As the NBA Finals matchup between the Warriors and Cavaliers approaches, the Bucks have recently made headlines after its GM, John Hammond, left the organization in order to accept the General Manager position in Orlando. Regardless of who the next GM for the Bucks is, there are several adjustments that need to be made to the active roster if the Bucks want to have any realistic chance of dethroning LeBron in the midst of his reign. Here are some suggestions:
Move on from Greg Monroe
The Bucks made a relative splash in the 2015 offseason when they signed forward Greg Monroe to a three-year, $50 million maximum contract. Monroe has played well with the Bucks and averaged 11.7 points per game along with 6.6 rebounds this past season. However, it is likely he will test free agency again due to the increase in teams’ salary caps and opt out of his contract this offseason. Logically, if Timofey Mozgov can receive a four-year contract worth $64 million with the Lakers, then Monroe will definitely make a pretty penny during the 2017 or 2018 offseason.
Therefore, it only makes sense for the Bucks to potentially sign and trade him for prospects while they still can before he leaves. If Monroe chooses to accept his player option and return, which is highly unlikely, Monroe only has one year left on his current deal which makes him a very attractive commodity as a potential rental player for either a championship contender that could use some veteran experience off the bench or a rebuilding team that might want him in order to stack up “dead” contracts to create more cap space during the following offseason.
Personally, I also cannot see Monroe being an integral part of a championship contending team. No offense to Monroe, who has established quite an NBA niche for himself, but I just do not think he has the athleticism required to be an elite player in the modern NBA. He lacks the quickness and lateral agility to guard on the perimeter and is a relatively pedestrian rim protector averaging only 0.6 blocks per game during his seven year NBA career.
Monroe did play extremely well in the playoffs by averaging 13.7 points per game along with 7.3 rebounds. For the majority of the series with the Raptors, he was matched up against Jonas Valanciunas who, like Monroe, lacks the ability to shoot from three and lacks quickness compared to other centers around the league. I think that Monroe’s playoff success was the result of a favorable matchup rather than being solely based on elite play.
As the Bucks’ young core continues to develop and grow, it seems illogical to keep a player like Monroe on the roster for a few more seasons instead of giving extra minutes to 2016 first round pick Thon Maker, John Henson or even a cheaper and younger replacement through the draft. It would also save the Bucks around $17 million in cap space if he decides to opt out this offseason which can be used to address other roster concerns.
Monroe had a solid two years in Milwaukee but his exodus is required for this team to improve.
Improving the Bench
Statistically, the Bucks’ bench unit averaged the sixth most points per game of all NBA teams with 39 points per game this past season according to NBA.com. This bench consisted of big men like John Henson and Thon Maker while also having outside shooters such as Mirza Teletovic and Jason Terry. However, the bench got exposed in the playoffs for its lack of athleticism after Raptors guard Norman Powell averaged 12.4 points per game during the five games that he played in against the Bucks. Powell was a matchup nightmare for the Bucks due to his ability to shoot the three ball and his ability to drive to the lane with great speed. In the first round of the playoffs, Powell shot 90.9% from three point range and 55.6% from the floor. He was the X-factor of the series and was a huge reason why the Bucks were unable to advance to the second round.
The Bucks have several bench players who will become unrestricted free agents this offseason, most notably Jason Terry and Michael Beasley, and will need to revamp the bench in order to maintain its level of efficiency. Even if the Bucks re-sign Terry to another deal, he is already 39 years old. Do the Bucks really want their backup point guard to be a 39 year old journeyman who might be unable to handle the grind of another 82 game season at his age? Probably not. The Bucks need to go after another point guard who can play solid defense and help limit Terry’s extended minutes. In my opinion, the Bucks should go after Shaun Livingston or Patty Mills. Both of them have playoff experience that the current roster lacked this past season and can help make an immediate impact on the roster without costing a ridiculous amount of money.
The Bucks also need to add another small forward to the roster with Tony Snell likely headed towards free agency this offseason. They need someone who can hit threes and has the athleticism to guard on the perimeter at an above average level. At first look, I see two options. The first option is Otto Porter Jr. from the Wizards. Porter will be a restricted free agent this offseason and will need a pretty hefty offer to prevent the Wizards from re-signing him. However, I think that he is a future star in the league. Porter has the ability to hit the three ball at an efficient rate (43.4% this past season) and has the length to be a phenomenal defensive player in this league. It is unlikely that the Wizards will not re-sign him no matter what, but I think that the Bucks should do whatever is possible to make that happen. The second option is a lot cheaper in Gerald Green. This past season, Green averaged 5.6 points per game in approximately 11.4 minutes per game throughout his 47 game tenure in Boston. Green’s athleticism is well-known and he has the 2007 Slam Dunk Competition trophy to prove it but a lot of people are unaware of his ability to shoot the ball at a high rate. In the Eastern Conference Finals against the Cavs, Green averaged 9.0 points per game on 54.5% shooting from the field and 56.3% from three point range in only 14 minutes per game. He has the ability to score a lot of points in a short period of time and would help provide the Bucks with a much needed spark off the bench.
Saving Money During Free Agency
As tempting as it may seem for the Bucks to go “all-in” this offseason and overpay for a supposed “superstar”, they should not do it. At first look, one might be tempted to throw tremendous sums of money to players like Kyle Lowry and Paul Millsap in the hopes that either of them will bring a championship to their respective teams. The only problem is that neither player is good enough to do that on their own.
Kyle Lowry is a fantastic guard in the NBA and is a part of one of the best backcourt duos in the NBA with DeMar Derozan. However, he has the tendency to vanish in the playoffs and is not good enough to carry his team by himself. Lowry is a great second option on a team but is not worth getting paid over $25 million a year if he will be unable to take you to the NBA finals.
Paul Millsap also falls into the same realm that Lowry does. He is a great player who can make several All-Star games but will never be good enough to lead his team to a title. Millsap had a great year with the Hawks and it resulted in a first round loss to the Wizards. I am sure that one team will probably pay Millsap somewhere north of $25 million per year but I can guarantee you that that team will not be winning a championship any time soon.
The question that the new Bucks GM has to ask himself is “Will this player help us beat LeBron in the Eastern Conference?” If the answer is no, then do not pay them a max contract. Both Lowry and Millsap will not help the Bucks beat LeBron and therefore the Bucks should not waste their money trying to get them. The only two free agents this offseason who could potentially help the Bucks dethrone LeBron singlehandedly are Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. There is no chance that either of them will go to Milwaukee so the Bucks should keep their money in their pockets instead of chasing players who will help them lose in the second round instead of the first.
The Bucks are blessed with a ton of young talent who will continue to improve as the Cavs continue to age. With Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving under contract for a minimum of two more years, the Cavs will continue to dominate the Eastern Conference. The Bucks need to be patient and accept the reality that they will not win a title until LeBron, Kyrie and Kevin are no longer united on the same team. The Bucks need to steal a page from the Jazz’s playbook and spend a few seasons making smart free agent signings and improving the team through the draft in the hopes of remaining competitive now while also establishing the framework of a championship team in the post-prime LeBron era.