Finally. After seemingly months of speculation, Ersan Ilyasova is officially returning to Milwaukee on a three year deal that will pay him a total of $7 million, including a first year salary of $2.1 million. Regular readers know that we've been following Ersan's European exploits for the past couple seasons while he was at FC Barcelona, so it's nice to know that all that time spent blindly clicking around the Spanish ACB website wasn't in vain (no se habla Espanol). The fact that he has developed into a very solid player? Well that's just gravy.Ilyasova should immediately compete for the starting power forward position with Amir Johnson, and his arrival should also hasten the departure of Kurt Thomas ($3.8 million expiring deal), either with a buyout or via trade. I'll warn once again that it's unlikely Ilyasova will match the kind of raw numbers Charlie Villanueva will get in Detroit, but considering he'll actually play defense, shoot with similar accuracy from three point range and cost $5 million less per season, that's OK. For a financially constrained team, the signing of Ilyasova makes a lot of sense, though the Bucks still face the matter of bringing back Ramon Sessions on a limited budget. John Hammond has been talking about the possibility of this signing for a while, and when I spoke to him in Vegas you could tell from the length at which he spoke about Ilyasova that it was only a matter of time before a deal would be done:
"He's gotten strong--he's very big, very thick right now, and kind of changed his game. I remember seeing him when he was 16- or 17-years old in Turkey, and he was this long, lean guy that people said might be a Kirilenko-type player.
"Now he really has the ability to stretch the defense, whether in half court or transition. When he's back behind the three point line you have to either stand with him or run at him. And he can handle and shoot the ball well enough that when he pump fakes they have to respect it, and he can put the ball on the floor, make a shot there or find open people."
Though he'd been considered a potential future star since he was 16, Ilyasova essentially blossomed into a great role player in Barcelona, and I'd project the same ceiling in the NBA. At 6'9" he can defend modern NBA power forwards and looks like a nice complement to Amir Johnson in the Bucks' power forward rotation. Neither guy is ever likely to be a star, but for a combined $6 million you get pretty good value. Both guys rebound (Ilyasova was third in the ACB last year) and are willing defenders, though Johnson is more of a shot-blocker while Ilyasova matches up better with perimeter bigs. In contrast to Johnson's above-the-rim act, Ilyasova also brings much-needed three point shooting, a department where the Bucks had been sorely lacking after losing both Villanueva and Richard Jefferson. Ilyasova shot 51/114 (44.7%) last year from the international three point line, and even as a 19-year old in the NBA he shot a respectable 54/138 (36.5%). Ilyasova won't generally do damage from the post or off the dribble, but he's got a solid handle by PF standards and is equally at home spotting up outside or crashing the boards.
Who starts at PF?
While I hope to see Johnson get plenty of burn this year, my initial reaction is that it might make more sense from a spacing perspective to start Ilyasova. Presuming Mbah a Moute starts at small forward--which isn't a guarantee considering Scott Skiles' penchant for mixing/matching lineups--you almost have to start Ilyasova since the Bucks would otherwise have zero perimeter shooting on their front line. With Bogut being asked to score more this year, it's imperative that teams not be able to double-team him constantly--he really struggled with turnovers in those situations last year--and to do that someone's gotta shoot from outside.
All told, the Bucks' forward spots are now loaded with interesting young players, and the fact that Johnson, Ilyasova, Mbah a Moute, and Alexander will earn just $9.4 million combined next year affords them valuable flexibility (you know, like the flexibility to pay Mike Redd $17 million). Still, it's still important to be realistic. As much as I'm happy to have each of those guys, the Bucks don't have a proven scorer at either forward spot, and their ability to compete for a playoff spot will be challenged because of it. Hopefully one of those guys develops into a 15-17 ppg guy, but I wouldn't bet on any of them at the moment.
Sessions Update: Clips interested?
As for Sessions, the next week might finally bring some action. Assuming Bruce Bowen is bought out for $2.1 million and Salim Stoudamire is waived at no penalty, the Bucks would have $4.95 million left under the tax to sign Sessions. That means an MLE deal would take the Bucks over the tax level, but that's not automatically a dealbreaker. Thomas' $3.8 million deal could theoretically be bought out for $2.5 million and he'd be no worse off since he's certain get at least a $1.3 million minimum salary from another team. Cutting the money owed to Thomas by $1.3 million or more would in turn give the Bucks more than the MLE left under the tax. They also have the option of making other salary-shedding deals during the season since the tax isn't assessed until April.
Marc Stein reports that Sessions is drawing interest from the Clips, who also have Allen Iverson on their radar. It's not an ideal situation with Baron Davis owed a small fortune at point guard and Eric Gordon entrenched as the SG of the future, but at this point Sessions needs to coax an offer sheet out of someone. The Bucks have not made him an offer beyond the QO, preferring instead to let the market dictate Sessions' value. I'm not a big fan of that strategy, but then again the Bucks could be feeling a bit better about the prospect of losing Sessions after watching Brandon Jennings put on a good show in Vegas. Sessions could also be on the Blazers' radar following Utah's decision to match Paul Millsap's offer sheet. Because they have cap space, Portland might be the only possible destination where it'd be possible to construct a reasonable sign-and-trade deal, though they could also just give Sessions an offer sheet and dare the Bucks to match it.
S/T and the BYC
Because Sessions will be getting a big raise, he'll become a base year compensation player immediately, which means for trade purposes only half his salary would count from a Bucks' perspective. That usually makes it very difficult for teams over the cap to sign and trade BYC players since the salaries won't match from one side's perspective. For instance, if the Bucks sign Sessions to an MLE deal, then only half his $5.85 million salary would count from a Bucks' perspective in a trade, meaning they could take back no more than 125% x $2.92 million + $100k. However, a trade partner that is over the cap would have to send out at least ($5.85 million - $100k)/125% = $4.6 million. Adding other players to the package might get you around it, but it's tough and often times a third team is necessary to resolve the BYC issue.