Bledsoe Trade Update: Bucks Keep 2018 Pick

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Way back in November, the Milwaukee Bucks traded for Eric Bledsoe, sending back Greg Monroe and a pair of protected draft picks. At the time, general manager Jon Horst was widely lauded for landing a talented player like Bledsoe at the price he paid; while the draft considerations are consequential, Bledsoe’s value was at an all-time low during his Phoenix tenure:

How did the Bucks and Suns come to such an arrangement? It turns out that over the course of the wheeling and dealing, Milwaukee had put together a complicated combination of pick protections to give both sides enough reason to pull the trigger. To sum up the circumstances surrounding the 2018 first rounder:

The expectation was that the Bledsoe acquisition, combined with the otherworldly Giannis Antetokounmpo, the versatile Khris Middleton, and the eventually-returning-yet-enigmatic Jabari Parker, would propel the Bucks into the middle, or even perhaps upper tier, of the Eastern Conference. As we know now, this did not happen.

Finishing 44-38, the Bucks were tied record-wise with the Miami Heat for the 16th spot in the draft order. Because of the pick tiebreaking rules, head-to-head record doesn’t matter, and the tie was broken by a random ping pong ball drawing, similar to the draft lottery. Last night, the Bucks lost the tiebreaker, awarding Miami the 16th pick and (more importantly) allowing Milwaukee to maintain ownership of the 17th selection.

Milwaukee already does not own their second round pick this summer; a protected 2018 second rounder was previously included in the Bledsoe trade, but the protections on the 2018 second rounder sent to Brooklyn (along with Rashad Vaughn) in exchange for Tyler Zeller lined up perfectly to ensure that someone else (either Phoenix or Brooklyn) would use the Bucks’ 2018 second round pick.

So what does this mean going forward?

Milwaukee should be better next year, full stop. If their first round draft pick falls between 4th and 16th, it will convey to Phoenix, but the expectation is (and should be) that the Bucks will perform better in 2018-19 than in this past season. Based on this assumption, Milwaukee will likely finalize the Bledsoe trade by sending their pick in 2020, which is only protected 1-8. There is no reason to believe that the Bucks will be one of the 8 worst records in two years.

The Bucks can, as they did last summer when they selected Sterling Brown, opt to purchase a second round pick (or two! or three!) from teams looking for an influx of quick cash. Buying picks is not tied to the salary cap, making “cash considerations” one of the most valuable, albeit unregulated, resources a team can use to fill out their roster with young players on cheap contracts.

Milwaukee can also, theoretically, simply trade the player chosen at 17 after the pick is made in order to bypass the Stepien Rule, which forbids teams from trading their first round picks in consecutive seasons. This is less likely, since most franchises prefer the freedom of choice that blank draft picks provide, rather than the rights to a specific player at a specific draft slot (which also determines their rookie scale salary).

No matter how you slice it, the Bucks keeping their own draft pick is a good thing. Whether it was conveyed this summer, next summer, or two summers from now, Milwaukee will need cheap contracts to structure their roster around Giannis, and if they get the pick right (which is hard for any team, not just the Bucks), they could get lucky and add a rotation player instead of a benchwarmer. We’re just happy we get to talk about something during draft time this year!

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