The Butterfly effect is a term coined by meteorologist and mathematician Edward Norton Lorenz. He explains how small changes in a non-linear system can cause significant changes in the later stages of those systems.
He questioned whether a flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil could set off a tornado in Texas? He probably did not even realize how important his theory was in sports with a cap limit, especially the NBA.
A spectacular example of this is the case of Gail Goodrich. He was the 3rd best player in the Championship winning Lakers from 1972, right behind Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain. A great shooter and secondary ball-handler, he became a 5x time All-Star by 1976.
He was also named to the All-NBA Team (1st) after which he decided to leave the Lakers. The main reason, as it often is, was money. The Lakers owed him 150,000 dollars for which he sued them later on. The Jazz, still located in New Orleans at the time, wanted Goodrich. It was a difficult operation as they needed to send compensatory picks to the Lakers and Goodrich was expensive. In the end, he cost them 3 first-round picks and one second-round pick.
Goodrich, unfortunately, suffered an injury and him and Maravich never became a deadly combo. He tore his Achilles, which in the 1970s was very problematic. To make things worse, Maravich injured both of his knees as well and he played less than 50 games. Without two of their stars, the Jazz finished bottom of the league tied with the Bulls for the worst record in the league. Their pick went to the Lakers who flipped a coin with the Bulls and winning the number one pick. They picked some guy named Magic Johnson while the Bulls picked David Greenwood.
The Lakers decision to not give money to Goodrich resulted in a chain reaction that eventually landed them one of the best players in League history. There could have as easily been a reality where the Bulls actually won the coin flip which would have netted them Magic Johnson. If that had happened then Michael Jordan never would have worn Bull red.
So why does all of this matter for the modern NBA?
Bucks and the Butterfly
Because the butterfly never stops flapping his wings.
In any teams history, you can find moments that are direct causes of the state a franchise is in right now. The Milwaukee Bucks just had theirs. They signed Jrue Holiday to a massive contract (way more massive than he deserves). So why did it happen? Let’s break it down.
In the 2016/17 season, the young Bucks team just had its first season with a percentage over .500. Jason Kidd gave Giannis Antetokounmpo the ball and opened his play up in transition. Giannis was voted to the All-Star Team and he won the MIP award. Jabari Parker looked great as a 2nd option.
There were only two issues in the team – Kidd didn’t know how to implement a good system and the team had no real, experienced point guard who would push them forward. Matthew Dellavedova was a nice player with several decent playoff appearances but he was not starting point guard material while Brogdon lacked experience.
The Bucks solved their coaching question by hiring Mike Budenholzer who left Atlanta while the point guard issue…well, our story begins.
The Bledsoe experience
Bledsoe played amazingly for the Bucks but his brilliancy was limited to the regular season only. In the playoffs, he completely fell apart, just like Middleton, just like Parker the season before.
Their woes allowed defences to guard Giannis and that would be it for the Bucks. When Brogdon’s extension came up, they were forced to make a decision, him or Bledsoe. They did not have money for both. They sided with the regular season guy so Bledsoe got a massive extension, while Brogdon got shipped out to Indiana.
A year later it became evident that it was a mistake. After another great regular season, Bledsoe once again flopped in the playoffs, while Brogdon became a leader for Indiana averaging 22 points, 10 assists and 4 rebounds in the playoffs.
The four years $70 million deal the Bucks gave to Bledsoe seemed very expensive compared to what they would have needed to offer Brogdon.
When it became apparent that they could not count on Bledsoe in the playoffs they started looking for other solutions. The butterfly effect makes you move all the time. One move three years ago set off a chain reaction in the present. Their solution was Jrue Holiday for whom the Bucks gave up a ton. They gave up George Hill, Bledsoe, two first-round picks, and two second-round pick swaps. It’s not what the Lakers gave up for Anthony Davis or Nets for James Harden but it’s pretty close. When you compare it to the Carmelo Anthony trade, it’s not far off from what the Knicks gave up for Anthony which was a lot.
So, not long ago, the Bucks decided to double down on their investment by giving him a new deal. Four years, between $135 and $160 million dollars, which is around $33 to $40 million per year.
- OK. OK. OOOOOOOKKKKKKKKKAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYY.
The butterfly effect in full force. The salary cap will, according to the new projections, be between 108 and 112 million dollars. 105 million of that will go to Holiday, Middleton and Giannis, which means they will pay quite a bit of luxury tax for the rest of the team and that will make things really hard team-building wise in the future.
With the extensions for Middleton and Holiday, the Bucks essentially said: this is it. This is our championship team.
They will have a smaller mid-level exception because of the tax, they don’t have any picks, they won’t contend in the buyout market as long there are the Nets, Lakers or Clippers.
Milwaukee isn’t good enough
In short, this is their team for the next three or four years. The Giannis-Khris-Jrue core is great, no question about it, but is it good enough for a title? Is this the core worth 90 % of your salary cap? I don’t think so.
Jrue is a great player but he is a player for the ‘keen fans’. What does that mean?
Well, it means that the wider basketball audience criminally underrates him. He is a top 3 perimeter defender in the League. He can play both guard positions. He can play with the ball or without it. He is quite efficient as of two years ago as well.
He can be the 2nd or 3rd option or in short stretches even the 1st. Simply there is not a thing in basketball that Holiday does badly. But he is not a star. He is underrated in the wider basketball audience, yes, but at the same time, he is overrated in the ‘keen fan’ group as well. Because as much as Jrue deserves all the credit he gets, as much as he does all the little things on the court, he is not a player that deserves the same money Jimmy Butler is getting, or Anthony Davis or the money Ben Simmons will get when he gets his extension.
If you spend 30-35% of your cap on players like Jrue Holiday, your championship chances are diminishing. Not dramatically because we are talking about a great player but they are dropping.
Currently, the Bucks are playing worse than last year and they still have all the same question marks as last year. You can’t expect Jrue to solve all those issues singlehandedly. As much as Holiday is great, it’s simply too much. And the Butterfly effect is undeniable here.
If the Bucks decided to keep Brodgon for considerably less money, they would probably have more flexibility today. They might have been able to trade him for an elite player. Or bring depth to a team that is thinner by the year. Maybe they would have played better in last year’s playoff. Maybe Giannis would have left due to the inactivity of the FO. Who knows.
One thing is certain, the damned butterfly never stops flapping his wings. This time it brought Jrue to Milwaukee. Let’s see if it brings them a title.