Milwaukee Bucks: Is Jason Kidd Ruining The Bucks?

Feb 1, 2016; Sacramento, CA, USA; Milwaukee Bucks head coach Jason Kidd looks on during the second quarter of the game against the Sacramento Kings at Sleep Train Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 1, 2016; Sacramento, CA, USA; Milwaukee Bucks head coach Jason Kidd looks on during the second quarter of the game against the Sacramento Kings at Sleep Train Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports /

The Milwaukee Bucks front office, reportedly run by Jason Kidd, has had a bad year. Is he ruining the team?

After an impressive 26-win jump from 2013 to 2014 that gave them 41 wins and the sixth seed in last season’s playoffs, the Milwaukee Bucks took a step back this season and are now preparing for their third lottery selection in the last five years. 

The disappointing year may have been foreseeable with the actions of the front office since last season’s trade deadline. Let’s outline what exactly has happened since then (all dates in 2015):

  • February 11: Bucks beat Kings, head into All-Star Break at 30-23; .566 winning percentage, on pace for 46 wins
  • February 19: Bucks trade Brandon Knight and Kendall Marshall to Suns for Tyler Ennis and Miles Plumlee, receive Michael Carter-Williams from 76ers
  • April 15: Bucks lose to Celtics, finish regular season at 41-41, head into playoffs with sixth seed
  • April 30: Bucks lose to Bulls, fall in first round series, 4-2
  • June 11: Bucks trade Ersan Ilyasova to Pistons for Caron Butler and Shawne Williams; both later waived
  • June 25: Bucks trade 2017 lottery-protected first round pick (from Clippers) and no. 46 pick in 2015 draft to Raptors for Greivis Vasquez; No. 46 pick would become Norman Powell
  • June 25: Bucks select Rashad Vaughn with 17th overall pick
  • July 2: Bucks sign Greg Monroe to maximum three-year contract (third year player option)
  • July 3: Bucks trade Jared Dudley to Wizards for 2020 second round pick
  • July 9: Bucks trade Zaza Pachulia to Mavericks for 2018 second round pick

I don’t know how anyone reads through that timeline without getting a headache or, if you are a Bucks fan, throwing up.

More from Sir Charles In Charge

Let’s start from the beginning. The Bucks basically had to choose (or thought they did) between Knight and Khris Middleton, thinking they couldn’t afford both in the offseason when they would become restricted free agents. They chose Middleton, sending Knight to Phoenix in exchange for Ennis and Plumlee, two young possible rotation players. To replace Knight, Milwaukee acquired Carter-Williams from Philadelphia, as the Sixers received the Lakers’ 2016 top three protected first round pick from the Suns.

This trade, taking away one of the Bucks’ only shooters in Knight and replacing him with a non-shooter in MCW completely destroyed their offense and collapsed their ceiling for the rest of the season.

After the season, to save even more money, mostly in the short-term, the Bucks traded Ilyasova, Dudley and Pachulia for non-guaranteed contracts to be waived and super far away future second-round picks. Before we get to what they did with that money, we must address the draft first.

On draft night, Milwaukee sent a 2017 lottery-protected first round pick via the Clippers and their 2015 second round pick to Toronto for Greivis Vasquez. I’m guessing this trade was to meant to add a shooter to play some minutes with the non-shooting starters, and I’m OK with it using that logic, but they majorly overpaid.

The Bucks have to win all three of their final remaining games just to reach 35 wins – six short of last season’s total – after coming into the year with expectations of competing for a top seed in the East

Unless the Clippers completely blow up their core this summer, they would have gotten that pick. And even though it would have probably been in the mid-20s, first round picks are an incredible asset to have. Having two in the same draft could allow you to trade for a way more impactful player than Vasquez, or have a higher chance of drafting one.

The second-round pick ended up being Norman Powell, who has started 21 games for the second-seeded Raptors this year and has shot 38 percent from three. I don’t want to fixate on what Powell has done this year too much, because you don’t know if he would be as good in Milwaukee as he is in Toronto, or if the Bucks would have even taken him. It doesn’t make it any easier, though. It also doesn’t make it any easier that Vasquez has only played in 20 games this season, because of injury, shooting a lowly 24 percent from three.

With their first round selection, Milwaukee drafted shooter, Rashad Vaughn. Going with a shooter here was, once again, fine logic, but passing up on energy-filled big man Bobby Portis was what didn’t make sense. There was a report that head coach Jason Kidd didn’t want the team selecting Portis as he plays the same position and is a similar player as hopeful franchise leader Jabari Parker (although that has now become Giannis Antetokounmpo). So they instead went for need even though Portis was clearly the best player available.

As the report states, as well as  Adrian Wojnarowski has echoed on his podcast, general manager John Hammond and his scouts/front office wanted to select Portis but were somehow convinced by Kidd to go in another direction…or were overruled.

With the money saved from all the earlier-mentioned trades, Milwaukee signed Greg Monroe to a three-year max contract with a third year player-option.

So now the starting lineup looked like this: Carter-Williams, Middleton, Antetokounmpo, Parker, Monroe. How many shooters does that lineup consist? One. ONE. Apparently the Bucks didn’t watch the Warriors win the title last season, or ever hear about the shooting revolution. They make all these moves, practically giving away good players for worthless picks and cap space, and they spend it on someone that is going to hurt their spacing even more.

