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Friday, February 21
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.

Gary Payton gives George Karl a lot of options on offense.
This does not mean a title is coming Milwaukee's way, because the Bucks still have frontcourt and defensive issues. Nor is this a diss of Ray Allen, as classy a kid that walks the hardwood these days. But adding an all-pro in Gary Payton and an up-and-coming high flier like Desmond Mason makes what was already a very good offensive team into one that should be unstoppable.

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.

1. Dallas
2. San Antonio
3. Sacramento
4. Detroit
5. Indiana
6. Portland
7. Minnesota
8. New Jersey
9. Phoenix
10. Boston

25. Memphis
26. Chicago
27. Miami
28. Denver
29. Cleveland

11. Utah
12. Philadelphia
13. Milwaukee
14. Houston
15. New Orleans
16. Milwaukee
17. L.A. Lakers
18. Orlando
19. New York
20. Seattle
21. Golden State
22. L.A. Clippers
23. Toronto
24. Atlanta

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.

Around the League

  • New Jersey's win over Indiana on Thursday was probably bigger to the Nets than the Pacers. Indiana is in the midst of playing nine of 11 games away from home, but after that big swing, the Pacers play 12 of their last 19 games at Conseco Fieldhouse -- including the regular-season finale April 16 against the Nets. "We don't want to have to play them there at the end of the season for home-court advantage," Richard Jefferson admitted.

  • You hear rumbles that John Stockton and Karl Malone plan to re-up next summer, which means Utah will be competitive again. But you have to think the Jazz wouldn't mind seeing what they could rustle up with up to $20 million in cap room that they'd have if Stockton-to-Malone called it a career.

  • Austin Croshere better get some burn down the stretch for Indiana, or the Pacers could have one unhappy camper this offseason. He was dangled for weeks by the Pacers, and wanted desperately to be repatriated somewhere where he would play. "He's not a bad player," a rival Central personnel guy says. "You just don't like that ($7 mil per) number."

  • The Warriors tried to clear some cap room so that they could get under the cap and be able to offer more than the mid-level exception next summer for Gilbert Arenas, but the Sixers wouldn't bite on last-minute offers of Bob Sura and Adonal Foyle, which would have trimmed $10 million from their roster.

    David Aldridge, who covers the NBA for ESPN, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.

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