Pat Connaughton

Bucks’ Pat Connaughton Opts In For 2022/23

Bucks swingman Pat Connaughton has decided to exercise his player option for 2022/23, putting off free agency for another year, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (Twitter link). Having opted in, Connaughton will assure himself of a $5,728,393 salary for next season.

Connaughton, 29, had the best season of his seven-year career in 2021/22, averaging 9.9 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 1.3 assists per game in 65 appearances (26.0 MPG). He also established new career highs in three-pointers per game (2.2) while knocking them down at a 39.5% clip. Connaughton’s emergence on the wing was one factor in the Bucks’ decision to trade Donte DiVincenzo at the 2022 deadline.

Connaughton’s option decision comes as a bit of a surprise, since he likely could’ve earned a raise if he had chosen to test the open market. John Hollinger of The Athletic (Twitter link) says he felt Connaughton was worth twice as much as his $5.7MM salary and got the sense that a number of teams agreed.

Now that his option has been exercised, Connaughton will be eligible to sign a contract extension for up to four years and approximately $59MM. As Hollinger notes in a follow-up tweet, it’s possible the veteran wing and the Bucks have already discussed the possibility of an extension and reached a mutual understanding contingent on Connaughton opting in.

Theoretically, the Bucks could commit to paying Connaughton the same amount over the next few seasons with an opt-in and extension as they would have if he’d opted out and signed a new free agent contract. Locking in a lower ’22/23 salary should benefit Milwaukee financially, with team salary projected to be well over the luxury tax line next season.

Connaughton had been the No. 20 player on our list of 2022’s top 50 free agents. If you enter our free agent prediction contest and select the Bucks as his destination, you’ll earn a free point.

Bucks Notes: Middleton, Portis, Connaughton, Matthews

The Bucks‘ defense performed relatively well in their second-round series vs. Boston, holding a Celtics team that led the NBA with a 122.6 offensive rating after the All-Star break to a 108.8 mark in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. However, Milwaukee’s own offense struggled — the team ranked third in the league with a 114.3 offensive rating in the regular season, but its 99.7 second-round mark ranked last by a wide margin among the eight remaining clubs.

One reason for Milwaukee’s offensive struggles was Khris Middleton‘s absence due to an MCL sprain. The Bucks were left wondering after Sunday’s Game 7 loss whether they’d be the ones advancing to face Miami in the Eastern Finals if their second-leading scorer had been available vs. Boston.

“Obviously, we weren’t trying to make excuses, ‘We don’t have Khris, and oh, it’s going to be tough for us.’ No, no, no,” Giannis Antetokounmpo said on Sunday, per Eric Nehm of The Athletic. “I think everybody went out there and competed, gave everything they had and that’s what we did from Game 3 against Chicago until Game 7 against Boston. But, if we had him, maybe it would have been a different story. But we didn’t.”

“We could’ve used him,” Jrue Holiday said of Middleton. “We definitely could’ve used him. He makes big shots and big plays on both ends, but especially the offensive end. Yeah, we missed him, but we also want him to be OK for the future, too. Yeah, he’s missed.”

Middleton confirmed on Monday that his MCL injury was a Grade 2 sprain and said it will heal on its own in the offseason without any surgical intervention (Twitter links via Eric Nehm of The Athletic and Jim Owczarski of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel). Middleton added that he wanted to play in Games 6 and 7 vs. Boston and didn’t experience any setbacks, but team doctors said the risk was too high for him to return so soon (Twitter link via Owczarski).

