At last year’s NBA trade deadline, the Milwaukee Bucks were buyers, acquiring sharpshooter J.J. Redick and two other players from the Orlando Magic to help supplement the playoff drive.
The trade went for naught as the Bucks, who were positioned as the Eastern Conference’s eighth seed at the time of the deal, went 12-17 afterwards and remained eighth in the standings. The Miami Heat promptly swept Milwaukee in the first round of the playoffs.
None of the three players obtained in that trade remain on the roster. In hindsight, it’s hard to justify that move, especially considering the Bucks gave up young forward Tobias Harris in the process.
This year, firmly rooted in the league cellar, Milwaukee was a seller instead and found a trading partner in Charlotte. The Bucks traded reserve guards Gary Neal and Luke Ridnour to the Bobcats for guard Ramon Sessions and forward Jeff Adrien.
I pegged Neal as the likeliest trade candidate on the team in my trade deadline preview from last week. Neal began the season with extensive playing time, playing at least 15 minutes in 17 of the team’s first 18 games. But by mid-December, he was out of the rotation and frequently spent entire games on the bench.
It is unclear what specifically caused Neal’s sharp and sudden drop-off in minutes, as his numbers were relatively consistent throughout November. Reports have claimed that he and head coach Larry Drew simply did not see eye-to-eye, and Neal’s January locker room spat with Larry Sanders did not help matters.
Ridnour’s contract expires at the end of this season, and with the solid play of newcomer Brandon Knight and rookie Nate Wolters, he was an expendable veteran asset. In 36 games with the Bucks this season, Ridnour averaged 5.7 points and 3.4 assists.
Regarding the Bucks’ return package, guard Ramon Sessions comes to Milwaukee for the second time—he formerly played two seasons with the Bucks from 2007-09. He has been an effective player throughout his career, providing high energy and explosiveness off the bench. Sessions averaged 10.5 points while shooting 40.9% in 55 games with Charlotte this season.
Adrien finds himself with his fourth franchise in as many seasons. He has done little thus far in his career and is undersized, but he is stocky and provides the Bucks with a wide body down low, something the team currently lacks.
Sessions and Adrien are both expiring contracts this season. Sessions’ salary for this year is $5 million, and should command a similar payday in free agency this summer. With Knight and Wolters filling the point guard position for the foreseeable future, bringing Sessions back makes little sense, especially considering his expected price tag.
Adrien will basically have an audition over the final quarter of the season. His career numbers indicate his status as a fringe player, but the Bucks would be wise to give Adrien some playing time to see if he is worth resigning. Ekpe Udoh will be a restricted free agent this summer, and Adrien would be a much cheaper option for a backup big man.
Overall, three of the four players involved in the deal will be free agents at the end of the season. Neal remains under contract for next year, and the Bobcats will now assume the burden of his $3.25 million agreement.
With the very real possibility that Milwaukee traded two decent veterans for two players that will no longer be on the roster next fall, the only objective benefit to this trade is cap space. Because of a poor track record with free agents, it’s hard for Bucks fans to get excited over extra salary room.
Leading up to the deadline, there were reports that Neal had interest from Charlotte, Sacramento, Oklahoma City, Phoenix, and Minnesota. Rumors are nothing more than rumors, but if that many teams were pursuing Neal, it would seem that the Bucks could have netted a higher quality return package, potentially involving a second round pick or a young player still under contract for next season.
That being said, teams will always be reluctant to give up picks or young talent for middling bench players. Perhaps this was indeed the best the Bucks could do.
Regardless, Milwaukee made a move that benefits the team in the long run, even if the benefits are minor. Even if Bucks fans don’t get too excited over a little extra cap room, they should at least be a little excited that the team did not repeat the short term-focused dealings of last deadline.