Milwaukee Bucks: 5 Ways Trade Deadline Affected Their Playoff Run

Nov 4, 2015; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34), guard Michael Carter-Williams (5) and forward Khris Middleton during the game against the Philadelphia 76ers at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Milwaukee won 91-87. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The Milwaukee Bucks had a quiet trade deadline, but that didn’t mean they were numb to the activity. What moves made and unmade will affect this team’s playoff run?

The Milwaukee Bucks made their foray into the trade market a few weeks ahead of the deadline, trading center Miles Plumlee – and more specifically, his $50 million contract – to the Charlotte Hornets for Spencer Hawes and Roy Hibbert.

Neither Hawes nor Hibbert have played a minute for the Bucks, and Thursday the Bucks sent out Hibbert to the Denver Nuggets for a pick unlikely to convey. With the Bucks unlikely to play Hawes the rest of the year, their trades will likely not affect their team’s success this season.

That does not mean that the trade deadline had no impact on the Bucks, however. Other teams made trades – or didn’t – that affected Milwaukee’s chances at making the postseason. Not every trade did of course. While the New Orleans Pelicans adding DeMarcus Cousins had shockwaves throughout the league, it did not directly impact Milwaukee and their playoff hopes.

But many of the teams surrounding Milwaukee in the standings were involved in the trade deadline, making deals or deciding not to. Here are five trades that did or did not happen which had clear repercussions for the Bucks’ stretch run.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Feb 24, 2017; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Taj Gibson (22) reacts after dunking the ball against the Los Angeles Lakers during the fourth quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Chicago Bulls and Oklahoma City Trade

Perhaps no trade had a larger impact on the Milwaukee Bucks this season than the deal between the Chicago Bulls and Oklahoma City Thunder. The Bulls sent Taj Gibson, Doug McDermott and a second round pick to Oklahoma for Cameron Payne, Joffrey Lauvergne and Anthony Morrow.

Chicago made the move to secure a point guard of the future in Payne, a position where they have a number of bodies but no answers. While many would debate whether the Bulls succeeded in the desire, the reality either way is clear: This team is significantly worse than it was prior to making the trade.

This is important because Chicago lies just three games up on Milwaukee, clinging to eighth place in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls pulled off an overtime victory at home over the Phoenix Suns Friday night, but the schedule only gets harder down the stretch. 

Doug McDermott was by far the best shooter in the rotation, making 1.3 three-pointers per game on 37.3 percent shooting. While Nikola Mirotic is theoretically a stretch-4, he is shooting just 30.7 percent from beyond the arc this season. Rookie Paul Zipser is hitting just 28.3 percent of his triples.

Gibson was the team’s best interior defender, a stout force in the lane and a rebounding machine. Lauvergne will certainly not be able to replicate his impact in the frontcourt, and the Bulls’ collection of young bigs – Bobby Portis and Christiano Felicio – have not shown an ability either at this stage in their careers.

If the Bulls struggle to defend the rim and to shoot from outside, their tenuous hold on a playoff berth will peel away, leaving a team like Milwaukee an opening to overtake them in the standings. If Dwyane Wade needs games off, Jimmy Butler’s injury history rears its head, or any of a number of realistic things afflicts this team, it could fall farther than that.

Nov 27, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard Lou Williams (23) attempts a shot defneded by Atlanta Hawks forward Mike Muscala (left) during the first quarter at Staples Center. The Los Angeles Lakers won 109-94. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Lou Williams to Houston

The Los Angeles Lakers overhauled their entire organizational structure just two days before the trade deadline, appointing Magic Johnson head of basketball operations and agent Rob Pelinka the new general manager, replacing Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak, respectively.

In the hours immediately following the shakeup, the Lakers traded guard Lou Williams to the Houston Rockets for a 2017 first round pick and wing Corey Brewer.

Whether this pick simply gives Houston guard insurance in case of an injury, or vaults them into an all-time great offense, the Bucks do not play Houston again this season and therefore are not directly affected by the Rockets’ improvement.

It’s the ripple effect that hits Milwaukee, first stopping in Charlotte, NC. The Hornets, 1.5 games back of Milwaukee, were rumored to be interested in Williams. He would have filled a role similar to Jeremy Lin last season, who helped Charlotte fight to 48 wins and a Round 1 Game 7 against the Miami Heat.

Missing out on Williams, the Hornets did not make a move on trade deadline day. Whether that was a lack of interest or a lack of ammunition, Charlotte may be regretting its decision not to add firepower.

In an overtime collapse to the Detroit Pistons Thursday night, the Hornets’ bench shot 6-for-21. In the fourth quarter and overtime, no player other than Kemba Walker made a single field goal from outside the restricted area. Playing across the country in Houston,  Lou Williams shot 7-11 from three-point range for 27 points in his Rockets debut.

