2020 NBA Offseason Preview: Milwaukee Bucks

Hoops Rumors is previewing the 2020 offseason for all 30 NBA teams. We’re looking at the key questions facing each club, as well as the roster decisions they’ll have to make this fall. Today, we’re focusing on the Milwaukee Bucks.


Salary Cap Outlook

Taking into account their eight players with guaranteed salaries and the cap hold for the first-round pick, the Bucks already have $116MM in commitments on their books for 2020/21, so they’ll be over the cap.

There are some other wild cards to consider here, including Ersan Ilyasova‘s non-guaranteed $7MM salary, a pair of player options, and the Bucks’ desire to add an impact player.

I’d ultimately expect Milwaukee to be in the tax or close to it, limiting the team to the taxpayer mid-level exception ($5.72MM). But if the club maintains some maneuverability below the tax line, it could have the full MLE ($9.26MM) and bi-annual exception ($3.62MM) to work with.

Our full salary cap preview for the Bucks can be found right here.


Roster Decisions To Watch

Options:

Non-Guaranteed Contracts:

  • Ersan Ilyasova ($7,000,000)

Two-Way Contracts:

Free Agents:


2020 Draft Assets

First Round:

  • No. 24 overall pick

Second Round:

  • None

The Bucks’ own draft picks (Nos. 30 and 60) belong to Boston and New Orleans, respectively. The first-rounder was part of the package sent to Phoenix in 2017 for Eric Bledsoe before it was eventually rerouted to the Celtics. The second-rounder was one of several picks Milwaukee traded to the Pelicans for Nikola Mirotic at the 2019 deadline.

Milwaukee regained a first-round pick (No. 24 overall) in last summer’s sign-and-trade deal that sent Malcolm Brogdon to the Pacers.


Three Key Offseason Questions

1. Will Giannis Antetokounmpo sign a contract extension?

Antetokounmpo’s contract doesn’t expire until 2021, but the decision he makes in 2020 may have a greater impact and longer-term ramifications than any of this fall’s free agent signings. The two-time reigning MVP is up for a “super-max” contract extension that would start at 35% of the 2021/22 salary cap and would tack five years onto his current deal, locking him up through 2026.

[RELATED: Examining What Super-Max For Giannis Would Be Worth]

There’s no doubt that the Bucks will put that offer on the table, but after two consecutive seasons of the team finishing the regular season with the NBA’s best record and then falling short of the Finals in the postseason, it remains to be seen whether Giannis will accept it.

Antetokounmpo has said all the right things about his desire to remain in Milwaukee long-term and to win a championship with the Bucks. And while NBA fans have been conditioned to treat those sort of remarks with skepticism, there’s reason to believe Giannis’ comments are more genuine than most.

The Bucks’ star has spoken in the past about preferring to beat his fellow superstars rather than befriending and teaming up with them. He didn’t grow up playing on the AAU circuit and isn’t part of the Team USA program, so he hasn’t used those avenues to build relationships and plot unions like some stars have in the past. Additionally, Milwaukee is the only home Antetokounmpo has known since he arrived in the U.S., which means he’s unlikely to pull a Kawhi Leonard — Leonard, of course, chose to return home to Los Angeles last summer despite having just won a championship in Toronto.

Still, while there are plenty of factors working in the Bucks’ favor, there are also some reasons why Giannis may not be eager to immediately sign up for five more years in Milwaukee.

The Bucks’ last two playoff exits have been especially disappointing — the team blew a 2-0 in the Eastern Finals in 2019, then couldn’t muster more than a single win against an underdog Heat team in the second round of the 2020 postseason. On top of that, the coronavirus pandemic has complicated the NBA’s salary cap outlook for the next two or three seasons, meaning Antetokounmpo may be incentivized to sign shorter-term deals until the cap starts to rise again.

While it’s certainly not out of the question that Antetokounmpo signs a super-max extension with the Bucks this offseason, my feeling for now is that he’s more likely to put off that decision. He could sign the same five-year, super-max offer with Milwaukee as a free agent in 2021, and by that point, he should have a clearer picture of the NBA’s financial outlook. He’ll also have another playoff run with the Bucks under his belt, giving him a better idea of whether the club is a legit title contender. It’s even possible the club will win a title in 2021, which would presumably make his decision that much easier.

