Miles Plumlee was arguably the Milwaukee Bucks' best big man in the calendar year 2016, and apparently that's worth...well, quite a bit.
Numerous reports on Monday indicate that the Bucks will sign the restricted free agent to a four-year deal worth $52 million, a figure that would put him north of the four-year, $44 million extension signed by John Henson last summer and maintains Milwaukee's center logjam that also includes Henson and the yet-to-be-traded Greg Monroe. While he averaged just 14.3 minutes overall last season, Plumlee became a fixture in the Bucks' lineup over the final months of the season and led the team in true shooting percentage (60.6%) while finishing second in per minute rebounding (9.6 per 36) and blocks (2.1 per 36).
Contractually, let's start with the obvious: it's not clear that any other team was going to offer the same kind of deal length or annual salary that Plumlee ended up getting, and it's a bit scary giving a four-year deal to an almost-28-year-old whose game is almost entirely predicated on athleticism. While the dollars aren't crazy in 2016 free agency terms, this deal could look rather bad if Plumlee suffers a Gadzurician productivity dip.
Still, it should also come as no surprise that the Bucks wanted to keep a guy who served as the perfect pick-and-roll complement to Giannis Antetokounmpo over the last few months of the season. Plumlee led the entire NBA in P&R finishing last season, scoring 1.44 points per play while shooting 76% on 61 such possessions, and he was a fixture in most of the Bucks' best lineups from February on. Four-man lineups featuring Plumlee, Giannis, Jabari and Khris Middleton outscored opponents by around five points per 100 possessions over the course of the full season and by 10 points after the all-star break, reflective of Plumlee's value as a low-usage rim finisher and mobile defender.
Not that Plumlee is a phenomenal defender; he's been clearly below average by defensive RPM and BPM standards since arriving in Milwaukee, though he was better in Phoenix and his athleticism and penchant for spectacular blocks would suggest he could work well with the Bucks' scheme and personnel. That seemed to be the case over the final months of the season, but it's difficult to put him in the same defensive class as notably cheaper guys like Festus Ezeli and Dewayne Dedmon.
Bucks show willingness to pony up for fit and continuity
Prior to free agency, we guessed that Plumlee would sign for three years and something in the neighborhood of $9-10 million per season, and for all of the big numbers we've seen in July, it's worth noting that the market for big men has necessarily thinned as teams' cap space has dwindled in the past week. So the final contract numbers would seem like something of a best-case scenario for Plumlee, especially given his age and lack of leverage as a restricted free agent.
Don't get me wrong, I'd still prefer Plumlee over the likes of Timofey Mozgov (four years, $64 million) and you could argue that for the Bucks he's better value than a guy like Ian Mahinmi (same deal as Mozgov to back up Marcin Gortat in Washington). But considering where things stand in free agency, I would have guessed he'd come in closer to Ezeli money ($7.5 million per) than Mahinmi money, and the Mozgov deal could be used to make almost any big man deal look good. Instead, the Bucks showed they clearly valued Plumlee's athleticism, character and fit with the current roster, and it's worth noting that the Bucks wouldn't have been able to sign the likes of Mahinmi or Bismack Biyombo given their other moves anyway.
What's next? And is there any way Monroe isn't on the move soon?
Assuming Plumlee and fellow free agent signings Matthew Dellavedova ($9.6 million) and Mirza Teletovic ($10 million) signed flat contracts, the Bucks would have around $5.55 million in remaining cap space before Plumlee officially signs his deal. As a Bird free agent, Plumlee counts for $5.3 million against the Bucks' cap until he officially signs, so the Bucks can maximize their flexibility by waiting to put pen to paper until they're done filling out their roster. Once Plumlee signs, they'll then be over the cap with significantly less flexibility to fill out the remaining spots on their roster, which also made waiting on Plumlee to sign an offer sheet elsewhere rather unappealing. If that had happened, the Bucks would have had only 72 hours before a matched deal would wipe out the remainder of their cap room. Then again, for all we know it might also have been a cheaper deal.
Adding Plumlee puts the Bucks at 13 roster players including Thon Maker and Malcolm Brogdon, leaving room for presumably Steve Novak (likely at the minimum) and perhaps one more shooter. Beyond their cap space, they also have their $2.9 million room exception, and they will need to use a portion of either that exception or their space in order to sign Brogdon for more than a minimum-level, two-year deal (which teams can always do regardless of cap space). As you may recall, the Bucks always sign second rounders to three year deals with the first year slightly above the min, an arrangement that provides an additional year of cheap salary while also preventing a player from hitting unrestricted free agency after their first contract (three year vets are still just restricted free agents)..
Of course, all those roster and cap numbers include Greg Monroe and his $17.1 million salary, and it's no secret that the Bucks are ready to move Monroe for the right (and presumably not terribly high) price. So far that hasn't happened, and it's anyone's guess if and when it does. The Bucks would certainly prefer not to give Monroe away, as he's a productive player despite his difficult fit in the Bucks' defensive scheme. But it's virtually impossible to get Monroe, Henson and Plumlee a reasonable number of minutes at the same time -- no, I'm not buying those Plumlee/Henson lineups we saw late last season -- and it's difficult to imagine the Bucks wanting to spend $42 million on their center position this season. As always: stay tuned.