June 23, 2009
This is what happens, general managers and fans alike, when you shoot for 45 wins, and nothing higher.
Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting that the Milwaukee Bucks, dangerously close to paying the luxury tax even before filling out their roster, signing its impending lottery pick, or extending any expiring contracts, are in deep discussions with the San Antonio Spurs to toss Jefferson their way for Bruce Bowen(notes), Fabricio Oberto(notes), and Kurt Thomas(notes).
It's a lopsided deal, talent-wise, even taking into consideration the way people tend to overrate Jefferson. But it's a necessary deal, in Milwaukee's eyes, as Jefferson is due over $29 million over the next two seasons, on a team with little upside and no real reason to pay a luxury like Jefferson to stick around.
Bowen and Oberto's contracts are not guaranteed for 2009-10, so they'll immediately be cut by the Bucks and possibly end up back in San Antonio. Thomas has one year left on his deal, but he's also strong trade bait due to his veteran savvy, length, and his cheap and expiring contract. Even if the Bucks hang onto him for all of 2009-10, the deal will save them about $6.4 million next season (allowing for Bowen and Oberto's partial guarantees), and $15.2 in 2010-11. To say nothing of luxury tax savings yet to be determined.
All because, about this time last year, the Bucks shot for the lower rung of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
They traded for Jefferson, something that left me "awfully confused" at the time, and most expectations for the trade panned out. Soon after, the team made an awful deal to secure Luke Ridnour's rights, entering the season with a massive payroll that topped off just under $70 million, winning just 34 games in an injury plagued season.
Now, this team would have been fighting (and, though you'll laugh and I hate to admit it, possible passing) the Chicago Bulls and Detroit Pistons for a lower rung playoff spot had Michael Redd(notes) and Andrew Bogut(notes) stayed healthy. The team had won 47 percent of its games when Redd tore his ACL, and a 47.6 winning percentage put Detroit in the playoffs. More minutes for Ramon Sessions over Ridnour in that second half could have possible put the team over the top, as most Scott Skiles teams start slow and finish strong.
But what's the point? They could have won half their games, with a $70 million payroll? At some point, you have to start over. And "starting over" doesn't mean retaining a .500 team, or tarting it up with add-ons like Jefferson or Ridnour.
With the possible Jefferson deal in place, the Bucks might finally be on their way toward a proper rebuilding program.
The Spurs? You'd like to see a better payoff for all those expiring and unguaranteed deals, but if Jefferson is the reward, this means Vince Carter(notes) isn't on the block (for that price, at least), or that San Antonio does not want. And it's still a damn good reward, especially if Bowen finds his way back to Texas.
Jefferson is a solid player, a fine defender, and should be perfectly at home as an at-times fourth option in the San Antonio attack. He can hit the baseline three-pointer (I'd support this with some statistics culled from NBA.com, but the Hot Spots program doesn't appear to be working right now), which makes him perfect for San Antonio's drive and kick offense.
Taking on Jefferson does mean San Antonio will pay the luxury tax next season, as the Spurs will be over $70 million in payroll with only nine players on board, once they decline Marcus Williams' option. Luxury tax concerns once forced the team to deal Luis Scola(notes) to the Houston Rockets, but with Tim Duncan(notes) possibly on his last legs, owner Peter Holt is likely out to pay for a winner, and he should get kudos for that.
We'll have more on the deal, and reaction to any others that may come down the pike, as the week moves along ...