Offseason Outlook: Milwaukee Bucks

Guaranteed Contracts


Non-Guaranteed Contracts

  • None

Free Agents / Cap Holds

Draft Picks

  • 1st Round (15th overall)
  • 2nd Round (43rd overall)

Cap Outlook

  • Guaranteed Salary: $29,555,523
  • Options: $12,500,000
  • Non-Guaranteed Salary: $0
  • Cap Holds: $34,078,254
  • Total: $76,133,777

While the Bucks made the postseason for just the second time in the last seven years, earning the franchise's first playoff berth since 2009/10, it's hard to view the '12/13 season as a real success. After a solid first half, the Bucks stumbled down the stretch, ultimately finishing with a 38-44 record. In the Western Conference, that sort of record would mean Milwaukee would be focusing on last night's draft lottery results. In the East, it meant a No. 8 seed and a first-round sweep at the hands of the Heat.

So here's where the Bucks stand heading into the summer: Their playoff appearance was so brief you could be forgiven for thinking it didn't even last four games. They don't have a lottery pick. They're searching for their third head coach of the calendar year. And four of their top five scorers are eligible for free agency.

Some of those issues are less significant than others. Many observers feel this year's draft class is short on elite talent but well-stocked with potential rotation players, so 15th overall isn't a bad spot for the Bucks. Additionally, the opportunity to bring in a new coach to replace one who had seemingly grown tired of the job (Scott Skiles) and one who was no more than a midseason quick fix (Jim Boylan) should allow the Bucks to identify a candidate more suited for the position.

The team's most pressing concern should be the free agent period. Monta Ellis has a player option worth $11MM that he's unlikely to exercise — even if he's unlikely to find an annual salary that high on the open market, the opportunity to secure a longer-term deal with a team of his choosing will probably be too appealing to pass up. Meanwhile, after years of conflicting public comments on whether or not he's happy in Milwaukee, Brandon Jennings will hit free agency for the first time. Coming off his rookie-scale contract, Jennings will be a restricted free agent, meaning the Bucks will have the opportunity to match any offer he receives. If Jennings really wants to leave Milwaukee though, he could certainly make life difficult for the team by either signing a lucrative offer sheet with another suitor or accepting the Bucks' one-year qualifying offer, which would allow him to become an unrestricted free agent next summer.

Besides Ellis and Jennings, a pair of Milwaukee sharpshooters are also headed for unrestricted free agency. J.J. Redick figures to be a priority for the Bucks, considering the club gave up an apparent gem in Tobias Harris to acquire Redick from the Magic. Like the Sixers with Andrew Bynum, the Bucks don't want to make an unsuccessful trade worse by overpaying the player in free agency, but trading Harris and others for a two-month rental of Redick doesn't make much sense. In addition to Redick, Mike Dunleavy, an unspectacular but very solid wing player, will hit the open market.

The Bucks' impending free agents present the team with an unenviable dilemma: Re-signing two or three of those free agents and making small upgrades elsewhere won't make Milwaukee a title contender. If anything, it would set the Bucks up for more years like 2012/13, where they may be good enough to make the postseason, but aren't quite good enough to make any noise once they get there.

On the other hand, letting their free agents walk presents a new set of problems. Milwaukee isn't exactly one of the league's most attractive free agent destinations, so even armed with a huge chunk of cap space, it's hard to imagine the Bucks luring an elite free agent or two to Milwaukee without massively overpaying. And without a lottery pick or a trade asset like Harris, it's equally hard to see how the Bucks could land an elite talent in the draft or on the trade market.

My best guess for the Bucks this summer is that they do what they can to retain Jennings. Even if they have to overpay, the Bucks are in the driver's seat when it comes to keeping Jennings under team control going forward, which isn't necessarily true of their other free agents. I'd also expect the club to take its best shot at bringing back Redick — the fact that the Bucks targeted and acquired him in the first place suggests to me that they like him, and we heard earlier in the year that they'd make a "strong bid" to re-sign him.

If the Bucks are able to re-sign Jennings and Redick for something in the neighborhood of $20-22MM annually, they'd still have a little room to pursue other rotation pieces in free agency. That's especially true if the club also decides to amnesty Drew Gooden, who has two years and more than $13MM remaining on his contract. I'd expect the Bucks to use their amnesty provision on Gooden only if they have a specific target lined up to use that cap room on instead. Either way, filling out the backcourt and adding another big man to a frontcourt that includes Larry Sanders, John Henson, and Ersan Ilyasova will be priorities for Milwaukee.

For now, Milwaukee is lacking the sort of elite talent necessary to take the team to the next level. As long as the Bucks continue to be relatively productive on the court, it will be difficult to land that kind of talent in the draft, and the team will remain at an inherent disadvantage when it comes to recruiting free agents.

Still, the Bucks do have a handful of valuable assets on their roster, even if they lose a couple of their free agent guards this summer. So even if GM John Hammond isn't able to add a star, continuing to add solid young talent to the roster would be a step in the direction. We've seen a team like the Nuggets have plenty of regular-season success without a star, and other teams like the Rockets have been able to eventually accumulate enough valuable assets to turn them into a star via trade. Perhaps the Bucks can follow the blueprints established by those sorts of clubs, and avoid getting stuck in the no-man's land that belongs to non-lottery, non-contending teams.

Additional notes:

  • Besides Gooden, only Sanders is eligible to be amnestied, so if the Bucks don't cut Gooden this summer or next, their amnesty provision will go unused.
  • Also worth monitoring this offseason: Sanders becomes eligible for a rookie-scale extension as of July. After his breakout year in '12/13, Sanders appears to be in line for a new contract that exceeds the four-year, $33MM deal signed by Taj Gibson last fall.  It will be interesting to see if he elects to wait until free agency to negotiate a long-term deal, or if the Bucks lock him up before October 31st.
  • He won't receive the same amount of attention as Sanders, but Ekpe Udoh is also eligible for an extension this offseason. I'd expect the Bucks to wait on Udoh and see how he performs in his fourth year before negotiating a new deal with him.

Cap footnotes:

  1. If the Bucks exercise their team option on Ayon by the June 30th deadline, his contract is still non-guaranteed. If he remains on the roster beyond July 25th, his full salary becomes guaranteed.
  2. Because he met the starter criteria, Jennings will now be eligible for a qualifying offer of $4,531,459 rather than $4,330,469.

Storytellers Contracts and Sham Sports were used in the creation of this post.

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