Just about two weeks ago, the Westgate Superbook in Las Vegas posted the over/under win totals for all 30 NBA teams.
The over/under for the Milwaukee Bucks is 39.5 wins. Seven Eastern Conference teams are projected to win more games than Milwaukee. They are:
- Cleveland (56.5)
- Boston (51.5)
- Toronto (49.5)
- Detroit (45.5)
- Atlanta (43.5)
- Indiana (43.5)
- Washington (42.5)
Another team, Charlotte, has the same over/under win total as Milwaukee at 39.5. Right behind are Chicago (38.5), New York (38.5), Miami (36.5) and Orlando (36.5).
At about the same time the Westgate odds were released, I had an extended discussion with an Eastern Conference executive. I queried him about the Bucks and whether he projected them as a playoff team.
“I don’t,’’ the executive said. “The Eastern Conference has gotten so much better, and I don’t really see what the Bucks did (during the offseason) to get that much better.
“(Matthew) Dellavedova and (Mirza) Teletovic were nice pickups, but they’re not the type of playes who are going to get them into the playoffs.’’
The Westgate odds and the executive remarks came just a few days before the Bucks’ playoff hopes took a devastating hit: Khris Middleton, whom some NBA officials consider the Bucks’ best all-around player, suffered a serious hamstring injury. Middleton, who said he ripped the entire muscle off the bone, had surgery on Wednesday.
Bucks general manager John Hammond contends Middleton could return in approximately six months; other NBA officials and doctors contend that’s wishful thinking, firmly believing Middleton will be sidelined for the season.
While it’s debatable when Middleton will be back on the court, this isn’t: The Bucks are in serious trouble. And, unless they make a significant trade and rather quickly, their season will be over well before it’s over.
Simply put, they don’t have anyone on their roster who can remotely fill the void left by Middleton, anyone who can play major minutes and be a consistently reliable contributor.
Bucks coach Jason Kidd said Rashad Vaughn will have the first crack at replacing Middleton. Vaughn, the team’s first-round pick in the 2015 draft, is coming off a rough rookie season and struggled in the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas.
That’s not to say Vaughn won’t eventually become a fine player – he is, after all, only 20 years old — but he’s nowhere ready for a prime-time role now. Ditto for Malcolm Brogdon, the team’s second-round pick who acquitted himself well in the summer league.
The Bucks’ best option at this juncture is Jason Terry, the savvy veteran who still can shoot the rock. But asking the 39-year-old Terry to play major minutes on a regular basis at this stage of his career is simply unrealistic.
The fact of the matter is the Bucks, if they want to remain relevant this season, have to acquire a suitable shooting guard, one who can immediately step in and hold down the fort until Middleton returns to full health.
According to several NBA officials, there are several wing players who could be available and fit the bill for the Bucks, depending, of course, on what the Bucks are willing to give up, whether it’s Greg Monroe, Michael Carter-Williams, John Henson or a future first-round pick.
“It’s sounds trite but you got to give up something good to get something good,’’ an NBA general manager said. “Those guys (Monroe, Carter-Williams and Monroe) are good players. But I’d be careful about giving up a draft pick; next year’s draft is going to be pretty good.’’
With that in mind, here are some shooting guards/wings who are either on the trading block or could possibly be pried away for the right price in a deal:
— Gary Harris, Denver Nuggets – The Nuggets have an impressive array of shooting guards now after selecting Jamal Murray in the lottery and Malik Beasley with the 19thoverall pick in last June’s draft.
Their arrival could make Harris available, even though he is coming off a nice second season. Harris, the 19th pick in the 2014 draft, started 76 games last season and averaged 12.3 points while shooting 47 percent from the field and 35 percent from 3-point range.
The Nuggets might also be receptive to moving Will Barton, 25, who played every game last season and was the team’s second-leading scorer at 16.1 points.
— Ben McLemore, Sacramento Kings – Three years ago, McLemore was considered one of the jewels in the draft, a player with an enormous upside.
