Why can’t Journal Sentinel get the Bucks salary cap jam right?… Free Ramon Sessions

First it was columnist Michael Hunt declaring that the Bucks moves over the summer gave them near future salary cap flexibility (there isn’t any). Now it’s Tom Enlund in his Sunday NBA Beat column reporting that the Bucks have no salary cap flexibility or luxury tax room 2009-10 but botching the luxury tax crunch by miscalculating Charlie Villanueva by $5 million.

Tom EnlundWhy is Milwaukee’s daily newspaper unable to tell its readers what the Bucks payroll issues really are?

Hunt flat out fudged things in his puffy August column. But Enlund, who’s reporting is usually quite solid? I don’t get it. Enlund should know the Bucks salary situation as well as he knows his own bank balance.

Enlund did start out on the right track, writing that, “As its stands, the Bucks’ payroll is probably about $5 million below the luxury tax figure that is projected for the 2009-’10 season.”

Enlund’s close enough there. With the waiver of Austin Croshere, the current Bucks player payroll is $69.5 million with the current luxury tax threshold at $71.15 million (for every dollar a team goes over the luxury threshold, it pays a dollar in tax to the league). The NBA’s salary cap and luxury threshold goes up about 3% every year. This puts the projected 2009/10 luxury tax threshold at about $74 million, or $4.5 million above Bucks 2008-09 salaries.

Trading Charlie Villanueva won't solve the Bucks 2009-10 salary jam.Enlund then says that retaining restricted free agents Ramon Sessions and Charlie Villanueva will be difficult and concludes that “all a team would have to do is offer Villanueva a deal starting at $5.1 million, knowing the Bucks would not match because it would take them over the luxury-tax figure.”

What? Uh-uh. Enlund apparently forgot to account for Charlie’s current $3.5 million pay. What actually happens if the Bucks match a $5.1m offer for Charlie V is that the Bucks 2009-10 player payroll rises to $69.51 million — this season’s payroll figure, nearly to the dollar. That’s still $4.5 million under the projected luxury tax threshold, enough to make a deal with Sessions and avoid the luxury tax. Everyone would be back and under contract except Tyrone Lue and Damon Jones, who don’t play anyway.

Enlund supposes the Bucks could trade Sessions or Charlie V (trading deadline is Feb. 19) to avoid the risk of losing them in free agency. If you’ve read this far, you know that the risk doesn’t exist because the $5.1 million problem Enlund calculated doesn’t exist.

The best way to look at this is that the Bucks could trade Charlie V away with, say Lue or Jones, and the Bucks wouldn’t save all that much money. They’d still have to pay a big forward and a couple of bench players next season. If you buy that the Bucks need defensive help at power forward now with Charlie V, how does the team improve without spending money on a power forward?

If the Bucks gave both Sessions and Charlie away for dead contracts, the result would be a $65 million, ten-man roster that 1) finished somewhere around .500 and could miss this season’s playoffs; and 2) allows only $9 under the luxury tax to sign next year’s rookies and two or three free agents. The situation would be no more dire than the Bucks paying Ramon and Charlie, except that the Bucks would no longer have Ramon or Charlie.

Any way you look at Sessions and Villanueva’s free agency, the Bucks are in line to pay some luxury tax

What should really shock Bucks fans in all this is that the Bucks are almost $11 million over the 2008-09 salary cap (the cap is $58.68 million) and very close to the luxury tax with this 18-win, 21-loss roster. This is largely due to ex-Bucks GM Larry Harris (and owner Herb Kohl) grossly overpaying Michael Redd and backup center Dan Gadzuric ($6.25m this season, $14m more over the next two). The Bucks could be stuck with Gadzooks.

Michael Redd is set to make $17 million next season. Richard Jefferson will make $14.2 million. If the cost of keeping Gadzooks, Redd and R.J. (18-21 record, Bucks fans) becomes the loss of younger players like Charlie V and Sessions for next to nothing, John Hammond will have some explaining to do to Bucks fans.

