The Milwaukee Bucks are many things, but the one thing they’ll never be is boring. In the early moments of NBA free agency, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski dropped one of his famous #WojBombs right on all of our heads: Ersan Ilyasova would return to Milwaukee on a 3-year/$21 million contract, with later news from ESPN’s Zach Lowe clarifying that the third year would not be guaranteed.
Before we get into the deal itself, let’s briefly get reacquainted with Ersan as a player. Ilyasova, drafted in the 2nd round by the Bucks back in 2006, is a career 36.6% shooter from outside, and is relatively comfortable taking threes frequently (career 3PAr: 0.329, but never lower than 0.392 since 2015-16). His shot profile indicates a comfort from putting up from midrange as well, and he’s always had a knack for converting close range attempts off of quick passes. He’s also historically been a plus-rebounder and an adequate passer, and while his defensive skills have never impressed, he has made his mark on the league by routinely ranking in the top tiers for charges drawn.
On the whole, Ersan Ilyasova is a low-usage modern-ish big man on offense and an uninspiring positional presence on defense. Coming to the Bucks in the 2018-19 season means that Giannis Antetokounmpo gets another shooter to work with (following the drafting of Donte DiVincenzo in June), and with Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, and Malcolm Brogdon claiming large chunks of the minutes available for their positions, it makes some sense that general manager Jon Horst would want to bolster the roster in the frontcourt.
Fans from Ersan’s last stint with the team will remember how he rarely played center, but over the past two years Ilyasova has adapted to the league’s evolution by slotting up more often than ever before. The idea of Ersan as a small ball center in Milwaukee, paired with Giannis as a weak side help defender/rim protector, creates the possibility of utilizing a four- or five-out offense more often. The more shooting on the floor around Giannis, the more space he should have to drive, which is only a good thing. Additionally, as Thon Maker continues to develop, the team may find some benefit in allowing the offense to remain heavy on shooting from the 5 (if Ersan is to play that role in the rotation). More threes are a major marker of offensive improvement for the Bucks, and Ersan Ilyasova can at least help achieve that goal (both actively and passively).
We mentioned before the draft that Milwaukee should be looking at adding shooters in free agency, and we identified some options that might be available on cheap deals (you know, like the league minimum or the super-low biannual exception). With this signing, the Bucks have almost assuredly used up over half of their mid-level exception (MLE) and, while it can be split between players, there’s just not much left to be split. For driving down even further into the weeds, NBA Twitter has the cap minutiae you crave. 3 years and $21 million might be more details than Bucks fans want already, but here is some additional nitty gritty based on what we know:
If Ersan's deal has max 5% raises, then $21m total would put him at $6.667m in year one. Using portion of full MLE hard caps them at $129.8m, so they'd have ~$21.4m to match or S&T Jabari Parker plus add another 1-2 guys to fill out roster.— Frank (@fmaddenNBA) July 1, 2018
Year 3 of Ilyasova's deal is non-guaranteed, per league sources. https://t.co/9h3I64GaNA— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) July 1, 2018
The Ersan Ilyasova $21M contract projects to put Milwaukee at $110M in salary and would hard cap the Bucks at $129.8M. The hard cap is a result of Ilyasova signing for part of the midlevel exception that exceeds $5.3M. The Bucks still have restricted free agent Jabari Parker.— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) July 1, 2018
As an aside, boy, that name just keeps popping up, doesn’t it? Jabari Parker, an NBA power forward who is a restricted free agent for Milwaukee, might have thoughts about what Ersan’s addition means for his future with the team. With everything mentioned earlier, it’s getting harder and harder to believe that Jabari still has a seat at this table. Then again, we all thought that he had been given Ersan’s place setting, and guess who just came back to the party? The crux of the issue is that the Bucks did not pay Ersan to not play basketball, and given the positional (and functional) overlap between these two players, one might consider this signing to be another sign of a potential Parker departure.
Back to the main issue: Bucks fans’ biggest gripe with Saturday night’s announcement was not just the amount of money or length of the contract, but with how quickly they pounced on Ilyasova, whose dance card could not have truly been that full. With the league year opening at 12:01am and the Woj tweet coming at 11:59pm (no, really!), all indications are that the Bucks were locked in on Ersan as The Guy for free agency.
After the McDermott and Harris deals, I started composing a tweet about how the market was drying up quicker than I thought and the Bucks might be able to find some bargain deals if they remained patient.— Eric Nehm (@eric_nehm) July 1, 2018
I didn't finish that tweet by the time the Ersan #WojBomb dropped.
On the one hand, we’ve already covered how the Bucks are capped out and wouldn’t have the ability to make a big splash. On the other hand, really? You couldn’t wait and see how the market reacted and evolved over a few days?
The offseason is far from over, despite the pace of Saturday night’s social media brouhaha. There may yet be moves that the Bucks execute that make this Ersan contract appear more reasonable. But as it stands now, Ersan Ilyasova joins the ranks of “slightly overpaid Bucks players that clog up the salary cap,” alongside Matthew Dellavedova, Tony Snell, John Henson, and (until further notice) Mirza Teletovic. Expanding the number of players with salaries in that range is, quite frankly, the exact opposite of what the Bucks needed. I guess we’ll have to stay tuned to see what else is in store.