Hoops Rumors is in the process of looking back at each team's offseason, from the end of the playoffs in June right up until opening night. Trades, free agent signings, draft picks, contract extensions, option decisions, camp invitees, and more will be covered, as we examine the moves each franchise made over the last several months.
Trades and Claims
Rookie Contract Option Decisions
The Bucks entered the offseason having already made their splashy move, acquiring Monta Ellis at the trade deadline in a deal that sent out Andrew Bogut, whom the team drafted No. 1 overall in 2005. Milwaukee failed to make a charge into the playoffs after the trade, but it seemed clear the team wasn't going to evaluate the backcourt pairing of Ellis and Brandon Jennings on a brief 21-game sample. The Bucks brought back GM John Hammond and coach Scott Skiles for the final seasons of their deals in 2012/13, and with Ellis, who can exercise an early-termination option next summer, and Jennings, in the last year of his rookie deal, under no long-term commitments, this season shapes up as an 82-game referendum.
The lingering story of the offseason was whether the team would grant an extension to Jennings, and he wound up as likely the biggest name not to sign a rookie-scale extension among those eligible this year. He admitted soon afterward that he's "kind of auditioning for other teams" this season, and when Zach Links of Hoops Rumors asked whether readers thought the Bucks would trade Jennings this season, the results were almost 50-50. I think the Bucks will ride out the season with Jennings and the rest of their group to see how they play together, especially given the team's hot start, but it's clear the team isn't yet sold on the Ellis-Jennings combination. If Jennings were locked up long-term and the team failed to make the playoffs this season, it could have cost Hammond his job. Nonetheless, it might have been a more regrettable mistake to miss out on a chance to secure Jennings at less than the maximum salary, as fellow point guards Ty Lawson, Stephen Curry and Jrue Holiday all signed extensions for well below the max.
Milwaukee's decision on Jennings is particularly befuddling considering their commitment to Ersan Ilyasova, who parlayed a second-place finish for the Most Improved Player award into a five-year, $40MM deal. The Nets made a strong push for him this summer, and while the Bucks could match their offer for the restricted free agent, they had no such control over European clubs, one of which reportedly made a "big offer" to Ilyasova. A return overseas might have given him as much as $5MM in tax-free income, so perhaps the Bucks were bidding against non-NBA teams. Either way, they can't be pleased with his production so far, as his points and rebounds have been cut roughly in half, and a lengthy $8MM-a-year commitment to a disappointing player, even though the final season is only partially guaranteed, is quite an albatross for a small-market team.
Before the draft and free agency, the Bucks made a move aimed at replacing some of Bogut's basket protection skills, landing Samuel Dalembert from the Rockets in a deal that sent out three players who were waived before ever playing a regular season game for Houston. The trade also moved the Bucks back two draft slots, but they were still able to land John Henson, whom the team reportedly thought it would have to move into the top 10 to grab. Dalembert is overpaid at $6.7MM this year, but it's final season of his deal, and Milwaukee will presumably have the edge to re-sign him next summer if he pans out.
Milwaukee added veterans Marquis Daniels and Joel Przybilla, and though their minimum-salary deals won't break the bank, the willingness to give two roster spots to known commodities instead of youngsters who might develop signals how important wins and losses are to the team this year. The Bucks aren't contending for a title, but if they can show improvement and make the playoffs, they'll likely make a strong push to retain Ellis and Jennings next summer.
The question is whether simply being a playoff team will be enough long-term. There's legitimate doubt about whether the team's players on rookie contracts — Henson, Ekpe Udoh, Larry Sanders and Tobias Harris — can blossom into the kinds of pieces needed on a championship team. Other than Jennings and Ellis, the veterans on the club aren't marquee names, and Ilyasova,Drew Gooden and Luc Mbah a Moute are all under contract through 2015. Milwaukee is by no means a free agent destination, so the Bucks must build from within, or through trades. The playoff appearance the team angled for this offseason would buy Hammond and Skiles more time, but I'm not sure a championship foundation exists with this bunch.
Luke Adams contributed to this post.