Breaking down the Eric Bledsoe trade
Aside from the perennially underpaid and underappreciated Matt Barnes, and the usual brand of streaky offense from Jamal Crawford, the Clippers lacked sorely for production from the wing positions last season. This would have been their single biggest weakness if it wasn’t for their complete absence of an offensive playbook. Caron Butler has declined to the point that he is scant little more than a spot-up shooter at this point, and despite finally adding three point range, Willie Green is much the same. Compounding the problem is the fact that, Barnes, seemingly the only player who knew how to cut and get open for the league’s best passer, is an unrestricted free agent with mere non-Bird rights.
Without cap room and yet also without all that much wiggle room under the tax, the Clippers needed to rebuild this rotation. Their lack of wing quality was exposed against the Grizzlies, and notwithstanding the lack of a backup center (and the less-than-reliable nature of the starter), it was a priority on a roster entirely set at two positions. And in Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick, the Clippers have achieved exactly that in one fell swoop.
Dudley and Redick aren’t athletic. They aren’t dynamic, they aren’t brilliant at any one thing (except perhaps Redick’s shooting), and they aren’t primary options you turn to on either end. But they’re just … good. They get it. The two are high IQ players with no distinct holes in their game, who defend with guile rather than physical tools, and who fit every great-teammate, great-role-player cliché going. They move the ball, make few mistakes, and, along with Reggie Bullock, provide the spacing lost in Butler along with bringing more well-rounded games and better perimeter defense.
It cost them their two best assets to do it, but the Clippers improved their team in what was almost a financial wash. Moving Bledsoe for players who aren’t and never will be stars may feel deflating to those with higher aspirations, yet the value of the returning duo must not be overlooked. The Clippers got what they needed. Without having a single star in it, L.A. has assembled a wing rotation with good depth and few holes, exactly the kind of thing you want to flank a superstar point guard with. If they can convince Matt Barnes to sign for far below his market value for the seventh straight season, even better. Combining this with the enormous coaching upgrade from Del Negro to Rivers, and the biggest news of all in getting Chris Paul to re-sign, has significantly improved the Clippers’s fortunes for the foreseeable future. Now, they just need some depth.
Phoenix, meanwhile, uses cap room for what it’s for — the acquisition of assets. They land themselves a coveted guard prospect to back up the sneaky-good Goran Dragic, and land themselves a big expiring contract that will keep up their cap flexibility in future seasons. It’s true that that they gave up a decent player on a very decent price to get it, and decent players on very decent prices are always hard to come by. But so are legitimate prospects. And while Bledsoe still has a fair way to go, he is certainly that. He has demonstrated legitimate potential and significant improvements in the halfcourt game, and while his upside may be more Jarrett Jack than John Wall, that’s absolutely fine for the price paid.
But what is less clear is Milwaukee’s role in proceedings.
In isolation, Milwaukee got some value for a free agent they weren’t likely to keep. Two second round picks and a tasty trade exception is most certainly better than nothing. However, looking at the move in isolation is not fair in this instance, given that it was only a few months ago that Milwaukee acquired Redick. Having lost him so soon afterwards, the Bucks acquired him only as a rental, whether they intended this or not. And while acquiring players on rentals is fine in practice — even for teams getting rolled out of the playoffs early — it requires a minimal price to do so.
A minimal price wasn’t paid. Tobias Harris was given up for Redick, and he was, or should have been, a piece of the future. You can give up pieces for the future for pieces of the present if your present is worth pursuing and the piece significantly betters it, but Redick cannot significantly better a team he is not on, and the Bucks’ current incarnation is not one with much promise. The return of the two picks and the TPE is useful, but Harris would be more so, regardless of his defensive deficiencies. The two Redick deals, both incoming and outgoing, evidence a lack of a coherent plan for the franchise, and there hasn’t been a plan since about 2008. And that plan didn’t work.
Milwaukee has pieces to work with, some good pieces, and a foundation for the future. But they need an infusion of significant quality, neither of which is readily available without high draft picks or significant cap room. A direction — it need not be to tank — is needed to recharge a rather moribund team.
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