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The Milwaukee Bucks have spent the past year or so doing everything in their power to stop being the Milwaukee Bucks. Mike Budenholzer, the architect of the four-out offense and drop-coverage defense that took them from .500 to a championship, was fired after a first-round loss to the Miami Heat and replaced by Adrian Griffin, who was determined to reinvent the Bucks as a faster, more versatile team. The defense took another hit when Jrue Holiday was swapped out for Damian Lillard, theoretically fixing the half-court offensive woes that had plagued Milwaukee through previous playoff runs at the expense of the identity Milwaukee had spent years cultivating.

And now, according to Yahoo's Jake Fischer, they are "gauging the trade value for Brook Lopez." The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor hinted at why when he wrote that "there are rumblings that the Bucks would like to play a more versatile style of defense next season." Budenholzer built the system. Holiday supercharged it. But Lopez, perhaps more than any other Buck besides Giannis Antetokounmpo, made it possible.

Milwaukee needed a center who could shoot 3-pointers to properly space the floor for Antetokounmpo. Lopez was slowly growing into that sort of big man before arriving in Milwaukee, and he got there fully once he joined the Bucks. His defense was the major surprise. After years as a defensive liability, Lopez became a nearly stationary rim-protector in Budenholzer's system. He thrived in that role thanks to his sturdy frame, long wingspan and under-appreciated basketball IQ, which combined made the rim all but impenetrable. Antetokounmpo could then function as a weak-side help defender and wreak havoc everywhere else. The Bucks perpetually ranked among the NBA's best defenses. Throw in Lopez's ability to function as an offensive hub in the post when Antetokounmpo rested or got hurt and he was effectively the perfect Bucks center.

The Bucks might find another big man who can shoot. They might find another big man who can protect the rim like he can. The odds of finding one who can do both are slim. The odds of finding one who can do both without Budenholzer scheming it up get slimmer. The odds of finding one without Budenholzer who can do all of these things and carry an offense for stretches or even games are nonexistent because there just aren't many other versions of that player in all of basketball. Do the Bucks have a path to trading for Joel Embiid? Of course not, so any Lopez move means conceding at least one and probably multiple key traits that have made the Bucks who they are over the past half-decade.

And hey, sometimes drastic identity changes are necessary and even successful. How many times did we hear people call Marcus Smart the "heart and soul" of the Boston Celtics? Trading him proved to be a necessary step in Boston's quest for a title. Milwaukee's identity may already have been irrevocably shifted by the Holiday trade anyway. The Bucks had the worst collection of perimeter defenders in the NBA last season. Lopez and Antetokounmpo did what they could at the rim, and Doc Rivers even shifted the scheme back in Budenholzer's direction after he replaced Griffin, but they ultimately ranked 19th in defense because none of the guards could stay in front of anyone. The Bucks have traded away most of their draft picks and don't have much matching salary for trade purposes. It was just hard to imagine them fixing their point-of-attack problems without sacrificing a core piece somewhere, and no level of rim-protection is enough to offset olé defense on the perimeter. Go ask Rudy Gobert why Utah's defense always got so much worse in the playoffs.

The Bucks might not be wrong to seek major changes to their playing style. This is an offense-first team now built around Lillard and Antetokounmpo. Perhaps the rest of the roster should reflect that. Maybe Giannis, nearing his 30th birthday, is best served playing center moving forward. Even if he isn't, the Bucks just aren't asset-rich enough to find perimeter help and a center stylistically suited to playing alongside Antetokounmpo, so unless Bobby Portis is stepping in at center, it might be a compromise the team has to make. Maybe a bit more athleticism would serve Milwaukee on offense as much as it would on defense. That's not a crazy concept. The problem here probably lies in execution. It might not even be possible for the Bucks to make the changes they're seeking here.