If the explanation is that coach Scott Skiles doesn’t see Sessions as a point guard of the future, or if Charlie V is not in the team’s plans, then trade them and make sure players or 1st round draft picks come back in the exchange.

But don’t tell Bucks fans it was done to save money that won’t be saved. And don’t expect the Journal Sentinel to help explain it. They’ll get it wrong.

Calculate a Bucks plan on your own: Here again is the Bucks salaries info at the best, most detailed, salary info resource out there, shamsports.com. Click on a player’s name to get contract particulars and other details. Be sure to read Sham’s Adrian Griffin bio once you’re there.

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Ramon Sessions, not for saleDefensive Sessions: The Bucks have been struggling to guard the three-point line and the T-Wolves took advantage of it Saturday, shooting 13-22 (59%) in the Bucks 106-104 loss. Andrew Bogut returned after missing 4 games to score 14 pts and grab 7 rebs in 27 mins (to go with 2 blocks and 2 assists) and Redd and R.J. combined for 61 pts. Yet the Bucks perimeter defense broke down repeatedly in the 4th quarter as the T-Wolves came back from a double digit deficit to win.

In the four games Bogut missed plus the T-Wolves game, opponents shot 50.5 % (50-99) on 3-pointers and made an average of 10 per game. It got worse, not better, as the week progressed. In the last three games, the Sixers, Nets and T-Wolves shot a combined 55.2% from the land of Reggie (37-67) as the Bucks dropped two out of three.

The defensive stats say that coach Skiles ought to deploy the Luke Ridnour-Ramon Sessions guard tandem more often, a case that Bucks Diary made Sunday after the T-Wolves loss. (Thanks go to PaulPressey25, moderator at the realgm.com Bucks forum, for the link).

The 2-guards that Sessions has guarded this season have shot much worse than the 2’s covered by Redd — who’s allowed one more bucket per 10 shots than Ramon has. Sessions is now used almost exclusively to back Ridnour up at point guard, and the pair have been in the game together only rarely since Redd came back from injury (he missed 14 games in November). Given the Bucks problems guarding 3-point shots of late, my hunch was that the Bucks were probably defending the 3-point line better when Redd was out and Sessions was playing more.

So I spent part of the Eagles-Giants game the way any obsessive NBA blogger would: on the basketball-reference.com site, crunching Bucks opponents shooting stats. (Yeah, I’m your type Gridiron Girl). Here are the results.

Opponent 3-point %, 14 games Redd missed: 29.8 % (78-262). This would lead the NBA, defensively.

Opponent 3-point %, 25 games Redd has played: 39.1% (168-429). This would be 27th in the NBA, two removed from dead last.

That’s quite a difference. On the season, Bucks opponents are shooting 35.6% (246-691) from behind the arc. That’s good for 18th in the league.

In the games Redd missed (gRm), Sessions produced offensively as well: Sessions’ 2008-09 gRm is 32 mpg, 15.7 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 5 apg.

Whether or not the Bucks can sign Ramon Sessions when he becomes a free agent this summer isn’t really much of a question. They can and should. The idea of trading him to avoid his free agency? That’s not the sort of thing an organization that wants to win sometime in the near future should even think about.doing.

Bucks (18-21) @ Wizards (7-29), 6pm, FSN

The Wiz are one of the NBA’s truly bad teams, and have lost four straight since surprising the Cavs over a week ago. After the loss in Minnesota, the Bucks are due for one of their bounceback games and are at full strength (minus Malik Allen) with Bogut back in the starting lineup. This should be the game where the Bucks get their defense back on track, but with these Bucks, a fan never knows.

This is the 4th game in five for the Bucks against teams that have fired their coaches this season. The Wiz fired Eddie Jordan in November, replacing him with interim coach Ed Tapscott. Point guard Gilbert Arenas is still out rehabbing his knee and former Buck Mike James (remember him from the 2004-05 season?) starts at point for the Wiz. James was traded for Reese Gaines (who?) in the middle of that season.

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