If Giannis isn’t ready to commit to a five-year extension, but doesn’t want the contract situation hanging over his head all season, a shorter-term extension – like the one Bradley Beal signed last year with the Wizards – is another option. However, that would close the door on the super-max possibility until he gains 10 years of NBA experience in 2023 and might mean accepting less than even the 30% max in 2021/22. In other words, if he’s looking to maximize his future earnings, signing a bridge extension a year before free agency probably isn’t the right play.

2. Is Bucks ownership ready to pay the tax?

As Antetokounmpo mulls a potential long-term commitment to the Bucks, it may be time for the team’s ownership group to prove it’s serious about investing big money not just in its superstar, but in the roster around him.

Following the Bucks’ elimination from the playoffs in September, co-owner Marc Lasry met with Antetokounmpo and reportedly assured him that the team is ready and willing to spend into the luxury tax to make upgrades.

The fact that Milwaukee signed-and-traded free agent guard Malcolm Brogdon to a division rival in 2019 rather than signing him to a new contract would seem to contradict the assertion that the team has no qualms about becoming a taxpayer. But it’s worth noting that the Bucks were said to have some long-term health concerns about Brogdon — it’s possible they simply didn’t feel he was the right player for that sort of investment.

Now that we’re a year closer to Antetokounmpo’s potential free agency, there’s more urgency for the Bucks to do all they can to ensure their star wants to stick around. And Lasry and his co-owners are positioned to have an immediate opportunity to back up their words with actions.

The Bucks only have about $114MM committed to eight guaranteed salaries for now, but that figure would surpass $128MM if Ersan Ilyasova is retained, Robin Lopez opts in, and the club keeps its first-round pick. And it would go even higher if the team wants to retain Pat Connaughton or Wesley Matthews, or bring in adequate replacements. Using the mid-level exception and/or making a trade that adds team salary could make the Bucks a taxpayer, especially if the threshold ($132.6MM) remains unchanged for next season.

The Bucks will likely become more comfortable with paying an annual tax bill – including potential repeater penalties down the road – if Giannis signs an extension and they know he’ll be around for the next half-decade. But they can’t wait until after Giannis re-ups to exhibit their willingness to spend big. Making upgrades and going into the tax for 2020/21 will show the two-time MVP they’re serious without necessarily putting them on the hook for future tax payments if Antetokounmpo ultimately decides to leave.

3. Can the Bucks acquire an impact player by building a trade package around Eric Bledsoe?

Free agency will be one potential avenue for the Bucks as they consider roster upgrades this offseason, but they won’t have any cap room available. And if they’d prefer to avoid becoming hard-capped, then using the full mid-level exception or acquiring a player via sign-and-trade won’t be options either. That means Milwaukee’s most intriguing path to acquiring a potential impact player is via the trade market.

The Bucks have a few pieces they could package in trade offers this fall. Bledsoe ($16.9MM) is the club’s most obvious trade chip, both because his salary is useful for matching purposes and because he has been an offensive liability in the postseason over the last two years, despite impressive regular season performances. George Hill (9.6MM) and Ilysaova ($7MM) are among the team’s other potential veteran assets, though Ilyasova’s expiring contract would have to be fully guaranteed if it’s to be used for salary matching.

Those three players are useful rotation pieces, but they’re not moving the needle in a major way for any team shopping an impact player. The Bucks will have to sweeten the pot a little, perhaps offering the Pacers’ 2020 first-round pick (No. 24), along with at least one of their own future first-rounders. Having already conditionally dealt their 2022 pick, a ’24 first-rounder is probably the best Milwaukee can do.

It’s a somewhat underwhelming package — if the Bucks go after someone like Jrue Holiday, they’ll almost certainly be outbid by other suitors. But an offer headed by Bledsoe and a couple first-rounders might be enough to land a player like Chris Paul (whose massive contract hurts his value), Buddy Hield (who may have worn out his welcome in Sacramento), or even Victor Oladipo (who didn’t look fully healthy this season).

