The Milwaukee Bucks have not yet made a roster move before this year’s trade deadline, but general manager Jon Horst has still been busy during the last few weeks in an attempt to improve the roster.
On Jan. 23, the Bucks dismissed first-year head coach Adrian Griffin. Three days later, the Bucks hired Doc Rivers for the position. In the press conferences for both decisions, Horst told reporters the corresponding moves were made with the belief that they would help the Bucks improve their chances of winning a championship this season.
The coaching change has kept the attention off potential roster moves before the NBA trade deadline on Thursday, Feb. 8 at 3 p.m. ET. As Bucks fans know, Horst is aggressive this time of year and typically finds a way to make some sort of move, whether it is a trade or adding a player on the buyout market.
With that in mind, here is everything you need to know with less than a week left to the trade deadline.
As always, our trade deadline primer starts with a detailed look at the Bucks’ salary cap sheet. No matter how creative Horst wants to get, it will require him to play within the latest collective bargaining agreement’s rules, which are quite restrictive for teams in the Bucks’ situation.
Before this season, the league informed teams that the salary cap for the 2023-24 NBA season would be $136,021,000 and the luxury-tax threshold would be $165,294,000. On top of that, the league also told teams that the first luxury-tax apron would be $172,294,000 and the second luxury-tax apron would be $182,794,000.
Last summer, I enlisted the help of former NBA executive John Hollinger to help explain that while the Bucks didn’t initially appear to be over the second apron, they actually would be seen as a second-apron team by the league’s salary cap rules. The confusion around that was removed when the Bucks traded for Damian Lillard. It is straightforward now. The Bucks are a second-apron team.
With 15 players on their NBA roster, the Bucks currently have a full roster, and their 15 salaries currently total $183,584,668. If their cap table looks like this at the end of the season, factoring in the luxury-tax repeater penalties, the Bucks ownership group will end up making a luxury-tax payment of roughly $57.7 million.
The Bucks are a top-heavy roster from a salary-cap perspective again this season. Giannis Antetokounmpo ($45,640.084) and Damian Lillard ($45,640,084) take up 49.7 percent of the Bucks’ salary cap. Add in Khris Middleton ($29,320,988) and Brook Lopez ($25,000,000), and the top four players on the Bucks roster account for $145.6 million of the $183,584,668 in salary, or roughly 79.3 percent of the Bucks’ salary-cap sheet.
Those four players alone take the Bucks well over the league’s salary cap for the season. Adding the salaries of the Bucks’ next two biggest earners — Bobby Portis ($11,710,818) and Pat Connaughton ($9,423,869) — takes the Bucks over the luxury-@ftax threshold with $166,735,843 committed to the top six players on the roster.
Because of the heavy financial commitment to the top of the roster, the final nine players this season make their respective minimum salary or very close to it.
The Bucks and the new CBA
This past summer, the NBA and the NBA Players’ Association agreed on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, which features some new rules that will go into effect over the next few seasons. Some of those rules will affect the Bucks this trade deadline, while others will not play a role in what the Bucks can do in the next month.
For example, as we go through hypothetical trades later in this piece, we will go through a number of scenarios in which the Bucks trade multiple players to another team to obtain a player with a larger contract than one of their current players. The day after the final day of the 2023-24 season, second apron teams, such as the Bucks, will not be able to aggregate the salaries of multiple players to trade for a player with a larger contract. This season, though, the Bucks can still make such a move.
One change that will impact the Bucks this season, however, is the new CBA’s rule regarding teams above either tax apron and players who have been bought out of their contracts.
On Jan. 23, the Hornets traded Terry Rozier to the Miami Heat in a deal that sent veteran point guard Kyle Lowry to Charlotte. If the Hornets are unable to trade Lowry and decide to waive him after the trade deadline, Lowry would be viewed as one of the most impactful players on the buyout market.
The Bucks, as well as many other contending teams, would actually not be eligible to sign Lowry on the buyout market because of a new rule that governs such signings. In the new CBA, luxury-tax apron teams, like the Bucks, cannot sign players that were making more than the non-taxpayer mid-level exception of $12,405,000 before getting waived. Because Lowry is making more than $29.6 million this season, the Bucks could not sign him if he were to be bought out by the Hornets.
