Bucks, Bulls each take on minimal risk with trade

Milwaukee moves Michael Carter-Williams to Chicago for Tony Snell in a deal involving young, puzzling players

Steve Aschburner

Steve Aschburner

Tony Snell never evoked any favorable comparisons to Kawhi Leonard on NBA courts, a reminder that attending the same high school (King in Riverside, Calif.) as somebody else usually gets you nowhere.

Michael Carter-Williams never even lived up to his own Kia Rookie of the Year performance of 2013-14, the season from which his short NBA career has spiraled downward ever since.

By Saturday, when trade talks between the Chicago Bulls and Milwaukee Bucks leaked out, the two had become the butt of jokes for many of the respective franchises’ fans and media. Snell was a taciturn, unremarkable shooting guard apparently in need of a pulse. Carter-Williams was the rapidly depreciating asset who was looking more and more like Exhibit A in a prosecution of coach Jason Kidd’s personnel acumen.

So on Monday, the Bulls and the Bucks made the trade official, hitting the snooze button on a pair of disappointing young players whose time soon might be up.

Neither Snell nor Carter-Williams performed as expected, a reality that hit harder in Milwaukee than Chicago. MCW, after all, was acquired at a heftier price in February 2015, in a three-team deal that also delivered to the Bucks guard Tyler Ennis and big man Miles Plumlee in return for point guard Brandon Knight.

The Bucks, in Kidd’s first season as coach, already had doubled their 2013-14 victory total at 30-23 by the night of the trade. With Knight gone to Phoenix and MCW taking over as point guard, they limped into the playoffs with an 11-18 mark the rest of the way. Then they went 33-49 last season, with Carter-Williams moved to the bench not once but twice.

Carter-Williams said all the right things about dealing with his demotions and, eventually, his position loss to the ultimate big point guard, Giannis Antetokounmpo. But there was a sense among some around the Bucks that his reality wasn’t backed up by a humility to find another gear to elevate his play.

Milwaukee initially billed MCW’s acquisition as a cost savings, considering the money Knight commanded in free agency two years ago (he landed a five-year, $70 million deal with Phoenix). Now that the deal boils down to Plumlee, Snell and reclamation project Michael Beasley for Knight (Ennis was traded for Beasley last month), it has more to do with basketball fail than financial savvy.

Chicago’s trajectory with Snell was only less dismal because his reputation and the accompanying expectations never were that lofty from the start. He was the No. 20 pick in 2013 and didn’t even make an all-rookie team, despite being given serious minutes (16.0 per game) for a rookie under win-now coach Tom Thibodeau.

Snell’s opportunities ticked up in 2014-15 due mostly to teammates’ injuries and, for a while, so did his play. But after the All-Star break, his shooting declined (.582 true shooting vs. .523), as did his plus/minus and offensive/defensive ratings. Last season, Snell’s confidence appeared to hit bottom, as did his relevancy in the Bulls’ first non-playoff season since 2008.

By then, any mention of Leonard in the same sentence as Snell was along the lines of “another guy Snell can’t guard.”

The swap between Central Division rivals buys the Bulls and the Bucks time to build on whatever positives they can mine. Carter-Williams’ 6-foot-6 size has appeal for Chicago defensively, his shooting won’t be too great of a drop-off behind starting point guard Rajon Rondo and some folks around the Bulls do recall MCW’s feistiness from the their first-round series against Milwaukee in 2015.

Snell will get as much help as possible to help plug the void opened by Khris Middleton’s hamstring surgery, the same sort of wing desperation that drove them to acquire the oft-traveled Beasley. Former UNLV and NBA shooting guard Stacey Augmon – a successful realization of Snell’s potential during Augmon’s 15 seasons with four different teams – is a member of Kidd’s staff now who probably has a new pet project.

With both Carter-Williams and Snell due for (but unlikely to receive) contract extensions by Oct. 31, this trade was more about changing scenery and unis than changing either the Bulls’ or the Bucks’ season arc. A yawner, which is appropriate when smacking that snooze button.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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