I think Paul, in particular, would be a nice fit for the Bucks. The veteran point guard could share ball-handling duties with Giannis and would provide the sort of reliable shooting that Bledsoe hasn’t — he wouldn’t be a major downgrade on defense either. However, a September report suggested it’s “highly unlikely” that Milwaukee goes after CP3. His contract is apparently a concern, as is bringing a strong veteran personality onto a roster that already has a superstar leader in Antetokounmpo.

If Paul isn’t high on the Bucks’ list of potential targets, I’ll be curious to learn who is. It’s possible the front office believes only minor roster adjustments are necessary, given the team’s regular season track record since 2018. But adding a reliable play-maker and shot-maker to the backcourt would make Milwaukee an even more formidable postseason threat, and I’m skeptical that sort of difference-maker will be affordable and attainable in free agency.

Information from Basketball Insiders and ESPN was used in the creation of this post. Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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23 thoughts on “2020 NBA Offseason Preview: Milwaukee Bucks

  1. Noel1982

    Non Bucks fan but I’m calling that Giannis signs a short term deal with bucks next off season and becomes a free agent again in 2023 when the cap has recovered and he’s Eligible to be a ten year max guy

    • HailRodgers12$

      Very possible. Between the lost revenue/potential lower cap, falling short(er) again in the playoffs AND wanting to see what kind of pieces they are willing and able to add I think that may make the most sense for him.

      As far as Chris Paul goes, my feeling is its not that they don’t believe he’d help more than Bledsoe, or any other player they might be able to acquire via trade, its that they may not feel they have the assets to get him. Between salary matching, talent they can actually move (that a team is willing to take) and a lack of draft capital, it’d leave the cupboard extremely bare in coming years..really whether Giannis hangs around long term or not.

      • C-Daddy

        I also feel like trading for a 35-year-old player, despite how good he is at this moment in time, isn’t the way to convince a younger player to stick around long term.

        • hiflew

          If you think about it, it really is. Paul would only be on the payroll for 2 years. At that point, there would be $44 million expiring from your cap. That can give Giannis basically whoever he wants on the free agent or trade market when he is 29. That seems like a decent reason to play the next two years with one of the top 5 point guards of all time.

          • HailRodgers12$

            They’d be way over the cap with Paul, Giannis (hypothetically) on a supermax or short term, big money deal and Middleton the next 2 years.
            Subtracting $44 mil won’t give them that much room at or near the cap..and let’s be honest, its still Milwaukee. Not exactly a top destination for free agents. Plus the draft picks they’ve already dealt away, and any they’d need to use to swing a deal for Paul.

            • x%sure

              Again this angle. Bear in mind that in trade MIL would be losing Bledsoe, Hill & Illyasova. The question is not money— CP3 is affordable— but whether Presti wants to do it as he already has PGs. He would have to plan ahead for flips. As for conflict with Giannis, Giannis should surrender!

              I suspect Bledsoe could be flipped to the Lakers. But I think the best answer is MIL taking a gamble on Alex Caruso or Monte Morris.

              • HailRodgers12$

                So, are you saying the Bucks can pull off a trade sending out no draft picks, and only Bledsoe (offensive liability on most teams, considering his poor outside shooting), Hill (older, declining and not a great defender), and Illyasova (who isn’t really great at anything..) And get back a playmaking PG in Paul..?
                Cuz I don’t see it. Maybe..maybe in a multi-team swap where 1 wants Bledsoe for his defensive ability, 1 wants Illyasova for his..contract(?) and whoever will take Hill believing his value as a backup PG outweighs everything else (assuming he even wants to play, rather than actually following through on his intentions of fighting for social justice).

      • harden-westbrook-mvps

        Trading for CP3 would be an absolute disaster for the Bucks.

    • richt

      Agreed. I also think he could sign a KD/LeBron-type deal with rolling options.

  2. padam

    There are teams out there that have cap room to give him what he wants. Miami was a team mentioned he’d be interested in, and the Knicks have more than enough room to give him whatever he wants, along with another player to match him up with.

    • Noel1982

      If the idea is ad and Giannis teaming up only Lakers will be able to pull that off not Knicks not bulls not anyone else bc they already have Davis bird rights and nobody else under contract to recruit Giannis ! Those two won’t team up anywhere though ultimately esp New York or Chicago

      • harden-westbrook-mvps

        So the Lakers will sign Giannis in 2022 once they’re rid of LBJ?

