What the Bucks and Lakers must do to set up epic NBA Finals
The Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers are both on pace to win 72 games, a number that would match the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls for the second-best record in Association history.
This has fans of both teams and the broader NBA world dreaming up what would be one of the greatest Finals matchups in history.
Despite this, there’s still a lot of time left in the NBA season that has multiple top-end contenders. This leads us to our primary point.
Finding more pieces: The Bucks and Lakers must add more pieces to be considered odds-on favorites in their conferences.
- We can’t ignore just how top-heavy each conference is right now. The Celtics, Raptors, Sixers, Pacers and Heat join Milwaukee as teams on pace to win 50-plus games back east.
- Out west, the Clippers are right there with their Staples Center roommates as betting favorites to come out of the west.
- Even beyond those two squads, the Rockets, Mavericks and Nuggets are playing absolutely tremendous basketball right now.
- At this point, the NBA field is too wide open to suggest that two 21-3 teams will have cakewalks to the Finals.
Lakers finding more oomph: Once the postseason comes calling, other elite-level teams will force players, other than LeBron James and Anthony Davis, to beat them.
- This elite-level pairing is averaging a combined 53.6 points per game. Kyle Kuzma is the Lakers’ third-leading scorer at just over 11 points per outing.
- Los Angeles must use its limited assets to find another capable scorer as a third option. It’s not going to be easy without cap room and draft pick assets.
- It could lead the Lakers to explore moving Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for a legit scorer. Remember, Los Angeles pushed back against the idea of trading Kuzma in the Anthony Davis deal.
The options: As limited as the Lakers’ resources are, there are some options to find that third scorer behind LeBron and AD.
- Dion Waiters: Waiters makes some sense in that he could be had for pennies on the dollar. The veteran has not played this season due to a rift with the Heat organization. A career 35% three-point shooter, he’d benefit from the spacing Davis and James provide.
- Marcus Morris: The likeliest of all these scenarios, Los Angeles could make a deal for Morris work by offering up Kuzma, Caldwell-Pope and a filler. Heck, it might net a pick back in return. Morris is averaging 18.6 points for the downtrodden Knicks.
- Robert Covington: A three-and-D wing, Covington could potentially be had for a nice return. That would obviously have to include Kuzma to make this compelling for the Timberwolves. He’s the perfect type of player to work with the Lakers’ two stars and is shooting 38% from distance since the start of the 2018-19 season.
- JJ Redick: Ideally, this is the move Los Angeles would make. We’re just not too sure the Pelicans would move yet another high-impact player to Lakers. One of the best spot-up three-point shooters in modern NBA history, Redick would kill it in L.A.
Bucks must find more depth: While Milwaukee did well to retain key free agents this past summer, the team’s depth will be tested come playoff time. Whether the buyout market or a trade, something needs to happen here.
- One possibility is trading Eric Bledsoe’s contract and potentially adding sweeteners in terms of draft picks.
- Bledsoe counts $15.3 million against the cap this season. That would be a nice cap filler for other teams.
- Not only this, other squads might have an interest in adding him for the long-term. Bledsoe is in the first year of a four-year, $70 million deal he signed back in March.
The options: Unlike the Lakers, it appears that Milwaukee can add another core piece. It could also look for multiple rotational upgrades. The possibilities are seemingly unlimited here.
- Chris Paul: Milwaukee can move first-round picks in two of the next four years (2020 and 2023). That makes a move for Paul, who would be an upgrade, possible. The idea would be to send Bledsoe and cap fillers such as Brook Lopez/George Hill along with picks to Oklahoma City.
- Maybe the Bucks are looking for more depth off the bench. Despite their major struggles, the Warriors could be an option. They have two players performing well in that of Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III this season. Move a low-end rotation player and a pick to acquire these two veterans.
- Another possibility would be to go big-game hunting with their neighbors in that of the Chicago Bulls for Zach LaVine. The idea would be to move those two above-mentioned first-round picks, cap fillers and potentially former first-round pick Donte DiVincenzo.
The Bucks and Lakers are in prime position to contend for the title this season. Each team could stand pat and still be odds-on favorites in their conference.
But if the average NBA fan wants to see a Finals matchup that includes LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Giannis, there’s still work to be done here.