At this stage, the Milwaukee Bucks only have two players that might be around on their current contracts when they're ready to compete for a title: Andrew Bogut and Joe Alexander. This presumes they won't be title-ready before 2012 and that they'll find a way to get rid of Charlie Bell.
I like Bogut a lot, because he brings an offensive versatility few true centers have. He's good enough on offense that his defense gets overlooked a bit, but he's no slouch defending his position. In sum, he's a notch below Emeka Okafor, and his contract reflects it, as he's getting paid a straight $12 million per year until 2014, while Emeka's contract escalates to more than $14 million over time.
Alexander has struggled this year, but he's the kind of elite athlete, even among his NBA peers, that a team will keep giving chances. I see a lot of Gerald Wallace in him, minus the key recklessness that makes Wallace so unique. Joey JoJo Shabadoo's perfectly capable of going for the goal with Wallace's aggressiveness and ability to fly over and by defenders. However, whatever clicked for Gerald his second season in Charlotte has yet to click for Alexander, and until it does he'll be just another James White, athlete non-pareil without basketball results.
Richard Jefferson is a very good player, but much like Jason Richardson, he's getting paid like a superstar when he doesn't quite perform like an All Star wing player. He underperforms his pay grade, and so the Bucks would be well-served to trade him for assets that will help them in 2012, whether that's young players or draft picks. As teams approach the deadline, they might realize that they won't be players in the summer of 2010, and some team might figure they're better off with Jefferson on board than planning to sign a free agent and coming up empty.
Even if they keep RJ through the end of his current deal, Milwaukee's in great position to make waves in 2012, and if they get two solid starters via the draft before then, they'll be dark horse contenders to make the biggest splash via free agency that year. That's because both Jefferson and the decaying Michael Redd both come off the books in the summer of 2011. That's about $33 million of cap space in one season, more than enough to sign any one free agent plus another great player or two starters. Assuming Bogut will be there with Alexander, an extended Luc Mbah a Moute, and two draft picks, they have to hope the prospects pan out, otherwise they'll have to start over after Bogut. I love Mbah a Moute, because he was always a good defender at UCLA and seems to have picked that up in the NBA right where he left off, but it's still an open question if he'll be enough of an offensive presence to hold down a starting wing spot, and we've already been over Alexander.
In theory, the Bucks present all sorts of matchup problems with Charlie Villanueva, since he can put the ball on the floor and sink longer jumpers against big power forwards, or he can post up smaller guys, like Gerald Wallace, and few teams have the right kind of bigs to take him on and contain Bogut. However, Villanueva's lack of interest in defense, his recent poor shooting, and a hurt knee have all caused Scott Skiles to start Mbah a Moute in his place. I'm not sure this is a good thing for the Cats, as the Bucks might gain more from adding a defender than another offensive presence. They'll still have to choose whether to put Mbah a Moute on Diaw or Gerald, and Jefferson on the other guy. I'd put the defensive ace on Gerald, but most NBA teams tend to stick to the position hierarchy, so I expect RJ to be matched up on Crash to start.
Matt Carroll, inexplicably, gets another start in Raja Bell's absence. Morrison's a wreck right now, Carroll's just as bad, and starting two point guards is a recipe for rejuvenating Michael Redd. How badly does Shannon Brown have to practice before Larry Brown realizes he has a perfectly capable stopgap solution already on the roster? Per 36 minutes this season:
Brown, 185 minutes
16.5 pts, .524 TS%, 1.8 reb, 3.1 ast, 1.9 stl, 2.7 to
Carroll, 384 minutes
10.5 pts, .481 TS%, 4.0 reb, 1.8 ast, 1.2 stl, 1.8 to
For what it's worth, Brown's turnover rate has to improve, but Carroll's missed shots are as much a turnover as when Brown gets his pocket picked. If Carroll didn't have that ridiculous contract, he'd have to be a candidate for deactivation. Two years ago, he was a perfectly good bench option, a good scorer with not enough defense to start. Then he tried to pick up the D and completely fell off on O last year. This year, nothing's been going for him.
Free Shannon Brown.