It was a year ago when the whispers started to circulate the NBA.
The scuttlebutt was the Milwaukee Bucks, who were well on their way to posting the best record in the league, were contemplating breaking up their starting lineup by trading point guard Eric Bledsoe.
Then, shortly before the trading deadline, word spread among NBA officials that the Bucks had reached out to the Dallas Mavericks about a deal involving Bledsoe. The Bucks, according to multiple league sources, were looking to acquire Dennis Smith, a promising young point guard.
But the Bledsoe-Smith deal never materialized. Instead, the Mavs dealt Smith to the New York Knicks in a multi-player transaction that landed them Kristaps Porzingis, a gifted 7-foot-3 power forward who was rebounding from ACL surgery.
The Bucks, of course, never traded Bledsoe and then signed him to a four-year, $70 million contract extension. While some were surprised by the Bucks’ decision, some weren’t. The latter felt the Bucks gave Bledsoe the deal because it would be easier to trade him at some point and that teams would be more receptive in trading for him because they wouldn’t have to deal with any immediate free-agent issues.
Now, with the Feb. 6 trading deadline fast approaching, there is talk again about the Bucks possibly moving Bledsoe — even though he’s having a fringe All-Star type season.
“They would do that, definitely,’’ an Eastern Conference executive responded when asked if he thought the Bucks would consider trading Bledsoe.
When asked the same question, a league player personnel director said: “Sure. Publicly, they (the Bucks) say all the right things about him but I know that’s not the case.’’
So why would the Bucks even consider jettisoning Bledsoe when they are cruising with the best record in the league? Some NBA officials said Bledsoe’s tendency to play out of control and lose focus at times were factors.
There are also some NBA officials who firmly believe Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer feels more comfortable having veteran George Hill on the floor than Bledsoe. Hill isn’t as good of a defender as Bledsoe, who was an all-NBA first-team defensive selection last season, but he’s more than a solid defender. What’s more, Hill is a much better perimeter shooter than Bledsoe (Hill is shooting a lights out 53 percent on 3s this season).
It’s no secret Budenholzer is a big fan of Donte DiVincenzo, the Bucks’ second-year combo guard. Several sources said Budenholzer made the call on the Bucks drafting DiVincenzo, although Budenholzer denies that. Additionally, Budenholzer believes DiVincenzo can eventually develop into a quality point guard.
“Bud is really high on that kid,’’ a source close to the Bucks said.
Interestingly, in a recent game against Boston, a team that figures to challenge the Bucks for the Eastern Conference championship, Budenholzer pulled Bledsoe early in the fourth quarter and went with a Hill-DiVincenzo backcourt the rest of the way. The Bucks won 128-123.
And then there’s Bledsoe’s shaky playoff resume. The Bucks are all in on winning an NBA title, especially with the real possibility superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo will bolt in free agency after next season, and whether Bledsoe can perform at a high level in postseason competition has to be a concern.
In last season’s Eastern Conference Finals against Toronto, Bledsoe struggled mightily with his shot. In the Bucks’ last four games against the eventual champion Raptors – all Bucks losses – Bledsoe made only 4 of 18 treys – a meager 22 percent.
In 39 career playoff games, Bledsoe has made a lowly 25 percent of his 3-point attempts.
While the Bucks are apparently open to trading Bledsoe, doing so wouldn’t be easy. The vast majority of teams appear set at the point guard position, and some of the teams that may be interested in his services are in a rebuilding mode and hesitant in adding a player who is 30 years old.
“It’s not like Milwaukee is shopping him,’’ the Eastern Conference exec said of Bledsoe, who is averaging 14.8 points and 5.1 assists while shooting 48 percent from the field and 35 percent on 3s. “There are just guys in this league that everyone knows are available and he’s one of them.’’