Eric Bledsoe

Bucks Notes: Lopez, Ilyasova, 2019 Cap Space

The transformation and development of the Bucks has been one of the hottest storylines of the season, as Mike Budenholzer has implemented a more modern offensive system and surrounded Giannis Antetokounmpo with enough floor spacers to make his rim attacks unstoppable. As a result, the Bucks own the league’s third-ranked offense which, when coupled with the sixth-ranked defense, makes for a potent combination.

One of the key additions this season has been Brook Lopez, who has transformed his offensive game to mainly be a spot-up shooter, a vast difference from the Lopez of a couple seasons ago. As Jonathan Tjarks writes for The Ringer, Lopez has been a huge part of the Bucks’ offense, as the team is significantly better with him on the floor. In fact, the Bucks “go from having what would be the highest offensive rating in NBA history with Lopez (115.6 in 832 minutes) to a bottom-five offense in the league without him (103.9 in 618 minutes).”

However, Tjarks also points out that due to Lopez’s limited athleticism, the Bucks have designed a defensive scheme that could easily be exposed come playoff time, as it has already been attacked throughout the regular season. It will be interesting to see what the trade-off is come the playoffs, as Lopez provides significant offensive value for the Bucks.

There’s more from the Bucks:

  • Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN had a feature on the Bucks’ ascension to the upper echelon in the league, detailing the additions of Budenholzer and Lopez and how they both relate to Antetokounmpo’s rise to becoming a potential MVP. Within his story, Arnovitz reports that the Bucks came “tantalizingly close” to acquiring both George Hill and Kyle Korver from Cleveland before the Cavs sent Korver to Utah instead.
  • Unfortunately for the Bucks, they will be without their other main offseason addition in Ersan Ilyasova, as the floor-spacing big man recently underwent surgery to repair a fractured nose, an injury he suffered during practice.
  • While the Bucks are certainly a feel-good story of the season, Dan Feldman of NBC Sports points out that the summer of 2019 could bring some changes to their core, with Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, Brook Lopez and Malcolm Brogdon all becoming free agents. As Feldman reveals, the Bucks will have around $67MM under the luxury tax to spend on bringing those four players back, but it certainly isn’t set in stone.

Free Agent Stock Watch 2019: Central Division

Every week, Hoops Rumors takes a closer look at players who will be free agents or could become free agents next offseason. We examine if their stock is rising or falling due to performance and other factors. This week, we turn our attention to the Central Division:

Jabari Parker, Bulls, 24, SF (Down) – Signed to a two-year, $40MM deal in 2018
Parker is out of the Chicago’s rotation and on the trading block, a massive and swift fall from grace after signing a big contract to play for his hometown team. If the Bulls can find a trading partner, Parker could be considered damaged goods and not just because of the knee injuries that set back his career. He has gained a reputation of being disinterested on defense and a ball-hog on offense. Wherever he is at season’s end, it’s hard to imagine that team exercising its $20MM option. Parker will be back on the market and the offers will be significantly less.

Alec Burks, Cavaliers, 27, SF (Down) – Signed to a four-year, $42MM deal in 2015
Burks is getting steady minutes under coach Larry Drew since his inclusion in the Kyle Korver deal with Utah but he isn’t doing anything noteworthy with them. He’s averaging 28.0 MPG and while his rebounding and assist numbers have climbed, he’s shot just 33.3% from the field. Burks has not averaged better than 33% from long range over the last three seasons. He needs to pick up his production from the perimeter to draw interest in the summer. He’s averaged $10.5MM in salary over the last four years — that will drop dramatically with his next contract.

Reggie Bullock, Pistons, 27, SG (Up) – Signed to a two-year, $5MM deal in 2017
Bullock was one of the NBA’s best 3-point shooters — and bargains — last season when he made 44.5% of his attempts. He’s proving that was no fluke. His long-range average is up to 39.8% after his career-high 33-point performance at Minnesota on Wednesday when he drained seven 3-pointers. Bullock fills an essential role for a team that needs long-range compliments to the power duo of Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond. Detroit would like to keep him but it will have competition and Bullock will receive a major pay raise wherever he winds up.

