Offseason In Review: Milwaukee Bucks

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.

Signings

Extensions

  • None

Trades

  • Acquired a 2015 second-round pick from the Hawks in exchange for 2014 pick No. 48.
  • Acquired Jared Dudley and the Clippers’ 2017 first-round pick (top-14 protected) from the Clippers in exchange for Carlos Delfino, Miroslav Raduljica and the Clippers’ 2015 second-round pick that they’d given up in a previous trade (as long as it falls between picks 31-50).

Waiver Claims

Draft Picks

  • Jabari Parker (Round 1, 2nd overall). Signed via rookie scale exception to rookie scale contract.
  • Damien Inglis (Round 2, 31th overall). Signed via cap room for three years, $2.65MM. Third year is non-guaranteed.
  • Johnny O’Bryant (Round 2, 36th overall). Signed via cap room for three years, $2.425MM. Third year is non-guaranteed.

Camp Invitees

  • Micheal Eric
  • Elijah Millsap

Departing Players

Rookie Contract Option Decisions

When your NBA franchise has only had one winning season out of the last 10 and your city isn’t quite the draw for free agents that a warm weather locale is, nor is seen as a major mecca such as New York or Chicago, turning your fortunes around isn’t quite so simple. This is the position that Bucks GM John Hammond finds himself in while attempting to bring winning basketball to Milwaukee.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Milwaukee BucksThe Bucks had a rather quiet offseason for a team that only won 15 games a season ago. Only one free agent was inked, and while I’m a fan of Jerryd Bayless‘ game, he’s not a transformative sort of player for the franchise. He also plays the same position as the team’s only other veteran addition, Kendall Marshall, who was claimed off waivers after being let go by the Lakers, who could sure use his services this season, and the Bucks’ current leading scorer, Brandon Knight.

Generally speaking, teams that lose 67 games have much greater issues than filling up the bottom tiers of their point guard depth chart, though both Bayless and Marshall were solid, inexpensive additions. Still, if an NBA title is going to come to Wisconsin, it’s going to take quite a bit more to make that happen.

But just because the team didn’t throw money at a number of veterans this year, it doesn’t mean the Bucks aren’t headed in the right direction. This is a franchise that will need to build itself up through player development and the NBA draft, and that plan, while not likely to fully pay off this season despite the team’s 4-4 start, is well underway.

The biggest addition this summer arrived in the form of No. 2 overall pick Jabari Parker, one of the most intriguing talents in the draft. While Parker may not have the above-the-rim athleticism of Andrew Wiggins, nor the sky-high potential of Dante Exum or a healthy Joel Embiid, Parker is arguably the most NBA-ready of the entire 2014 draft class.

Parker’s NBA position isn’t quite defined yet, and he’ll rotate between both forward positions for the time being. He’s a bit of a tweener and may not be athletic enough to guard some of the league’s more dynamic small forwards, and he isn’t strong enough yet to play with the big boys down in the paint. But Parker is a talent, and talent will always find a place in this league. I can see Parker being used eventually like Carmelo Anthony is in New York when the Knicks go to their smaller lineups and ‘Melo mans the four spot. Parker isn’t in Anthony’s class as a scorer, nor do I think he’ll ever be, but he has the potential to be a multidimensional stat-sheet filler for the Bucks, and was a great addition to the franchise.

The most important cog in the Bucks’ future already resided on their roster heading into the offseason in the 6’11” form of Giannis Antetokounmpo, bane of arena announcers and basketball writers across the league. The “Greek Freak” is a major work in progress whose physical ability and highlight-reel plays far outdo his current level of production. Antetokounmpo has all the tools to be a major star in the league for years to come, but will need more than the 23.8 minutes per game he currently receives to get there.

One obstacle that worries me in regard to the Bucks’ handling of Antetokounmpo is the team’s preseason experiment with him at point guard. While he may have the physical tools to play the position, and while it would be amazing to watch a near seven-footer man the one-spot on a nightly basis, this could derail his development. Point guard is by far the most difficult position to learn, and doing so at the NBA level against the ridiculous talent that exists in the league at that position is no easy task. There are enough fundamental holes in Antetokounmpo’s current game that he doesn’t need the added level of difficulty that a position switch would bring about.

