This summer is shaping up to be a big one for the growth of the young Milwaukee Bucks. When they made the deal with the Detroit Pistons to swap Ersan Ilyasova for Caron Butler and Shawne Williams, it was with the intent to clear up salary cap space and be major players in free agency. Our own Kelly Scaletta wrote about both sides being a winner in this deal and touched on what it could mean for the Bucks in free agency.
According to a report from Marc Stein of ESPN, they’ve identified a few targets on the market and know exactly what they’d like to improve upon to be a real contender in the Eastern Conference. There are certainly a few who could fit with what the Bucks look to be trying to do, but it remains to be seen what is truly realistic for them, given the structure of their roster and the always-fun-to-navigate salary cap.
The Bucks lost Larry Sanders last year when he decided that he simply didn’t want to play basketball anymore, leaving them with a void in the middle. (Zaza Pachulia is no more than a decent role player.) Ilyasova is a stretch forward, which is a quality player to have on a team with an inside presence. But teams are finding that having a defensive presence at the center position surrounded by fast players who get up and down the court is a great way to get easy points.
The Bucks certainly have the players to get up and down the court, with Michael Carter-Williams, O.J. Mayo, Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo as a potential one-through-four in the starting lineup. Depending on what happens with the player option held by Jared Dudley, and with the assumption that they’re waiving Butler and possibly Shawne Williams as well, the Bucks could have around $23 million in salary cap space. They also have a decision on how much they want to keep talented young forward Khris Middleton, but there’s a lot they can do with that.
They could match whatever contract he gets offered on the market, being that he’s a restricted free agent. That same article by Stein implies that the Bucks plan to match any offer, but we’ve seen instances where teams have said that in the past and it’s ended up just being a bluff. I think the Bucks do want Middleton back, but with Parker and The Greek Freak on the roster, they may have to decide whether keeping Middleton or acquiring a big man is more important. The good news is Middleton’s cap hold is just $2.73 million, so Milwaukee could potentially land a big man with a good chunk of its cap space and then go over the cap to re-sign Middleton.
Here are some of the options for the Bucks, considering the trade market and free agency, that could help them land their defensive presence that they crave while still factoring in what’s realistic.
I think this may be the player they’d like to have the most, but there’s probably no way this happens. The Clippers have already hinted at being willing to give Jordan a max contract, which likely takes almost everyone else out of the running. If they’re bluffing or if Jordan wants to leave, it’s likely that the Mavericks are the leader in the sweepstakes for the All-Defensive First Team center and two-time leader in rebounding.
I would put landing Jordan on the “not out of the realm of possibility” list, but also not very likely. If the Bucks are willing to pay a max contract and the Clippers and Mavericks aren’t, perhaps it could happen, but all indications are Los Angeles will pay up and Dallas will make its own hard charge.
Chandler seems like he should be on the verge of retirement, but in reality he’s still only 32 years old. He’s been around for what feels like forever, having come straight out of high school when the Bulls acquired him on draft night in 2001. He’s already won a championship with the Mavericks, who may look to re-sign him if they cannot get Jordan, and he’s made a bunch of money in his career. It’s not clear what his priorities are at this point.
Chandler is another good defensive presence, although he doesn’t bring a ton on the offensive end. He used to run like a gazelle, but these days he’s not quite so quick to get up and down the court. He’d be a strong fit for what the Bucks are looking for, and if they’re offering him enough money, I think there’s a decent chance that this could end up being a fit. It’s also worth noting that Chandler played with Bucks head coach Jason Kidd when the Mavericks won the title in 2011.
Lopez has a $16.7 million player option for next season, but most around the NBA think he’s going to opt out to cash in big in free agency. Lopez came back from an injury-shortened season to play well this year, and he should have plenty of suitors in the offseason. He’s a gifted scorer, but for a guy his size, he leaves a lot to be desired in the rebounding and defense categories. Lopez could help the Bucks’ sometimes anemic offense, but he still may not be the best fit because of his weaknesses in those other areas.
Milwaukee ranked 24th in the NBA in total rebounds last year, and exchanging Ilyasova (9.1 rebounds per 36 minutes for his career) for Lopez (8.1 rebounds per 36 minutes for his career) doesn’t do a ton to change that. Still, adding an excellent post scorer who can get easy baskets is tempting given some of the Bucks’ offensive woes, so perhaps Kidd can help convince his former player to come to Milwaukee. The Nets supposedly want Lopez back at all costs, but perhaps they change their mind or he wants a fresh start elsewhere.
I’ve written before about the reasons the Bulls have to move on from Joakim Noah. Now that they have Fred Hoiberg on as the head coach, I stand by those reasons. He has only one year left on his contract at $13.4 million. It’s possible the Bulls might even do a swap for a guy like Mayo (and a draft pick?), which would save Chicago some cash, while Milwaukee would still have plenty of room to add other free agents.
I may be biased a bit toward the Bulls, but I like this trade for both teams. Noah may have looked rough coming off his knee surgery last year, but I think with a player friendly coach like Kidd and another offseason of rest, Noah could be a little closer to the player he was prior to the 2014-2015 season. A lineup of Carter-Williams, Middleton, Parker, Antetokounmpo and Noah would certainly be able to get up and down the floor. Assuming they get those extra shooters, that could make the Bucks a very fun team in the East.
The Bucks have some big decisions to make this offseason, and while they don’t have the stress of preparing a massive offer to a guy on the level of LeBron James, the decisions they make will have long-term impact on the future of their franchise. They’re committing to shoot for the moon and put a big-time center on the court with their young core, and they’re about to start making some noise in the barren Eastern Conference.