Charlotte’s loss may be Milwaukee’s gain. If the offense continues to struggle without a reliable second scorer, they will continue to lose games because the defense has not been up to its usually elite levels under coach Steve Clifford. If the Hornets fall back, Milwaukee will have no clear challengers as it tries to unseat one of the teams currently in the Eastern Conference’s top eight.

Feb 16, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers forward Paul George (13) brings the ball up court against the Washington Wizards at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Washington defeats Indiana 111-98. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Pacers Stood Pat

Heading into deadline day on Thursday, the Indiana Pacers seemed to have two options. They could have used their assets to add strong pieces to the rotation to put the best possible roster around star wing Paul George. Their second options was to trade Paul George to maximize his value ahead of his unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2018.

Talks with Denver, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Boston all occurred to gauge the packages available for George, but ultimately the All-Star forward stayed put. However the Pacers also failed to make any other moves to improve the roster, keeping their rotation intact barring an addition from a 10-day contract or signing a buyout candidate.

The Indiana Pacers are 30-28, four games up on the Milwaukee Bucks and currently in sixth place in the East. By keeping Paul George, the Pacers have ensured they will not collapse this season. Replacing him with a bundle of young players and draft picks may have doomed the Pacers to the lottery.

But Indiana also did not add any pieces, and that means they may struggle to stay ahead of Milwaukee if the Bucks can go on a run. Another thin team, if anyone in the starting rotation gets hurt the Pacers could leave themselves vulnerable to not only losing their playoff position, but losing Paul George down the line.

Feb 24, 2017; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Jahlil Okafor (8) drives toward the net during the third quarter of the game against the Washington Wizards at the Wells Fargo Center. Philadelphia won the game 120-112. Mandatory Credit: John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

Jahlil Okafor was not traded

Jahlil Okafor was perhaps the most nearly traded player in NBA history. The Portland Trail Blazers and Denver Nuggets were so close to dealing for Okafor that he was held out of a pair of games earlier in the month. Then Portland and Denver decided that rather than fighting each other, they could simply trade with each other. Okafor and the Philadelphia 76ers were left out in the cold.

Then over the All-Star Break, the New Orleans Pelicans were on the cusp of a trade, offering a package based on Alexis Ajinca and a first round pick for the right to slot Okafor alongside All-Star Anthony Davis. Then they found their package of flotsam could land them a much better center, and Boogie Cousins made his way instead to the Big Easy.

In the days leading into the trade deadline, the Eastern Conference joined the rumor mill as both Indiana and Chicago were tossed around as possible trade partners. The Pacers felt they didn’t have enough ground-bound defensive liabilities on their bench, while the Bulls were seeking every way to reach 100 points without making a three-pointer.

When the smoke cleared neither team traded for Okafor, something that most likely hurt Milwaukee’s postseason chances. While the jury is still out on whether Okafor will become an impactful player – last season he did average 17 points per game on efficient shooting for Philadelphia – he was not going to help a team win this season, and most likely would hurt them.

While Chicago still managed to find a poor defender at center in their trade with Oklahoma City, the Pacers will continue to rely on Al Jefferson and Kevin Seraphim as bench centers. Neither team has strong alternatives to Okafor, but they did not spend assets acquiring him either.

Feb 24, 2017; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Jahlil Okafor (8) drives toward the net during the third quarter of the game against the Washington Wizards at the Wells Fargo Center. Philadelphia won the game 120-112. Mandatory Credit: John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

Roy Hibbert Traded To Denver Nuggets

Snuck between discussions of the protections on Dallas’ 2017 first round pick and confused members of media trying to understand why Chicago, and not Oklahoma City, was the one giving up a second round pick, the Milwaukee Bucks made a deadline deal. Roy Hibbert was sent to the Denver Nuggets for a top-55 protected 2019 second-round pick.

Interestingly, the trade that the Milwaukee Bucks actually took part in may have been the one of those mentioned in this piece with the least true impact on the remainder of their season. Roy Hibbert is a shell of his former self at both ends of the court, and had yet to play a minute for the Bucks in the handful of weeks he was on the team.

Two small shockwaves radiate out from the move for Milwaukee. First, removing Roy Hibbert from the roster eliminates any temptation for head coach Jason Kidd to play Hibbert. While he does have Eastern Conference playoff experience, his athleticism has eroded to the point where he is not an impactful player anymore. Kidd would be better served finding other options at center, including putting Antetokounmpo at the pivot, before giving Hibbert significant minutes.

The other shockwave is the open roster spot Hibbert’s absence opened up. The Milwaukee Bucks filled it for the next 10 days with Axel Toupane, a forward out of France who has played for the Raptors 905 in the D-League this season. Affording themselves a look at the future while not sacrificing the present is a luxury that the open roster spot affords them.

The Milwaukee Bucks are not a different team than they were at the start of the week, but the Eastern Conference around them has changed in subtle ways. As they seek to make a step into the postseason, the playing field is different and will afford new challenges and opportunities over the final two months of the season.

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