Monroe was benched for a while in favor of Miles Plumlee to at least add some athleticism in the pick-and-roll game, but Milwaukee realized it is in their best interest to lose at this point, so he is back in the starting lineup.

The Bucks have to win all three of their final remaining games just to reach 35 wins – six short of last season’s total – after coming into the year with expectations of competing for a top seed in the East.

All these moves have impacted this season in a different way, all mostly in a bad way. The Knight trade was just the beginning of this disaster, and the worst part is, they didn’t even have to do it! Follow along as I do some math.

Players traded 2015-16 salaries:

  • Brandon Knight – $13.5 million
  • Jared Dudley – $4.375 million
  • Zaza Pachulia – $5.2 million
  • Normal Powell – $650K (second round picks are non-guaranteed, and there is no way to tell whether the Bucks would have drafted Powell nor paid him this amount, but I will be assuming they would have paid their selection the same that Toronto paid Powell)

Total – $23.725 million

(Ersan Ilyasova was not included as this was the one move they made in the offseason I actually agreed with.)

Players acquired 2015-16 salaries:

  • Michael Carter-Williams – $2.399 million
  • Tyler Ennis – $1.662 million
  • Miles Plumlee – $2.1 million
  • Greivis Vasquez – $6.6 million
  • Greg Monroe – $16.4 million

Total – $26.762 million

So basically, if the Bucks just traded Ilyasova, they would have been able to re-sign Knight and kept Dudley and Pachulia. The salary acquired during the Knight trade along with the Vasquez trade – where they didn’t send out any salary – equaled $12.761 million for this season, just $739K less than what Knight makes. And with Knight, they could have gone over the salary cap to re-sign him if they needed to as they had his Bird Rights.

With Knight and Pachulia in the starting lineup over MCW and Monroe, the team would have a lot more spacing and versatility. And Dudley’s shooting off the bench and veteran leadership in the locker room would be very useful for this young group.

More from Milwaukee Bucks

The worst part about all these deals is, in the end, the team took a major step back on the court and ended up losing money (because they decided to chase Monroe in free agency) when the goal was to save it.

Before moving on, I will admit money is saved in the long-term as Dudley and Pachulia are free agents at the end of this season and the richer contracts they’ll receive would probably push that $23.725 million over the $26.762 million, but the potential long-term savings still wouldn’t be worth it. Vasquez is a free agent as well, and neither Monroe nor Carter-Williams are the long-term answer Knight would have been.

The blame for all this will probably fall on Hammond, naturally, as the team’s GM. But with Kidd’s reputation and some of the reports that have come out over the year, I think he is behind all of this. I mean, think about how he ended up in Milwaukee. He tried to make a power play in Brooklyn after just one year as a coach there, wanting to push out Billy King and take over the team’s basketball operations. The Nets weren’t having it, so they traded him to Milwaukee for two second-round picks.

Kidd then became the Bucks’ new head coach, taking over for Larry Drew after a 15-win season. Oh yeah, by the way, Hammond had no knowledge that Kidd would be hired until the deal was already done.

A year in – like Brooklyn – Kidd started butting in on front office decisions during the draft, and a report came out last July that Kidd was set to take over the head of basketball operations job from Hammond. The report was denied and obviously didn’t become true as Hammond still has a job and the GM title. But Wojnarowski said on his podcast, as transcribed here, Kidd is pretty much the team’s GM and has been since arriving there last season.

Back in July, it seemed likely that the Bucks would let Hammond walk after his contract expired at the end of the 2015-16 season and give full control to Kidd. But, to let the plot thicken even more, the Bucks decided to extend Hammond one more year last September. Now, he and Kidd’s contracts will both expire after the 2016-17 season.

It’s hard to predict the future with the Milwaukee Bucks and their front office situation, but it is fair to assume Kidd gets full control at some point. He has a great relationship with the new ownership group, which is mostly why he’s there in the first place.

But the fact that Hammond will likely get pushed out his job is just unfair. He’s been with the team since 2008 and done more than a fine job. Of his draft selections since 2008, every one of them aside from Joe Alexander (selected in 2008) were either still on the team or traded for players still on the team as of last season. Brandon Jennings was traded for Knight and Middleton, Larry Sanders was a productive starter before quitting basketball last year, John Henson signed a four-year extension in the offseason, and Antetokounmpo and Parker are major pieces in the young core.

Hammond was also the Executive of the Year for the 2009-10 season. He’s made some mistakes, most notably possibly missing out on both Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson in two separate deals, but no one’s perfect.

If it is true that Kidd makes the personnel decisions in Milwaukee, which seems likely, he is to blame for this major step back the Bucks have taken. It’s quite ironic that after doing a terrific job coaching the team last year, finishing third in Coach of the Year voting, Kidd traded away a lot of the players that helped make that team what it was at its best last season.

More sir charles in charge: Seven Most Improved Player of the Year Candidates

The future is bright in Milwaukee, so let’s just hope someone in that organization stops Jason Kidd before he completely guts the team and then skips town once again.