Revisiting the Kareem trade

Every time a superstar like Chris Paul demands a trade, the Milwaukee Bucks 1975 trade of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar enters the discussion.  There are a couple of aspects of that trade that need historical revision.

First, it doesn’t appear as though Kareem “demanded” a trade.  If you google “Kareem demand trade”, you get virtually nothing.  Everywhere Kareem’s actions are described as Kareem “requested” a trade, which is altogether different from the “demand” story I always heard, and I would say fits Kareem’s personality better. 

Second, its claimed by many that the Kareem trade “laid the groundwork” for the Bucks subsequent success in the 1980s.  I would take issue with that.  Unless you can somehow connect the trade to the acquisition of Marques Johnson, Sidney Moncrief, Paul Pressey, or Alton Lister, I don’t think the trade had much to do with that subsequent success.  Two of the pieces of the trade, Junior Bridgeman and Brian Winters, are well-remembered for their skill at long range shooting, but their actual contribution to wins produced may have been somewhat more modest.

Year One:  Kareem Trade

In the deal the Bucks sent Kareem west and acquired the foursome of C Elmore Smith, PF Dave Meyers, G/F Bridgeman, and G Winters.  Ironically, the most productive win producer of the four the Bucks got in return was the one they sent packing the fastest, Elmore Smith. 

Here are the estimated Wins Produced trade-off in Year One of the deal.  I calculated the Wins for each of the Bucks players, and then the Wins produced by Kareem and a set of replacement players who filled the remaining minutes (You can’t compare wins versus wins.  Part of the value of having Kareem is the number of wins he can produce per minute of courttime used).

Elmore Smith…11.6 games….(8.1__3.5)
Dave Meyers…6.6 games….(3.3__3.3)
Brian Winters…11.6 games….(2.9__8.7)
Junior Bridgeman…7.0 games….(2.4__4.4)
TOTAL…36.6 GAMES….(16.7__19.9)
Los Angeles
Kareem….14.0 games….(19.8__(-5.8))
Replacements….22.6 games….(7.0__15.6)
TOTAL….36.6 GAMES….(26.8__9.8)

Bucks lose 10.1 Games in Year One

The tradeoff in Year One then was something like (-10.1) games for the Bucks.  That’s probably to be expected.  You just cannot trade a superstar in his near prime and get value-for-value.

Interestingly, someone mentioned that the Bucks fans will be disappointed if all of their off-season moves don’t lead to a better record than 46-36.   I wonder what the reaction of the Los Angeles Laker fans was to their first season with Kareem when they didn’t even scratch .500%?  Actually, the 10 game improvement by the Lakers from 1974-75 to 1975-76 represents precisely the Marginal Win Score expected win trade-off between Kareem using the center minutes for the Lakers and Elmore Smith using them.  Smith would have been expected to produce around 9.8 wins in 14 game responsibilities, and Kareem produced 19.8 wins.

EndNote:  I only analyze the first season of this deal because that is all Kareem had left on his Milwaukee contract.  He was always a man of his word, so I expect it was certain he would have left the Beer City once he played that out.  I suppose you could then consider all the subsequent wins by Bridgeman, Meyers, and Winters as gravy for the Bucks, but that’s getting a little abstract.


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