The Brandon Knight Trade Was a Mistake


Milwaukee made a mistake in dealing Brandon Knight at all, but especially so considering the multitude of question marks surrounding Michael Carter-Williams.

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two part series featuring our Editor-in-Chief, Adam McGee, and our Managing Editor, Ti Windisch. Ti and Adam disagree completely on the Brandon Knight trade, and have decided to both voice their opinions in editorial articles. Ti is up first, with Adam’s piece coming tomorrow.

Ah, here we are again. The Milwaukee Bucks’ very own Harden trade: Brandon Knight was sent to Phoenix, Michael Carter-Williams came to Milwaukee, and the 76ers got a draft pick. Since the trade, Milwaukee has been 15-22 in the regular season and 2-4 in the playoffs. Things have not been great.

Things are great right now over in Phoenix. The Suns have a backcourt that will be good for the next half-decade at least in Eric Bledsoe and Knight, and are currently 7-5 in the cut-throat Western Conference. No small part of that has been Knight–I’ll get to statistics in a minute, but suffice it to say he’s been spectacular this season.

Michael Carter-Williams has..not been spectacular. This may be the season in which he finally moves the needle from poor/average to good, but it hasn’t really happened yet. MCW may be the leader of this team, but if he can’t make meaningful contributions to the Bucks then that doesn’t mean all that much.

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I’ve tried to support this trade since it happened. After all, John Hammond and Jason Kidd certainly know more than I do, and I really don’t want to be a pessimist. But assuring people that Carter-Williams could magically develop a capable jump-shot and that Knight wasn’t the right fit for the team always felt a bit like going down with a sinking ship.

Let’s be clear–Brandon Knight is the better player. He’s also the younger player, by just about two months. If he’s better, and he’s younger, then he’s both a better player and asset than Carter-Williams. Thus: this was a bad trade.

1Michael Carter-Williams730.410.7.4272.1.333.4603.9.7413.
2Brandon Knight1234.817.7.4536.7.413.5313.8.8444.

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Generated 11/21/2015.

Comparing their per game numbers this season is hardly a comparison. Knight comes out ahead in every single category aside from assists, where Carter-Williams edges him by 0.1. Considering Knight has played the vast majority of his minutes at shooting guard this season, even that isn’t really a victory for MCW.

Brandon Knight has yet to turn 24, and he’s averaging 22 points, five assists, five rebounds, and 1.5 steals per game. On 45 percent shooting from the field and 41 percent from beyond the arc. He’s also found a way to be a good defender this season, posting a defensive rating of 102, 0.5 defensive win shares and a defensive box plus-minus of 0.6.

Feb 7, 2015; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks guard Brandon Knight (11) reacts after scoring a basket late in the fourth quarter during the game against the Boston Celtics at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Knight scored 26 points to help the Bucks beat the Celtics 96-93. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Knight may be more of an offensive-orientated player, but he’s certainly not a bad defender. Even if he was, with the way he’s been playing lately it wouldn’t even be an issue. In this past week, Brandon Knight has looked like a legitimate star player.

First, against the Lakers on Monday, Knight went off to the tune of 30 points, 15 assists, 10 rebounds and four steals. Next against Chicago, he posted 23 points, four assists, three rebounds and a steal. Finally, Knight torched the Nuggets for 38 points, six rebounds, 11 assists, two steals and a block.

So in the span of five days and three games, Knight put up 91 points, 30 assists, 19 rebounds, seven steals and a lone block. Call me a doubter, but I’m not expecting Michael Carter-Williams to average 30/10/6/2 for many weeks this season. He’ll almost certainly reach that level for a game or two, but Carter-Williams is simply too inconsistent to dominate an entire week like Knight clearly can.

But let’s not focus on only Carter-Williams here. Khris Middleton is the one that got picked over Knight, according to Kidd. I really like Middleton’s game, but he’s not on Knight’s level. Especially considering the poor start he’s had to this season. But the best thing for this team would’ve been keeping both of them, as their both young, proven talents.