Milwaukee wisely exercised exercised both Antetokounmpo’s and John Henson‘s rookie options this offseason, but the team passed on working out an extension with Brandon Knight. Knight isn’t a pure point guard and is much more comfortable as a scorer than as a ball-distributor. His turnover rate is extremely high this season at 4.0 per game, up from his career average of 2.7, but he’s only 22 years old, and is a dynamic offensive player. If Knight keeps up his averages of 17.4 PPG, 6.1 RPG, and 6.9 APG, he’ll definitely garner interest when he becomes a restricted free agent next summer and could be costly for the Bucks to retain.

Thanks to their young, exciting core of players, the Bucks’ outlook is quite positive. A number of player-friendly contracts on the books will nonetheless hamper the franchise’s ability to improve over the next few seasons. Milwaukee has $46,849,680 in guaranteed salaries already committed for the 2015/16 season, and this doesn’t include a new deal for Knight, nor the $4.25MM salary for Jared Dudley, who has an early termination option for next season.

The Bucks agreed to tether themselves to Dudley’s 2015/16 salary in a trade that sent out Carlos Delfino and Miroslav Raduljica, both of whom had non-guaranteed salary for that season. It signaled a willingness to take some pains in the near future for the rare opportunity to net a first-round pick, the price the Clippers paid to facilitate the deal. The lottery-protected selection won’t come until 2017 at the earliest, and it will probably fall in the 20s barring an unlikely decline in Clipper fortunes over the next few years. It’s still quite a valuable asset to receive for some short-term cap burden, a future second-round pick and two players who weren’t contributing much. It’s a signal that new Bucks majority owners Wesley Edens, Marc Lasry and Jamie Dinan are much more willing to focus on the future than longtime former owner Herb Kohl, who always seemed committed to competing in the near term, even if it mired the franchise in mediocrity.

Center Larry Sanders‘ $11MM annual salary is the most significant blight on the team’s balance sheet, and he is in no way worth that amount of money. The best hope the franchise has is if he can return to form and build up his trade value, though with Sanders averaging 5.9 points on 38.2% shooting, a horrid number for a 6’11” inside player, it will be extremely difficult to obtain anything of value for him.

The $16MM that the Bucks owe to O.J. Mayo between now and the end of 2015/16 isn’t helping the team, either. Mayo’s 12.1 PPG average isn’t setting the league on fire, and at 27 he’s not likely to break out anytime soon. The less-than-stellar contracts of Ersan Ilyasova ($7.9MM per year) and Zaza Pachulia ($5.2MM per year) are additional albatrosses the team will have to deal with through next season. Neither of those two big men are worth that chunk of cap space on a young rebuilding squad like the Bucks.

Another change worth noting for the Bucks this past offseason was the hiring of Jason Kidd as the new head coach after a courtship that took place while Larry Drew was still employed in the position. Bringing in Kidd cost Milwaukee 2015 and 2019 second-round draft picks, which were sent to Brooklyn as compensation. Kidd’s lone season in Brooklyn was anything but smooth, with the Nets organization seemingly all for parting ways despite the team making it to to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in seven years. Kidd was reportedly pushing for more front office control in Brooklyn, something the team apparently wasn’t too keen on granting. Add that to the reports of locker room strife and it remains to be seen how Kidd will fare switching from a veteran-dominated team to a much younger squad. It is a much different task to develop players while losing than to step in and take over a team that was built with the intent to challenge for an NBA title.

Fortunes in Milwaukee aren’t likely to turn around this season, but the groundwork has been laid for incremental gains, and if the team continues to draft well and the young talent reaches its potential, Bucks fans will have more to cheer about in the coming years. It will nonetheless continue to be difficult to lure upper-tier free agent talent to the city, and the Bucks will need to rid themselves of a number of bloated contracts to make themselves more competitive for the second-level free agents that hit the market. But for now, Milwaukee can enjoy watching the development of Antetokounmpo and Parker. The team must pin its hopes on being able to sign them for the long term when their rookie deals are up, and that years of losing basketball don’t take a toll on their pair of gems in the meantime.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images. The Basketball Insiders salary pages were used in the creation of this post. Chuck Myron contributed to this post.

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