It’s one thing when a trade works handsomely for one party but leaves the other party in shambles. It’s quite another matter when a trade really doesn’t work for anyone.
As we enter the month of February, the 2016 trade deadline isn’t that far away — barely more than two weeks. As teams prepare to shake up their rosters — either with an eye toward the future or in an attempt to make a deep playoff run this season — it’s impossible to deny the roundly negative effects of one transaction from February of 2015.
Remember the three-team deal involving the Milwaukee Bucks, Phoenix Suns, and Philadelphia 76ers? No team fleeced the other… because no team has benefited from the deal.
In some trades, everyone wins. In others, Team A snookers Team B.
Then, there was the MIL-PHX-PHI juggling act of 2015. All three franchises are trying to recover, the Sixers being the most obvious example as they languish at the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
The starting point for this story of a deal gone wrong is Phoenix. The Suns fired Jeff Hornacek, thereby booting a very popular figure in the Phoenix community and eroding what little goodwill they still had with their fan base. The Suns’ attempt to pair Brandon Knight with Eric Bledsoe on the roster seemed to be a wrongheaded move at the time. The overload of ball-dominant guards turned out as well as most thought it would… which is to say, not at all.
Week after week, month after month, the enormity of the Suns’ missteps — guided by their ambitious yet unrealistic owner, Robert Sarver — has become more apparent. Hornacek’s exit from a city where he is deeply loved represents the full measure of the Knight trade’s failure.
Yet, while Phoenix burns and churns, it’s not as though the Bucks have fared any better.
If you needed to realize just how much Milwaukee has faltered this season, you were reminded of this reality Monday night, as a Sacramento Kings team playing without DeMarcus Cousins — mired in a four-game losing streak — handled the Bucks at home. Yes, the same Milwaukee team which very nearly authored a season sweep of the Golden State Warriors in Oakland last December could not win a game 82 miles away, in the sleepier city of Sacramento.
The Milwaukee Bucks thought they wouldn’t lose the winning edge they gained last season under head coach Jason Kidd. Milwaukee, with an abundance of length on defense, was a very difficult team to score against, especially if opponents didn’t have effective wing shooters or dynamic paint-attacking threats on their rosters. This season, however, the Bucks have not been nearly as stifling on defense, and their offense has not been able to compensate.
One problem for the Bucks has been the slow development (or perhaps non-development) of a very young Jabari Parker. One year after a severe injury, he should be given a pass in his young age. Nevertheless, the Bucks were expecting more from him, and to be fair to the franchise, that should not be held against them — neither the result of this season as it relates to Parker, or the expectation that he would contribute more.
However, the trade with the Suns and Sixers should be held against the Bucks. They had a given roster composition and, in the midst of what had been an overachieving 2014-2015 season, felt they needed to mess with it.
Plenty of commentators felt that this team — which was not the same since Brandon Knight left — was not going to do well in this season. I personally thought that a forest of trees to protect the rim would continue to make Milwaukee a formidable defensive fortress in the NBA, but that hasn’t happened. Given the erosion the Bucks have endured at the defensive end of the floor, new guard Michael Carter-Williams — while dazzling all of us once in a great while — has to be able to create more offense for his team on a consistent basis. The results are rather clear: He hasn’t been able to do that, starting with the fact that he just doesn’t have a big-league jumper.
Yes, Magic Johnson is a well-known example of a player who grew by leaps and bounds, chiefly because he polished his jump shot over time, and gave defenses many added reasons to extend on the perimeter. Magic’s improvement as a perimeter shooter thereby created more floor spacing for James Worthy, Byron Scott, and for Kareem’s skyhook off a post-up and subsequent dump-down.
Carter-Williams needs to make this transformation a reality in Milwaukee, but he and the franchise are just not there.
Yes, the Brandon Knight-Michael Carter-Williams-Miles Plumlee (don’t forget about him) deal didn’t work out for the Phoenix Suns, now with an interim coach in a season straight from hell.
This doesn’t mean the Milwaukee Bucks got the better end of that transaction. They might not be quite as bad as the Suns are — now or in the near future — but they’re certainly not where they want to be as another February trade deadline approaches.