This season, teams exceeding the first luxury-tax apron can take back salaries up to 110 percent of their outgoing salary in a trade. In previous seasons, that figure was 125 percent, plus $100,000, so the rules have become more restrictive this season. To keep the math as simple as possible, here is a simple hypothetical: If a taxpaying team trades a player with a $1 million contract, they would be able to accept $1.1 million back in salary. That same scale simple increases with the size of the contract, so if a team was sending out $10 million in salary, they would be able to accept $11 million back in salary.
Along with new rules regarding trades, the Bucks will also have to deal with the rules already on the books in the previous CBA. The Bucks have three players who have special situations to consider regarding their trade eligibility. Because Giannis Antetokounmpo signed a designated veteran extension, he cannot be traded this season. Because Thanasis Antetokounmpo and Jae Crowder signed one-year deals with their former team (the Bucks) this offseason, they have what is called an implicit no-trade clause, which gives both players the ability to veto trades that involve them.
This is the most depleted group of draft assets Horst has had at his disposal.
As currently situated, the Bucks cannot use a first-round pick in any trade deadline deal. To acquire Jrue Holiday in 2020, Horst traded away the Bucks’ first-round picks in 2025 and 2027, as well as first-round pick swaps with the Pelicans in 2024 and 2026. To acquire Lillard in 2023, Horst traded away the Bucks’ first-round pick in 2029 and gave the Portland Trail Blazers the right to swap first-round picks with the Bucks in 2028 and 2030.
While that paragraph is accurate, this is probably where we should note the Bucks’ 2021 trade for P.J. Tucker.
In the lead-up to that deadline, the Bucks were in the exact same situation with first-round picks, all of their tradable future first-round picks were out of their control, as were their future first-round swaps, so it appeared as though the Bucks would be unable to find a first-round pick to trade to another team. In the Tucker deal though, the Bucks received their 2022 first-round pick back from the Rockets, who already owned it through a previous trade, and that freed up the Bucks to use a different first-rounder in the deal and get the Rockets the draft capital they coveted for Tucker.
That is just one way to work around not having a first-round pick. Another way might be working even further into pick swaps that they already have on the books with other teams, i.e. Team X can choose between their own pick and the lesser pick of Team Y and Team Z. The distinctions in these situations can be small or they could be the thing that pushes a trade over the finish line.
In short, though, Horst is always aggressive this time of year and runs a front office that can pull off creative deals, so no possibility will go overlooked.
In the past, Horst has been able to turn second-round draft assets into players. In 2019, the Bucks traded Thon Maker, Jason Smith and four second-round picks for New Orleans Pelicans forward Nikola Mirotić in a three-team trade in 2019. Just last season, the Bucks sent five second-round picks to the Nets and Pacers to get Jae Crowder to Milwaukee in a four-team deal. But this season, even the Bucks’ reserve of second-round draft assets is extremely limited.
The only second-round picks Horst can trade in the next two weeks are Portland’s 2024 second-round pick, which is currently projected to be No. 35 in the upcoming draft, and the Bucks’ 2027 second-round pick.
The roster dilemma
After taking a look at the salary holds on the Bucks roster and the team’s current crop of draft assets, one thing becomes clear: making a trade is going to be difficult.
If the Bucks want to keep their top four players intact and, per league sources, all indications suggest that the Bucks have little interest in any deal that forces them to move one of their top four earners, that means Horst would have to try to find a deadline deal using the rest of the roster. And, if Horst wants to trade for a player that makes over $15 million, it would likely require including at least one of Pat Connaughton or Bobby Portis.
Connaughton, 31, and Portis, 28, were a part of the Bucks’ 2021 NBA championship team. They are well-respected locker room voices and have contributed to the Bucks’ winning ways over their last four seasons together as key reserves, so neither player has seen their names mentioned in rumors and reports about potential trades over the last few seasons.
If the Bucks are going to pull off a big move before this year’s trade deadline though, that would need to change this season.
“I ain’t heard it,” Portis told the The Athletic when asked about what it is like to hear his name in trade rumors this season. “So, to your question, I ain’t heard nothing like that. Before when I was younger as a 23 year-old hearing things, it was different, but I wasn’t in a stable place, a stable home or really had a home.
“I was really trying to find my way in the league still and find a niche. But for guys that probably hear (trade rumors), it is probably tough on them, for sure, if they like a place or whatever it is. But, for me, personally, I ain’t heard nothing. And, if it do happen, God got good things for me in store.”
For Connaughton, there is not much that can be done about any potential trade, so there is little reason to concern himself with anything people are saying about potential trades.