Here’s more on the Bucks:

  • Asked about his upcoming player option decision, Bobby Portis spoke at length about how much he has enjoyed his two years in Milwaukee, but deferred to his agent on his contract situation. “That’s on the organization and my agent to figure that out,” Portis said (Twitter link via Nehm). “I don’t really discuss numbers or contracts or none of that. I love it here. I love being a Buck, but it definitely comes down to them making it work.” The Bucks would have Early Bird rights on Portis, who has certainly outplayed his $4.56MM option.
  • In his preview of the Bucks’ offseason, ESPN’s Bobby Marks (Insider link) takes a closer look at Portis’ free agency, noting that the Bucks could offer him up to about $22.6MM over two years using the Early Bird exception. Marks also explores potential new contracts for Pat Connaughton, who can reach free agency by turning down his player option, and Middleton, who is extension-eligible.
  • Yossi Gozlan of HoopsHype previewed the Bucks’ summer too, examining the upcoming free agent and extension decisions facing the team.
  • Veteran wing Wesley Matthews told reporters on Monday that he’ll definitely continue his NBA career and would like be back with the Bucks (Twitter link via Owczarski). The 35-year-old said that he hopes not to have to wait until December to sign his next contract, as he did this past season.

Central Notes: Middleton, Ball, Caruso, Sexton

How will the Bucks survive their first-round series against the Bulls without Khris Middleton? Jrue Holiday needs to ramp up his production, Eric Nehm of The Athletic opines. Middleton will be out at least two weeks with an MCL sprain and he’s the only big wing in the rotation, Nehm notes. Coach Mike Budenholzer could go a number of ways with his starting lineup, from Grayson Allen to Pat Connaughton to even Bobby Portis, which would give Milwaukee a jumbo look.

We have more from the Central Division:

  • Bulls point guard Lonzo Ball has already been ruled out for the postseason and there’s still reasons for long-term concern, according to Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times. Ball has continued to deal with discomfort in his left knee and coach Billy Donovan isn’t sure when he’ll be able to begin an offseason training program. “If it gets to a place where he’s still having discomfort after a longer period of time, I don’t know what the next step would be,” Donovan said.
  • Added last offseason on a four-year, $37MM pact, Alex Caruso is paying big dividends for the Bulls in the playoffs, Sam Smith of the team’s website writes. Caruso’s defense was the underrated reason why Chicago won Game 2 in Milwaukee. “He made a couple of big threes, had a couple of rebounds that were big. … He’s really a great guy because he will not shortcut or rest on the court, so to speak,” Donovan said. “He’s going to give you everything he has. He’s smart, knows what he has to do, is physical defensively for our team and he gives you everything he has.”
  • Multiple sources tell Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer that the Pistons could make a run at Cavaliers restricted free agent Collin Sexton this summer to pair him up with Cade Cunningham in Detroit’s backcourt. The Pistons could have the most cap space in the league this summer but Fedor is uncertain if anyone will give Sexton an offer sheet that Cleveland wouldn’t match, noting Sexton’s season was a washout after he tore the meniscus in his left knee 11 games into the campaign.

Bucks Notes: Lopez, Antetokounmpo, Connaughton, Evans

Bucks center Brook Lopez is feeling even better now than he did before the back issue that kept him off the floor for nearly five months, writes Jim Owczarski of The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Lopez, who underwent surgery in early December, admitted that he may have gained some weight during his time off, but said he feels comfortable moving around the court. He adds that doctors were never able to determine the original source of the injury.

“I don’t know how it happened, where it came from, and so they said this could have been something — the way the disc is — it could have been something more internally that they couldn’t really see,” he said. “Then it kind of worked its way out and then tore. When it finally happened then they could see it on the scans or whatever. It could have been something that was like, a year or two even old, who knows, and it finally took effect. Which is why it was tough in the time to make the decision to do the surgery but it was what was best for me.”

The Bucks have missed Lopez in several areas, but the most glaring has been on defense, as they rank 14th in the league in defensive rating after being ninth last season and first the two prior years. Much of that is attributable to the absence of Lopez, who covers a lot of ground with his 7’6″ wingspan.

“I think when you have Brook out there it just makes the game easier for everybody, especially for me,” Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “He’s like, he’s so, he’s so big. He can literally contest the shot and still get back and rebound the ball. He can help us rebound. He’s just such a threat offensively. He can knock down shots. He can go for the offensive rebound. You can feed him in the post. He makes our job; he makes me, Bobby (Portis‘) job easier.”

