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In two separate deals orchestrated on Wednesday, the Milwaukee Bucks bolstered their playoff rotation with a gritty, battle-tested defender in P.J. Tucker.
As first reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Bucks agreed to send D.J. Augustin, D.J. Wilson and their own 2023 unprotected first-round draft pick to the Houston Rockets in exchange for Tucker and Rodions Kurucs.
Milwaukee will also get its 2022 first-round pick back from Houston, while the Rockets get the right to swap their 2021 second-round pick for the Bucks’ first-rounder this year, unless it falls in the 1-9 range. Essentially, Milwaukee will move a few spots back from the first round to the second round this year if its first-round pick falls in the 10-30 range.
To avoid the hard cap, the Bucks also engineered a second deal with the Phoenix Suns, shipping Torrey Craig down to the Valley for cash considerations (and most likely a highly protected future second-rounder that will never convey, in order to satisfy the league requirements of such a trade).
The question is, how did all three teams fare in the exchange? In order to sort it all out, here are the latest NBA Trade Grades.
Don’t let Tucker’s 4.4 points and 4.6 rebounds per game on .366/.314/.783 shooting splits this year fool you. Hell, don’t let his career averages over four seasons with Houston — 6.5 points and 5.8 rebounds per game on .397/.365/.742 splits — trick you either; this small-ball 5 is exactly the kind of versatile, hard-nosed defender the Bucks will want on their side when the going gets tough in the playoffs.
After two straight years of cruising through the regular season only to get bruised in postseason battles against tougher teams, the Bucks have apparently learned their lesson. They boast the NBA’s second-best offense, but after being a defensive juggernaut last year, even being the league’s 10th-ranked defense has been a notable step backward.
Tucker will help in that regard, giving Milwaukee a formidable closing lineup of Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton, Tucker, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez. And though he’s only a career 35.9 percent 3-point shooter overall, the 35-year-old veteran is a notoriously gifted sniper from the corner. Having that outlet for Giannis when teams double-team him could be huge in tight games.
Rodions Kurucs has played a grand total of 16 games between the Rockets and Brooklyn Nets this season, so he’s really just an extra body on the end of the bench. But the Bucks now have a pair of roster spots to work with as the buyout market opens up. D.J. Wilson wasn’t a part of the rotation, but finding a backup floor general with D.J. Augustin gone should be the top priority.
For whatever reason, Mike Budenholzer wasn’t giving Torrey Craig any run either, so all in all, Milwaukee managed to turn one semi-productive rotation piece into a tough and experienced playoff competitor in Tucker. While that 2022 first-rounder owed to Houston turning into a 2023 first-rounder means Giannis and the Bucks will be one year older, it’s a small price to pay for a potential championship run. Ditto for most likely moving out of the first round in this year’s draft (the Bucks would be picking at No. 25 if the season ended today) and into the second round (Houston’s pick currently comes in at No. 33).
P.J. Tucker was never going to fetch a legitimate first-round pick, especially at age 35 in a down season. However, as long as Milwaukee’s first-rounder falls in that 10-30 range this year, the Rockets will move up from the second round and into that spot instead.
That means they could have three potential first-rounders this year: the Bucks’ pick in the mid-to-late 20s, the Portland Trail Blazers’ lottery-protected pick (currently slotted at No. 22) and either their own pick or probably the Miami Heat’s based on the Oklahoma City Thunder’s three-way swap rights.
Even if the flier on Wilson amounts to nothing, and even with Augustin still being owed $7 million next season plus a non-guaranteed $7.3 million in 2022-23, that’s a pretty good return for a guy who wasn’t playing and didn’t want to be in Houston anymore.
Wilson has largely been a non-factor in Milwaukee this season, averaging a meager 3.6 points and 2.1 rebounds in 8.8 minutes per game over 12 appearances. He’s still only 25 years old and is shooting 35.7 percent from 3-point range, but his incoming restricted free agency makes this acquisition less appealing.
Augustin is an experienced backup floor general, averaging 6.1 points and 3.0 assists in his 19.3 minutes per game this year. He doesn’t serve much purpose in Houston, but general manager Rafael Stone could always flip him again at the trade deadline to a team in need of a backup point guard.
Pushing that 2022 pick back another year may seem like a loss, but it actually just means one more year for things to potentially go wrong with Milwaukee’s all-or-nothing approach as the franchise tries to keep Giannis in the title hunt. Throw in the likelihood of moving up into this loaded 2021 NBA Draft class, and this is a solid return for Tucker.
Suns fans, you’ve officially made it: After years of watching Robert Sarver trade away rotation pieces for cash considerations, it’s your team that’s sending away cash for actual players!
While Torrey Craig hardly fixes Phoenix’s biggest issue of finding the right starting lineup, he’s a solid depth piece, especially for a team that still had an open roster spot. Craig hasn’t gotten much run with the Bucks this season, putting up a mere 2.5 points and 2.4 rebounds in his 11.2 minutes per game over 18 appearances, but he’s a tenacious, strong defender who can help in a pinch.
Between Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder, Cameron Johnson and now Craig, the Suns are absolutely stacked with lengthy and determined defenders on the wing … and that’s before even mentioning the havoc guys like Chris Paul, Cameron Payne and Jevon Carter can wreak in the backcourt. If the Suns need a stop, good luck scoring on any of the lineups Monty Williams can trot out there.
Craig’s 36.4 percent shooting from deep this season is probably misleading given the extremely limited number of attempts; he’s only a career 32.3 percent shooter from beyond the arc, after all. But after Craig served as a key cog in the Denver Nuggets’ rotation during their run to the Western Conference Finals last year, the Suns decision to add a little size, length and defensive grit to the NBA’s fifth-ranked defense is a savvy move … especially at the low cost of cash considerations and some highly protected second-rounder that’ll probably never convey anyway.
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