Bucks GM Jon Horst on Patrick Beverley’s fit, Robin Lopez trade and ‘trying to win now’

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Before the NBA trade deadline on Thursday afternoon, Milwaukee Bucks general manager Jon Horst made two roster moves for the regular season’s final stretch and the team’s postseason run.

First, the Bucks traded point guard Cam Payne and the team’s 2027 second-round pick to the Philadelphia 76ers for veteran guard Patrick Beverley, who will make his debut for the Bucks on Friday night against the Charlotte Hornets. After that, Horst opened up a roster spot by trading backup center Robin Lopez and cash considerations to the Sacramento Kings for the draft rights to Dimitrios Agravanis.

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On Friday afternoon, Horst spoke with a group of local reporters to discuss the team’s trade deadline decisions, what he has seen from new head coach Doc Rivers and his future roster plans.

(Editor’s note: This Q&A has been lightly edited for clarity.)

“Obviously, the human side of this thing is always hard,” Horst said in his opening statement. “Robin and Cam in particular, great individuals who we targeted and brought in in the offseason for a reason and who did their jobs, did them well. We’ll miss those guys. That’s hard. That’s the hard part of it.

“The other side of it is we do think Pat Bev is going to give us a real chance to address some of the things that we feel like we need to address. We think he’s going to help us in a number of ways. We’re excited to have him. The trade is recently officially complete, and we expect him to play tonight, which will be great. So, hopefully get Dame back tonight. Just got to come off a tough schedule here and have had some health things, but when this team gets healthy and gets together, we still feel really great about where we’re going.”

The biggest move you made was acquiring Patrick Beverley. You mentioned that he addresses a few things you needed to address. What were those things and what do you feel like he brings to your team?

We talked about, as we always do, trying to identify pillars going into this thing and ways that we will work to try to generate options and opportunities to improve. Without getting into all our pillars, in specific, the ones that (Beverley) addresses, we believe, are point-of-attack defense and defensive versatility. He’s proven to be able to guard multiple positions in his career. He is an impactful point-of-attack defender. He plays with a physicality and a toughness that we think will help us.

I think it’s just kind of another player to add to the mix that plays with that physicality and toughness we really think could help us. He’s obviously a capable scorer and shot-maker, and he’s got a ton of experience. Excited to have him.

Doc Rivers coached Beverley previously as head coach of the Los Angeles Clippers. How involved was he in this decision? And how much did his vision for this defense and roster play into this decision?

Very involved. You guys know how I like to work. (I) value his opinion and need his opinion and his partnership in this. I think he feels it already and has experienced it. We were together on most of the last road trip before I broke off (from the trip). We had a lot of time to talk about the roster, talk about things that were presenting themselves, things that we were discussing and evaluating. (We) shared our process and our information with him in the way that we always have and always will, and so very involved.

He was incredibly impactful in helping (me) and the staff navigate this. Ultimately, I always feel like it’s our job to build a roster that can play and compete at its best in the way that the coach wants. He’s the one that has to coach them and really try to maximize what they do. Pat Bev is someone that together we thought could help us.

Speaking more generally, you hired Rivers roughly two weeks ago now at this point. How’s it been working with Rivers thus far?

Doc’s been great, and the additional staff has been great. And it’s like you have to coach-GM partnership, I think the only way to do it and be successful is to be on the same page, tackle things together, have the same goals, the same agendas. It doesn’t mean you always have to agree, but you’ve gotta go through it together and ultimately come out of it together.

It’s not just about the trade deadline or the roster. It’s about staffing. It’s about style of play. It’s learning how we communicate with our ownership group, learning how we communicate with each other, how we want to travel as a team, how we want to integrate and work with the medical staff. It’s not just specific to this deadline or maybe to his dynamic with coaching.

However, I always feel like it’s our responsibility as a staff operationally to take as many things off the plate of a head coach and a coaching staff as possible, so that they can really focus on being great coaches. So, we’re working really hard to do that as well and make it as easy and as smooth as possible for coach (Rivers) and his staff as well.

What did you feel like this trade deadline market was like? And how did it feel in comparison to other seasons?

My sense of the market … kind of played out the way I think it played out. Obviously, there were a number of moves and anyone of you here probably have more readily available information than I do on where that ranks or rates relative to other deadlines. I haven’t had a chance to really dig out and get a great sense of some of those things, but it feels like to me, it was a little bit stale, a little bit slow compared to years past.

I think the number of big things that happened is down. Some of the big things started back in the offseason. You think of the things that we did and some of the things that happened a few weeks ago (such as) the Toronto deals. So, big things happened from the offseason until now. But in terms of just a deadline in the last couple of days, it seemed like maybe less movement than usual, less impactful movement than usual, and I think there’s a lot of reasons for that.

