Can Ilyasova maintain the form he flashed over the past few months last year?
Update: Adrian Wojnarowski reports that the Bucks have offered Ersan close to $40 million over five years--right around where we had been guessing. As previously reported, the Nets continue to hope for a three-team S&T using Kris Humphries if a Dwight Howard deal doesn't happen, though the Bucks have not appeared interested yet and Ersan expects to visit the Cavs this week.
Gery Woelfel tweets that the Bucks' offer for Ersan Ilyasova is for five years, though the exact dollar amount is unknown. Last week, Michael Hunt floated the idea of the Bucks offering five years and $35 million, which based on past history led many of us to wonder if Hunt was guessing that number because someone with the Bucks suggested it to him. Certainly possible, and the numbers would seem roughly in line with the Bucks offering what John Hammond described as a "fair" offer. It's also too long a deal for my taste--while the 25-year-old Ilyasova should be in his prime for the length of a hypothetical five year deal, I'm generally opposed to deals that long unless you're locking up a star-caliber player.
This afternoon, Turkish basketball writer Mete Aktas tweeted that sources close to Ilyasova's agent peg the Bucks' offer at five years and $40-50 million, though Aktas clarified that those numbers are not confirmed. Let's hope so. Judging by what we've heard so far, it's unlikely that Ilyasova right now has other offers approaching that kind of money, and it's a big chunk of change to be committing to a player whose track record as a high level starter is only about three months long. Other bidders could pop up once the first round of free agent bidding shakes out, but for now the Bucks can afford to show some patience. Rule one of not making mistakes in free agency? Not bidding against yourself, a rule that Bucks fans found out the hard way with Dan Gadzuric and Mo Williams.
So let's hope/assume that Ilyasova's inner circle isn't the most accurate source of info right now--they're not biased at all, right?--and say for argument's sake that he's got maybe $35-40 million over five years on the table. That wouldn't be bad in the grand scheme of free agent deals, but it's also not to say it's a good deal in the long term for the Bucks. Helps them next year? Absolutely, because John Henson isn't replacing Ilyasova's contributions even if he does regress from the terrific efficiency he flashed a year ago.
But the regression question is really what it all comes down to, and a longer deal only exacerbates those risks. So is Ilyasova a fringe starter/quality rotation guy or a good starter? If it's the former, then the Bucks are stuck with a deal that won't be an asset going forward. If it's the latter then the deal likely works out reasonably well, even if they'd be well-served to move one of their other big men for wing depth. Personally, I just can't shake the concern that Ilyasova will regress from the lights-out shooting we saw a year ago, in which case he'll have a very difficult time outperforming a new long-term contract. And considering the other talent the Bucks have at power forward, how much room is there for Ilyasova to regress without losing his starting job in the next couple years?
Signing Ilyasova to a shorter deal is the easiest way of mitigating those concerns, though that's hardly the preference of most players. Front-loading a deal or adding team options/non-guaranteed money to the back end are other means of making a player easier to move should things not work out, and it's a tactic the Bucks used previously with John Salmons among others. Front-loading is especially attractive when you consider that a) the Bucks are well under the luxury tax and b) their decision on Ilyasova won't have much impact on their ability to sign another free agent since they'd still have the MLE/BAE.
In the end, the most attractive option could be pushing for a sign-and-trade with a capped out team like the Spurs, especially if Ilyasova's preference is to leave Milwaukee. The Bucks could have dealt Ersan for something at the trade deadline in March but hung onto him as they went all out to snag a playoff spot. Their postseason ambitions weren't realized, but a S&T could offer a second chance to reclaim value for Ilyasova without having to commit long-term dollars.