Shortly after news broke that Bucks free agent guard Jerryd Bayless was heading to Philly for three years and $27 million, the Bucks followed up by striking deals with two rather unsurprising names: former Cavaliers guard Matthew Dellavedova (four years, $38.4 million) and former Suns forward Mirza Teletovic (three years, $30 million). Note that Dellavedova's status as a restricted free agent means Cleveland will have three days to match (starting July 7 when contracts can officially be signed), though a tweet of congratulations and farewell from player-GM LeBron James would seem to suggest the Cavs will save their luxury tax bill further heartache and allow Delly to depart for a different Great Lake.
Meanwhile, the Bucks also reportedly flirted with eventual Pelicans signee E'Twaun Moore (four years, $34 million) and returning Hawk Kent Bazemore (four years, $70 million), and they still have a Tinder date with Dwyane Wade at some point this week. However, any further big moves would require significant cap gymnastics, so set your expectations accordingly. The Bucks might have preferred to use their cap space on a bigger fish like Bazemore, but there's also something to be said for filling out their wide-open depth chart with two guys who can play and fill needs.
While the Delly-Telly Parlay was hardly a shocker -- they were the two guys I had predicted the Bucks would land during our free agency preview podcast -- their deals came out looking slightly more reasonable than many might have expected (no, seriously). It's not to say they're cheap or that they fundamentally change the trajectory of NBA basketball in Milwaukee; both guys are likely best suited as 20-25 minute per game rotation guys. But given the current market, those types of solid bench-types will now cost you eight figures and more, and in Milwaukee at least Delly could very well be starting.
Depending on whether the Teletovic and Dellavedova deals are rising or declining, the Bucks could have somewhere between $4.3 and $6.4 million in room left while still retaining Miles Plumlee's cap hold, so on paper they would seem unlikely to swing another huge deal. They effectively now have 12 roster players in addition to Plumlee, so expect one or two more additions to fill out the roster. As part of that, it's still feasible for a Greg Monroe trade to open up significantly more room at some point in the next couple weeks; indeed, the Wade
charade negotiations are entirely premised on that possibility.
Bayless out, Delly in
I thought Bayless was likely to return, but the Bucks had a number in mind and evidently it was less than the three years, $27 million that Bryan Colangelo ultimately offered. The Bucks will certainly miss Bayless' terrific spot-up shooting and general level of off-court professionalism, though there's naturally concerns that his career shooting year will prove an aberration and his defensive struggles have been well-documented.
Effectively replacing Bayless is Dellavedova, whose appeal isn't too difficult to figure out: he hustles and defends far better than Bayless, he's been a consistent three point shooter over his career, and his lack of playmaking is less of an issue next to the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton. On paper, the Bucks are the next-best fit for Delly after the LeBron-led Cavs, though it's more than fair to wonder if Dellavedova can maintain the same level of production playing on less talented, more spacing-constrained team like the Bucks. If you don't think Delly is, you know, good at basketball then the years on this deal will be particularly problematic, though he's also still fairly young (25) and he's never going to be a chemistry problem.
Telly stretches out in Milwaukee
The 30-year-old Teletovic has long been the Rachel to Milwaukee's Ross. After playing for Jason Kidd in Brooklyn, Teletovic spurned the Bucks' interests last summer to take a one-year deal in Phoenix before nearly being dealt to Milwaukee at the trade deadline. Finally, their boring destiny has been fulfilled. Also, sorry to the Bucks for comparing them to Ross from Friends.
Sitcom metaphors aside, Teletovic is an absolute gunner from deep, having canned 181 threes in Phoenix last season while ranking sixth among all power forwards in offensive RPM (+2.08). He's averaged nearly nine attempts per 36 minutes over his career on a 38% clip, meaning he's a legit spacer who demands defenses' attention. That's the kind of volume the Bucks have long lacked, and because of it he's much more a budget Ryan Anderson than newfangled Ersan Ilyasova (who's never made more than 96 threes in a season or attempted greater than five per 36). On the downside, Teletovic has been a below-average defensive rebounder and playing him next to Jabari Parker could generally get very ugly on the defensive end. Considering Jabari is going to be on the court for 33-36 minutes most nights and Teletovic will presumably be playing at least 20, this signing would only seem to reinforce the notion that the Bucks plan on playing rim-protecting centers moving forward.
