The most frenetic NBA free agent frenzy of all time is almost upon us.
With roughly $1 billion in potential cap space up for grabs, the 2016 NBA free agent summer has long been anticipated as a game-changer for the league -- in particular those players fortunate enough to be hitting free agency. While we won't know the final cap numbers until next week, the league anticipates the cap rising from last year's $70 million to upwards of $94 million this time around, with the likelihood of that figure pushing past $107 million next summer. The net result figures to see team demand far outstrip the supply of good players, resulting in massive deal inflation for those players fortunate enough to be free agents.
So how might the Milwaukee Bucks fit into all that? Well, in our latest podcast, Eric Nehm and I lay out the Bucks' cap situation and discuss potential Bucks' options at every position:
Following yesterday's decision to waive the non-guaranteed deals of Damien Inglis and Johnny O'Bryant, the Bucks have eight players under contract (totaling just under $62 million) and two unsigned rookies (Thon Maker's cap hold is around $2.1 million), leaving five slots to fill over the next few months. Including the cap holds for Miles Plumlee (restricted, $5.3m) and Jerryd Bayless (early Bird, $3.9m), the Bucks would have around $21 million in cap space while renouncing both cap holds could create upwards of $29 million in maximum room.
Though they can stand to add depth everywhere, the Bucks will undoubtedly be looking to add players who can space the floor and/or bring a more defensive edge to Jason Kidd's club. Don't expect that to include a really big name player, though Milwaukee could add even more flexibility by shipping out Greg Monroe's expiring $17 million salary at some point during the next couple weeks. That's not likely to happen in the first day or two of free agency, however. Also bear in mind that the Bucks figure to have plenty of cap flexibility the next two years, so there's almost no such thing as a bad deal if it's for only one or two years.
Some potential names to watch out for, starting with the Bucks' free agents most likely to be back:
Bucks Free Agents
Miles Plumlee: Based on some of the other numbers floating around, I'd be fine with up to $8-10 million per for 2-3 years, and the good news is that Plumlee's restricted status at least provides some incentive for teams not to bother pursuing him. So he could end up being a short-term bargain if no one goes after him in the first two weeks. Of course, that assumes he'd be getting 20-25 mpg in Milwaukee -- there's no point in the Bucks signing another bigger name center (or keeping Monroe) AND keeping Henson at $11 m per season AND signing Plumlee for similar money AND having Thon Maker potentially eat up some center minutes in the not-so-distant future.
Jerryd Bayless: Bayless is the only one of the Bucks' free agent guards who might be back, and as an early Bird free agent the Bucks can go over the cap to offer him a starting salary for as much as $5.7 million. That makes his $3.9 million cap hold of somewhat limited use; they can offer him far more using their cap space. but then he's just like any other free agent. I would have thought there'd be a decent market for Bayless after his career-best 43% shooting from deep last year, but it's interesting how little chatter there's been about him so far (his HoopsHype rumor page hasn't changed in three months). Don't expect him to be a guy involved in the initial frenzy of deals this weekend, so his earning power will likely be determined by the musical chairs game that will likely start to get serious in mid-July.
Steve Novak: The Brown Deer native saw his Bucks homecoming cut short by a knee injury last March, but wouldn't it be nice to bring him back? Just give him the vet's minimum and we'll call him a player-coach.
Kent Bazemore: Zach Lowe mentioned the Bucks, Grizzlies and Nets as early suitors for the Hawks' 3-and-D guard, who turns 27 on July 1 and could be in line for a deal that will pay him upwards of $16-20 million annually. Welcome to the NBA in 2016!
In all seriousness, he'd project as a useful player in Milwaukee provided he can continue to hit open threes and check point guards -- note that he's more of a two, but because of Giannis Antetokounmpo you could start him alongside Khris Middleton much like O.J. Mayo a year ago. Still, it bears mentioning that the Bucks also have two very young, very cheap guys in Malcolm Brogdon and Rashad Vaughn who might be able to do similar things in a year or two. Not that the Bucks have to choose, but worth considering given the resource allocation decisions the Bucks will have to make.
Mirza Teletovic: The 30-year-old Teletovic is an ace shooter, played under Kidd in Brooklyn, was rumored to be a Bucks target last summer and at the trade deadline, and he's an Excel Sports client. Thus, he ranks as maybe themost obvious guy ever for the Bucks to target in free agency. His lack of defensive mettle is a problem, but the Bucks would no doubt love to add a stretch four who can come off the bench and bomb threes. He quietly had a career-year amid the wreckage in Phoenix last season, and to be honest I'm surprised he's not a Buck already.
Matthew Dellavedova: ESPN's Cavs insider Brian Windhorst has been banging the Delly-to-Milwaukee drum for months, and in theory he's an obvious answer to an important question: "Yo, can the Bucks get a scrappy defender who can shoot and defend point guards next to Giannis?" What's not obvious is whether a team like the Bucks should pay an eight figure salary to a somewhat limited player who made his hay playing on a talented Cleveland team -- and who also happened to be buried on the bench behind Mo Friggin' Williamsin the Finals.
I'm at least open to it, but like Bazemore he's the type of self-made guy you'd rather find before he gets his big contract. Just as importantly, he's still a restricted free agent, which means you won't be able to just steal him from the Cavs. Fresh off a championship, Dan Gilbert and his player-GM LeBron James will likely be willing to match even absurd-sounding deals despite the tax implications it might have, making Dellavedova a prime candidate for buyer's remorse down the road.
Dwight Howard: The Bucks have been linked with Howard ever since discussions with the Rockets at the trade deadline, though concerns over his declining physical skills and perplexing personality make him one of the more polarizing options on the market this summer. He can definitely still play at a high level -- really! -- but his baggage (both physical and mental) will make many teams hesitant to offer the four-year deal he's looking for. At this point it's been a couple months since the Bucks were linked with making a play for him, so I'd say a landing in Milwaukee appears very unlikely.
Joakim Noah: A report last week suggested the Bucks were interested in pursuing the 30-year-old former Bulls' defensive anchor, but all indications are that he'll likely be taking his talents (and injury questions) to New York, reportedly for a three-year deal starting at a cool $18 million annually. Considering Noah's opinion of non-Chicago Midwestern cities, that's probably not a surprise.