There are few things NBA fans and media like to do more than discuss alternate timelines after a transaction is made. But in the case of the Kyrie Irving trade to Boston, which has been slowed due to a lingering issue with Isaiah Thomas’s hip, these alternate scenarios may not be entirely trivial.
After the reported trade—Kyrie to the Celtics in exchange for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and the Nets’ unprotected 2018 pick—seemed to be a done deal, a report surfaced last week that the Bucks had offered Malcolm Brogdon, Khris Middleton, and a first-round pick, according to John Gambadoro of 98.7 Phoenix, who said the Bucks had gotten “close.”
Here’s where I would typically type out a cliché saying that I really don’t understand like “close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades,” but “close,” after the Cavs reportedly asked for additional assets in the Thomas trade, may count for something—or, at the very least, tell us about Milwaukee’s plan for the future.
On Wednesday morning, ESPN’s Zach Lowe reported that the Bucks have offered both Malcolm Brogdon and Khris Middleton to the Cavaliers for Irving, but not a first-round pick. However, they would reportedly include that pick if Kyrie agreed to sign a long-term deal to stay in Milwaukee. But given that Boston’s Nets pick in next year’s draft, unlike Milwaukee’s, will likely be in the high lottery, and reports suggest that the Celtics and Cavs are back on track and working toward completing the deal, the Bucks will likely stay on the outside of the sweepstakes unless more havoc ensues.
The Bucks have recruited a particular type of player—long, athletic, young, talented—and Kyrie fits only about half of those qualifiers. Milwaukee was 27th in attendance last season, so it’s possible that the Bucks wanted to break with their plan to add another star to draw more fans, especially given their forthcoming new arena.
Brogdon—who just won Rookie of the Year, but is only one year younger than the 25-year-old Irving—and Middleton could both be role players on a championship team. They both offer energy, versatile defense, and consistent 3-point shooting. Throw a pick into the mix, and it’s hard to argue that the Cavaliers wouldn’t have come away from that deal satisfied, at least if Boston’s deal was no longer desirable.
But this proposed deal has also made clear that Milwaukee may be questioning its current trajectory. This offseason, there was chaos in Milwaukee. Rumors of Giannis Antetokounmpo becoming the next most-coveted free agent in the league began, while the team’s current GM was hired away and a new GM entered the team’s top-down organizational mess. The Bucks are fun, and they’ll be fun this season, even if it isn’t clear where they’ll fit into the top-heavy East. But it’s no surprise that they’re starting to wonder how much financial return they can get for just being fun.
The results of Jason Kidd’s ongoing Point Giannis experiment are still TBD, and it’s difficult to see who else, among the Bucks guards, can truly shoulder the point guard duties going forward. Irving would solve that issue for Milwaukee.
“A guy might want to stay on a team, but the team [may not] do the right things and the right moves for the player to become great.” That’s what the Greek Freak said last season when Kevin Durant signed with the Warriors. A superstar may be the thing he needs to get his own game, and his team, to the next level. The question then becomes whether or not Kyrie would be the guy to help the Bucks reach the next level.
Giannis is four years away from reaching free agency, but the fact that the rumors of his departure are already being floated is worrisome. The courting process needs to begin early in order to convince Giannis that staying in Milwaukee is worth it. Even if this Irving rumor was just smoke, it signals that the Bucks are preemptively looking for what every team is realizing they now need to compete and keep their own: not just a superstar but multiple superstars.