tobias-harris-holding-ball

By default, the biggest move of trade deadline day was J.J. Redick to Milwaukee. He was the best player moved on the day, and while that feels weird to type, it’s not a pejorative.

Indisputably, and importantly, Milwaukee got a good quality player. This shouldn’t be overlooked. In the Dwight Howard-era, Redick was beginning to win praise as a much improved role player, a one-time specialist shooter who’s added a floor game and sufficient defense to remove the biggest holes in his game. And this year, while under the radar on the lottery-bound Magic, he’s taken that to an extra level. Without ever being a star, or especially close to it, Redick betters any team he is on, more so than any other player in the deal. His attraction and usage to Milwaukee is easily determinable.

Yet to fully maximize that price and win the deal, they need to re-sign him. They also need to do so without overpaying, something that they’ve done too often in recent years. But it won’t be easy. Redick is not eligible for an extension and will be an unrestricted free agent when he hits the open market this summer, in a market with scant few quality two guards in it. One of the other few who might be on the market will be the guy likely ahead of Redick in the Bucks depth chart, Monta Ellis. This, then, presents Milwaukee with a self-imposed problem. More than likely, they’ll have to choose between them. They already had to choose between Ellis and Brandon Jennings, and were starting to realize it. This trade merely gives them an option for afterwards.

In theory, with Ellis considering opting out and with Jennings not getting an extension, all three will hit the market this summer and Milwaukee will need to choose two. It won’t be coincidental that, in the same week Ellis was nearly traded and word leaked he may opt out, a quality player was brought in at his position. The Bucks are planning for life without him, and Redick seems to be a part of it.

Of course, this would mean the initial Ellis trade was a waste of time and assets. That smarts. But that’s a pill that needed swallowing long ago. When evaluated in isolation, this trade sees Milwaukee land the best player (if only as a rental), and exchange a couple of prospects, taking in Gustavo Ayon for Tobias Harris. This latter part makes a difference.

Both of those two are hard to gauge. Ayon, a late bloomer in Spain, started poorly this year and boasts only the unspectacular averages of 3.6 points and 3.3 rebounds per game. Considering he turns 28 in six weeks, it’s perhaps a stretch to have labeled him a prospect just now. But Ayon has a level of talent that he has yet to fully realize, and it is still early enough in his NBA career to be able to attribute some of it to an adjustment period. Milwaukee’s extremely crowded frontcourt is not the ideal place for him to work through it, but nevertheless, Ayon brings skills and a skillset that they don’t have. He may be of some use in the future.

Harris is a more legitimate prospect, with great size and a versatile skillset, whose gaping defensive holes have hindered his progress so far but which do not change his significant offensive talents. His sophomore stagnation is worrying, yet Harris is still only 20 and has shown enough to warrant a long look. If Redick is only a rental, Harris’ loss is lamentable.

However, it’s tough to conclude, without concrete evidence either way, that this was the best deal Orlando had on the table. (And if you’ve heard that said before, that’ll be because of the Dwight deal.) If it was, that still doesn’t make it a better plan than just re-signing Redick may have been — even lottery teams still need good role players if they don’t want to end up like the Wizards or Kings. Orlando traded Redick for a prospect, and not much else. Even if he’s re-signed as a backup, Beno Udrih is included for his contract, and even if Doron Lamb does a Von Wafer impression for a couple of years, it’s not enough to tip the deal. Hakim Warrick will do even less, as he may be waived immediately.

Success for Orlando, then, hinges upon Harris’ performance. Freed from the shackles of Skiles’ (and, seemingly, Boylan’s) extremely unforgiving regime that has no tolerance for defensive lapses, Harris has the opportunity to break out and prove himself, and has more talent than those which Orlando could draft with a late pick this year had they dealt Redick for that instead. But that doesn’t guarantee he’ll ever be better than Redick, who has rounded into a roughly perfect role player.

With Redick’s qualities in mind, this trade wasn’t necessarily bad for Milwaukee. It is if Redick isn’t resigned, but it’s not unduly bad if he is. The one for Ellis is the one that was bad, and the major downside to this trade is it makes that one look worse.

It is perfectly valid to question the Bucks’s overall plan and direction, as there do not seem to be many identified building blocks going forward. (If Jennings was indisputably one, he would surely have gotten extended.) It is also perfectly valid to question why one potential building block was just dealt for a soon-to-be-free-agent veteran who plays the same position as the other soon-to-be-free-agent veteran that a different building block was traded for this time last year. However, if it can be assumed that the Jennings/Ellis pairing has been given up on for good, Milwaukee’s plan can perhaps be realized. Redick can be re-signed without touching the MLE, and Ellis can be signed-and-traded to anyone willing to pay him. A Jennings and Redick pairing, combined with the Bucks’s plethora of big man talents, leaves them one star wing short of having a pretty good Eastern conference team. Coupled with one of the big man talents, Ellis could in theory be the piece that lands that star, with the MLE and first round pick to add further talent. That, probably, is the plan. At the very least, it’s the justification.

It’s not optimum. It’s not close to optimum. Nor is it for Orlando. Someone lost this deal. Ultimately, Tobias Harris will tell us who.