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With FIBA clearing NBA players to sign abroad, Keyon Dooling and Ersan Ilyasova could be latest to bolt for Turkey

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It's looking less and less likely that Dooling and Ilyasova both play for the Bucks next season.
It's looking less and less likely that Dooling and Ilyasova both play for the Bucks next season.

Apparently Lake Michigan is out and the Bosphorus Strait is in.

The same day that FIBA announced it would allow players with NBA contracts to play abroad during the lockout, Bucks point guard Keyon Dooling joined the list of NBA players who could be playing in Turkey this fall, nearing a deal with Turkish powerhouse Efes Pilsen. Dooling has one year remaining ($2.246 million) on the two-year deal he signed last summer, but his agent Kenge Stevenson told Charles Gardner of the Journal-Sentinel that his client hoped to stay in Turkey this season regardless of when the lockout is resolved. 

The Dooling news comes just a week after Ersan Ilyasova was rumored to be returning to his old Turkish club Fenerbahce Ulker, with both players indicating a preference for leaving Milwaukee despite having one year remaining on their respective contracts. FIBA's announcement clarified that players such as Ilyasova and Dooling would need provisions in their European deals requiring them to fulfill the remainder of their NBA deals when the lockout ends, but whether either guy ever suits up for the Bucks again is now an open question.

With the draft day arrivals of Beno Udrih and Shaun Livingston to backup Brandon Jennings, even Dooling has admitted his days in Milwaukee could be numbered, so it stands to reason that the Bucks probably wouldn't put up a major fight if he asked to be let out of his contract. Then again, I'm not entirely convinced that Dooling sees his long-term future abroad either. As a vice president of the NBA Player's Association, Dooling has some additional motives for showing the NBA he can make a living outside North America, though it's also a bit ironic (and worrying?) that one of the NBA union's top guys apparently isn't that interested in being an NBA player next year. Of course, as a player who's never had a huge contract you can't blame him for wanting to make as much money as possible while he still can, so it'd be wrong to begrudge Dooling his right to earn a living. 

Losing Ersan?

Unlike Dooling, the more useful Ilyasova would likely have a harder time getting out of his Bucks' contract once the lockout ends, and as expected FIBA's announcement gives Milwaukee the final say on where he goes if and when the lockout ends before the summer of 2012. But Ilyasova complained about his minutes and the Bucks' selfishness at the end of the season, and last week he was quoted in the foreign press saying he "definitely wanted[ed] to leave" Milwaukee. Clearly he's angling for a move, and given his roots and experience playing in both Spain and Turkey, it wouldn't surprise anyone if that meant leaving the NBA entirely.

It's understandable that Ilyasova was frustrated by the Bucks' decision to add Drew Gooden, Larry Sanders and Jon Brockman a year ago, but it's hard for me to feel too sorry for a guy who complains about playing time and the team's ball movement when his minutes increase, his productivity declines and his shot selection remains questionable at best. But that's not to say the Bucks can shrug off Ilyasova's potential departure either. Ersan's a classic rotation glue guy whose hustle and floor-stretching abilities not surprisingly made the Bucks better when he was on the court the past two seasons. At $2.5 million he's a bargain by NBA standards, but he's also never shown the consistency to be a long-term starter in the NBA. That's hardly an insult, but at this point I'm not sure what it would take to keep Ersan happy in Milwaukee. It's one thing if he's frustrated by losing, but another if he thinks he should be playing 30-35 mpg every night.

Judging Keyon

As for Dooling, I'd argue that his play a year ago was somewhat underrated. Not that he was great or even particularly good, but let's remember that we're talking about a backup point guard making just over $2 million per season. Just because Luke Ridnour was possibly the best bench PG in the league in 09/10 doesn't mean that's now the standard every backup should be judged against. And yet seemingly every review of the Bucks' roster heading into the offseason seemed to peg the backup point guard position as one of the Bucks' obvious weaknesses, despite ample evidence that Dooling and Earl Boykins were hardly the problem a year ago.

Consider that Dooling had the 15th best adjusted +/- in the whole league, capably defended both backcourt positions, and has always been a character guy in the locker room. As a starter he put up 10.0 ppg, 5.7 apg, 2.0 rpg and just 1.4 turnovers while shooting .411/.358/.868, which aside from a lower usage rate compares rather favorably to Jennings' numbers. And while I'm not sure if he'd be able to replicate it next season, the fact that the Bucks were +3.3 pts/100 with Dooling on the court and -3.5 pts/100 with Dooling on the bench is pretty clear evidence that he did nothing to hurt them a year ago. If anything, the Bucks' need for a top shelf backup like Ridnour says more about the shortcomings of Jennings than those of Dooling and Boykins, but that's a conversation for another day, isn't it?

Caponomics: What it means for the Bucks' finances

So what does it mean financially if both Dooling and Ilyasova are allowed to leave? Since both players have expiring contracts it doesn't impact the Bucks' cap situation beyond the coming season, and the modest size of their contracts mean the Bucks' cap flexibility wouldn't be dramatically altered either way. If you include Luc Mbah a Moute's $1.09 million qualifying offer, 120% of Tobias Harris' rookie scale amount, and a minimum deal for Jon Leuer, the Bucks would have $54.6 million committed to 14 players. That's $3.4 million under last year's cap figure, and while it's anyone's guess what the cap will look like under the next CBA, the Bucks don't figure to be in much trouble even if the owners do institute a hard cap and substantial reductions in player salaries.

It also bears mentioning that there's virtually zero chance they'll be able to retain Mbah a Moute at a number close to his QO, so the main effect of Dooling and/or Ilyasova leaving would be a modest bump in the cash available to bring back Luc. And if Ilyasova leaves it would also increase the Bucks' incentives to re-sign Mbah a Moute in the first place. Using the same assumptions and taking Dooling and Ilyasova off the books, the Bucks would then have $49.8 million committed to 12 players including the QO, or $48.7 million and 11 guys without it. All manageable numbers.

Ilyasova and Dooling were also the Bucks' likeliest trade candidates even before their Turkish departures hit the headlines, so perhaps the biggest question is whether the Bucks would rather have them as assets to package in a trade or simply pocket their salaries to spend (or not spend) elsewhere. Again, Ilyasova is underpaid so you'd think some team would be willing to give up an asset for him, though the Bucks' inability to deal him on draft night suggests the market for him was softer than they hoped.