In terms of contract figures, this deal would be more attractive if it was a year shorter, especially given Teletovic will turn 31 prior to training camp. I'll maintain that Jared Dudley would have been a safer (and more sentimental!) option, but the dollar figure is in line with what you'd expect to pay a guy of his skills and will probably compare favorably to many other deals for bench rotation guys we see this week.
Wade and the leverage game
This isn't the first summer where we've heard loose talk about Dwyane Wade returning to Milwaukee, though this is the first time that we're getting a proper meet-with-the-owners-type-deal. I don't blame the Bucks at all for playing along; Wade's still really good, so while this feels more like a Tinder date than a proper romance, there's no harm in hearing him out. But the Bulls or even Knicks (currently recreating the 2011 NBA All-Star game) might make more sense in terms of superstar markets in the unlikely event Wade actually left South Florida, and bear in mind that right now the Bucks can't even offer Wade substantively more than the $10 million low-ball offer the Heat reportedly offered while waiting to see what Kevin Durant does.
That might just be a semantic issue for Wade, who was reportedly (and understandably) upset with Miami attempting to use his loyalty against him in negotiations for the third straight summer. Still, there's ultimately little chance Durant actually does land in Miami, and the Heat should then be able to offer Wade something much more in line with his abilities and contributions to the franchise. In the meantime, the Bucks and others will keep their options open, and the task of trading Monroe for cap space (and thus opening up perhaps as much as $24 million in cap space) is worth considering even if Wade has no intention of landing in Milwaukee.
Of Moose and Miles
Timing is everything in life, and free agency is often no exception. If the Bucks have ambitions of making one more big splash this summer, they'd be well-served finding a new home for Monroe sooner rather than later, either to clear cap space for Wade or another player. Alternatively, they might find it easier simply moving Monroe for an existing player; something involving Amir Johnson's non-guaranteed $12 million salary might make sense for both the Celtics and Bucks, especially if the former are unsuccessful in landing Al Horford. Likewise, Charlotte could have use for Monroe after seeing Al Jefferson depart for Indiana, especially with the smaller contracts of Jeremy Lamb (three years, $21m) and Spencer Hawes (two years, $12 million) reportedly on the block.
If the Bucks do find a way to open up cap room, there's no shortage of potential contributors still available. If the Bucks want another big -- either to replace or in addition to Plumlee -- both Bismack Biyombo and Ian Mahinmi remain available, while a number of wings are also still out there. Aside from moving Monroe, the Bucks can also create an additional $5.3 million in cap space by renouncing Plumlee's rights, though that seems unlikely unless another big man is in the cards or something really splashy happens. As for Plumlee, he appears to be in a holding pattern while Biyombo, Mahinmi and a number of other higher-profile big men look for landing spots. That could mean Plumlee ends up taking a more affordable deal with the Bucks, and in a worst-case scenario he could just take his $3 million qualifying offer and punt on a richer deal until 2017. I'd imagine that doesn't happen, though it could also be a good thing for the Bucks if they want to retain more flexibility next summer.
The Free Agency Illusion
Ultimately, just remember that free agency is a dangerous game, and there's something to be said for conservatism and simply not making big mistakes regardless of what the cap level might be. In my history as a Bucks fan, I can't think of an unrestricted deal richer than Zaza Pachulia's modest three-year, $15 million deal in 2013 that actually worked out well (and ironically it was widely panned at the time). Like most small markets, Milwaukee's history is littered with well-intended free agent contracts that went varying degrees of sideways, and the lopsided supply-demand dynamic this summer -- an oversupply of incremental cap space compared to a relatively shallow pool of talent -- only increased the risk of teams signing deals that might be too long or otherwise set difficult precedents for the rest of the roster.
To be clear, the ballooning cap will mostly obscure that risk over the next year or two -- hence my suggestion that there's almost no such thing as a bad one or two-year deal -- but some teams will no doubt find themselves seriously constrained once the cap returns to a more normal growth trajectory (likely 2018). Guys on depressed rookie deals (like Giannis and Jabari) as well as older, cheaper veterans will come off the books at some point, and in the next couple years every decent player will enter summers expecting to make at least $12-15 million per year. Alas, that simply doesn't work mathematically. So while it's not easy and in many ways self-defeating to simply sit out the party altogether, discretion may once again prove the better part of valor.