Despite winning a league-best 56 games and being built around the Defensive Player of the Year and likely back-to-back MVP, the Milwaukee Bucks lost the Eastern Conference Semifinals in five games to the underdog Miami Heat.
It was an embarrassing series for a team most picked to represent the conference in the Finals. Giannis Antetokounmpo looked helpless trying to finish games, and the team as a whole appeared just as incapable of adjusting to its opponent’s defensive schemes as it was last season when Milwaukee blew a 2-0 lead to Toronto.
The Bucks need a roster change. Khris Middleton is not a good enough No.2 option alongside Antetokounmpo to win at the highest level. Eric Bledsoe once again lost his shooting stroke at the worst time. The team needs a legitimate perimeter threat capable of creating offense down the stretch when opponents pack the paint against Antetokounmpo.
Luckily, Antetokounmpo said after the loss that he intends to stay with the team, at least for the time being. His tune could change next offseason if the team continues to underachieve, so here are five players Milwaukee could trade for to take the team to the next level and ensure Antetokounmpo re-signs.
Note: None of these five players have overly-high trade value, so a combination of the assets below should be enough to acquire one of them. Some will require a heftier package while others come cheaper.
Trade Package: Eric Bledsoe, Donte DiVincenzo, George Hill, Ersan Ilyasova, Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Robin Lopez (player-option), Wesley Matthews (player-option), 2020 first-round pick (No.24, via Indiana), 2023 first-round pick, 2025 first-round pick
5. Dennis Schroder
If the Thunder want to truly tank next year, moving Schroder’s expiring $15.5 million contract would be smart to get value from him before he walks in free agency. Schroder is a crafty, score-first guard who displayed significant improvement in his long-range shooting as Oklahoma City’s sixth man (38.5% from behind the arc this season).
Alongside players like Antetokounmpo and Middleton, Schroder could thrive as a third-option and playmaker. He can abuse mismatches, shoot kick-out triples and develop a pick-and-roll rapport with Antetokounmpo. Schroder’s quickness can also help push the pace in transition.
Schroder’s defense and consistency are concerns, but he’s a much more versatile offensive player than Bledsoe. He also has 46 playoff games under his belt, and although he hasn’t been great in some of them, he’ll be less of the opponent’s focus, so he can succeed as an X-factor.
He’s cheap, likely available and a good chemistry fit with Milwaukee. There’s no reason not to trade Bledsoe and another piece or two and give Antetokounmpo a different type of guard to play with.
4. Mike Conley
Assuming Conley accepts his $34.5 million player-option next season, the Jazz may want to move in a different direction. Conley was underwhelming before the league’s stoppage but returned to his Memphis form in the bubble, especially in his five playoff games after his child was born.
He finished strong, yet his fit as a secondary ball-handler to Donovan Mitchell wasn’t seamless. Realistically, Utah would want a different point guard next season, perhaps a more defensive-oriented one like Bledsoe to go along with a pick or prospect, so Milwaukee should consider Conley if all other options fail.
Conley is a great shooter, solid playmaker and tremendous locker room presence when at his best. He has extensive playoff experience and can help teach the Bucks how to manage crunchtime playoff moments. He is nearly 33 years old and isn’t the defender he once was, but like many others on this list, defense isn’t as big a concern when you have Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez helping behind you.
If Conley doesn’t work out, his contract expires and the team isn’t stuck paying an over-the-hill guard. He’s a safe option if all else fails. The only hindrance is if Utah wants him to stay.
3. Derrick Rose
Rose isn’t the go-to guard he once was, but the nearly 32-year-old former MVP is still a good scorer from the guard position. He averaged 18 points per game over the last two seasons, according to basketball-reference, and showed progression in his 3-point shot in Minnesota before regressing this season.
He’s on an expiring $7.6 million contract, so adding him to Milwaukee’s roster gives them cap flexibility to add other pieces if needed. Rose’s trade value isn’t high considering his age and injury history, but the biggest factor hindering the Bucks’ chances of getting him would be competing interest from other teams.
Rose’s strengths compliment Milwaukee well. He can create offense for himself and others off the dribble, is historically clutch and his playoff experience should help settle the team when games get tight. His shot and durability are legitimate question marks, but he’s a safe option for the Bucks to pursue if they can’t land a more glamorous player.
2. Zach LaVine
LaVine made his thoughts clear a couple of months ago about the state of the Bulls. The team hasn’t been competitive since the mid-2010s and LaVine was often left on an island offensively this season while playing with inexperienced and/or undeveloped talent.
If he does want out of Chicago, Milwaukee is as good a destination as he could hope for. His proficiency at both 3-point shooting and creating offense off the dribble is exactly what the Bucks are missing. LaVine can play on and off-ball, knockdown triples via Antetokounmpo kick-outs and score late in close games when Antetokounmpo and Middleton struggle to isolate.
He’s the most sought-after player on this list, so Milwaukee would likely have to give up multiple first-round picks to get him since their other trade assets are mostly undesirable. The franchise would be hemorrhaging its future, but you have to consider that trading these picks would both acquire LaVine and hopefully make Antetokounmpo want to stay. In that sense, it’s similar to how the Clippers traded an absurd amount of assets for Paul George last season, which they only did because they knew getting George meant Kawhi Leonard joined as well.
LaVine is also on a team-friendly deal — he’ll make $19.5 million in each of the next two seasons — so if it doesn’t work out with him on the Bucks, the team can trade him in the last year of his deal.
LaVine is the perfect and most realistic solution to Milwaukee’s playoff shortcomings. The only issue is that he’ll surely garner significant interest on the trade market this offseason, so the Bucks will have to edge out the competition.
1. Chris Paul
Paul is the first player the Bucks are reportedly interested in trading for this offseason. He looked rejuvenated this year and led a Thunder squad thought to be rebuilding to a narrow seventh-game loss in the first round of the playoffs, causing many to see the aging future Hall of Famer as a potential difference-maker for a contender next season should he be dealt.
The 35-year-old guard is past his prime, but Paul showed he still has the skills and mentality to contend at the highest level. On a team like the Bucks where he doesn’t have to carry the offense until the end of games, he should remain a valuable player until his contract expires in two seasons.
A player of his caliber would normally garner high value on the trade market, yet Paul is owed over $85 million over the next two seasons. That contract coupled with Oklahoma City’s desire to rebuild makes him easy to trade for, and Milwaukee could use a closer and leader of his merit.
Paul can create offense at the end of games and hopefully teach Antetokounmpo how to master basketball on a cerebral level. His leadership can’t be understated. The Bucks desperately need a player like him, and if they trade Bledsoe and perhaps another player or two, they can also afford him.