Lopez is 36 with a history of back injuries. There are a bunch of teams that could probably use him, but like the Bucks, they're all in win-now mode and probably won't be too eager to give Milwaukee the perimeter pieces it is looking for in such a swap. A deal centered around draft capital probably doesn't do Milwaukee any good unless they could redirect it a third party for veteran help. It's just hard to imagine the Bucks finding a player good enough to justify giving away perhaps the single best possible front-court partner for Antetokounmpo in the entire league.

The Grizzlies need a Steven Adams replacement, and getting one who can shoot like Lopez does would make Ja Morant an even more lethal driver. But Memphis is young and has a long runway ahead. Why trade for Lopez when it could just use the No. 9 pick to either trade up for Donovan Clingan or seek a more permanent solution like Walker Kessler? The Bucks would probably love Marcus Smart in such a swap. The Grizzlies don't have the perimeter defense to make that swap worthwhile. Maybe the No. 9 pick could go to a third party? Dorian Finney-Smith and Jerami Grant are definitely gettable at that price point, but Memphis would have to miss on all of its younger targets before seriously considering trading a top-10 pick for a 36-year-old player.

Is Lu Dort at all on the table now that the Thunder have Alex Caruso? Lopez would address Oklahoma City's interior issues on a short-term basis, which is the goal given the two-year window the Thunder have before Chet Holmgren and Jalen Williams get expensive. Lopez would allow the Thunder to continue playing five-out without forcing Holmgren to defend bigger opposing centers, and by the time Lopez ages out, Holmgren might have bulked up enough to handle that role. If Oklahoma City uses Dort to address the center hole, it can then redirect its cap space to other pursuits.

The Thunder usually don't make young-for-old trades, so Milwaukee would have to find a way to bridge the value gap. Oklahoma City would probably love to get its hands on Milwaukee's unprotected 2031 first-round pick, for instance. That might be a bit too much for the Bucks, but the seven-year rule more or less demands that the pick be unprotected because it cannot roll over into future years. Maybe unprotected swap rights in 2031 would be a fair compromise? The only other first-round pick the Bucks have access to is No. 23 this year. 

Dort is on a fair contract for the next three years. That coincides with the eventual rookie extension for Cason Wallace. Oklahoma City really only considers this if the plan is for Wallace to occupy Dort's salary slot after that, with Caruso in place in the interim. Even then, it would be pretty out of character for the Thunder, not just because of his youth and fit, but because this just isn't a team that wants or needs an identity shift as badly as the Bucks do. Outside of schematic misfits like Josh Giddey, they tend to take care of their own. They want to continue growing as a group. Dort, one of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander's closest friends, is important to that locker room.

Moves like these represent the sort of upgrades it would take for a Lopez trade to be worthwhile, because even moving Antetokounmpo to center (or slotting Bobby Portis into that role) doesn't inject enough athleticism defensively to succeed playing another way. They need a high-end perimeter player to survive defensively without Lopez, and there just isn't much of a track record in recent NBA history of teams giving that kind of player up for a 36-year-old. 

The closest analogues would probably be the Charles Oakley trade in 1999, which sent the then-35-year-old Knicks icon to Toronto for the much younger Marcus Camby, or Brooklyn's ill-fated 2013 trade for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, which gave the Celtics the draft picks that would one day become Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. More often, trades of big men at that age tend to look like the 2009 deal Cleveland made for Shaquille O'Neal: matching salary, a bit of cash and a second-round pick.

There are cleaner ways of upgrading the Bucks that aren't as drastic, but don't carry as much upside, either. Maybe there are deals that send out Portis and/or Pat Connaughton as matching salary along with No. 23 or that 2031 pick for a cheaper perimeter defender, someone who would allow the Bucks to at least play decent enough defense in their Lopez-centric drop-scheme to win games on offense. It may be narrow, but this is the "keep playing like the Bucks" path. The difficulty they will probably have in extracting fair value for the 36-year-old Lopez means it's the likeliest one for Milwaukee.

But the Bucks have spent the past year or so veering away from the "keep playing like the Bucks" path, and Lopez is the player that ties them to that style. It makes sense that they'd explore moving him. It just might be too late to do so for what they would consider fair value.