Bojan Bogdanovic, Pacers, 29, SF (Up) — Signed to a two-year, $21MM deal in 2017
Bogdanovic is a consistent offensive force on one of the league’s most underappreciated teams. He’s scored in double figures 23 straight games and he’s averaging career highs in points (16.4), field-goal percentage (51.4) and 3-point percentage (47.5). Indiana had to decide before free agency in July whether to guarantee his $10.5MM salary and it wisely chose to keep him. Bogdanovic will surely get multi-year offers next summer, though it would be no surprise if he re-signs with the Pacers, where he’s a comfy fit.

Eric Bledsoe, Bucks, 29, PG (Up) – Signed to a five-year, $70MM deal in 2014
Bledsoe has matured since being dealt from Phoenix last season and adjusted his game around a superstar talent. He’s shooting a career-high 50% from the field, an excellent number for a guard, and his turnover rate is the lowest of his career. Bledsoe is the third-best player on a team that owns the Eastern Conference’s second-best record. With several teams around the league looking for a point guard upgrade, the Bucks will have to shell out some major bucks to retain their floor leader.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Giannis Not Looking To Join Forces With Other Stars

While small-market NBA teams constantly have to worry about the possibility of their best players leaving town to team up with other stars in a bigger market, the Bucks may not need to be overly concerned about that scenario playing out for Giannis Antetokounmpo, Howard Beck of Bleacher Report writes in an in-depth figure on the Milwaukee forward.

As Beck outlines, Antetokounmpo didn’t grow up playing on the AAU circuit and isn’t part of the Team USA program, so he’s less accustomed to the superstar model of team-building than many of his American contemporaries. One rival executive suggests to Beck that it could give the Bucks a big advantage down the road that Giannis “is not around All-Stars all summer.”

Antetokounmpo has also shown little interest in working out with fellow star players, according to Beck, who suggests that Giannis has turned down those invitations and “sees no point in sharing anything with his rivals.” Jason Terry, Antetokounmpo’s teammate for two seasons in Milwaukee, tells Beck that he could “never in a million years” imagine the All-NBA forward seeking out a super-team and joining forces with other stars.

“Giannis, his DNA, his makeup is, he has the ability to carry a team to the championship level himself,” Terry says. “I think he’s still enjoying the challenge of trying to take on the world’s best, like LeBron [James], head to head. Trying to take on guys like [Kevin Durant] head-to-head. And he’s really enjoying that matchup and embracing it. I mean, he wants to be the best player in the NBA. I’ve heard him say that on multiple occasions.”

Antetokounmpo reiterated that sentiment to Beck, telling him that his goal is to become “one of the best players to ever play the game.” Giannis also stressed that his number one goal is winning and contending for championships, something he believes the Bucks are capable of even without going out and acquiring another star.

“You don’t have to have a lot of [stars],” Antetokounmpo told Beck. “I definitely think that, because I think we have great pieces in this team, and every guy in this team knows what his role is and is having fun and is enjoying his role. And that comes from the coach. You know, if the coach gives you confidence, gives you the green light and tells you what your role is and you accept it as a player, and you’re happy with it, that’s big for every team. I don’t think anybody on this team wants to do more, wants to do less.”

Here’s more out of Milwaukee:

  • Although there may be speculation about Antetokounmpo’s future in Milwaukee from rival executives, Bucks GM Jon Horst isn’t preoccupied by thoughts of Giannis’ next contract, writes Beck. “The truth is, it really isn’t the biggest thing on our mind,” Horst said. “The biggest thing on our mind is how do we take a step from last year to this year and continue to improve? And if we do all the right things along the way, and we take the appropriate steps … it will take care of itself.”
  • Here’s more from Horst on the Bucks’ long-term outlook, via Beck: “We want to build something sustainable. We want to compete for multiple championships over a long period of time. … I think if we just take all those kind of intentional, organic steps along the way, I think we can position ourselves to have long-term success. And Giannis is the key ingredient to that. You gotta have one of those. We have one.”
  • The Bucks took a step toward retaining their core by moving Matthew Dellavedova and John Henson for George Hill earlier this month, creating additional cap flexibility for 2019. According to Beck, the Bucks believe they’ll be in good financial shape going forward even if they re-sign Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, Malcolm Brogdon, and Brook Lopez, their four key free agents next summer.
  • Speaking of Middleton, a Bucks official tells Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports that the club plans to do “everything we can” to retain the standout swingman when he reaches free agency in 2019.

