Updated: April 16, 2:42 PM ET
Versatile Bucks will be difficult to defend
By David Aldridge
Special to ESPN.com
The Bucks just became very, very hard to guard.
Mismatches are what keep coaches up nights. And Milwaukee, now, has a half-dozen problems for you to solve. The Bucks will never be stoppers; it's not in their nature. But they're now Mavericks East, a team that can send waves of shooters and scorers at you. Getting 105 a night should be no sweat now for George Karl and Company; a first-round series with the Bucks is now a daunting prospect.
Think about what Karl can put on the floor. He can go conventional and start Payton and Michael Redd, and Tim Thomas, with Mason and Sam Cassell and Toni Kukoc coming off the bench. He can start Cassell and Payton in the backcourt, because GP can play two as well as one, and may extend his career playing next to a true ballhandler like Cassell, along with Thomas, and bring Redd and Desmond Mason off the bench with Kukoc. Or he could start Redd at the three, and move Thomas down to power forward, and bring Anthony Mason off the bench. Or he could go really small and play Thomas at the five, alongside Cassell, Redd, Desmond Mason and Payton.
What do you do if Payton and Thomas run screen-and-roll, with Cassell on the weak side and Redd in the corner? Or if Cassell -- the best post-up point in the game today -- goes to the low block, with Payton cutting off of him? Or if Karl runs two-guard fronts with Desmond Mason and Payton, or Payton and Redd? The possibilities are numerous. Who do you leave to double-team?
What I also like about this deal for Milwaukee is that the Bucks should now be a better defensive team as well. They can sic Payton on Jason Kidd, or Reggie Miller, or Baron Davis, or Rip Hamilton, or any other guard in the East who could get hot come playoff time. They can put Desmond Mason on the high-flying, athletic threes like Richard Jefferson, or Jamal Mashburn, or Tracy McGrady, if Thomas gets in foul trouble. And the Bucks were able to maintain what size they do have in Ervin Johnson, Anthony Mason and Jason Caffey.
But what's most intriguing is that Milwaukee now has some very desirable pieces to put together this summer. I can't believe that Ernie Grunfeld and company would pull the trigger on this deal without having some kind of understanding of what it will take to re-sign Payton, and that won't be cheap. Given owner Herb Kohl's desire not to pay tax, the Bucks will almost certainly have to move some of these guys. But if Payton's safely in the fold for the next three or four years (and you have to imagine he'll take less than the $14.6 million that Milwaukee would have had to pay Allen and Kevin Ollie next season), Cassell (a modest $17.4 million total due the last three years of his deal) and Redd ($9 million over the next three) or Kukoc (one year left, at $8.7 million) could all be succulent trade bait.
And the Bucks have Atlanta's first-rounder unless it's one, two or three in the Lottery!
Things could be very interesting at Major Goolsby's the next few years.
At the least, we know that Karl still has Kohl's ear, for no one was closer to or more fond of Ray Allen than the Senator, and to agree to move him must have been extremely difficult. When I was in Milwaukee a couple of weeks ago, you heard grumblings about how unhappy Allen was, how frustrated his injury-plagued season had made him, and I wondered out loud, would the Bucks move him? But I dismissed that as lunacy, because of the Kohl-Allen bond.
Now, it seems safe to say that Karl isn't going anywhere for a while. I asked him about the UCLA and North Carolina jobs, both of which could be open soon, and George said he really didn't want to be a gypsy at this point of his career. "I want to stay here," he told me, and it looks like he will.
For Seattle, getting Allen is a solid save for what certainly would have been the Glove's departure via free agency this summer. I'm told that the Sonics would have taken a similar hard line with Payton as the Spurs did with David Robinson two years ago, offering Payton a maximum of $7 million per year, which he almost certainly would have rejected. Allen is due a little more than $28 million in the last two years of his deal, but the Sonics won't have to now pay Desmond Mason, or Payton, and they likely are just renting Elden Campbell for two months. They now have no chance at Jason Kidd, but they won't pay tax next season, and they got a personable All-Star in Allen. Not a horrible swap, but the Sonics are no closer to a breakthrough in the West now than they were a day ago.
This deal is about the Bucks. Assuming they get Payton's name on a contract this summer, it's a great trade for Milwaukee. But if you had told me a year ago that the Bucks would trade two-thirds of the Big Three, and that the guy left would be Sam Cassell, I would have had you committed.
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David Aldridge, who covers the NBA for ESPN, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.