“I don’t even think about it,” Connaughton said to The Athletic. “The interesting part about the NBA trade deadline is it’s similar to free agency, but just there’s more rumors and less, let’s say, early truths, if you will.
“And so, I look at it as like, for the most part, every experience I’ve had with the trade deadline, the teams that I’ve been a part of, any guys that were going to get traded, they heard about it before Twitter heard about it. And their agents or the GM or things of that nature were up front with them and talking to them about it being a possibility. And, you know, in this business, that’s always a possibility, but, until I hear about it from somebody other than than Twitter, you kind of go about your business.”
In the end, Connaughton knows what he and Portis bring to a team, so if either one of them end up as part of a trade, he will take it as a compliment of the skills he brings to the table.
“You can also look at it the other way,” Connaughton said. “It’s flattering that people would like a player like me, like Bobby Portis, like guys that win, right? And I think we know what we bring to the table. I think we know what we’ve done here for four or five or six years. We know the impact we have on winning.
“That’s going to change every night, statistically speaking. And some of it may not even show up in the stats, but you know the impact you have on winning and, with the game that we play, it’s all part of the business. And we’re pros, and we all do our job every single night until somebody tells us to put on a different jersey or tells us otherwise.”
Archetypal trade target
In previous seasons, the Bucks had more depth across the roster and fewer defined needs. Typically, with a strong start to the season and a stable team situation, the goal was making the team slightly more well-rounded or helping fill in a small gap on the roster. This season, while they could certainly try to upgrade their minutes at backup point guard or find other players to help with scoring off the bench, the Bucks should only be after one type of player this trade deadline: a point-of-attack defender.
As currently constructed, the Bucks simply do not have a defensive player that they can throw at other team’s top scorers. While former Bucks coach Adrian Griffin applauded Malik Beasley’s effort as the player assigned to the other team’s top scoring guard on a nightly basis, it is not a job that he can successfully execute. Beasley has put in a strong effort on the defensive end this season, but opposing guards have largely been able to do whatever they want against the Bucks.
If the Bucks are going to compete for a championship this season, they need to find a player who can compete on the defensive end against guards or wings. Their path to winning a championship might be more about the team’s elite offensive production than being a shutdown defensive force, but they need someone who can harass guards and/or wings defensively. Even if the team’s best asset is its offensive firepower with Beasley and Lillard filling it up from behind the 3-point line, the Bucks need to find lineups that can help them be stronger on the defensive end. That will require a player who is stronger at the point of attack.
With the Bucks’ salary-cap situation in mind, as well as their assets, here are three trades that the Bucks could make to try to find a difference maker.
If you’re curious why the Bucks might want to target Kris Dunn, watch this absurd 30-second defensive effort from Dunn during the Jazz’s last game on Thursday against the Philadelphia 76ers.
It started with 10 seconds of ball denial against All-Star point guard Tyrese Maxey.
Dunn possesses a special mix of athleticism and quickness with a 6-foot-9 wingspan that makes him a defensive menace. After using those skills to keep the ball out of Maxey’s hands for the first 10 seconds of the possession, Dunn used that same tenacity to navigate around screens and stay in front of Maxey in a half-court setting.
Finally, Dunn finished the possession with two blocks. First, he stripped Maxey as he tried to go up for a shot at the rim before he challenged Paul Reed with verticality at the rim.
In the end, the possession turned into a shot-clock violation for the 76ers, and it was almost exclusively due to Dunn’s effort.
Dunn, 29, has started 24 games this season and made 42 appearances. He is in the final year of the two-year, $3.3 million contract he signed with the Jazz in the summer of 2022, but if the Bucks would trade for Dunn, they would also acquire his early Bird rights, which would allow them to re-sign him for a figure over the minimum this summer if things worked out for him in Milwaukee.
After struggling with a larger offensive role earlier in his career, Dunn has found a niche on the offensive end, even if he brings most of his value on the defensive end. Dunn’s usage rate has dropped to 17.9 percent, but he has developed a strong floater and also knocked down 43.1 percent from 3 this season in a limited role. In the playoffs, opposing teams may ignore him, but that might just be the price the Bucks have to pay to get an elite defensive player on the floor.
Dunn’s size, strength and athleticism and defensive prowess could end up being the perfect package for a guard next to Lillard, who can handle the heavy lifting on the offensive end of the floor. Giving up Beauchamp and Portland’s 2024 second-round pick, which is currently projected to No. 35 overall, might be a heavy price to pay with future assets for an older player, but it’s easy to see how Dunn could help the Bucks this season and give head coach Doc Rivers a very different choice off the bench or in the starting lineup.