There’s a lot of good teams who are playing well right now. The league has done a great job in creating an environment and a system where competitive balance is as good as it’s ever been. Teams realistically think they have a chance to do things that they want to do and compete at a high level in this league. So, I think it’s all kind of pointed to maybe less action and less movement (at the trade deadline), but you guys would have to tell me. I don’t know if that’s true or not, that’s just my sense of how this one played out. That’s kind of what my sense of it was going into it as well. There’s just a lot less sellers than years past.

How do you see Beverley fitting into your rotation? Can he play point guard? Can he play shooting guard? Can he play with Damian Lillard? How about Malik Beasley?

I do. That’s why I highlight the versatility. He’s obviously capable of guarding point guards, but I think he’s been able to guard up in positions in his career. He’s a smart offensive player that can do a lot of different things on the floor offensively to help a team, and I think that plays well with our team. I don’t think he just has to have the ball in his hands. He can play off the ball. He can play on the ball. And I think, as always, some of it will be dependent on matchups, but teams are going to have to match up with us also and having speed and physicality in your backcourt and capable scorers, we have matchups that can do that.

Having guys that can get into you and guard you defensively and pick up 94 (feet) when we need to is something that he’s done, something that he can do. He can play with Dame. He can play with Malik. He can play in lineups when neither of them are on the floor when he’s playing true point guard minutes. I think, going back to the pillars, point of attack defense and then defensive versatility were two of the things that we really focused in on and I think he checks those boxes.

You made the decision to move Robin Lopez to the Kings for draft rights. What was the thought process behind that decision?

Hard decision, hard move. Because you even saw it just recently, Robin (is) not only a great person, a great teammate. Robin helped us. At this point in the season, with 30 or so games left, we had to make a decision. … We couldn’t add to our team in any other way unless we had a roster spot. We had to decide if getting that versatility and trying to add to the team in some of the ways we think can help us differently was more important than having Robin in that spot.

Thats a really really tough decision, a decision I had to make, and, hopefully, it was the right decision. You’ll never know, we’ll find out.

Now, we’re on to trying to figure out who is available and how we can make this team better. The whole thing is always about trying to win and trying to win now. And we think having that roster flexibility in the short term, obviously we’ll fill it, we’ll sign somebody is another way that we can get better and improve the team. Can’t tell you when. I’m not even exactly sure with who or what it will look like, but we will do that.

Do you feel like there are players that can help you on the buyout market?

That’s part of the bet is that we think we will have a chance to do that. I think we will, there have been a couple of players that have been released already that I think could potentially be helpful. There may be some others here in the next few days. It usually takes a couple days to really understand what will or won’t be available. But that’s the bet that we made that we think we’ll be able to add to our team with some impact here.

Khris Middleton sprained his left ankle in Phoenix on Tuesday night. Do you have a timeline on his return to action?

No. As you know, those ankle things, they’re kind of day to day; we’re kind of going through the evaluation process. As soon as I’m done with you guys, I’ll meet with the medical staff and get the update for today. I don’t know yet. We’re trying to figure it out. Obviously, he stepped on a foot and rolled it pretty good, so we’re still just trying to figure it out.

Your work on the roster isn’t totally finished, but for the most part, this will be the roster that you are going to have heading into the postseason. What level of confidence do you have in this team to contend for a title?

A lot. We’ve got to be healthy, together, at the right time. You’ve got to be good enough and you’ve got to be lucky. I absolutely think this team is good enough. We’re in a position where I believe we’ll be healthy at the right time. We had good stretches of health for a lot of the year and have performed as one of the best teams in the NBA with that. We just went through a brutal stretch of schedule on the road, we’ve got a brutal stretch of schedule at home. We’ve gotten some bumps and bruises along the way.

The guys are playing their butts off, they’re fighting through it. Coach is coaching really well. There’s a really great togetherness and, I think, belief in what we’re doing and we just have to keep that. We’ve got to keep that until we get whole. Hopefully get whole at the right time and catch a break here and there. I feel really good about this group.

When you made the decision to fire Adrian Griffin and hire a new coach, your goal was getting better as a team and improving down the stretch. To this point, Rivers has compiled a 1-5 record through six games as head coach. Despite the record, do you still feel like you are seeing that improvement? 

Broadly, and we haven’t seen it in the win-loss yet, but sometimes actually seeing it in the metrics, numbers and the way we look and the way we are performing is more important than wins/losses. Ultimately, it’s not, but I think in short periods like this, it is. I really like the shape of our team in terms of what we look like defensively and how we’re structured out there on the floor.

I think offensively, we’re trying to play to the right things and do the right things. The interactions … that Doc has as a leader on this team and the relationships that he’s building and connection points he’s making between our roster and our staff has been very encouraging.

His energy and spirit and belief in the team is incredibly high, so its been great to see how he approaches his work everyday and approaches the team every day. Those are some broad things I see that really pop (out at) me and that are really encouraging.

But I honestly really like the way that we’ve played over this stretch. The style of basketball that we’re playing, I think is a style of basketball that fits this team and that can ultimately be successful with the roster that we’ve built.

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(Photo of Jon Horst Larry Radloff / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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