Less than 24 hours after the Denver Nuggets signed restricted free agent Luc Richard Mbah a Moute to a four-year, $19 million offer sheet, Scott Howard-Cooper of NBA.com reports that the Bucks will indeed match the offer sheet. Charles Gardner of the Journal-Sentinel is also reporting the same, assuring that the Bucks' defensive ace will remain in a Milwaukee uniform for the near future.
Mbah a Moute has been a fixture in the Bucks' rotation since being drafted in the secound round out of UCLA in 2008, starting at both the power forward and small forward positions while frequently matched against the opponents' best scorers--whether it's Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant or Kevin Durant. Though his offensive game has barely developed in that span, he's become a critical component of one of the league's best defenses over the past two seasons.
Mbah a Moute will once again put pressure on presumed starting power forward Drew Gooden, who lost his starting spot to Mbah a Moute through injury and didn't get back into the starting five until after Andrew Bogut was shut down late in the season. At the moment though it's more likely Mbah a Moute takes on the role of designated bench defender. Mbah a Moute's return would also give the Bucks more flexibility to deal Ersan Ilyasova, who has rejoined the team for camp but is likely to leave the team as a free agent next summer. Both Ilyasova (publicly) and Mbah a Moute (privately) agitated for more consistent roles last season, so it will be interesting to see how Scott Skiles' manages them early in the season. More thoughts on what the move means after the jump.
For Ilyasova the issue has typically been consistency, while Mbah a Moute has been the victim of both offensive limitations and his own versatility. Though his size makes him a more natural fit at small forward, Mbah a Moute's offensive repertoire more closely resembles that of a power forward: capable but inconsistent from mid-range, diligent on the offensive boards, a solid finisher at the rim, and able to pump and put the ball on the floor at times when he catches outside. That's passable at the four next to Andrew Bogut, but much more difficult to hide at the three, where his lack of range and ball-handling create spacing problems on the offensive end.
Defensively Mbah a Moute suffers no such limitations, and in a conference with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Carmelo Anthony it makes the decision to retain Mbah a Moute all the more understandable. While the signing of Gooden 16 months ago signaled a lack of belief in Mbah a Moute as true power forward, the Cameroon native inevitably worked his way back into the starting lineup, first at small forward and later at the four.
The next obvious question: what about back up center? Retaining Mbah a Moute and officially signing Tobias Harris and Darington Hobson would put the Bucks roster at 14, with Jon Leuer presumably the 15th man. Shipping llyasova out (for a center or nothing, a la Keyon Dooling) would be an obvious option, though it's at least vaguely possible that Hobson or Leuer could face the axe if they fail to impress in camp. The amount of guaranteed dollars in the Hobson and Leuer deals will probably be a good indicator of the Bucks' plan. Meanwhile, Joel Przybilla may wait until after spending Christmas at home before making a decision on whether to play this season, so the Bucks may not have to resolve the issue in the next week. And then there's the status quo, which would once again see Scott Skiles use a combination of Gooden, Larry Sanders and Jon Brockman to back up Bogut. You'll have a hard time finding anyone who particularly likes that plan, but the Bucks got away with it for most of last season.
For an updated look at the Bucks' current cap situation (based on latest info and some basic assumptions), check out this handy spreadsheet.