Reports in the Turkish media suggest that Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova has agreed in principle to sign a 3-year contract with Fenerbahce Ulker in his native Turkey. "Standstill" currently seems like an egregious understatement to describe the conditions of the NBA lockout, and many had speculated Ilyasova was likely to seek another overseas playing opportunity given his history in Europe.
Details remained unconfirmed as of Monday morning, but initial reports indicate the deal would be worth 3.5 million Euros over the next three years. This actually seems low, given the value of the contract Ilyasova signed with Barcelona back in 2007. Ersan is a better player today than he was in 2007, and he is still very young. If the reported contract value does prove to be correct, Fenerbahce must know something we don't.
Ersan was with Fenerbahce before being drafted by the Bucks in 2005, and the Turkish club offered him an estimated $7.5 million, 3-year contract following the 06/07 season in which Ilyasova appeared in 66 games for Milwaukee.
The Bucks have surely been anticipating this development. Even before the lockout, there were rumors Ersan wanted to leave Milwaukee and return to Europe. John Hammond's immediate response, "he's under contract," seemed to indicate the Bucks' desire to keep him, although it hardly sounded like a vote of confidence and it certainly wasn't going to close the book on the matter entirely.
As draft day approached, Ersan was repeatedly mentioned in trade rumors and it seemed almost inevitable that Milwaukee would deal him. Either the organization had a change of heart, the offers weren't there, or any deals on the table were superseded by the three-team deal the Bucks swung, but at the end of the day Ersan remained on the roster. Hammond (and the rest of us) can only hope that this new situation doesn't become a major headache or he may regret not moving Ersan when he had the chance.
The NBPA has encouraged its members to seek playing opportunities in Europe as leverage and insurance for the long lockout to come, but the situation remains complicated by the possibility that the entire 2011/12 season may not be lost (fingers crossed!). Ilyasova does have a year remaining on his NBA contract, and there is no reason the Bucks should be content to lose him without compensation, not when he remains one of the more valuable assets, if only as a trade chip, on the roster. European clubs are naturally hesitant to sign players whose NBA contracts may kick in again at the end of the lockout.
These are the same questions surrounding many of the rumored European deals for current NBA players. However, Ersan's desire to return to Turkey seems less a one-year fix and more a first step in the next phase of his career. If he is looking to stay in Turkey for the long-haul, it would provide those cash-strapped European teams with greater incentive to sign him. Still, this again raises the question of why the reported deal is so slim.
Until the lockout is resolved, there is little the Bucks can do or say on the matter, though it could become a sticky situation in the event that the lockout is resolved and Ilyasova and the Bucks can't agree on what to do next. David Stern met with FIBA officials last week, but there was no official word on how FIBA will handle the contracts of players such as Deron Williams, who have existing NBA deals and have agreed to European contracts which would allow them to return to the NBA as soon as the lockout is over. Many have speculated FIBA will grant clearance to players with NBA out clauses, but if Ilyasova is planning a permanent departure it would likely be more complicated. The Bucks have previously allowed both Lynn Greer and Roko Ukic out of their contracts to return to Europe, but neither was a useful rotation player like Ilyasova.
So what happens if Ilyasova isn't back? While Ersan logged nearly a third of the Bucks' power forward minutes last year, the Bucks are reasonably well-suited to dealing with his departure. Drew Gooden (10% of PF minutes, 11% of C) was the opening night starter a year ago and presumably is Scott Skiles' first choice when healthy. Still, with Gooden and Ilyasova missing extended periods it was actually restricted free agent Luc Mbah a Moute who earned the largest share of playing time at the 4 spot (36%) in 10/11. Larry Sanders (7%) and Jon Brockman (8%) are probably also best suited to the position, though the Bucks' lack of depth behind Bogut meant both were forced to play major minutes at center (14% and 8%, respectively) a year ago.
Rookies Jon Leuer and Tobias Harris could also figure in the mix at power forward, though they likely face an uphill battle for minutes if the Bucks can stay healthy. Leuer's length and perimeter shot make him perhaps the most natural replacement for Ilyasova in terms of skills, so the Turk's departure would probably help Leuer the most of anyone currently on the roster. I'm not sure it will be enough to help the 40th overall pick get regular minutes though, as he's unlikely to match Ilyasova's rebounding and scrappy, hustling defense off the bat. That leaves Harris, who played almost exclusively as a power forward at Tennessee but isn't big enough to be a full-time four in the NBA. I would expect him to eventually get some minutes as a small-ball four in the NBA, but the more immediate question would appear to be whether he has the quickness to defend the small forward position.