Central Notes: Boylen, Smith, Bucks, Pacers

New Bulls coach Jim Boylen is trying to rebuild the struggling team on the fly, explaining his thoughts this past week on where the club stands. Boylen was promoted to head coach two weeks ago when the team suddenly fired Fred Hoiberg.

“My focus is that we’re not where we need to be to compete, and so obviously we want to win but I want us to be at a level where we get the full force of what we do,” Boylen said, according to Mark Strotman of NBC Sports. “I don’t think our conditioning allows us to do that.

“We’re on the first floor, We’re on ‘A.’ I’d like us to get to ‘D’ and ‘E.’ Maybe in two weeks we’ll see. We can’t get to ‘D’ and ‘E’ if we’re not in shape.”

These comments from Boylen came before his team lost 133-77 against the Celtics on Saturday, giving Boston its largest margin of victory in franchise history. Boylen ripped his team’s effort after the game, clearly trying to motivate his young squad and change their mindsets. The team held a lengthy meeting on Sunday to discuss their play.

Boylen, a veteran assistant with several NBA teams, has the opportunity to prove to management that he deserves to coach past this season. The Bulls are currently 6-21 and have lost eight of their last 10 games.

Here are some other notes from the Central Division:

  • Pistons guard Ish Smith is said to be drawing interest on the trade market, according to Vincent Ellis of the Detroit Free Press. Smith is expected to miss roughly three to six weeks with a right adductor muscle tear. Before getting injured, Smith was averaging 9.2 points and three assists per contest.
  • Steve Aschburner of NBA.com stresses the importance of retaining Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton in free agency for the Bucks, with both talents playing key roles on the team around Giannis Antetokounmpo this season. “It is our mission statement,” Bucks GM Jon Horst said, explaining the importance of building around Antetokounmpo. “What Giannis means to our team, our franchise, our city, our state kind of goes beyond words. We have to make the most of the opportunity to find and build things that fit with him.” Milwaukee is 16-8 on the season and holds the No. 2 spot out East, sporting an impressive 12-3 record at home.
  • The Pacers have found strength in numbers this season, using a collective approach to overcome the loss of All-Star Victor Oladipo, writes Mark Montieth of NBA.com. Oladipo has missed the team’s last 10 games to injury, but the Pacers are 6-4 this season without him. Last season, Indiana held a 0-7 record in games Oladipo missed.

Eastern Notes: Bledsoe, Cavaliers, Ross

The Knicks are expected to target superstar free agents this summer with Kevin Durant atop their wish list. Yet, they could be looking at the second tier of free agents if they miss out on one of the top stars and, according to Marc Berman of the New York Post, the team’s front office likes Eric Bledsoe‘s game.

The 28-year-old point guard is enjoying a career year for the Bucks and he would fill a major void for the Knicks should he sign with them in the offseason. New York has lacked stability at the position over the last few years.

Emmanuel Mudiay has shown flashes of potential this season, averaging 14.1 points per contest since becoming the starter 11 games ago. Still, the 22-year-old has flashed potential before, leading him to become the No. 7 overall pick in 2015, and it’s likely New York will at least consider upgrades once the season ends.

Here’s more from the Eastern Conference.

  • The Cavaliers aren’t interested in trading Kevin Love unless they are blown away by an offer, Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com writes. The franchise wants Love around for the long-haul when Collin Sexton is more seasoned and the team adds other young prospects.
  • Cedi Osman is still viewed as part of the Cavaliers‘ future, Fedor relays in the same piece. Osman has started 20 games for Cleveland this year and is averaging 11.2 points per game. However, he is shooting just 36.6% from the field.
  • Terrence Ross, who will be a free agent after the season, has evolved into a consistent threat for the Magic, John Denton of NBA.com details. Steady production has always been the shooting guard’s weakness, though this season, he’s been able to contribute on a nightly basis.

Eric Bledsoe Enjoying His Time With Bucks

Eric Bledsoe, who can hit the free agency after the season, is enjoying his time in Milwaukee. The Bucks are 8-1 and the point guard has never enjoyed this kind of success during his NBA career.

“Everything’s a learning experience. We’ve got a great bunch of guys in this locker room that are willing to sacrifice for the betterment of the team and it’s fun playing that way,” Bledsoe said (via Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel).

This time last year, Bledsoe was stuck in a slow rebuild in Phoenix, having let the world know via Twitter that he was in a place he didn’t want to be. His reputation took a hit for the Salon tweet but it’s not something he’s still concerned about.