There’s more on the Bucks:

  • Antetokounmpo is sitting out today’s game with Minnesota because of soreness in his right knee, Owczarski adds in a separate story“We are kind of always kind of managing his knees and his health,” coach Mike Budenholzer said of Antetokounmpo, who is missing his 12th game of the season. “I think he did get banged maybe in (Wednesday’s) game and the one before, both, so I think it’s just part of the NBA season and schedule. We hope it’s short term. We’ll see how he responds the next day or two.”
  • Pat Connaughton is expected to return on Saturday, tweets Eric Nehm of The Athletic. It will be the first time he has played since breaking a bone in his right hand February 10.
  • Tyreke Evans posted 16 points, four assists, three rebounds and a steal in his debut with the G League Wisconsin Herd on Friday night (Twitter link from the team). Evans worked out for the Bucks recently in hopes of making an NBA comeback.

Central Notes: Lopez, Connaughton, Williams, Bickerstaff

Bucks center Brook Lopez was out of action so long that he even missed arguing with the referees, writes Eric Nehm of The Athletic. After playing on opening night, Lopez sat out nearly five months because of back issues. He had surgery on December 2 to repair a bulging disc and went through a long rehab process that kept him off the court until this Monday.

Lopez was restricted to 15 minutes during his first game back, but he mostly played the way he did when he helped bring a title to Milwaukee last season. He mishandled the ball occasionally because of a lack of timing, but he made all the defensive plays that he usually does, according to Nehm.

“I’ve been through injuries a few times and so it’s always just made me appreciate basketball, love it even more,” Lopez said. “I try never to take my time on the court for granted, whether it’s practice, shootaround or a game. And so that’s why I just try to be out there, whenever I’m out there, playing with energy, being enthusiastic, and above all, having fun, having a good time. And with the group we have, that’s easy. But yeah, I’m just so happy and blessed to be back out there. There’s not much else I want in the world than that.”

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • Bucks guard Pat Connaughton is close to a return after having hand surgery last month, tweets Jim Owczarski of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Coach Mike Budenholzer indicated that Connaughton needs to go through one more practice before playing again.
  • The Bulls have cleared Patrick Williams for full contact as he works to return from wrist surgery, per K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago. Williams didn’t travel with the Bulls on their current three-game road trip, and he may practice or play for the team’s G League affiliate during that time. “A lot’s gonna now depend on how it goes once he does that (practices), and what does medical feel and he feel like (is) an ample amount of time for him to get comfortable actually going into a game,” coach Billy Donovan said.
  • J.B. Bickerstaff deserves Coach of the Year consideration for holding together a Cavaliers team that has been wrecked by injuries, argues Joe Vardon of The Athletic. Cleveland is still in contention for a top six spot in the East despite losing Collin Sexton and Ricky Rubio early in the season and Jarrett Allen more recently. Vardon also says former Cavs coach Tyronn Lue should be recognized for the job he has done with the Clippers.

Brook Lopez Cleared To Practice For Bucks

Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer told reporters, including Jim Owczarski of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, that center Brook Lopez has been cleared to practice five-on-five with contact. It’s great news for both Lopez and the team, as he’s been sidelined indefinitely following back surgery to address a bulging disc in his lower back on December 2.

He will now start having some scrimmage and contact and we’ll organize that,” Budenholzer said. “It’s another good, positive step for him on his return to play.”

As Owczarski relays, Budenholzer said that the team’s G League affiliate, the Wisconsin Herd, will likely temporarily relocate from Oshkosh to Milwaukee in order for Lopez to get the practice reps he needs. Owczarski notes that the Herd are off from Sunday through Friday next week, which should allow Lopez a good opportunity for full contact work.

Lopez, 33, appeared in the Bucks’ season opener and has been out ever since. He played a key role in the team’s championship run last season, starting all 23 playoff games while averaging 13 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks on .548/.319/.860 shooting.

