The closer the calendar gets to Thursday’s NBA trade deadline, the more rumors get thrown against the wall, with only a fraction of them actually sticking.
Everything heard this time of year must be taken with heavy skepticism, but those plugged in around the league can usually pinpoint the teams making the most phone calls. This year, three teams have been listed by many as appearing to be the most active, one of them being the Milwaukee Bucks.
Mix in all of the tradable parts the Bucks have on their roster and the history of general manager John Hammond – he’s made deadline deals in three of his four years in Milwaukee – and the odds the Bucks make some sort of late move are pretty good.
The decisions Hammond makes before the 2 p.m. Central deadline Thursday could change the face and direction of the franchise. Because of their contract situations, guards Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis have found their names swirling in rumors for the past couple of weeks, and that chatter is only going to heat up in the coming hours.
The Bucks are more likely to deal Ellis because his future is not controlled by the team. This offseason, he can opt out of the final year of his contract that would pay him $11 million and become an unrestricted free agent.
Jennings will be a restricted free agent, which means the Bucks could match an offer sheet he signs with another team. A report surfaced last week saying Jennings wanted out of Milwaukee after an agent switch and had “irreconcilable differences” with the organization. Jennings quickly dispelled those rumors and said those words never came out of his mouth.
“Brandon and I talk all the time,” Bucks coach Jim Boylan said. “I talk to a lot of people around the league, a lot of people around Brandon and I don’t get that feeling from him, I don’t get that feeling from his people.
“I saw that quote. It’s just a source, whoever it is. That doesn’t carry much weight with me. I just know my conversations with Brandon. He’s here. He’s a Milwaukee Buck.”
The Bucks have been linked to available Atlanta forward Josh Smith but would likely have to give up Ellis to get him. If such deal is on the table, Hammond is faced with an interesting decision because both Smith and Ellis can be unrestricted free agents after the season.
Aside from the two big-name guards, Milwaukee has other tradable pieces other teams would be interested in. Guard Beno Udrih and center Samuel Dalembert have coveted expiring contracts and could be packaged or flipped separately.
With so many options, it’s impossible to predict how the Bucks’ roster will look come Thursday night, but it’s apparent that something needs to be done. As currently assembled, Milwaukee’s roster has shown flashes of being a contender in the Eastern Conference but has not been able to sustain momentum.
After Tuesday’s overtime loss in Brooklyn, the Bucks are 1.5 games behind seventh-seeded Boston and five full games behind the fourth-seeded Nets. A No. 8 seed would set up a first-round matchup with the defending champion Miami Heat.
“We need to find our spirit again,” Boylan said after Tuesday’s game. “This shouldn’t be that we have to get down the way we’ve been getting down in order to kind of get our motors going. We have to turn it on right from the beginning.
“We need everybody playing hard. Right now, that’s not happening. Until we do that, we’re going nowhere.”
When there’s a struggle to find consistent effort and energy, tweaks to the roster are usually forthcoming. In 2010, Milwaukee was 24-28 at the trade deadline and sitting in ninth place in the East. Hammond shook things up by trading for John Salmons and the Bucks went 22-8 the rest of the way to finish 46-36 and in the sixth playoff spot.
The difference between now and then lies in what Hammond had to give up to make that move. Hakim Warrick had little value, and the Bucks had given up on Joe Alexander panning out. Last year, Milwaukee took a chance on pairing Ellis with Jennings, knowing both could potentially leave the franchise in the near future.
Though the duo hasn’t been a failure, the pairing also hasn’t worked to perfection. Now Hammond is faced with the decision whether now is the time to break things up or to continue to go ahead with Jennings and Ellis, hoping the team can get hot and improve its playoff seed before facing an uncertain offseason.
The next two days will be not only interesting but critical to the franchise. The only thing for certain is Hammond, fresh off signing his own contract extension, will be the man tasked with deciding which way to take the Bucks.