As the Milwaukee Bucks prepare to host the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night, memories of their last meeting come to mind.
What I’m referring to here is the verbal exchange between teammates Gary Neal and Larry Sanders following the Bucks’ 116-100 loss in The Valley of the Sun on Jan. 4. Most notably – and perhaps expected after a defeat characterized as embarrassing – Neal was overhead telling Sanders to try earning his money.
I can’t comment with any certainty on how often teammates speak to each other in that manner or on the frequency of those incidents actually being reported, but there is reason to believe that Neal’s words were not taken well by anyone in the Bucks’ organization. This is to say, that in all likelihood, his actions were considered neither typical nor acceptable in a locker room setting.
Since that loss to Phoenix — in which he recorded nine points on 3-for-8 shooting in just less than 18 minutes – Neal has vanished from the playing rotation, racking up a did-not-play-coaches-decision (DNPCD) in 10 of 11 games. Signed as a free agent in July, the 6’4” shooting guard’s only appearance during this stretch was on Jan. 19 against his former team, the San Antonio Spurs.
Neal’s statistics in 2013-14 are actually not that far off his career averages; however, he has only appeared in 24 of a possible 44 games this season. In total, Neal has had a DNPCD listed beside his name 18 times in the box score, meaning that he was in uniform, ready to play, but not called into action by coach Larry Drew.
When the 29-year-old Neal was signed to a two-year, $6.5 million contract, the idea (in my opinion) was that he would be a veteran presence to help keep the Bucks competitive during a period of development and roster overhaul. Even though the organization was assembling a core of young players, Neal – along with O.J. Mayo and Caron Butler – at least gave the impression that the Bucks had playoff aspirations.
That plan was abandoned as the losses piled up early and often, due to injuries, lack of chemistry, and perhaps even a disconnect between the players and the coaching staff. So for the last few weeks, the Bucks’ organization has found itself in an awkward position with respect to the veteran players and their evident frustration with the direction of the team.
Reports surfaced soon after the incident in Phoenix that the Bucks were looking to unload an equally dissatisfied Neal. One of the possible motivations for the Bucks would be to move a player based on an incident that even the players involved acknowledged as water under the bridge, while for Neal it might present a chance to get back on the court.
The money that Neal is owed through the end of next season won’t be the issue in any trade discussion, but rather that his value may be at an all-time low.
One way to sweeten any proposal would be for the Bucks to include the recently granted disabled player exception, but they would probably reach a dead end if the expectation was to receive either an expiring contract or a promising talent on a rookie-scale contract in return.
Either way the benching of Neal is not doing any good for the player or the team and with the deadline still three weeks away, there is potential for the situation to worsen.
Waiving Neal is worth considering and while it might not be the best business decision, it would certainly be the easiest route to take and something the Bucks could justify as an investment in their future.