The Bucks have missed Lopez’s interior presence this season, especially on defense. They’ve dropped to 13th in defensive rating after ranking first, first and 10th the past three seasons.

Milwaukee’s coach also provided injury updates on George Hill and Pat Connaughton, per Owczarski. Hill has missed 12 straight games with neck soreness (including Friday against Chicago), but he’s getting close to a return. “I think we’re hopeful that he’ll play in the next week,” Budenholzer said.

Connaughton, meanwhile, is progressing in his rehab. He’s two-plus weeks removed from a fracture on his right hand, which is expected to keep him out at least four weeks. “I think more just following the timeline as expected is positive,” Budenholzer said, according to Owczarski. “He’s been able to kind of do a little bit more as the week has passed, but it’s still got a little ways to go.”

Pat Connaughton Out At Least Four Weeks After Hand Surgery

FEBRUARY 14: Connaughton had surgery in New York on Monday to repair the fractured fourth metacarpal on his right hand, according to a Bucks press release. He’s expected to be sidelined for approximately four weeks.

FEBRUARY 13: Bucks reserve shooting guard Pat Connaughton is set to treat the fractured fourth metacarpal (ring finger) in his right hand with a surgical procedure, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (Twitter link). Woj adds that the Bucks expect to have Connaughton back on the court in time for the conclusion of the 2021/22 NBA regular season.

We wrote earlier in the week about the injury, which occurred during Thursday’s loss to Phoenix, just hours after the Bucks relieved themselves of some guard depth. The club shipped out guards Donte DiVincenzo and Rodney Hood, along with forward Semi Ojeleye, in a four-team deal that netted Milwaukee former Clippers center Serge Ibaka.

The 6’5″ Connaughton, a key contributor to the Bucks’ 2021 title team, has enjoyed his best season as a pro with the 35-22 squad in 2021/22. Through 54 games, he’s averaging 10.1 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 1.2 APG and 0.9 SPG, on shooting splits of .467/.407/.811.

Led by All-Star power forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, All-Star wing Khris Middleton, and All-Defensive Team point guard Jrue Holiday, Milwaukee is currently the fourth seed in a crowded Eastern Conference. The Bucks may need to lean on their deep-bench reserves as the regular season’s stretch run kicks into high gear following the All-Star break.

The Bucks also have multiple open roster spots following the trade deadline, so adding another guard to the roster will be an option. Wojnarowski, who previously identified Milwaukee as one of Goran Dragic‘s potential suitors, says the team is expected to aggressively pursue the point guard once he finalizes a buyout agreement with San Antonio (Twitter link).

Bucks’ Connaughton To Miss Time With Broken Bone In Right Hand

Bucks wing Pat Connaughton has sustained a fracture to the fourth metacarpal (ring finger) of his right hand, according to Jim Owczarski of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The injury occurred during the third quarter of Thursday’s loss to Phoenix as Connaughton defended a Chris Paul drive (video link via Eric Nehm of The Athletic).

The Bucks haven’t set a timeline for how much time Connaughton might need to recover from the injury, but postgame comments from head coach Mike Budenholzer and teammate Khris Middleton suggested the club is preparing to be without the 29-year-old for the foreseeable future.

“We’re trying to figure out kind of who will see him next, what the next step is,” Budenholzer said, per Owczarski. “Unfortunate, but I think we’re hopeful that he’ll be able to return. When that is, not exactly sure. But, so, we’ll see.”

“Very unfortunate, man,” Middleton said. “He’s one of our bigger guys, especially off the bench. He plays a huge and key role for us, coming in the starting lineup every now and then, just being that glue guy for us on both sides of the ball. It’s going to be tough without him for a while, but hopefully he can get back sooner than later.”

Connaughton had been in the midst of a career year, having averaged 10.1 PPG and 4.4 RPG on .467/.407/.811 shooting in 54 games (27.0 MPG) this season for the defending champions.