On Jan. 19, TNT’s Chris Haynes reported that the Bucks “registered interest” in Murray. The Athletic can confirm that interest, but that initial call was nothing more than exploratory on the Hawks’ part, as they tried to figure out which teams around the league might have interest in Murray.
There was no framework discussed for a deal in that call, and the above hypothetical trade helps at least partially reveal why; the Bucks don’t appear to be able to compete with the offers from other teams without including one of their top four players. For the Bucks, adding a player like Murray would be a great upgrade defensively as the Bucks have struggled at the point of attack all season, so their interest makes sense, but the pathway to putting together a competitive offer seems quite difficult for them.
As our Lakers reporter Jovan Buha reported two weeks ago, the Lakers and Hawks have already discussed a framework in which the Lakers would include D’Angelo Russell, Jalen Hood-Schifino, the Lakers’ 2029 first-round pick and additional draft compensation. Hood-Schifino was the No. 17 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, and the Bucks do not have a first-round pick to match the Lakers’ 2029 first-round pick. Even if the Hawks would prefer Austin Reaves to Russell, the Bucks cannot compete with the Lakers’ young assets in NBA draft capital and Hood-Schifino.
Murray would absolutely be an upgrade for the Bucks’ starting lineup. With the Hawks, he is averaging 21.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.2 assists in 34.8 minutes per game. It may be difficult to figure out exactly how he fits into everything the Bucks do offensively, but there is no denying his talent on the offensive end.
And defensively, the Bucks know what he can do. In the second game of the season, he was a major reason why Lillard struggled for the Bucks, putting up just six points on 2-of-12 shooting with six turnovers.
However, without including one of the top four players on the roster, it seems quite difficult for the Bucks to outbid the Lakers, as well as other teams that could get involved, and have enough assets to push into a deal to get it done.
On Saturday, the Bucks will play the Dallas Mavericks. One of the Mavericks’ biggest offseason additions was Grant Williams, the 6-foot-6, 25-year-old forward that played the first four seasons of his career with the Boston Celtics, on a four-year, $53.3 million contract that keeps him in Dallas through the 2026-27 season. Even while playing through some injuries, Williams has appeared in 44 of the Mavericks’ 48 games and started in 32 of those games, but the season has not gone quite how the Mavericks envisioned when they signed Williams this offseason.
In his first season with a new team, Williams is shooting just 41.5 percent from the field, the lowest percentage since his rookie season, and 37.6 percent from 3, the lowest percentage since his second season in the league. Williams’ 3-point shooting has been particularly concerning, considering he is now playing with five-time All-NBA guard Luka Dončić and, on a per-game basis, getting the most open and wide-open 3-point looks of his career.
For the Bucks, trading for Williams would be an opportunity to try to trade for a distressed asset. Williams is three years younger than Portis and has one more year on his contract than Portis, who has a $13.4 million player option for the 2025-26 season. With the Celtics, Williams showed an ability to bother some of the league’s top scoring wings, which could end up being helpful for the Bucks in the postseason.
On top of that, Williams would present a different look positionally and open up new small-ball opportunities for the Bucks. While only 6-foot-6, Williams spends most of his time on the floor at power forward, per positions estimates from Cleaning the Glass, and he could be a fun pairing at power forward with Antetokounmpo at center.
Trading Portis may end up being too steep of a price for the Bucks, as Portis puts up bigger scoring and rebounding numbers than Williams, but if Williams can regain the defensive form he possessed during his time with the Celtics, he could be a major upgrade for the Bucks on that end.
This trade was proposed by our Washington duo of David Aldridge and Josh Robbins.
I’m not sure about this trade for the Bucks. Wright, 31, is an interesting player because he could come off the bench for Lillard as the backup point guard and also play alongside him, but when people think of Wright, they often think of the version who played for the Raptors and made opponents work for their points. But Wright hasn’t played a game for the Raptors since 2019, and his value has been a bit more difficult to discern in his six subsequent stops in Memphis, Dallas, Detroit, Sacramento, Atlanta and Washington. He becomes a free agent after this season, while Connaughton has two more years on his deal after this season.
Trade deadline blog: Latest news, big board, deals and players to watch ahead of Feb. 8 deadline
(Photo of Pat Connaughton and Bobby Portis: Ronald Martinez / Getty Images)