The Bucks have been the clear-cut worst team in the league. They needed to do something. Indeed, they needed to do a lot of things. But they would settle for something.
They did indeed do something. A small something. In trading Luke Ridnour and Gary Neal for Ramon Sessions and Jeff Adrien, the Bucks definitely did do something. Let it never be said that they did not do anything, for they certainly did something. They made a bad product no better, and gained nothing useful for the future, but in moving Neal, they at least freed themselves of a malcontent and a $3.25 million contract next season (all the other players included are expiring.) They did something. It is a fiddle from a team who got into this position by over-fiddling, but things have been so bad that every little helps.
The John Hammond era Bucks have developed an uncanny knack for bringing back their former players, and normally when they are worse than they were during their first tour of duty. Ridnour was one such returnee this summer, as were fellow summer signees Carlos Delfino and Zaza Pachulia. Sessions continues the trend; it is with Milwaukee and former coach Scott Skiles that Sessions was brought into the league and first broke out as a passing superstar, averaging 8.1 points and 7.5 assists per game as a rookie.
For whatever reason, those first Milwaukee days were an anomaly. Sessions is a different player now, a driver of the ball looking to score instead of pass despite still not having a jump shot. He has a terrific knack for getting to the foul line and is a lightning-fast guard dynamite in transition, but he should better at the penetrate-and-kick game than he is (and once was) and should be a better defender than he is with his physical tools. Sessions is effective, but at just one dimension, and with Kemba Walker already on the team, it was not a dimension Charlotte particularly needed. Milwaukee somewhat needs it, but then Milwaukee need everything.
This is probably the first playoff push transaction in Bobcats history. That is a refreshing thing to see, and they did it without sacrificing any part of their future. Effective though Sessions can sometimes be, his presence as a key part of the guard rotation only exacerbated the problems with the Bobcats's guard rotation. The Bobcats need a pure point guard and considerably better outside shooting, as, despite some improvements in this part of his game, Walker struggles with the outside shot. Kemba is also a scorer rather than a playmaker. The team's best passer may be starting power forward Josh McRoberts, a hugely underrated player who has played a vital role in Charlotte's development, his passing and shooting able to offset the problems their talented, but flawed backcourt brings.
This trade addresses those needs, as both Ridnour and Neal have decent outside shots. Despite a markedly poor season by his hitherto decent standards, Ridnour nevertheless is a solid ball handler and playmaker with a genuine intent to pass first, something Charlotte has lacked to date. He dribbles so much at times that his palms are orange, yet Charlotte is one team that could actually use this. Meanwhile, if he can get his shot back, Neal is a 40 percent three-point marksman, the thing Charlotte has sorely lacked since Matt Carroll's jump shot left him in about 1998. Neal can create a little bit off the bounce, yet knows how to get open off the ball. He is potentially a significant offensive cog to a team reliant upon Al Jefferson's high- and low-post games, but with scant few options to put around him,
Steve Clifford, however, will have a tough job making it work. The roster is still awkwardly constructed, and a steady rotation will be tough to find.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is the future at small forward and already an exceptional defense presence, but he is a markedly poor jump shooter, mostly because he does not release the ball until he has almost landed back on the ground. Gerald Henderson is the best option at shooting guard, as he's talented offensive player with diverse skills who has at various times been relied upon to play on the ball, off the ball, come off screens, play for the catch and shoot, isolate from the wing and lead the pick-and-roll. He's a very capable defender at multiple positions, yet he lacks true three-point range. And as valuable of a scorer as Walker can sometimes be off the dribble, he is not a point guard, nor he is a shooter. Those three are the best three players at the 1-2-3 spots, yet they lack for shooting and point guard play.
More on the Bobcats-Bucks deal
More on the Bobcats-Bucks deal
Anthony Tolliver often plays at small forward to give the other starters, especially Jefferson, more shooting. His outstanding 49 percent three-point stroke and the surprise 40-percent shooting of McRoberts have been most of the the floor spacing thus far this season to aid Jefferson, Walker and Henderson, all of whom have played well because of it. The Bobcats, however, needed some shooting from the backcourt, too, and both Ridnour and Neal provide it, much more than the 22-percent three-point shooting of Sessions did.
Yet for Ridnour and Neal to play, Walker and Henderson can't. Similarly, for Tolliver to provide his one main skill, Kidd-Gilchrist can't. Neal can potentially space the floor instead of Tolliver, thereby allowing the much more talented Kidd-Gilchrist to play, yet if Neal plays, Henderson does not. And Henderson is too good to sit too much.
If Charlotte play their three best players, the Walker/Henderson/MKG trio, they have a strong defensive lineup that suffers badly from a lack of shooting and few high-percentage offensive looks. Subbing out any of the three might present better balance, but significantly reduces the talent level, and the Bobcats don't have a lot of talent to be forgoing. Ridnour provides the secondary ball handler and pass-first court general they have lacked, yet he figures not to pair well defensively with Walker, a player who would surely benefit from having Ridnour alongside him offensively. It's a patch-up job that doesn't solve the reconciliation problem long term.
Nevertheless, considering the wonders he has done for the team's defense, we should have faith that Clifford can make it work. Walker's ability to collapse a defense and kick out will not go to waste if there are three different shooters to kick out to, and this trade means the Bobcats can finally offer that. The fact that the shooting specialists and best defenders are not the same person is a minor annoyance, but for minimal cost and no future assets, Charlotte diversified the playbook and shored up some weaknesses, giving themselves options beyond the Walker/Sessions pairing that simply could not stretch the floor.
And perhaps most pertinently of all, they bought low on Neal, a player who is better than he has been for Milwaukee. Ridnour might find a second wind, too. The risk is minimal and the rewards should be noticeable.
As for Milwaukee, at least they did something.