The Milwaukee Bucks are expected to let Monta Ellis get rich somewhere else. In addition to that, they have also just sent J.J. Redick to the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for, well, nothing substantial (two second-round picks). With a gaping hole at shooting guard now glaring, it’s been reported that the Bucks are finalizing a deal with free agent O.J. Mayo. This move certainly fits an immediate need. Assuming the Bucks re-sign Brandon Jennings, Mayo would fit nicely in the backcourt as a knockdown shooter who isn’t as ball dominant as a guy like Ellis was. But is he a better fit than J.J. Redick would have been had he been given an opportunity here? And what exactly is the direction this franchise is choosing to go?
O.J. Mayo is a nice player. Is he the stud many projected him to be while he was dominating as a prep school prospect? No. Is he the franchise-changing guard the Memphis Grizzlies thought they were getting when they flipped Kevin Love for him on draft day in 2008? Of course not. But Mayo has proven to be a solid rotation player who can shoot (40.7 percent from deep with Dallas last season) and, at times, be a second option when the situation presents itself.
Herein lies the problem for the Bucks. The addition of O.J. Mayo may improve this team in 2013-14, but it certainly doesn’t make them contenders. With the Boston Celtics and possibly Atlanta Hawks headed into the tank, the Bucks may have a shot at a sixth seed in the Eastern Conference and probably no better than that. Bleh. No lottery pick. No meaningful second-round playoff games. The decision to draft Greek prospect Giannis Antetokounmpo, a player who is not yet ready to make a contribution on an NBA roster, seemed to signal a complete rebuild. But by adding Mayo to the roster and potentially re-signing Brandon Jennings, it appears the Milwaukee front office isn’t yet ready to commit to another roster overhaul or a true rebuild. The goal for every team in the NBA is (should be?) to win a championship and at the end of the day, without some SUBSTANTIAL interior growth from players currently on the roster such as Larry Sanders, John Henson and even Brandon Jennings, this roster will not get close.
In the Milwaukee Bucks, we are looking at team without a plan. The Boston Celtics, who were in a similar situation, blew up their roster, acquired a ton of picks and aligned themselves to have a tremendous opportunity to acquire a franchise player and some quality, movable assets over the next few seasons. The Brooklyn Nets, also stuck on the cusp, elected to take a different route; sending out picks, young players and essentially mortgaging their future in order to compete for a title over the next few years. Both decisions were commendable. Both teams, in their own way, committed to getting closer to an NBA title. Milwaukee, by spending money on marginal free agents who will ever so slightly improve the roster, while also drafting boom-or-bust prospects who will take years to develop, is doing a disservice to their fans by not striving for that same goal.
Their are several ways to build a contender in the NBA. If you have a franchise located in a destination city like Miami, New York, or L.A., acquiring free agents will always be the way to go. Small-market teams in the NBA need to take a different route and no offense to the city of Milwaukee, but NBA players don’t appear to be lusting to migrate there. With the 2014 NBA Draft being projected by many as one of the most talented drafts the NBA has ever had, middle-of-the-pack, small-market teams such as Milwaukee have a golden opportunity to start over and retool around a potential franchise player. But by signing O.J. Mayo and retaining Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee has elected to forego that route, instead content being first-round cannon fodder against one the top teams in the Eastern Conference for the next few seasons.