“That’s life, bro,” Bledsoe said. “Everybody is not going to like you. Some people aren’t going to like you and some people like you. You can’t go through life worrying about stuff like that both on and off the court.”

Bledsoe was sent to Milwaukee for Greg Monroe and a pair of draft picks last November and he has thrived since coming to the Bucks. Velazquez notes that in 80 games with the team, Bledsoe is averaging 17.4 points, 5.2 assists and 1.9 steals in 31.0 minutes per game.

All is going well on the court and off of it, as Bledsoe is enjoying Wisconsin. His wife and children have moved to Milwaukee, a change from last season where his family remained in Phoenix.

“I’m blessed, man,” Bledsoe said. “I’ve got my family here to support me, I’ve got great teammates, a great coaching staff. Everything is in the right direction…I’m living my dream.”

Central Notes: Stephenson, Parker, Stefanski, Griffin

Lance Stephenson has left the Pacers again, but just like last time it may not be forever, writes Dana Benbow for The Indianapolis Star. Stephenson, who signed a one-year deal with the Lakers this summer, was asked about a possible return during a party he threw Wednesday to say goodbye to Indianapolis.

“Oh, of course. This is home. Of course,” he responded. “I would always want to come back here.”

Stephenson was among Indiana’s most productive reserves last season, appearing in all 82 games and posting a 9.2/5.2/2.9 line. His previous stints with other teams — the Hornets, Clippers, Grizzlies, Pelicans and Timberwolves — produced mostly disappointing results.

“We stayed in constant communication with him,” team president Kevin Pritchard said. “At the end of the day, Lance gave us some great years. We love Lance. We love Lance on the court, we love Lance off the court.” 

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • Mike Budenholzer may be having “buyer’s remorse” over taking the Bucks‘ head coaching job after the loss of free agent Jabari Parker, suggests Gery Woelfel of WoelfelsPressBox in his latest podcast. He adds that the entire organization was counting on Parker to stay and never expected him to get an offer in the $20MM range like the Bulls gave him.
  • The Bucks are still hoping to make a deal before the season starts, Woelfel adds in the same discussion. He names John Henson, Malcolm Brogdon and Tony Snell as the players most likely to go, but says Eric Bledsoe has also been mentioned as a trade candidate.
  • Ed Stefanski has made a lot of progress in his first 100 days as a senior advisor to the Pistons, notes Chris Schwegler of NBA.com. The most significant moves were the hiring of reigning Coach of the Year Dwane Casey, adding Khyri Thomas and Bruce Brown through the draft and signing free agents Glenn Robinson III, Jose Calderon and Zaza Pachulia.
  • Blake Griffin is looking healthy during his summer workouts at UCLA, relays Kurt Helin of NBC Sports. A knee injury limited Griffin to 58 games last year between the Clippers and Pistons, and he hasn’t played more than 67 in a season since 2013/14.

Central Rumors: LeBron, Bucks, Stephenson, Pistons

LeBron James‘ player-option decision is due this Friday, and he’s “widely expected” to turn down that option, writes Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com. According to Vardon, James is close to making a decision and the Cavaliers are “generally aware of his thinking.”

If James does opt out, it would significantly hamstring the ability of several over-the-cap suitors to make a serious run at him. If LeBron reaches free agency, teams with cap room like the Lakers and Sixers would be his most viable landing spots, along with the Cavaliers.

For what it’s worth, Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com has heard within the last week from two members of the 2017/18 Cavaliers – a player and a team official – that they believe the Cavs have the best chance of any team to sign James. Within his article, McMenamin explains why a return to Cleveland could make some sense for the future Hall-of-Famer.

Here’s more from around the Central division:

  • Gery Woelfel of The Racine Journal Times hears from NBA sources and officials that Eric Bledsoe, Matthew Dellavedova, and D.J. Wilson are among the players the Bucks have been willing to discuss in trades this summer.
  • After declining Lance Stephenson‘s team option, the Pacers could still bring him back later in free agency. However, league sources tell Adam Zagoria of ZagsBlog.com (Twitter link) not to rule out the Bulls as a potential suitor for Stephenson.
  • The Pistons lack the cap space to be a major player in free agency, but the team could be in the mix for certain affordable targets. As Keith Langlois of Pistons.com writes, Dwane Casey‘s presence and the Pistons’ roster stability could be selling points as the club recruits free agents.
  • Frank Urbina of HoopsHype.com identifies a few potential landing spots for Cavaliers guard Rodney Hood, suggesting the Heat, Pacers, and Bulls could be decent fits for the restricted free agent.