The timing of the injury is especially unfortunate for the Bucks, who traded away some of their wing depth on Thursday, sending Donte DiVincenzo to Sacramento and Rodney Hood to the Clippers in a four-team deal that brought Serge Ibaka to Milwaukee.

With DiVincenzo and Hood no longer options, reserves like Wesley Matthews and Jordan Nwora could be in line for increased roles until Connaughton is able to return. The Bucks also have two open spots on their 15-man roster (three once Greg Monroe‘s 10-day contract expires) and will likely be active on the buyout market.

Eastern Trade Rumors: Smart, Hawks, Collins, Siakam, Sabonis, More

Prior to sending Cam Reddish to New York, the Hawks discussed the framework of a trade with the Celtics that would’ve sent Reddish and Kevin Huerter to Boston in a deal for Marcus Smart, reports Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report.

Huerter is one of 11 players affected this season by the poison pill provision, complicating salary-matching in any trade involving him, but the deal described by Fischer theoretically would’ve worked for both sides if Atlanta had included another minimum-salary player (likely Solomon Hill).

Smart ultimately stayed put, and Fischer says it would take “significant value” for the Celtics to move him in another deal in the next two weeks. According to Fischer, there’s a sense around the league that the Celtics will be better in the second half than they were in the first half, as long as they’re healthier and first-year head coach Ime Udoka gets more comfortable.

Here a few more trade notes and rumors from around the Eastern Conference:

  • One team contacted by the Hawks told Bleacher Report that Atlanta wanted a “valuable” first-round pick and a starting-caliber player in exchange for John Collins. Other teams think the Hawks could get even more than that for Collins, says Fischer.
  • According to Fischer, the Raptors and Pacers at least briefly discussed a trade involving Domantas Sabonis and Pascal Siakam, but those talks stalled. The concept makes some sense in theory, since it would allow Myles Turner to be the lone center in Indiana, and Toronto has long been in the market for a five.
  • Since Brook Lopez‘s recovery timeline remains up in the air, the Bucks are “poking around” the market for a center, with Suns big man Jalen Smith mentioned as a possible target, per Fischer. Semi Ojeleye is considered to be available and Milwaukee has received inquiries about Pat Connaughton and Donte DiVincenzo, Fischer adds.
  • A handful of teams have expressed some interest in Cavaliers forward Cedi Osman, including the Spurs, Hornets, Mavericks, and Bucks, writes Fischer.

COVID-19 Updates: Oubre, Casey, Satoransky, Garuba, More

Hornets forward Kelly Oubre has entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols, the team announced today (via Twitter). Oubre will miss the team’s Monday night game vs. Milwaukee and will likely be sidelined longer than that unless he registered a false positive or inconclusive test. There are now two Charlotte players in the protocols, with Oubre joining Vernon Carey.

Here are more protocol-related updates from around the NBA:

  • Pistons head coach Dwane Casey has entered the protocols and will be replaced in the short term by assistant Rex Kalamian, tweets Omari Sankofa II of The Detroit Free Press. Half of the NBA’s 30 head coaches have now been placed in the protocols at some point this season.
  • Pelicans guard Tomas Satoransky has cleared the health and safety protocols and was back with the team today, according to Andrew Lopez of ESPN (Twitter link).
  • Rockets rookie Usman Garuba has exited the COVID-19 protocols and is no longer listed on the team’s injury report, tweets Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle.
  • Raptors forward Yuta Watanabe and Heat two-way player Marcus Garrett are among the other players who have cleared the protocols, per Blake Murphy of and Anthony Chiang of The Miami Herald, respectively (Twitter links).
  • The Bucks are listing Pat Connaughton as questionable to play on Monday night and he posted an emoji of a plane today on Twitter, strongly signaling that he has exited the protocols and is flying to meet the team in Charlotte, as Jim Owczarski of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel notes (via Twitter). Whether or not Connaughton is available tonight, it sounds like he’s no longer in the protocols.