The Bucks may have given themselves the lemon, but they certainly found a way to turn it into lemonade.
Milwaukee traded underperforming and little-used center Miles Plumlee to the Hornets for backup big men Roy Hibbert and Spencer Hawes, general manager John Hammond announced Thursday, an impressive escape act that gets the team out of a very bad contract.
That the same front office had, a little more than six months prior, awarded Plumlee the four-year, $50 million deal that raised eyebrows around the league is a fair criticism and important to keep in mind, but at this point it’s also a backward-looking quibble. Plumlee’s contract was, retrospectively, a bad decision, but it was a sunk cost, and Hammond did well to correct the mistake and get something back for the Bucks’ highly paid, third-string center.
To make room on the roster for the addition of Hibbert and Hawes, Milwaukee requested waivers on reserve forward – and beloved Brown Deer and Marquette alum – Steve Novak.
Athletic and a seemingly good lineup fit, Plumlee played well down the stretch last year, which earned him the big contract and a starting job when this season began. But the optimism didn’t last long. Quickly relegated to the bench, Plumlee’s playing time plummeted; he appeared in only two-thirds of Milwaukee’s games, averaging just 2.6 points and 1.7 rebounds in 9.7 minutes a night.
So by acquiring two serviceable rotation players in exchange for Plumlee, the Bucks squeezed at least some juice out of their $50 million lemon, and now the three years remaining on his contract are Charlotte’s responsibility. As for the return? While nowhere near the All-Star-caliber player and defensive game-changer he was in Indiana from 2012-14, the 7-foot-2, 270-pound Hibbert still brings much-needed size, strength and interior presence to Milwaukee.
Hawes (7-1, 245) is a much better offensive player than Plumlee, with per-36-minute averages of 14.6 points and 8.4 rebounds in 2016-17. Though his 3-point accuracy has fallen off this season – a career 35-percent shooter, he’s at 29.1 percent – Hawes potentially opens up the court for the Bucks as a stretch-5, so vital in the current NBA, in a way Plumlee never could.
"Spencer and Roy are two proven NBA centers who give us additional depth and versatility in the front court," said Hammond in a statement. "The trade also gives us future cap flexibility as we continue to shape our roster. Miles and Steve are true professionals both on and off the court, and we wish them all the best."
Indeed, although the deal jams the Bucks’ already crowded frontcourt – they now have Hibbert, Hawes, John Henson, Greg Monroe, Thon Maker, Jabari Parker and Mirza Teletovic – it frees them up financially going forward. While Plumlee had three years and $37.5 million left on his contract, Hibbert will be a free agent after this season and Hawes has a $6 million player option for 2017-18.
Monroe also has a player option for next year, and even if neither he nor Henson is traded this season, the Bucks will be able to reevaluate their situation at center, a position to which they had committed more than $37 million this season for three players.
The wisdom of those moves calls into question the decision-making in the Bucks’ front office, but it’s rare to get a mulligan in the NBA, and Hammond has done well to right the wrong of Plumlee’s contract. This was a good deal that helped atone for a bad deal, lemonade from lemons, to fully exhaust the metaphor. And if Hibbert and his verticality can provide some defense inside and Hawes regains his shooting touch to be a floor-spacer, Thursday’s trade will be even sweeter.
The only tragedy is that it also resulted in the release of Novak, whose playing career may now be over.
Born in Milwaukee but a product of Shorewood High School (go ‘Hounds!) and Northwestern University (go ‘Cats!), Jimmy never knew the schoolboy bliss of cheering for a winning football, basketball or baseball team. So he ditched being a fan in order to cover sports professionally - occasionally objectively, always passionately. He's lived in Chicago, New York and Dallas, but now resides again in his beloved Brew City and is an ardent attacker of the notorious Milwaukee Inferiority Complex.
After interning at print publications like Birds and Blooms (official motto: "America's #1 backyard birding and gardening magazine!"), Sports Illustrated (unofficial motto: "Subscribe and save up to 90% off the cover price!") and The Dallas Morning News (a newspaper!), Jimmy worked for web outlets like CBSSports.com, where he was a Packers beat reporter, and FOX Sports Wisconsin, where he managed digital content. He's a proponent and frequent user of em dashes, parenthetical asides, descriptive appositives and, really, anything that makes his sentences longer and more needlessly complex.
Jimmy appreciates references to late '90s Brewers and Bucks players and is the curator of the unofficial John Jaha Hall of Fame. He also enjoys running, biking and soccer, but isn't too annoying about them. He writes about sports - both mainstream and unconventional - and non-sports, including history, music, food, art and even golf (just kidding!), and welcomes reader suggestions for off-the-beaten-path story ideas.