Amid Sunday evening’s flurry of free-agent action, the Milwaukee Bucks agreed to a sign-and trade deal with the Indiana Pacers that sends restricted free agent guard Malcolm Brogdon to Indiana for four years and $85 million in exchange for a first-rounder and two future second-rounders, according to ESPN. The deal between division rivals took place as part of a ripple effect involving multiple players and teams (per reports): the Pacers also agreed to sign former Hornets shooting guard Jeremy Lamb, erstwhile Indiana target Ricky Rubio is now headed to the Phoenix Suns, and former Pacers swingman Bojan Bogdanovic is now headed to Utah.
Got all that? Let’s grade the deal.
For the Pacers, netting Brogdon, a coveted but gettable restricted free agent, as their full-time point guard and long-term partner for Victor Oladipo, was certainly more attractive than pairing him with Ricky Rubio. And noting their need at guard, it stands that Brogdon was the best option available. His shooting and the fact he’s not ball-dominant—essentially the opposite of the pass-heavy but dribble-centric Rubio—make him ideal next to Oladipo, who the Pacers will hope to have back from a ruptured quad injury by the end of the upcoming season. The price they’re paying is significant, but they’re keeping him away from a division rival, and they’re handing over a first-rounder to an organization that, to be fair, has not found a ton of impactful pieces via the draft.
This is a direct addition for Indiana, who have designs on contending in the East at full strength, and a subtraction for Milwaukee, their primary divisional threat. Through that lens, it’s strong. It’s not without risk, and on the other end of the spectrum, they’re downgrading from Bogdanovic to Lamb on the wing. But with the top dogs headed elsewhere, after D’Angelo Russell, Brogdon was the best available guard on the market. It helps that he fits Indiana’s ideal age profile, as well. If they can keep him healthy, get Oladipo healthy, and keep their young bigs improving, this is suddenly a very interesting team—and one that was already quite competitive. It’s hard to hate on Indiana for being aggressive here.
Financially, this was always going to be a tough summer for Milwaukee, particularly after extending Eric Bledsoe to a new deal mid-season. So, they chose to offload Brogdon in wake of new deals for Khris Middleton (a $178 million mega-extension) and Brook Lopez (who will stay for four years and $52 million). After making a run to the conference finals behind 24-year-old MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks would seem to be making this move operating more in the interest of finances than anything else. Giving Brogdon away does nothing to make Milwaukee immediately better, but it should keep them out of the luxury tax, for better or worse. And while the price tags for Middleton and Lopez were hefty and important for the Bucks, the lack of additional investment doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence.
Brogdon, 26, goes to the Pacers at a relatively steep contractual price, particularly for a player with a history of foot and lower body injuries, but his shooting ability (he managed 50.5/42.6/92.8% splits in 64 regular season games) will be particularly missed within the context of the Bucks, whose system is reliant on spacing the floor for Antetokounmpo to operate. He was their most consistent three-point threat this season and a key piece of the backcourt. Bledsoe will be back, but George Hill’s fate is unclear, and the Bucks will have some big holes to fill.
Burying the lede a bit: the big question is whether this summer was the time for the Bucks to be cheap (relatively speaking). I’d argue that it isn’t. Dealing Brogdon keeps them out of the luxury tax for now, but surely, there’s no readymade replacement on the market who Milwaukee can pull in. Antetokounmpo will be an unrestricted free agent in 2021, and make no mistake, Milwaukee should be operating with that competitive clock in mind. The Bucks’ young, cost-effective role players haven’t shown enough to warrant confidence, and the big question now is how much better the rotation can get with the wiggle room they have left. Another 60-win season isn’t crazy—Giannis is that good—but it’s not any more probable without Brogdon.
If the Bucks take a step backward (and, as much as it sucks to look this far ahead—if Antetokounmpo walks), their reluctance to maximize their off-season spending could be a big inflection point in franchise history. It’s still unclear what the protections—if any—are on the Pacers’ picks, and landing a first is a decent haul, but it may not be what the doctor ordered. And whatever Milwaukee does next to improve the backcourt will be particularly key. They also create a $12 million trade exception by sending Brogdon into Indiana’s cap space, and have the room exception available as well.