  3. The Howler

    I think divincenzo could also be dangled as trade bait with the 1st round pick and either hill or ilyasova. Bledsoe can then pass the ball to a decent 3 pt shooter rather than clanking it it himself.

  4. Lionel Muggeridge

    None of those free agents are essential. Maybe if they are desperate for bench wings towards the season opener, Korver and Pat could be brought back. Bledsoe is the main culprit that needs to be banished in anyway possible

  5. hiflew

    The biggest problem with trading Bledsoe is that there is really no team that really needs him more than the Bucks. There are some teams that could use him, but they don’t really have anyone to improve Milwaukee. And the teams that have players that would improve the Bucks either have better guards or better prospects that they wouldn’t want to block. It would just about have to be a multi team deal to get something done.

    Personally, I wouldn’t trade him because the Bucks were the best team in the East. Sure they lost a series to Miami, but it happens especially with the bubble situation. Go with the status quo rather than risking the synergy of the team.

    • Lionel Muggeridge

      I think the Bucks are better with a shooter and less ball dominant point like George Hill as the starter

      • x%sure

        Hill is soft and has a better record as a backup. Using Hill to replace Bledsoe is an idea without legs. Someone like him?— maybe, but the goal will be playoff performance, which shrinks the possibilities. Caruso & Rondo checks the boxes and the talk surrounding the Lakers is getting a third star.

  6. x%sure

    Bledsoe has pull on the Lakers as a Rich Paul client, and the Lakers have riser Alex Caruso 3rd string, although Rondo might leave. Both would bring movement to the Buck’s offense.
    One has to wonder if GM Horst would be willing to trade a player after they traded Brogdon, making FA Rondo more likely.

  7. richt

    Zach LaVine is my favorite target for the Bucks. He is younger than Giannis and has 2 years left on a team-friendly deal. He fills their exact backcourt needs on offense. Bledsoe makes for a good salary-matching piece, and then they can add assets on top (Indy’s first, a different future first, DiVincenzo are their best ones).

  8. Bucks tracker

    Coach Bud is all about “let it fly” – shoot the 3 well and you open the paint for Giannis and other slashing Gs and Fs. Shooting the 3 has been the issue. Therefore the guys to target (avoiding superstar-level partners that blow up Giannis’s whole purpose of staying in Milwaukee) are dead-eyes like J J Redick, Fred Van Vleet, Joe Harris, and Davis Bertans. All established shooters (near or above 40% career from 3 point range), all capable defenders, with Van Vleet as an established play maker, and generally younger (all in their 20s, except for the ageless Redick).

    • x%sure

      Imagine collecting all of Redick, Thomas & Bertans, all for say $40mil p/yr. The shooting.

      • Bucks tracker

        Absolutely. And absolutely essential in the interest of keeping Giannis committed to Milwaukee. Him shooting from outside is cool, and it’s clear he can develop that shot further, but that’s not why he’s bulked up like the beast he’s become. He needs the 10-foot turnaround that he’s been developing and a FT% greater than 70% to become the best Giannis he can be. That and the development of the discipline to affect plays on ball on D, instead of overcommitting and picking up fouls.

        He’s always been a committed and skilled passer, and he needs that to pay off in actual assists. Meaning the guys he kicks out to on the perimeter need to be guys who will bury those open threes at least half the time. The guys I listed can do that, and at that point, Giannis becomes a nightly triple double threat.

        (Note I said OPEN threes – overall three % will be under 50%, but for the wide open threes you get when Giannis is hitting a multiplayer wall, it should go down at least half the time.)

        This emphasis on half-court offense is worth a slight hit on defense, because in the playoffs, you just need to score, especially as a small market team that is not going to get the calls that a NBA-favored team is going to get.

        Top-tier defense leads to fast break offense, I know, but the game slows down too much in the playoffs, where the other team will get hot sometimes (like the Heat did this year) and hit all their shots. No fast break offense to be had when your opponent keeps scoring on you – at those times, you just need to be able to keep up. And Giannis plus a case of world-class splashers (including Middleton) would sure enough be able to score at will.

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