But McLemore hasn’t lived up to the hype after being the seventh overall pick in the 2013 draft. He had a solid second season in which he averaged 12 points and played 33 minutes a game, but saw those numbers plummet to 7.8 points and 21 minutes last season.
Still, McLemore is still only 23 and has 190 games on his resume.
“I still like him; he’s very athletic,’’ an Eastern Conference official said. “I still think he has a lot of potential.’’
Added another Eastern Conference executive: “He hasn’t done what a lot of people think he should have done, but he could still be very good. Personally, I think he just needs a change of scenery.’’
— Alec Burks, Utah Jazz – “I don’t know if they (the Jazz) would move him; I know they like him,’’ an Eastern Conference GM said.
And that might be the case with Burks, the 12th overall pick in the 2012 draft. He’s got length to play shooting guard and small forward at 6-6 and he is an excellent perimeter shooter: 41 percent last season and 37 percent for his career.
He also is a solid scorer, having averaged 14, 13.9 and 13.3 points a game the last three seasons, primarily coming off the bench.
“I think they want to hold on to him as insurance in case (Gordon) Hayward leaves (in free agency),’’ another Western Conference official said. “But they have depth there (on the wing), so they could move him.”
Burks is a part of a collection of wings that includes Hayward, their best player, Rodney Hood, who emerged as a quality player and averaged 14.5 points in 79 games last season, and veteran Joe Johnson, whom they signed during the offseason.
The big issue concerning Burks is his health: He has been injury prone during his pro career. He had surgery for a fractured left fibula last season but is expected to be ready to start this season.
— Jeremy Lamb, Charlotte Hornets – The Hornets acquired Marco Belinelli during the offseason and that figues to make Lamb expendable.
Lamb, who is 24, is a solid shooter – 44 percent from the field last season – and scorer – 8.8 points off the bench.
There have been whispers the Bucks and Hornets have had conversations about a deal in which the Bucks would get Lamb and big man Spencer Hawes for Greg Monroe.
— Terrence Ross, Toronto Raptors – Just like the Jazz would be reluctant to trade Burks, the Raptors would be hesitant in dealing Ross.
At 6-7, he is versatile and is a perimeter threat, having shot 39 percent from 3-point range last season.
But after being a full-time starter in his second and third seasons with the Raptors, he came off the bench last season and figures to do so again this season. DeMar DeRozan is firmly entrenched as the starting two guard and DeMarre Carroll, whom the Raptors signed to a four-year, $60 million contract as a free agent last summer, is slated to start at small forward.
The Raptors also have Bruno Caboclo, their first-round selection in the 2014 draft, along with Norman Powell, who is coming off an impressive rookie season in which he made 24 starts.
— Nick Young, Los Angeles Lakers – With veteran Luol Deng back and the Lakers having used the No. 2 overall pick on highly-touted Brandon Ingram, Young doesn’t fit in the Lakers’ plans and is on the trading block.
While he averaged just 7.3 points last season, he did average 13.7 points the year before and 17.9 points two years ago.
“He’s had some issues but, really, he’s a good guy, a happy go-lucky guy,’’ an Eastern Conference exec said. “The guy can still play; you know he can score.’’
There are, of course, other wing players whom the Bucks could pursue, even perhaps Brandon Knight, whom they regrettably traded at the deadline in 2014 to the Phoenix Suns.
Knight is currently a part of a crowded and talented backcourt group that features Devin Booker, a rising star who had an outstanding rookie season, and veteran Eric Bledsoe, whom the Bucks have reportedly shown interest in acquiring in the past.
It’s also no secret the Boston Celtics, who have a glut of guards/wings, are receptive to wheelin’ and dealin’. Combo guard Marcus Smart was rumored to be available this summer and has been highly regarded by the Bucks scouting department since his standout days at Oklahoma State.
So, while there are a spate of wing players who could be had by the Bucks, the question now is just how badly they want one.