Bucks won the Eric Bledsoe-Greg Monroe trade with Phoenix, for now
Just nine games into the season, the Milwaukee Bucks made the biggest move of the NBA season so far, and on many accounts they already seem to have won the trade.
The Bucks on Tuesday sent center Greg Monroe, along with protected first- and second-round draft picks to the Phoenix Suns for guard Eric Bledsoe. The deal allows Milwaukee to acquire the talented-but-disgruntled Bledsoe – he averaged career highs in points, assists and rebounds last year before requesting a trade in the offseason and being sent home by the Suns two weeks ago for a tweet – without having to give up any of its prized young players, such as Malcolm Brogdon, Thon Maker or Jabari Parker.
The team announced the trade Tuesday afternoon, several hours after ESPN first reported it. Listen to OnMilwaukee's Postgame Tailgate podcast discussion of the trade here.
For the Bucks, they add an athletic running mate and offensively gifted player to help take some of the load off Giannis Antetokounmpo, the league's leading scorer and early MVP candidate. Antetokounmpo is averaging 31.0 points per game, while the rest of Milwaukee's starters are combining to score only 49.8. Khris Middleton has picked up the slack of late, but Bledsoe potentially becoming the No. 2 option allows all of the team's role players to slide down in importance.
Adding an elite athlete like Eric Bledsoe to Giannis Antetokounmpo in MIL is like dropping a Menthos in the Coke. Bucks about to blow up— Michael Lee (@MrMichaelLee) November 7, 2017
At his best, when he's focused and on his game, Bledsoe is an excellent creator – capable of getting his own shot, playmaking for others and finishing at the basket. Although he's not a great shooter, he's become a better 3-point threat, shooting 33.5 percent on a career-high 4.7 long-range attempts last year. The 6-foot-1 point guard also has a 6-foot-7.5 wingspan and can be an intense defender, bringing even more length to Milwaukee's trapping scheme that demands aggression and strength.
Monroe was the Bucks' best bench scorer, but for the purposes of the trade, he was essentially just salary-cap relief for Phoenix. Owed nearly $17.9 million after exercising his player option for 2017-18, Monroe's contract comes off the books at the end of the season. On the trade block for more than a year, Monroe averaged 13.3 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists over 165 games since signing with the Bucks in 2015.
The first-round pick Milwaukee is sending to the Suns is lottery-protected and likely to be near the back end anyway, given the team's playoff expectations, demonstrating that – despite his undeniable ability – Bledsoe had little value and Phoenix no leverage in trade negotiations, given the circumstances.
Bledsoe posted career bests of 21.1 points, 6.3 assists and 4.8 rebounds last year and is one of only nine NBA players that has averaged at least 20 points and six assists since the beginning of the 2015-16 season. His player efficiency rating in 2016-17 was 20.5, which would have been third-highest on the Bucks. But the Suns finished with the worst record in the Western Conference (24-58), their second straight year with a winning percentage less than .300, and when Bledsoe requested a trade before this season, the team's position apparently was that they had been worse with him as their starting point guard.
On Oct. 23, Bledsoe tweeted, "I don't wanna be here," which he claimed was about being at a hair salon with his wife; Suns general manager Ryan McDonough said he didn't believe that, and then announced that Bledsoe "won't be with us going forward." That made a trade inevitable, but it also torpedoed the market.
Milwaukee was rumored to be involved in discussions from the start, but reports that a deal could include Brogdon, the reigning Rookie of the Year, or Maker, a high-upside 20-year-old center, concerned some fans. More recently, Parker, the beloved forward currently recovering from his second ACL surgery, was being talked about in a possible swap. In the end, though, the price the Bucks paid for Bledsoe wasn't anything nearly that steep.
The Bucks really robbed the Suns at gunpoint and freed Eric Bledsoe— Wenger Out (@BasedChasen) November 7, 2017
The main downside to the deal for the Bucks is that they were unable to jettison any of the undesirable, longer-term contracts belonging to Matthew Dellavedova, Mirza Teletovic or John Henson. More importantly, Monroe's contract expires next summer, while Bledsoe is signed through 2018-19, at $14.5 million this season and $15 million next year. With Parker set to become a restricted free agent, Milwaukee could move into the luxury tax next season if he plays well upon his return, another team makes him a lucrative offer and they are forced to match.
How does this impact Milwaukee's lineup? In the immediate future, Bledsoe is unlikely to play in the Bucks' showdown with the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night. But moving forward, the Bucks will probably start Bledsoe at point guard, with Tony Snell and Middleton on the wings, Antetokounmpo in his do-it-all position and Maker or Henson at center. Brogdon should return to his sixth man role, but a crunch time lineup of Brogdon, Bledsoe, Snell, Middleton and Giannis would be very difficult to guard, defensively wild and a transition nightmare for opponents.
Bledsoe's acquisition could mean the end of rotation minutes for Rashad Vaughn, whose fourth-year option was not picked up by the Bucks, and a diminished role for Dellavedova. Even without Monroe, the team's best offensive center who was averaging 15.8 minutes in five games this season, Milwaukee still has some depth at center, with Henson playing well the last couple of weeks, plus Maker and the 6-11 Antetokounmpo.
Bledsoe has battled injuries in the past – he underwent knee surgeries in 2011, 2014 and 2015 – but has been encouragingly healthy since then, despite Phoenix shutting him down for the final month of last season. Unhappy with the team and its direction, Bledsoe desperately needed a change of scenery, and, entering his prime – he turns 28 on Dec. 9 – as Antetokounmpo and Middleton approach theirs, he could be a great fit on the court with Milwaukee.
Immediately following the trade news, the Bucks' odds of winning the Eastern Conference went from 12-1 to 10-1, at the Westgate in Las Vegas, and from 50-1 to 40-1 to win the NBA championship. Despite future luxury tax and salary implications and giving up draft picks, this was a win-now move for a skilled player at a low cost.
Next summer or next year, they may regret it, but the Bucks got better today – on defense, on offense, in transition, in the backcourt, late in games – and both Antetokounmpo and head coach Jason Kidd gained a new, useful, versatile tool. Tuesday's trade was exciting news in Milwaukee; now, the timetable accelerates, and the pressure and expectations turn up even more.
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