After nose-diving out of the NBA Playoffs in the first round against the Miami Heat, the Milwaukee Bucks front office has a lot to think about this offseason. Yes, they have one of the best players in the world under contract, but the core around him continues to raise question marks. Can Jrue Holiday be consistent enough offensively? Does Khris Middleton provide enough on defense to be ok with his streaky offense? Is Brook Lopez a liability against small-ball lineups?
Although this core won a championship two years ago, they haven’t been the juggernaut many expected. Since losing to Boston in the first round during the 2017-2018 season, Milwaukee has been no worse than a three-seed in the Playoffs with them holding the top seed three times. The season they won the title, they were a three-seed and needed some good injury and matchup fortune to make the championship run.
Regular-season success hasn’t been an issue, it has been translating that success to the Playoffs. All of their last four playoff exits have come at the hands of versatile, small-ball-centric teams. The Raptors in 2019, Heat in 2020, Celtics in 2022, and Heat in 2023 have all had versatile lineups that either focused on small-ball lineups or had the personnel to go to one if they needed to.
The 2018-2019 Raptor did have Marc Gasol, but against Golden State, who has written the book on small ball success, he played the least amount of minutes in any series of the playoffs outside of round one. Toronto had the personnel to adjust offensively and defensively based on their opponent without losing efficiency.
The Bucks have struggled in this area in four of the last five post-seasons, and it’s up to the front office to find a solution this offseason. With a handful of free agents and an aging core, some tough decisions will have to be made, but I want to focus on the NBA trade rumors surrounding Khris Middleton. Although he has been a key part of this franchise’s rejuvenation, other teams are reportedly interested in him, and his potential one-year deal is easy to trade.
Here are the teams I see as making the most sense if Khris Middleton were to get traded:
NBA Trade Rumors: Could Khris Middleton Regain Form on the Houston Rockets?
This one feels like a cop-out, as there have already been NBA trade rumors that the Rockets are interested in Khris Middleton. Even without that report, Houston fits the mold of a team that could use Middleton’s services. They finished one spot out of the basement in the Western Conference but aren’t as far away from being competitive as their record may lead you to believe.
They are loaded with young talent, and a proven NBA player could help get them to a competitive spot. Their core is all 23 years of age or younger, and they look to have about seven players that could grow to be key players on a postseason team.
The youth of this team is ideal for the Bucks, and one of their goals this offseason needs to be to get younger. Although you need experienced vets in the NBA Playoffs, you also need young, versatile, and athletic players. Milwaukee missed that in a big way against the Heat. In the report about interest in Middleton, it was added that Houston has thrown around the idea of moving top scorer Jalen Green to add a proven player.
With so much depth at the shooting guard position and an abundance of young talent, the Rockets realize they may have to move a potential pillar to get someone that can guide the potential young stars. Middleton would fit well as he doesn’t have to be ball dominant to have success, can rebound, and also act as a distributor. He also plays a position that Houston needs stability from.
Adding Green to the Bucks would bring in much-needed young talent but, more importantly, much-needed cap space. With the rules surrounding the luxury tax being even more punishing for high-spending teams, roster construction becomes even more important.
Could Middleton Provide Veteran minutes for the Oklahoma City Thunder?
Another NBA trade rumor surrounding Middleton that could heat up is the Thunder. OKC is in a similar spot as Houston regarding being extremely young. With that said, they are a step ahead in the process as the Thunder made the play-in game this season. Although they have some intriguing options at forward, most of their production comes from the guard spot. Point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was incredible this season but didn’t have another teammate score over 17 points per game.
Adding a player with Middleton’s resume that can add experience and shot-making ability would go a long way toward OKC taking the next step. They have more holes than just small forward, but having another player that can do a variety of things on the court, on top of break-out player Josh Giddey, would give them a high floor night in and night out.
The return is a bit more difficult with the Thunder, but a player like Jalen Williams would make sense. He and Middleton play the same position, and he just finished his first season in the NBA which was a major success. He scored 14 points per game while grabbing 4.5 boards and dishing out 3.3 assists. All this is on top of shooting over 50% from the field and 35.6% from behind the arc. He isn’t the proven commodity Middleton is, but he’s significantly younger and cheaper.
NBA Trade Rumors: Could Khris Middleton Compliment Ja Morant on the Memphis Grizzlies?
The last team that I think makes some sense is the Memphis Grizzlies. They aren’t quite as young as the other two teams on this list, but they are by no means old. Their core players, Ja Morant, Desmond Bane and Jaren Jackson Jr., are 23, 24, and 23. They also have a vacancy at the small forward position after the team made it very clear that Dillon Brooks would not be brought back.
Although Ja Morant and Desmond Bane were great this year, adding another wing with the ability to handle the ball and open up space for everyone else would be huge. As great as Morant is, he is best when he’s attacking. Having Bane and Middleton on the outside, with Jackson Jr. roaming near the rim, gives that offense a scary feel. This is the kind of move for a team with championship aspirations that could take them over the top.
The return for the Bucks is a little more difficult here as they don’t have that high-upside young player that could help Milwaukee immediately. They have an intriguing point guard in Tyus Jones and plenty of draft picks. Bringing in a backup player may sound odd, but hear me out.
Jones has put up great numbers whenever he starts and, even in a limited role, still put up 10 points and five assists per game this season. The bigger bonus is Holiday won’t have to focus on being the point guard. He appeared to wear down a bit come playoff time. Whether true or not, balancing being the point guard, defensive stopper, and scoring threat is tough. Allowing him to play more freely offensively would likely make him more efficient.
However, Jones alone wouldn’t be enough, which is where the draft picks come in. Memphis has their full allotment of picks and then some over the next couple of seasons. That includes two first-round picks in 2024 and four second-round picks over the next 2 seasons. Although the Bucks likely wouldn’t make these picks, it would give them more ammunition to make moves to improve their roster.
Middleton has the skill set to be an asset on every team in the NBA, but what the Bucks get in return is where it gets difficult. The teams listed all have something, or multiple things, to offer. None of this will matter if Khris Middleton turns down his player option for next season. But given the value of it, $40.3 million, it’s likely he accepts it. Milwaukee’s direction with him will be very telling about how they feel about the roster overall. We’ll have to wait and see as the NBA trade rumors continue to ramp up.
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