The Bucks traded for Nikola Mirotic, shoring up a playoff rotation that now should be aiming for the Finals.
The story of the trade that sent Nikola Mirotic to Milwaukee unfolded strangely over the span of just a few short minutes. First, we found out that Mirotic was going to Milwaukee. There were speculations that the salary-matching would come from Ersan Ilyasova or Tony Snell, both of whom have played small but meaningful roles for Milwaukee.
Adrian Wojnarowski followed it up by telling us that it was Jason Smith and Stanley Johnson going in the trade, and several people, including Jared Dubin, noted that that wasn’t a legal trade because Jason Smith wasn’t enough to match Mirotic’s salary on his own, and Stanley Johnson can’t be aggregated with other salary per CBA restrictions. Also, that offer made little sense because of the talent discrepancy.
So first, the question of legality was answered: The Maker-Johnson trade from yesterday had not been completed, so the Bucks simply turned that trade into a three-way deal with Detroit and New Orleans. That made it to where there were no concerns about aggregation and allowed the salaries to match.
And then the question of talent was answered. The Bucks are including four second-round picks, which is presumably to make up for their unwillingness to include first-round picks with two already owed to other teams. With multiple other suitors for Mirotic around, the Pelicans instead elected to take a volume offer of picks instead of the single first that a team like Portland could and likely would offer.
Basketball-wise, while Mirotic has struggled this year, he’s a strong shooter that can play next to Giannis. The East has seen enough years of LeBron James plus four shooters to be annoyed to see Giannis plus four shooters, but Mike Budenholzer is certainly making that something the Bucks can put out. His size and occasionally average defense for that size allow the Bucks some positional flexibility that they didn’t have before. He’s a piece that the Bucks are hoping to push to the next level with, and it’s only costing them auxiliary pieces, even if it’s costing them basically all of those auxiliary pieces.
Smith is basically dead salary, having not seen the court much in his last stop, but Stanley Johnson at least has a chance to build some value with the Pelicans over the remainder of the year. Slotting him between Jrue Holiday and, barring any unexpected developments, Anthony Davis, should allow the Pelicans a chance at being a very good defensive team for the rest of the year. As an impending restricted free agent, the Pelicans would hope Johnson can show enough to justify tendering a qualifying offer and potentially make him part of the long run plan.
But largely the Pelicans were looking at the picks. Having often traded away second-round picks in the past, the Pelicans cobbled together the back end of their roster out of cast-offs, often beyond the normal level of 15th men. Guys like Elfrid Payton, Darius Miller, and Jahlil Okafor had little or nowhere else to go, but have been various levels of capable for the Pelicans. Now, instead of taking the fringes of the NBA, they’ll get an array of picks to fill those spots as they rebuild again in the aftermath of Davis’ trade request.
Overall, it’s a good trade for both teams. The Pelicans had one of the best pieces on the market this deadline and took the best offer for it. They used what little leverage they had to get a better offer than the late first that everyone else was offering, and while it looks weird, they should benefit from it. The Bucks, meanwhile, got a rotation caliber player to shore up their ability to shoot the ball and didn’t have to give up their third first-round pick to do so.