How do the Bucks find help for Giannis, and will Jabari return?
What’s next for the Milwaukee Bucks after agreeing to terms with new head coach Mike Budenholzer?
The Bucks have one of the best young stars in the league in Giannis Antetokounmpo, but have plenty of questions about the roster surrounding him, including the restricted free agency of Jabari Parker.
Let’s look ahead to the free-agency, draft and trade decisions facing Milwaukee this offseason.
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Finding help for Giannis (and Middleton)
The Bucks’ roster is flawed. Missed opportunities in the summer of 2016 with the signings of Matthew Dellavedova and Mirza Teletovic, plus first-round development projects in Thon Maker and? D.J. Wilson, have left a Milwaukee team on the treadmill of mediocrity.
While the Bucks can point to a franchise player in Antetokounmpo, a borderline All-Star in? Khris Middleton, Parker returning from two ACL injuries, upside in Maker and Wilson, plus former Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon, the first-round playoff loss to the? Boston Celtics?confirmed Milwaukee is littered with good role players but no clear identity or direction. A team that?built a rep on length and interchangeable players is now a shell of that dream.
Middleton can be a free agent in 2019, and the Antetokounmpo free-agency watch has started as the All-Star enters the second season of his four-year rookie extension. An inability to get out of the first round will run the risk of the Bucks eventually losing their two best players.
Getting out of neutral will not be easy for GM Jon Horst.
Already over the salary cap and facing the uncertainty of Parker’s restricted free agency, Milwaukee returns 12 players under contract from 2017-18. The team also has Dellavedova, John Henson and Tony Snell?under contract for at least the next two seasons at an average annual salary of $10 million. Finding a new home for any of those three players while upgrading the roster will require creativity from the front office and the hope that former first-round draft picks turn into part of the rotation in 2018-19. That also includes a first-rounder in June.
The Bucks do have the $15 million expiring contract of Eric Bledsoe, but moving the point guard would likely have Milwaukee taking back salary that extends past 2018-19 on a player who might not be an upgrade.
The hiring of Budenholzer will certainly give Milwaukee stability and new offensive and defensive principles, but remember that this roster has former head coach Jason Kidd’s fingerprints all over it.
What’s the plan with Parker?
There is no free agent who presents more complex questions and uncertainty than Jabari Parker.
When healthy — as shown in 51 games in 2016-17, when he averaged 20 PPG — Parker can look like a borderline All-Star and perfect complement to Antetokounmpo and Middleton. However, his career has been overshadowed by injuries.
Since entering the league, the forward has endured two left ACL knee surgeries and missed 155 games. Unlike? Joel Embiid, who was part of the same draft class and received a $147 million extension after suffering his own string of injuries, Parker now enters free agency with more questions than answers.
Milwaukee will tender the forward a $4.3 million qualifying offer before June 29 and make him a restricted free agent. After that, Parker could face the reality of an uncertain free-agent market filled with teams not willing to lock into long-term money.
The Bucks can take a proactive approach and offer Parker a three-year, $40 million contract on the first day of free agency. The $12.4 million cap hit in the first year would keep them under the luxury tax and also retain the ability to use their full $8.6 million midlevel exception. Having the midlevel is a key component for how their bench improves this offseason. Plus, the team-friendly contract would also allow Milwaukee to use Parker as a trade asset in the future.
Though restricted free agency protects the Bucks, having Parker shop for an offer sheet could present a problem. While unlikely, Milwaukee would be forced to make a tough decision if Parker gets a sizable contract from another team. Matching would give Parker a no-trade clause for the season and make the Bucks even more costly.
Would a team be willing to give Parker a one-year contract at a substantial figure? Yes, but remember that a restricted offer sheet has to be at at least two seasons and fully guaranteed for both years.
Parker also can choose to return on the qualifying offer and becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2019, when the salary cap is expected to increase by $8 million. That would be a risky move for Parker if he’s bypassing a long-term deal, especially if he injures his knee again.
Salary cap breakdown
Unless the Bucks shake up their roster in the offseason, expect the team to enter July 1 over the cap with a projected $103 million in salary and 13 players under contract.
Even if Parker is not retained, Milwaukee will only have the $8.6 million midlevel and $3.4 million bi-annual exceptions to use in free agency.
The $10.5 million owed to Teletovic — stretched in March, leading to a $3.5 million cap over the next three seasons — will be removed on Nov. 7.
Dates to watch
Brandon Jennings and Malcolm Brogdon will have their contracts guaranteed if not waived by July 1.
Brogdon will not be a waiver casualty and has a $1.5 million cap hit for 2018-19.
After appearing in 14 games at the end of the season, Jennings had a limited role in the playoffs. He comes with a cap hit of $2.2 million if retained.
The trade to acquire the rights to Sterling Brown was agreed upon during the 2017 draft but didn’t occur until the new salary cap year (post July 1), because the Philadelphia 76ers were restricted from receiving cash at the time due to prior trades. As a result, Milwaukee has $3.3 million to use the night of the draft to buy a second-round pick.
The team’s cash available to receive or send out will reset to $5.2 million on July 1.
Extension eligible candidates
The Bucks are walking a balancing act when it comes to Brogdon.
Like former second-round picks Josh Richardson and Norman Powell?before him, Brogdon is eligible to receive a four-year, $46 million extension starting July 29. And like both players, Brogdon has outperformed his three-year, $3.8 million contract signed in 2016.
However, Milwaukee could wait until the summer of 2019 when he becomes a restricted and take advantage of his $1.9 million cap hold instead of extending him now. The risk is that Brogdon puts together another solid season (injury free) and becomes more costly.
Eric Bledsoe, Khris Middleton, John Henson and Matthew Dellavedova are extension eligible as well.
Middleton has a player option for 2019-20 and is eligible to sign a four-year, $70 million with a salary of $15.6 million in the first year. If offered, Middleton would likely turn down that extension and instead enter free agency in 2019 unrestricted.
The draft assets
The Bucks barely held on to their first-round pick this season due to protections from a trade with Phoenix. Now they owe the the Suns their 2019 first-rounder, protected Nos. 1-3 and Nos. 17-30.
As part of the Tyler Zeller trade, Milwaukee will send Brooklyn its 2018 second-round pick.
Here’s how ESPN’s Jonathan Givony and Mike Schmitz have Milwaukee picking in the 2018 draft:
- No. 17 (own): Aaron Holiday | PG | UCLA