Are The Milwaukee Bucks Right To Go All In On Youth?


Since the Milwaukee Bucks hit a free agency home run in landing Greg Monroe, some of their personnel decisions in the time since have been strange to say the least.

Veteran swingman Jared Dudley was traded away to the Washington Wizards for no more than a second round pick, and then a week later the Bucks received the same haul from the Dallas Mavericks for wily center Zaza Pachulia.

So, two players who were pivotal in helping to spur a young Bucks squad from a league worst 15 win mark, to 41 wins and a playoff berth in the space of twelve months are gone, and what did Milwaukee get in return?

Let’s be honest here: the chances are they got nothing.

Why do these deals then, or more importantly, what exactly is the plan for Milwaukee?

First and foremost, I’m not wholly convinced that the Bucks plan on being better next season.

When the Monroe news broke, I wrote a piece detailing how it was now becoming time for Milwaukee to live in the present, and start thinking about winning, but indications from the franchise seem to hint that this is very much still an organization focused on the “Own The Future” mantra rather than shaping a successful present.

That’s not meant to sound as critical or harsh as it may come across, and the Bucks have undoubtedly done a stellar job at rebuilding in the speediest, most thorough manner possible over the past couple of seasons, but this could be where the front office’s team-building strategy has the potential to become a little bit more unconventional.

Before making his free agency decision, Greg Monroe went on record in expressing his desire to be a part of a winning team and a winning culture after spending his career to date out of the Playoffs in Detroit:

"I’m looking to be with a team that’s ready to win. Hopefully it will be a team where I’m the missing piece."

A move to Milwaukee made sense in that regard too, and for a starting lineup that was missing a really talented and forceful young center, Monroe seemed to be the missing piece.

There’s no doubt that having just signed a deal worth $51 million over the next three seasons, Monroe is going to have a better idea of the franchise’s future plans than most of us can speculate upon, but I still find myself wondering what he makes of the last few days.

Pachulia and Dudley were never going to be Monroe’s immediate concern on the court, as they would be mostly second unit guys in Milwaukee, but there’s a strong chance that they will both be starters on playoff caliber teams in Dallas and Washington respectively this season. Having them in reserve would have shown just how strong and deep your team was.

Then Jason Kidd made some interesting remarks about the season ahead in conversation with NBA TV’s Dana Jacobson during last night’s Bucks’ Summer League game against the New Orleans Pelicans.

Jacobson relayed Kidd’s words as follows:

"He said, “I want us to go from good to good this season.” I said, “Not better?”. And he said, “No, it’s somewhere in between that. The good, the better and great. You can come up with your own word.”"

This in itself is a very strange sentiment, but perhaps it’s the greatest insight we’ll get into how the team themselves see the future, and this roster unfolding and developing.

You’d have to say right now that the Bucks aren’t really on track to be better overall next season, so Kidd’s talking like that is likely no coincidence. In fact, it would lead you to believe it’s all part of the plan.

The Dudley trade was greeted with scepticism by many, but most expected it to set the scene for a bigger move. With the way the timing of the Zaza deal went down (after the team had already signed Khris Middleton), you’d have to question whether that really seems likely now though.

Sure, there could yet be a trade that comes out of nowhere and catches us all off guard, and all of a sudden makes perfect sense of recent moves, but it just doesn’t seem on the agenda at the moment.

Of course, as well as Pachulia and Dudley, Milwaukee had already moved on another veteran in Ersan Ilyasova this summer too. So, for those of you not paying attention, the Bucks keep getting younger.

That’s exciting in terms of the team’s potential ceiling, or stockpiling assets, but isn’t necessarily practical.

Assuming the Bucks waive the non-guaranteed Jorge Gutierrez, and sign first-round pick Rashad Vaughn, the current average age of Milwaukee’s roster is only 23. To put that in perspective, the youngest team at the start of the NBA season last year was the Philadelphia 76ers at 23.4.

Historically the average age of an NBA Championship team has been 28.2 years old. Only two teams with an average age below 26 have won a title in the last 50 years, and perhaps even more tellingly, eight of the ten oldest championship winning teams have come in the last 20 years.

So, where exactly are the Bucks going with this?

As much as a wealth of young talent is exciting, it’s also a dangerous game to play in the NBA. When teams have groups of talented young players together, they generally find themselves against the clock from the get-go. A day is going to come where they’re all due their pay-day, and if you haven’t achieved your goals by then that can be a tough place to arrive at.

Just ask the Oklahoma City Thunder, who were forced to give up on James Harden to stick with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Obviously that’s the type of dilemma that teams dream of, but in the game of winning championships OKC still haven’t gotten over the line, and who knows, they may even lose Durant next summer as a result.

If the Bucks don’t make any more major moves before the season comes around, they’ll still be a playoff team.

It could be a case of standing still or taking one step back, to take two steps forward though. The Bucks will be very strong as a starting five, but could be a complete work in progress behind that.

Is it worth the risk of throwing those young guys in now and letting them struggle, so that they’re tried and tested by the time the Bucks face sterner tests down the line?

It’s a debate that could rage on for years and years depending on how this group pans out for Milwaukee.

Next: The Need To Lower Expectations For Damien Inglis

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