The Milwaukee Bucks are spending their regular season experimenting with a variety of alternatives to the drop-defense scheme that has gotten them knocked out of the past two postseasons. The variant that they’ve used most so far is switching, but their personnel makes doing so difficult. Brook Lopez is a stout rim-protector but is not mobile enough to consistently defend the perimeter. If the Bucks want to switch every screen in a postseason series, they’re going to have to find someone capable of filling in for Lopez at the center of their defense.
A possible solution? Adding one of the NBA’s preeminent small-ball centers. The Bucks were interested in Houston Rockets forward P.J. Tucker earlier in the season, and remain interested now, according to The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor. Tucker, 36, is on an expiring contract and has openly campaigned for an extension. With the Rockets down to No. 14 in the Western Conference, holding onto a veteran they’ve been reluctant to pay makes little sense.
Constructing a trade is somewhat complicated given Milwaukee’s financial and asset-related constraints. The Bucks, having used their non-taxpayer mid-level exception, are hard-capped at that $138.9 million apron and have only around $500,000 beneath it with which to operate. With Tucker making almost $8 million, the Bucks would have to aggregate multiple lower salaries to fit him within their books. A combination of D.J. Augustin and D.J. Wilson would work but would leave the Bucks without a backup point guard and saddle the Rockets with a contract that extends beyond this season.
Milwaukee is also severely limited in terms of draft capital. Due to the Stepien Rule, they do not have a single tradeable first-round pick, and swap rights on their untradeable picks lack value because of their success. They’ve also forfeited one second-round pick due to a tampering investigation and have traded multiple others. The Bucks have only four second-round picks left that they are able to deal in their own in 2023, 2024 and 2027 along with Indiana’s in 2025. If another team offers the Rockets a first-round pick for Tucker, they will likely take it.
But Tucker’s numbers have declined this season. After making 36.9 percent of his 3-pointers in his first three seasons as a Rocket, he’s down to 32.9 percent this season. The Rockets have the NBA’s No. 4-ranked defense, but it has been 8.8 points per 100 possessions better with Tucker on the bench.
But Tucker has spent the past several seasons competing for a championship. Rejoining a contender might be just the shot in the arm he needs. The Bucks seem to think so, and for the right price, he could be exactly the switchable big man they’re looking for.