As the leading title contenders battle for position, the Milwaukee Bucks should be pleased with how the buyout market has played out.
The return to action following the All-Star break always makes for something of a landmark moment in an NBA season, signaling the juncture in the year when the wider belief is that the pressure and intensity really starts to ramp up.
For the Milwaukee Bucks, that means a second consecutive year of them being the team with a target on their back, with rivals from around the NBA attempting to chase down their league-leading pace for wins.
Of course, another key element of holding that status at this time of year is the need to observe and sometimes guard against the last-minute scramble for talent.
An incredibly quiet and largely underwhelming trade deadline certainly set the stage this year, and what has followed has been a buyout market that hasn’t left the Bucks with too much cause for concern either.
Compare that to 12 months ago, when the Bucks exchanged a war chest of second round picks for Nikola Mirotic, the Toronto Raptors landed Marc Gasol, and the Philadelphia 76ers added Tobias Harris, and the contrast couldn’t be much starker.
First and foremost, the Bucks have come through this year’s spell of late-season acquisitions strengthening through the addition of Marvin Williams. In doing so, the Bucks landed one of the most in-demand players who was expected to hit the buyout market, and therefore managed to bolster their already formidable roster without any need to part with meaningful assets.
Assessing the notable moves made by Milwaukee’s rivals in the last few weeks, at this point it seems there isn’t a whole lot that should leave the Bucks concerned, and certainly there hasn’t been any single move that has completely shifted the power dynamics around the NBA.
In the East, the 76ers and Heat made the most notable moves, with Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III being acquired by the Sixers from Golden State, while the Heat brought an end to Andre Iguodala‘s self-imposed Memphis exodus, picking up the likes of Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill in the process too.
For the Sixers, whose problems currently run much deeper than adding bench depth, these moves resemble the kind of James Ennis and Mike Scott transitions that have failed to move the needle for them in recent seasons.
As for Miami, if Iguodala can perform to the standards that once made him a Finals MVP, the Heat will have a legitimate steal on their hands. The reality, though, is that his age and time away from the game of late mean the odds are stacked against that becoming a reality.
Looking further ahead, the major moves at the top of the West have come from Los Angeles, although how major those acquisitions have ultimately turned out to be is certainly up for debate.
The Lakers have reportedly picked up Markieff Morris following his buyout agreement with the Pistons, but they fell foul to Darren Collison‘s decision to remain retired, and have largely failed to cover over their weakness at point guard between both the trade deadline and the buyout market.
The Clippers have been the more active of the two teams in the City of Angels, adding a Morris brother of their own in the form of Marcus Morris via a trade with the New York Knicks, while also consolidating their guard depth with the addition of another recently bought out former Piston, Reggie Jackson.
Those moves may improve the Clippers’ already impressive depths of talent, but it’s certainly debatable as to whether either of those players will feature in clutch lineups come playoff time.
Given how the Bucks’ rivals legitimately strengthened a year ago, and how one of those moves ultimately came back to haunt them in the Conference Finals, the fact that there hasn’t been similar blockbuster additions made this year should only leave Milwaukee feeling very good about their current position at the NBA’s summit approaching the playoffs.