If there was any illusion that the Bucks would wait for 2011 to start building for the long haul, forget about it. A week after acquiring Corey Maggette and his three year, $31 million contract, the Bucks were reported to be making progress in bringing back John Salmons last night and, oh yeah, they've reportedly agreed to a five year, $32 million contract with versatile big man Drew Gooden. The future is now?
The Bucks have long been connected with the 28-year-old Gooden, who nearly signed with the Bucks last summer and was also a target around the trade deadline. Putting aside the obvious concerns about the contract size, there's little question that Gooden will be a useful addition on the court. He slots in nicely next to Andrew Bogut and can also play center when needed, making him both a likely starter at PF as well as insurance at center in the event Bogut gets hurt. Gooden has been a fairly effective scorer, good rebounder, and reasonably solid (if occasionally absent-minded) defender for much of his career. So he's a rather well known quantity at this point. Still, the fact that he's played for eight teams in eight seasons is a worrying reflection of his inability to find a long-term home thus far. Think happy thoughts...happy thoughts.
But the question with Gooden isn't whether he will help the Bucks on the court next year--it's whether the Bucks will eventually regret a long-term contract with a good-but-not-great role player who will be 33 when his contract expires. Dollar-wise, a deal around the MLE isn't that outrageous for Gooden, who signed a one-year, $4.5 million deal with Dallas last year after finishing a three year, $21 million contract the prior year. At this point we don't know if the contract has partial guarantees or team options--which can make an otherwise inflated deal look rather palatable--but it's safe to say five years is a very long contract for a player who is neither very young nor a franchise building block. In that sense you can't fault Bucks fans for having flashbacks to the six year, $36 million deal given to Dan Gadzuric in 2005. Gadzuric was of a similar age (27) and was coming off an extremely productive 04/05 season, but the good news is that Gooden has actual basketball skills and is less likely to experience a similar dropoff immediately after signing his deal.
The deal figures to eat up the Bucks' entire mid-level exception, which suggests the Bucks are optimistic they'll be able to re-sign Salmons and Luke Ridnour with Bird rights. If either of them goes elsewhere, the Bucks would still have the bi-annual exception (worth around $2 million) and as many minimum contracts as they need to sign replacements, though you're not going to get more than a backup at that price. I'd also expect the Gooden move kills the small chance Darnell Jackson had of sticking with the Bucks beyond camp. Adding Gooden and waiving Jackson's non-guaranteed deal would give the Bucks 12 players on the roster, with three spots to spare for Salmons, Ridnour and perhaps a third strong point if the Bucks feel they need it.
The deal also suggests the Bucks aren't convinced Ersan Ilyasova, Luc Mbah a Moute and Larry Sanders are ideal solutions at PF--at least not yet. Ilyasova and Mbah a Moute often looked a bit undersized against bigger front lines a year ago, particularly after Andrew Bogut went down with his arm injury. Sanders and his incredible size seems to offset that, but he's probably not ready to be more than a rotation guy early on. Still, the fact that the Bucks have a number of quality young talents at PF is probably the most surprising aspect of the length of Gooden's deal. We knew they needed a veteran big man for depth, but I wouldn't have expected such a long-term deal. The cost of doing business in a perverse free agent climate? Perhaps.
The deal also gives them more latitude to move Ilyasova or Mbah a Moute, whether it's as a deal-sweetener in an eventual Michael Redd trade or as a means of acquiring a guard in the event Salmons and/or Ridnour aren't retained. On paper the Bucks are looking like an increasingly deep and talented roster, and if they retain Salmons and Ridnour it'd be hard to find any obvious areas of need--aside from the lack of a single transcendent star of course. Now the only question is whether that talent will be worth the long-term price of admission.