Bucks get:?Guard Eric Bledsoe
Suns get:?Center Greg Monroe, protected first-round pick and a protected second-round pick
Milwaukee Bucks: B-
From the moment he sent his now-infamous "I Dont wanna be here" tweet, Bledsoe was an obvious fit for the Bucks. Bledsoe's long arms -- his wingspan measured 6-foot-7? at the NBA draft combine in 2010, more than 7 inches greater than his height without shoes -- and strength should make him an ideal defender for Jason Kidd's system, which utilizes length and recovery speed to trap and prevent offenses from finding open shooters on the weak side (as ESPN's Kevin Arnovitz detailed earlier this year).
The question was always whether Milwaukee could find a trade package that satisfied Phoenix's needs without surrendering promising youngsters Malcolm Brogdon or Jabari Parker. Ultimately, because Bledsoe's trade value was so low, the Bucks were able to hold on to Brogdon and Parker and use a first-round pick as the carrot for the Suns, according to the trade being finalized as reported by ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe.
That came at a cost in terms of the matching salary. Instead of getting off the bad, longer-term deals for Matthew Dellavedova, John Henson or Mirza Teletovic, Milwaukee was forced to give up center Greg Monroe in addition to the pick.
Dealing Monroe hurts the value of this trade for the Bucks in both the short and long term. For the remainder of this season, Monroe was likely to be Milwaukee's best center. While he was off to a slow start before being sidelined with a calf strain, Monroe was the only Bucks 5 who provided much offensive punch, averaging 18.8 points per 36 minutes on efficient .572 true shooting last season, as compared with 14.5 per 36 for Thon Maker and 12.6 per 36 for Henson. During 2016-17, Milwaukee outscored opponents by 3.7 points per 100 possessions with Monroe on the court, per NBA.com/Stats, and was minus-2.2 per 100 with him on the bench -- worst for any player on the roster, even star Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Eventually, the Bucks may be confident they can replace Monroe's scoring as part of the second unit with Parker, who could slot into a reserve role when he returns from a torn ACL suffered last February. Still, Parker is months away from playing, and Milwaukee's best chance at making noise in this season's playoffs would include him, Bledsoe and Monroe.
The bigger challenge presented by trading Monroe may come next summer, when his contract would have expired. Bledsoe is signed for $15 million in 2018-19, a reasonable sum for a starting point guard but still one that will make it more difficult for the Bucks to avoid paying the luxury tax -- probably a non-starter for a small-market team without a track record of success.
Adding Bledsoe's salary moves Milwaukee within $16 million of the projected 2018-19 luxury-tax line ($122 million) with Parker as yet unsigned. (After failing to come to terms on an extension before the deadline earlier this month, Parker will be a restricted free agent next summer.) If Parker plays well after his return, the Bucks could be vulnerable to another team making a big offer to him in restricted free agency and forcing them into the tax by matching.
Milwaukee can save $7 million by waiving Teletovic and stretching the final season of his contract, but that would leave the team with cap hits for both Teletovic and Spencer Hawes (waived this summer) for the next two seasons. And, of course, the Bucks now have one fewer first-round pick (and one fewer second-round pick as well) to use either for a cost-controlled salary as the team's payroll rises or to help offload bad salaries.
Those caveats noted, this is still a trade worth making for Milwaukee. The Bucks got Bledsoe at an incredibly low cost in terms of assets, even getting protection on the first-rounder in case things go south to mitigate the risk. Adding Bledsoe while keeping Brogdon gives Kidd the ability to get 48 minutes of quality play at point guard, where Dellavedova has been ineffective, as well as playing both players together in ultra-versatile lineups.
While he has more tools at his disposal, the pressure on Kidd to win now surely ratchets up following this trade. Dealing picks for a starter who will soon turn 28 accelerates the Bucks' timetable to win the next two seasons, before Bledsoe becomes an unrestricted free agent who will be difficult for Milwaukee to re-sign given the team's tax limitations.
Phoenix Suns: C
Because contracts aren't always zero-sum, getting Monroe doesn't help the Suns as much as it hurts the Bucks. Surely, Phoenix demanded Monroe instead of one of Milwaukee's longer-term deals once the Bucks weren't willing to include Brogdon or Parker (or multiple first-round picks). Still, unless the Suns can get off one of their other long-term deals, they've created only marginal cap space (an estimated $13 million or so, pending the Milwaukee pick) for the summer of 2018 by trading Bledsoe for an expiring contract.
The summer of 2019, when Tyson Chandler and Jared Dudley come off the books, remains a better time for Phoenix to get active in free agency. For now, the team will have to hope that space can be used to add additional draft picks (or young talent) by taking on salary from teams that need to clear cap room or are ducking the luxury tax.
The Suns could also maximize their return for Bledsoe by shipping Monroe to a third team prior to the deadline. He could have some value as a quality player on an expiring contract between now and February, though the market for centers is limited right now. Moving Monroe early could also help Phoenix clear a roster spot to convert starting point guard Mike James' two-way contract into an NBA deal without waiving second-year wing Derrick Jones.
Pending those additional moves, this return for Bledsoe has to be considered something of a disappointment. Consider that the Minnesota Timberwolves traded Ricky Rubio last summer for a first-round pick and no salary in return. Rubio's value surely wasn't as high as Bledsoe's at the time, and while the first-rounder the Timberwolves got no longer looks as good as Milwaukee's because the Oklahoma City Thunder subsequently added Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, Minnesota got huge benefit from clearing enough cap space to sign Jeff Teague and Taj Gibson as free agents.
Last summer was surely the time to move Bledsoe, whose unhappiness on a losing team was predictable -- particularly after the Suns sat him out after last year's trade deadline to pursue a better pick. Bringing Bledsoe back, and subsequently sending him home after his apparent subtweet, did nothing to improve his trade value.
Given that situation, Phoenix probably did as well as could be expected. The market was unlikely to move dramatically between now and the trade deadline unless a huge injury created a need for a point guard. At least this way the Suns get to move on with an additional draft pick in hand.
UPDATE: ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski has reported the details of what Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel described as "unique" protection on the first-round pick going from the Bucks to the Suns.
Phoenix will get the pick only if it falls from 11-16 this year -- so the least four spots in the lottery or bottom two among playoff teams -- or 4-16 in 2019. By 2020, the pick is top-seven protected, and if it hasn't conveyed by 2021 the Suns will get it unprotected.
Because of the narrow band for the pick to convey this season, most likely Milwaukee will keep it. (Neil Johnson of ESPN Stats & Info noted that their Basketball Power Index model currently gives the pick a 32 percent chance of conveying, but that doesn't account for the likelihood the team improves after adding Bledsoe.) I also suspect the Bucks will be good enough in 2018-19 to pick outside the top 16. So I think the most likely scenario is Phoenix won't see the pick until 2020.
At that point, there's a lot of uncertainty about where Milwaukee might pick. The Bucks could be substantially improved if their young talent, led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, grows into the core of a contender. But there is a risk that Bledsoe's free agency could leave Milwaukee weaker by 2019-20. The Suns have given themselves the potential upside of an unprotected pick in 2021, the last year of Antetokounmpo's current contract.
The Bucks keeping this year's pick would also mean they would have somewhat less wiggle room with regard to the 2018-19 luxury tax, while Phoenix would create a bit more cap room for the summer of 2018.
Ultimately, I like the protections a tiny bit more for Milwaukee because of the greater value of a current pick over one down the line. But the protections do convey much more potential downside for the Bucks than standard lottery protection.