Pistons Rumors: Failed Trades, S. Johnson, Love

The Pistons had originally planned to approach this season’s trade deadline by aggressively pursuing upgrades on the wing, writes Jake Fischer of SI.com. League sources tell Fischer that Detroit looked into several potential trade candidates around the NBA, including Danny Green, Jordan Clarkson, Tyreke Evans, Rodney Hood, and Courtney Lee. The Magic also called to discuss a deal that would have included Evan Fournier, Elfrid Payton, and Luke Kennard, per Fischer.

As a result of all that research and legwork on wing players, the Pistons came to a realization that prompted them to change direction. “It’s becoming a wing league, and not many teams are willing to move those players,” a Pistons source told Fischer. “We were willing to give up ours.”

Rather than looking to build up on their own wing depth, the Pistons decided to part with Avery Bradley and Tobias Harris in a deal that would bolster their frontcourt instead. It remains to be seen whether that approach will pay off, but the team will start to find out tonight, with Blake Griffin set to make his Pistons debut. “It’s time to make a run now,” one team source told Fischer, who notes that seven of Detroit’s eight remaining games before the All-Star break are at home.

Here’s more on the Pistons from Fischer:

  • The Pistons, who explored trading for Eric Bledsoe last summer, circled back to him in November and came “within inches” of acquiring him in a three-way deal with the Suns and Pelicans, according to Fischer. That trade, which would have included Reggie Jackson, fell through.
  • The Pistons will continue to keep an eye out for opportunities to acquire wing players, and Fischer hints that Stanley Johnson is more likely than Kennard to be included in such a deal.
  • Detroit’s front office worked with Clippers president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank and GM Michael Winger on the Griffin deal. Head coach Doc Rivers, who served as the Clippers’ head of basketball operations until this past offseason, didn’t find out about the deal until Sunday — by that point, every detail except the first-round pick protections had already been agreed upon, a league source tells Fischer.
  • If the Pistons had been unable to finalize a deal for Griffin, they were planning to shift their focus to Kevin Love, says Fischer. Obviously, that was before Love suffered his hand injury, though there’s no indication that the Cavaliers would have seriously considered moving him.

LeBron Upset Cavs Didn’t Add George, Bledsoe?

Amid all the problems plaguing the Cavaliers this month, one underlying issue is LeBron James‘ frustration with the front office over not upgrading the roster, according to Brian Windhorst of ESPN. Appearing on The Lowe Post podcast with ESPN’s Zach Lowe, Windhorst said James saw that the Cavs had a chance to land Paul George and Eric Bledsoe and was angry when both players ended up elsewhere.

Cleveland reportedly came close to acquiring George in a three-team trade shortly before the Pacers shipped him to the Thunder in early July. A deal was in place to trade Kevin Love to Denver in exchange for Gary Harris and the No. 13 pick, which the Cavaliers would have sent to Indiana to get George. Pacers president Kevin Pritchard had second thoughts about the trade and backed out before it was finalized.

The Cavaliers were also rumored to have interest in Bledsoe, who was among James’ summer workout partners and shares an agent in Rich Paul. Instead the Suns sent him to Milwaukee in exchange for little-used Greg Monroe and two draft picks.

“I’m sure if [Cavaliers owner] Dan Gilbert would ever speak freely, he probably never will, but he would say, ‘Well, I needed LeBron to commit past this year if I was going to trade, and LeBron wouldn’t commit, so therefore it’s LeBron’s fault this didn’t happen,'” Windhorst said. “Everybody’s going to have their own story. I’m just telling you that LeBron is there and he’s like, ‘We could have had Eric Bledsoe and Paul George, and instead we have a draft pick who I’m never going to meet [Brooklyn’s unprotected first-rounder] — Well, I don’t know about that, but I’m not meeting him this year — we have Isaiah Thomas, who is very clearly hampered and we have Jae Crowder, who’s having the worst year of his career.”

This offseason was the first for rookie GM Koby Altman, who was hired to replace David Griffin in late July. James had been a vocal defender of Griffin and questioned why the team refused to give him a new contract last season.