The main arguments levied against Knight were simple: he isn’t a good fit on this team and he is going to be too expensive to keep. The fit argument is impossible to definitively prove one way or another since Knight isn’t here to attempt to mesh with Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker anymore, but isn’t that more of a coaching issue?

Good coaches find ways to make players fit together. You can’t just punt on talented players in the NBA if you initially have trouble fitting them into your lineup. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure–the Suns can tell you all about that themselves, considering they were forced to deal Isaiah Thomas and Goran Dragic for less than either of them were really worth.

I’m sick and tired of hearing about how the Bucks would’ve had too many ball-handlers with Knight on the team, as if good teams only have one player who enjoys scoring in bunches. Yeah, because Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron James worked so poorly together in Miami. And when they’re both healthy, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are such a bad tandem in Oklahoma City because they both need the ball.

It’s not a good argument. Especially since we never got to see much of Jabari, Giannis and Knight sharing the floor. I would love to see how this season’s versions of Giannis and Jabari punish defenses together with Knight. The offense a Knight/Middleton/Giannis/Jabari/Monroe lineup could generate would be right up there at the top of the Eastern Conference, undoubtedly.

Mentioning Greg Monroe brings me to the second argument about keeping Knight–that it wouldn’t have been affordable to keep him and Khris Middleton, and then bring in Moose as well. Let’s crunch the numbers for that, shall we?

I oversimplified things when I said Milwaukee got MCW for Knight–Tyler Ennis and Miles Plumlee came over, too. The three of them make a combined $5.5 million dollars. Combine that with either Greivis Vasquez‘ $6.5 million hit or O.J. Mayo‘s $8 million hit this season and you’ve already basically covered Knight’s salary for this season. From there on out, everything is easy.

The salary cap is expected to jump to $89 million next season. The Bucks would be at around $74 million with Knight, Monroe, Middleton, Giannis, Jabari, John Henson, Rashad Vaughn, Damien Inglis and Johnny O’Bryant. That’s $15 million to sign four or five players–not a ton of room, but between those nine guys already signed you’ve got a rock solid starting five and some strong bench pieces.

Adding a good veterans and a few younger, unproven players wouldn’t be too tough with $15 million, not even when the cap is that high. And then the big worry for all Bucks fans comes up–oh no, Giannis and then Jabari will be eligable for extensions! There’s no way the Bucks can afford all of their young core! Well, actually…

Jan 25, 2014; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks guard Brandon Knight (11) talks with guard Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) during the fourth quarter against the Atlanta Hawks at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Atlanta won 112-87. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The new T.V. deal money really kicks in in 2017-18, the season Giannis’ extension would kick in. The salary cap is supposed to rise all the way to $108 million that season. That’s about $20 million more than I’ve allotted the Bucks in spending money the year before–enough to max out Giannis.

The season after that, when Jabari’s extension would kick in, the cap won’t rise as much but it’ll probably rise some. Monroe will also be completely off of the books, even if he does take his player option the season before, plus Larry Sander’s buyout will finally be over.

Would it be a tight squeeze to keep all of these Young Bucks? Absolutely. But it was possible. Even if the luxury tax needs to be utilized when it’s time to extend Jabari, I can’t think of a better luxury scenario than being able to start prime versions of Brandon Knight, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker and either Greg Monroe or John Henson all next to one another.

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The talk around Milwaukee is always about being able to truly contend one day. With either of those starting fives, the Milwaukee Bucks would have been contenders. Brandon Knight may not have been the key to the Bucks’ winning a title, but he certainly could have been a huge contributor for Milwaukee down the road.

It’s not impossible for the Bucks to contend in three or four years since they’ve made the trade, but there are certainly more questions now. What good is cap room if it’s for a losing team? Despite their deep pockets and illustrious history, the Lakers and Knicks accomplished next to nothing in free agency this past offseason.

And maybe Knight wouldn’t have worked out well in Milwaukee. Who knows. All I’m saying is, it would’ve been worth a shot to see. The talent between the Young Bucks is still great, but it used to be phenomenal. Hopefully Milwaukee can get back to that level soon, despite making a poor trade that cost them both potential and immediate talent.