on being comfortable with each other and the system. The roster is also made up of players little NBA experience.
It was the perfect combination for failure, especially when veterans that were brought in to show those guys the ropes, didn’t buy in and started looking for theirs and only theirs (Caron Butler). And other veterans decided to throw bottles of boos at people in the bar (Sanders).
It’s not time to panic, it’s time to realize there’s no place to go but up and the foundation of this team is already in place. It’s only a matter of cohesion and adding the right pieces (or subtracting, if need be).