The Illusion of Choice

The Milwaukee Bucks are a truly confounding franchise.  The core of players that has been assembled (now, and every year during my lifetime, for that matter) seems mismatched at best and train wreck at worst.  Their choices in the draft, while unmistakably talented, leave us scratching our heads.  And the head coach, in typical Scott Skiles fashion, refuses to throw a bone to the talent on his roster in the name of this team carving out a future for itself.

I’ve seen glimpses of the promised land, and let me tell you: the bridge to it is not built on the back of Luke Ridnour.

The Bucks have actually made their share of headlines this off-season, which is a rarity for a franchise that’s been mired in mediocrity.  I don’t blame the Bucks for the Jefferson trade, though it doesn’t bear many benefits on the basketball side of things.  Trading for Amir Johnson could prove to be an interesting move, as Johnson could be a lifetimer in ‘Waukee as a role player.  Selecting Brandon Jennings with the 10th pick is really a post unto itself, and mind-bendingly awesome/awful.

Then, after a mini-flurry of activity, the Bucks were left with a choice.  Or at least something that resembled a choice.  Both Charlie Villanueva and Ramon Sessions are restricted free agents looking for long-term financial commitment from the team.  Sessions would seem to be the odd-man out with Jennings now in the point guard rotation, and Villanueva still a bit of a question mark despite his scoring abilities.

So why is it that the Bucks volunteered themselves for a point guard logjam while letting Charlie V walk?  It’s simple: the Bucks never had a choice.  When Milwaukee sent Richard Jefferson to the Spurs for what amounts to a cap relief package, they sent a pretty clear message: everything is not alright.  Striving for .500 on a gaudy payroll is not the objective of this franchise.  They’re mad as hell, and they’re not gonna take it anymore.  But turning over a new leaf not only means acquiring some new talent (may I introduce Mr. Jennings), but also removing all other considerable road blocks to the team’s success.  The first road block was Jefferson, his contract, and his attitude.  The second road block was very clearly Charlie Villanueva, whose potential for a long-term, high-salary deal would essentially nuke any financial flexibility the Bucks would hope to have in the future.  The third, and perhaps most significant road block to the NeoBucks is Michael Redd.  But that’s a story for another day.

In theory, you shouldn’t let go of assets without compensation.  C-Nuv is a fairly valuable player, as evidenced by the insane amount of money the Pistons will pay him shortly.  But did the Bucks really have any call to re-sign him?  Was there really any possibility that a non-star scorer should be at the core of this team, tying the purse strings and giving Scott Skiles an aneurysm?  Villanueva is a better talent than Sessions, and one that fills what is likely a greater need in regards to both position and skill.  Yet, when it came down to deciding between the two, the Bucks’ hands were tied.  Sessions isn’t likely to receive anything more than the midlevel, while the subtle sexiness of Villanueva’s game could net him some serious dough.  I’m definitely of the opinion that he doesn’t deserve that kind of cash to begin with, but that’s not really the issue here.  The market for Villanueva’s services is about to be set, and we’ll soon see that the Bucks never really stood a chance.  Even if they reserved the right to match offers for Charlie, the decision was never really theirs.  The Bucks’ hands were tied when they signed Bobby Simmons to an absurd contract, when they gave Michael Redd more money than he was worth, and when they made Dan Gazuric the richest man ever named Dan Gadzuric.  Some of that is mismanagement and some of it is the horrors of small market basketball, but all of it has ensured that Villanueva isn’t sticking around with the Bucks.

Charlie’s going to get his, but that doesn’t mean the Bucks can’t come out on top in this scenario.  Making sense of the point guard rotation is a ridiculous enterprise, but Milwaukee is one step closer to a fresh start.  It’s a bit of a shame that an atypical, perplexing, jump-shooting power forward couldn’t be part of something so fittingly new, but I somehow doubt the Bucks will lament the loss of Villanueva’s new deal.

Seth Carstens