Ersan Ilyasova's agent Tolga Tugsavul told HoopsHype on Tuesday night that his client is currently weighing offers from the Bucks, Raptors, and Nets, as well as one "big offer" from an unnamed European club.
The obvious question is how big those offers really are. The fact that Ilyasova didn't sign during the early flurry of free agent activity suggests he hasn't seen the kind of offers he was hoping for--something (read: basic logic) tells me that if a team had offered $10 million per season he would have already signed. So who might be leading the chase for Ilyasova's services?
Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks' interest seems to have waned somewhat since the end of the season, with the addition of lottery pick John Henson adding to the logjam of young, promising big men capable of playing power forward. It's not that Ilyasova wouldn't have a role on the current team--he was arguably the team's best player a year ago and it's not like Henson will come close to providing that level of production in the short term.
John Hammond spoke of making Ersan a "fair offer" last week, which is of course open to interpretation. My guess is that the Bucks would be loathe to make an initial offer above $7-8 million per season, though the duration of the deal also matters plenty. Given the Bucks' emphasis on returning to the postseason, the significant room they project to have under the luxury tax, and the likelihood that Henson needs a year or two to adapt to the NBA, a shorter-term deal at a higher annual salary would make plenty of strategic sense. Unfortunately, the Bucks' big advantage is that they can offer up to five years rather than just four like every other team, which is an advantage I'd be wary of the Bucks putting to use. The good news is that many teams with cap space--including those with interest in Ersan--have already blown it in the early days of free agency, which makes the Bucks' Bird rights with Ilyasova all the more valuable. Not only does it allow the Bucks to offer as much as any other team, but it also opens up the possibility of engineering a sign-and-trade that gets them some assets in exchange for helping a team without cap space give Ersan the deal he wants.
Brooklyn Nets. Mikhail Prokhorov's money and Billy King's willingness to spend it have made the Nets the most interesting team of the summer so far, but that also means they'll need the Bucks' help to give Ersan the payday he's after. Re-signing Deron Williams for nearly $100 million and Gerald Wallace for $40 million, trading for Joe Johnson's $90 million deal and using their mid-level exception on Bosnian forward Mirzna Teletovic means the Nets have nothing to offer Ilyasova on their own and would need to agree on some sort of sign-and-trade deal with the Bucks.
Earlier on Tuesday, Peter Vecsey, Adrian Wojnarowski and Fred Kerber all reported the Nets' continued interest in Ilyasova was contingent on Brooklyn being unable to acquire the guy they're really after: Dwight Howard. But adding Howard, Ilyasova or anyone else to a capped-out roster will require creative deal-making, not just an open checkbook. The Nets' only remaining trade assets are second-year guard MarShon Brooks and free agents Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries, both of whom would need to agree to deals with the Magic before a deal could be consummated for Howard.
Needless to say, the mechanics of pulling it off are complex, and it's hardly the sort of offer Orlando would jump at accepting even if Humphries and Lopez bought into it. Should the Magic hold on to Howard or ship him elsewhere, the Nets would no doubt prefer to package Humphries as part of a deal for Ilyasova, but if the Bucks were interested in overpaying a power forward you would think it would be Ilyasova, not Humphries. As a result, Vecsey reports that the Nets would look to bring a third team into play to take on Humphries and send assets to the Bucks. Who knows what that might look like, but nabbing some assets in exchange for not overpaying Ilyasova would be a nice consolation prize for a Bucks team that seems comfortable with the idea of Ilyasova going elsewhere.
There hasn't been any talk of Lopez possibly being in play, presumably because he'd be the key guy in any deal for Howard. But you'd have to think the Bucks would be interested in exploring what it would take to acquire Lopez; unfortunately my guess is he's looking for the same type of $14m per season deal that Roy Hibbert is in line to get, which to me is seriously overpaying for a skilled but injury prone big man who doesn't rebound.
Toronto Raptors. Toronto entered the summer with cap space, but the Raptors' ability to make Ilyasova a real offer became hazier on Tuesday when agreed to sign Landry Fields to a three-year, $20 million offer sheet. That's in addition to the three year, $36 million they've offered Steve Nash. Nash's offer is reportedly significant higher than any other offer he's received, and in combination with the Fields deal would leave the Raptors capped out for the summer even assuming they amnesty Jose Calderon. That's a big reason why Blake Murphy at Raptors Republic doesn't see Toronto as a likely destination.
The Raptors also have a fairly crowded frontcourt with 2011 lottery pick Jonas Valanciunas joining a rotation that already features Andrea Bargnani, Amir Johnson and Ed Davis. In other words, any offer that Ilyasova currently has on the table from Toronto would seem contingent on Nash turning down Toronto's overtures and New York matching Fields' offer sheet. The Raptors could still amnesty Calderon to add an additional $10m in cap room, which would appear necessary if Nash accepts his deal.
The great continent of Europe. Rustling up offers from European teams has become an increasingly popular option for agents desperate to create leverage against NBA teams, but for Ilyasova it's a much more viable option. After all, Ersan spent two years earning big dollars with Barcelona ('07-'09) and he stayed busy during the lockout by plying his trade in his native Turkey for Anadolu Efes. So it was always inevitable that the Europe card would get played after a monster NBA deal didn't avail itself immediately.
As we've discussed previously, Ilyasova could command €3-4 million annually (net of tax) in Europe, which works out to around $6-8 million gross in NBA equivalent terms. Ball in Europe has suggested agents might estimate that NBA equivalent to be even higher, though it's worth noting that the Euro has weakened since BIE's story was published and the 50% tax rate implied in the story seems overly conservative. Either way, I'm skeptical that Ilyasova would settle for anything less than $7 million or so annually given his foreign options. And while it's not clear which team has made him the "serious" offer, there are only so many European teams capable of offering that kind of money--his former clubs FC Barcelona and Anadolu Efes are two, with CSKA Moscow and Besiktas some of the others. Only a few players can make that kind of money each year, but Ilyasova is a proven commodity internationally and his style is perfectly suited to the European game.
Update: I asked Savas Birdal from Euro-Step.net who might be in the running for Ersan:
The Bottom Line
Heading into free agency, it appeared increasingly likely that Ilyasova would sign elsewhere and leave the Bucks with nothing to show for it. But the fact that Ilyasova has yet to make a decision would suggest that he has not received the offers he expected and the Bucks still have a good chance of either re-signing him or getting something back in a sign-and-trade. The latter might be a complicated matter with a capped-out team such as Brooklyn, but it's certainly better than nothing. The Spurs reportedly contacted Ilyasova on Sunday and would be more attractive and straight forward S&T partners given all the useful assets they have on their roster (Tiago Splitter, Kawhi Leonard, DeJuan Blair, Matt Bonner, Danny Green, Gary Forbes), but it's not clear how serious their interest is at this point.
In the meantime, the Bucks will hope that teams with room to sign Ilyasova outright--Cleveland, Toronto, Houston, Charlotte, etc--will use their cap space elsewhere, allowing the Bucks to either re-sign Ersan at a lower price point or nab something as part of a sign-and-trade deal. Just don't expect any bargain basement deals: as we've expected all along, a rich offer from one of Europe's top club teams could be enough to seal Ersan's departure from the US, and at a minimum it should assure that Ilyasova's deal stays well north of the $5 million mid-level exception.