Good news for the state of Wisconsin: Greg Monroe and Khris Middleton didn't change their mind about signing with the Milwaukee Bucks!
A day after the DeAndre Jordan saga sent shockwaves from Texas to California, the ground proved decidedly firmer in Milwaukee on Thursday, as the Bucks introduced Monroe along with Middleton on the first official day that free agents could sign contracts with teams.
Former teammates in Detroit during the 12/13 season, Middleton admitted to "bugging" Monroe to come to Milwaukee last week, though Monroe's agent David Falk noted that it wasn't just Middleton's friendship that convinced the former Georgetown star to make the move across Lake Michigan. Via Charles Gardner of the Journal-Sentinel:
"Marc Lasry made a tremendous impact, just coming," Falk said. "When the owner comes, I think it makes a statement. I've known Jason for many, many years. I think Jason is a winner at every level.
"Greg is a very thoughtful individual. With Milwaukee having made the playoffs last year without Jabari (Parker), and Jabari coming back (next season) and a young team, he had the best opportunity to win almost immediately."
When Monroe was asked about important factors in looking at teams, he said, "Maybe the correct word is starving for the playoffs."
Based on official salary cap details announced by the league yesterday, Monroe's three-year max deal will be worth $51.4 million, slightly higher than the initial $50 million figure estimated previously. While the league had previously projected a salary cap of $67.1 million and luxury tax threshold of $81 million for the coming season, the official figures announced by the league on Wednesday come to $70 million for the cap and $84.7 million for the tax. Considering that Middleton's reported five-year, $70 million contract wasn't a max deal, the cap bump would make his contract look slightly better than expected. Both players have player options on the final season of their contracts, meaning Monroe is all but certain to be back on the market in 2017 and Middleton could opt out in 2019.
By announcing both deals prior to trading Zaza Pachulia, the Bucks also wiped out $12 million in potential cap space that they might have had if Middleton had remained unsigned, providing an obvious indicator that their primary free agent signing activity is over. While Milwaukee will still retain the $2.8 million cap room exception to use if needed, the Middleton, Monroe and Pachulia deals leave the Bucks' cap number at around $69.5 million assuming Middleton's deal was a flat $14 million per season. However, it could start at a million or two higher or lower depending on whether it includes max raises or decreases (7.5% of first year salary); a declining deal would be attractive in that it would free up more cap room in subsequent seasons, though it would also mean more money out of pocket now.
With summer league tipping off on Friday, the Bucks will also likely sign first round pick Rashad Vaughn in short order. While 100% of Vaughn's $1.4 million rookie scale figure has counted against the Bucks' cap number since the start of free agency, all rookies typically get the max 120% of their allowable scale number when they actually sign -- hence I'm showing the higher number above. There's a small cap advantage (in Vaughn's case around $300k) to delaying rookie signings until after a team has signed all of its outside free agents, though that no longer applies to the Bucks.
More to Come?
Then again, just because the Bucks aren't making any more big free agent signings doesn't mean this is the roster you'll see open training camp in Madison about 10 weeks from now. The Bucks now have a crowded backcourt: Michael Carter-Williams, Greivis Vasquez, Jerryd Bayless and Tyler Ennis are all capable of playing point or shooting guard -- I'm not even counting Jorge Gutierrez's non-guaranteed deal at this point -- while Middleton, O.J. Mayo and Vaughn figure to be the team's nominal depth chart at shooting guard.
Middleton's length, size and versatility made him a perfect fit at the two with the starting lineup last season, but given the team's relative depth he figures to see plenty of minutes as a forward as well. The Bucks didn't need him to be a small-ball stretch four as often last season due to the presence of Jared Dudley and Ersan Ilyasova, but their departures and the raft of smaller guards at Kidd's disposal mean that figures to change even if Middleton's starting position remains at the two. If the Bucks do make a move to clean up their backcourt, you'd guess that Bayless, Ennis, or Mayo would be the most likely candidate to depart, though their relative market values are presumably all over the board. And the sad irony is that if you could make a move for another player, you'd probably be most interested in getting someone like Dudley -- a guy who can provide cover at the forward spots and stretch the floor. So...yeah.
Otherwise, Monroe will slot in as the team's opening night starter at center, with Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo the presumptive forwards once Parker returns from his ACL tear. The Pachulia deal alleviates the logjam at center, with restricted free agents-to-be John Henson and Miles Plumlee left to duke it out for reserve minutes. Kidd could also opt to go big with two of them playing at once, though it's worth noting he almost never did that a year ago -- two of the three centers played together for a grand total of just 70 minutes all season. Considering Monroe's history of misuse playing next to Andre Drummond in Detroit, a move to trade a big was almost inevitable, though that doesn't mean Pachulia's contributions on and off the court will be easy to replicate.
With Zaza gone I'd hazard that John Henson won't be moved, though I'm also not sure anyone expects him to improve markedly on what he was last season -- a rim-rolling shot-blocker whose lack of consistency has prevented him from ever seizing a starting job. Based on the deals we saw this summer and the fact that 90% of the league will have cap space next summer, he could easily land an $8-10 million per year offer sheet in 2016. So if the Bucks aren't comfortable with that they should probably think about cashing in while they can, even if they ironically would want another big man back in return.
2016 and Beyond
Looking ahead, the Bucks' cap picture remains decidedly rosy even with the hefty deals now going to Monroe and Middleton, though the team's long-term flexibility is also a necessity given the possibility (read: hope) that Parker and Antetokounmpo will soon earn hefty raises as well. Assuming a salary cap leap to $89 million and that they renounce cap holds for their expiring veterans next summer, the Bucks could have upwards of $31 million in cap space even with holds for restricted free agent Henson ($7.4 million) and another mid-first round pick.
That said, bear in mind that Antetokounmpo will be eligible for an extension next summer that could pay him as much as $25 million starting the following season (17/18), when the cap is expected to rocket to an estimated $108 million. Parker will be in the same position a year later, so if all goes to plan -- namely, that both Antetokounmpo and Parker become star-caliber players -- they could in tandem cost as much as $55-60 million annually. We'll see how it unfolds, but the bottom line is that the Middleton and Monroe signings figure to have little to no bearing on the Bucks' ability to sign Antetokounmpo and Parker, who both figure to blow away Middleton's rather paltry (!) $14 million per season. Nice problem to have, eh?