clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Ersan Ilyasova trade opens further cap space, signals Bucks' intent to chase Tyson Chandler and Brook Lopez

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Sixty players were selected in the 2005 NBA Draft, and as of Thursday morning only one of them was still with the team that picked him on June 28, 2005.

So much for that.

Ending one of longest (and most up-and-down) tenures in franchise history, the Bucks shipped Ersan Ilyasova to Detroit on Thursday, with the Pistons sending the ghosts non-guaranteed contracts of Caron Butler and Shawne Williams back across Lake Michigan. Don't expect either to ever suit up for the Bucks, as they'll be waived at some point in the near future in what amounts to a salary dump of the Bucks' erstwhile starting power forward. Not exactly an awe-inspiring haul for a useful player of Ilyasova's ilk, but then again it was difficult to see Ilyasova as a major part of the team's future given Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker are likely to gobble up the majority of power forward minutes going forward (don't be surprised if the Bucks nab a power forward in the draft either).

So the point of today's move isn't what it does for the roster today -- it's what it might mean for the roster one month from now, at the cost of a guy whose role was slated to diminish significantly next season. And with the rumors of the Bucks pursuing Brook Lopez and Tyson Chandler already intensifying, it's quite clear that Milwaukee isn't just trying to spare a few dollars.

By taking back a grand total of zero dollars in guaranteed money for Ilyasova, the Bucks effectively added the full value of Ilyasova's $7.9 million salary back to their cap piggy bank. So even accounting for Jared Dudley's $4.25 million player option and the $2.75 million qualifying offer required to maintain matching rights on Khris Middleton, the Bucks would project to have $22.7 million in cap room assuming Johnny O'Bryant's deal is guaranteed and Jorge Gutierrez is waived at some point. There are a number of subtle permutations to all of this that could further swing things one way or another, but here's the general cap picture for now:

Even before today's move the Bucks could have figured out a way to make a "mini-max" offer to a player like Greg Monroe; because he's been in the league six or fewer seasons, Monroe and players like him are eligible for a starting salary equivalent to 25% of the adjusted cap level (which actually uses a number usually around 94% of the actual salary's complicated). Anyway, that projects out to around $15.7 million in starting salary and $67.3 million over four years with max 4.5% raises, the same figures that Middleton could get from another team (you know, if they're feeling frisky). Not cheap, but bear in mind that in two years a mini-max signed this summer will be the equivalent of a $10 million salary in today's cap terms.

So why was it so important for the Bucks to go from $15 million to $23 million in cap space? Well, the incremental room from dumping Ersan means that the Bucks could now afford to max out older players with higher max levels, in addition to more easily keeping Dudley's $8.1 million cap hold should he decide to opt out of the $4.25 million final year of his deal. So while it's not to say any of them would take the Bucks' money, it's worth noting that the likes of Brook Lopez ($18.9 million max eligible starting salary) and Tyson Chandler ($22 million!) are now squarely in the Bucks' free agent wheelhouse. I don't see Chandler claiming anywhere close to his max this summer -- his current $14.6 million salary is well south of the max as well -- though that also leaves plenty of headroom to outbid the Mavericks or another team interested in his services.

Lopez vs. Chandler

It's probably also no coincidence that Chandler and Kidd are both Jeff Schwartz clients and played together in Dallas and New York, while Kidd coached Lopez in Brooklyn. Kidd has talked openly of "circling names" for free agency, and it's not surprising that he would target guys he both knows and believes he'd have clout in recruiting. This summer figures to be the first obvious test of Kidd's ability to attract free agents -- sorry, Jerryd Bayless doesn't count -- though the fact that the Bucks are already clearing cap space for big game hunting suggests this is more than just hopeless optimism on the Bucks' part. I'm not saying they've already got something lined up -- that would be tampering of course! -- and bear in mind that both Chandler and Lopez figure to have plenty of options this summer. But given Kidd's pre-existing relationship with both guys I would guess that one or both may already have been sounded out as to their receptiveness to making Milwaukee their new home. At the very minimum you'd expect both to answer the phone if and when the Bucks come calling on July 1.

Interestingly, Lopez and Chandler are fairly dissimilar on the court, suggesting the Bucks are mostly looking for the most talented guy they can find rather than a specific type of player. Lopez is younger (27 vs. 32) and arguably the league's second-most talented offensive center behind DeMarcus Cousins; Chandler on the other hand is more mobile, a far superior rebounder, a better all around defender and one of the league's best offensive role-players. Despite his age, Chandler also doesn't have the same worrying injury history as Lopez, who's twice missed extended periods with foot problems.

So choosing between the two -- if that's even an option -- is somewhat philosophical. Lopez excels on the offensive end where the Bucks have struggled, combining the size to terrorize opponents in the paint with a soft touch out to 20 feet (42.2% on long twos). He doesn't pass, but given his efficiency you can live with it. He's also been a more prolific shot-blocker than Chandler over the years, though no one would describe him as being in Chandler's defensive class overall. The big concern for me is durability; after missing zero games in his first three seasons, Lopez suffered season-ending right foot injuries in both 2011 and 2013. Ironically one of those lost seasons came in Kidd's rookie coaching season in Brooklyn, where the team only found its stride after Lopez was lost for the season. That led to questions about Lopez's long-term fit in Kidd's up-tempo system, and (perhaps oddly) he eventually excelled last year as a sixth man under Lionel Hollins in Brooklyn. Lopez's lack of stylistic malleability is thus also worrying, but the Bucks' apparent interest suggests Kidd believes he can make it work. If he can, Lopez could be a rather intriguing post complement to Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo long-term; provided he can stay healthy, there's no reason to think Lopez can't play at a high level for another five years, though that caveat can't be taken for granted.

In contrast, Chandler's age is perhaps his only real concern, and the main reason that he'd be available this summer. Though he's shown no evidence of dropping off over the past four seasons, Chandler can't be this good forever (I mean...right?), and unlikely Lopez he's never going to be a guy who commands double-teams in the post. Instead, Chandler is more like the fully-realized version of what we saw from John Henson this season: a rim-rolling role player who dunks everything around the basket, plays great defense and otherwise doesn't make mistakes. The wrinkle with Chandler is that he's quietly become a competent free throw shooter (72%) and competent elbow jump shooter (>40% on long twos each of the past three years), which helps explain his absurd scoring efficiency (66.6% field goals, 69.7% true shooting). In Milwaukee he'd project as a locker room leader and defensive linchpin, and it's possible he could be had on a shorter deal as a result. The Bucks could also afford to overpay him on a shorter deal, as Giannis won't see his big pay-day until 2017 and Jabari a year later.

Looking Ahead

The Ilyasova deal doesn't have much effect beyond that, as his 16/17 salary was almost entirely non-guaranteed and he'll probably be a pretty good value play by that time anyway. As for Dudley, even if he opts out and remains unsigned, the Bucks could maintain nearly $19 million in cap space without having to give up his hold. Considering Lopez's max number and the likelihood that Chandler doesn't come close to getting his $22 million max, that should be enough room for the Bucks to make a big money pitch to either.

Overall, the verdict on this deal really won't be felt until the Bucks have a chance to spend all the cap room they've created. Maybe they do something bold -- signing Lopez or Chandler would certainly qualify -- or maybe they strike out and carry a ton of cap space into the season. Either way, the Bucks have hinted for a while that they might go after a big fish if the opportunity arose, and with a ton of quality big men on the market and Kidd as their new pitchman they may finally have the wherewithal to do it.