Should the Bucks make an aggressive pitch for Kyrie Irving?

 

The premise

Of all the teams discussed as possible Kyrie Irving suitors, the Milwaukee Bucks may have the best stockpile of assets to dangle. Giannis Antetokounmpo is off the table, of course, but they still have plenty left in the cupboard.

If I ran the Cavs, I’d be extremely interested in adding a 6’8″ wing like Khris Middleton. Still only 25, Middleton is a lights-out shooter (40.4% career from three) who can defend multiple positions. Malcolm Brogdon‘s also a great value play — he’s a big and steady guard on a cheap contract. Jabari Parker‘s tempting as well, given his “star” potential. A trade for Kyrie Irving would have to include at least one of those pieces and more: maybe 3-and-D man Tony Snell, maybe former Cav Matthew Dellavedova, or maybe even Thon Maker as the promising prospect and bigger trade chip.

The point is: the Bucks can come up with a compelling package for Kyrie Irving if they wanted to. The question is: do they want to? Should they want to? Here’s an argument on both sides.

The case AGAINST Kyrie

The most obvious reason the Milwaukee Bucks haven’t jumped into the Kyrie sweepstakes is that: they don’t have to. They’re already a playoff team with an even brighter future. The arrow is obviously pointing “up” in Milwaukee.

If the Cavs combust, the Bucks will be one of those teams primed to become a force in the East. Giannis is only 22 and already an All-NBA team performer with MVP potential. With the right pieces around him, you can see this being a title contender within a few years. More specifically: if you surround Giannis with 4 good shooters, you could make the team lethal on offense and defense.

And there’s a clear path to making that happen — in fact, two possible paths. If Thon Maker develops into a consistent stretch center, then the team would have those 4 shooters around Giannis to make him a dominant force. Alternatively (and perhaps more interestingly), they can start playing Giannis as a center himself — defensively — and surround him with 4 shooting wings. That type of team would be faster, more versatile, and almost the perfect modern squad.

So all in all, the Bucks can stay the course. There’s no need to shake it up.

The case FOR Kyrie

Everyone in Milwaukee and across the globe is excited about the Bucks’ future, but perhaps we’re too optimistic. There’s a legitimate argument to make that this team should not be satisfied yet.

In terms of the short-term, this is a team that was only 42-40 (with a -0.2 point differential.) In an in-depth prediction post, I estimated the team would win about 45 games next year, good for #5 in the East. That’s solid, but still squarely in Tier 2 of conference contenders.

I’d also be cautious about making bold long-term predictions as well. I don’t believe Antetokounmpo will become the legitimate top player in the league until he has a league-average shot, and right now he’s a long way away from that. He shot 27.2% last year, in his 4th season in the NBA. I don’t think it’s a given that he’ll ever be a great shooter. People point to Kawhi Leonard as an example of someone who learned to shoot, but Leonard was already connecting at 37%+ from beyond the arc at Giannis’ same age. Even LeBron James, an inconsistent shooter, has never been below 29% in any year in the league.

If Giannis never develops into a league-average shooter, he’ll be easier to defend. That’s where another genuine playmaker like Kyrie Irving can come in handy to take the pressure off. Obviously, the Kyrie / LeBron pairing had a shelf life in Cleveland, but I believe that had more to do with a personality clash than an on-court chemistry. In terms of basketball skills, the two complement each other well. The problem became about ego. Giannis doesn’t strike me as the type of person who will suck all the air out of the room and organization like LeBron can. The timeline also fits: Kyrie Irving was actually born the same year as Brogdon, believe it or not.

There’s a natural issue of “whose team is it?” and “who gets the ball?” but I think we’re in a day and age in the NBA where one superstar surrounded by role players isn’t winning a title, which is why the Houston Rockets sought out another star in Chris Paul. Maybe the Bucks need to do the same.

Maybe. I’m genuinely mixed on this, which is why I posted this. I can see an argument on both sides.

What would you say? Let’s presume the price for Kyrie is something like Middleton or Jabari Parker… plus a big asset like Thon Maker… plus Delly (who’s sort of a net “0” in trade value, given his contract). Are you in or out on Kyrie?

 

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