The NBA calendar always starts off with a bang, and this year was no different. NBA free agency brought a number of surprises, and while the Milwaukee Bucks were not the flashiest team on the news ticker (hi there, Brooklyn!), there are more than enough moves that deserve discussion. Here’s a quick summary of what the Bucks did do (reportedly):
- Khris Middleton is back (five years, $178 million, player option on the last season)
- Brook Lopez is back (four years, $52 million)
- Malcolm Brogdon is not back (sign and trade with the Indiana Pacers; four years, $85 million, exchanged for a first and two second round picks)
- George Hill is back (three years, $29 million, partial guarantee on the last season)
- Robin Lopez joins Milwaukee (two years, $9.6 million, player option on the second season)
- Nikola Mirotic is leaving the NBA (lucrative deal with FC Barcelona)
- Sterling Brown and Pat Connaughton will remain with their 2019-20 contracts guaranteed.
As a quick aside, there are details of some of these details that are not worked out yet, so all of our conversation and analysis will be based on estimates that should be expected to change somewhat. Additionally, because of the complexity of the CBA, there is a certain timing that these moves must have and a sequence they must follow in order to go through properly. That being said, here’s a glance at what the Bucks’ overall cap sheet might end up looking like, as well as a crack at the new depth chart and some notes from Twitter:
Bucks projecting to be at around $122.3m for 11 players assuming max raises for Khris/LoBros/Hill and stretch of Leuer. Around ~$10m in room under tax but only minimums to use on remaining 3-4 players, so unlikely to go over tax barring larger trade(s) that add salary.— Frank Madden (@fmaddenNBA) July 1, 2019
Bucks could get from $8.5M to the $9.2M required for George Hill if they S&T Malcom Brogdon first (i.e., no cap hold). I worked that through with @NateDuncanNBA! Downside of that approach is, to get an extra ~$700K, they'd lose their $10M+ trade exception.https://t.co/ihZWzXV1k8— Albert Nahmad (@AlbertNahmad) July 1, 2019
With the departure of Brogdon, Bucks would seem to really need George Hill back. Brogdon leaving doesn't open much cap room, they'd have to move Ilyasova as well to open up enough for him likely, or hope he'll take Room Exception about 2/$10m.— Nate Duncan (@NateDuncanNBA) June 30, 2019
Contending is expensive...if you pay for it.
Milwaukee shelled out a lot of money (over $250 million!) to pay market value for Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, and George Hill. That they weren’t willing to match the offer Malcolm Brogdon received from the Pacers (AAV: $21.25 million) is curious, but it’s a hard truth to admit that Brogdon was the most replaceable of the five starters (in terms of his role and the Bucks’ tools to replace him). Some might chastise the Bucks as “cheaping out” and avoiding paying Brogdon to stay out of the luxury tax. And they might be right, despite everything we’ve heard from ownership about being willing to pay for a contender...letting Brogdon go for draft pick compensation doesn’t quite add up.
At the same time, Brogdon’s surprise departure could have other factors as well. Whispers about the medical “red flags” on his foot could have been exacerbated by his plantar fascia tear late last season, and that the Bucks’ only return for him is a single first and a pair of seconds could be a signal that other teams feel equally skittish about Brogdon’s long-term prospects. He’s still obviously a good player and worth having on your team, but the fact that the sign-and-trade came together relatively quickly may indicate that the Bucks’ decision was based on more than just financial considerations.
Guard depth is a concern.
Brogdon leaving for Indiana makes the Bucks worse, in terms of talent. There’s no getting around that; you can’t easily replace a 50/40/90 guy. Eric Bledsoe is the team’s only true point guard, and George Hill, Pat Connaughton, and Donte DiVincenzo are the only other options that can credibly fill in either guard spot. Sterling Brown can handle some SG, and ball-handling is less crucial on a team that has Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton orchestrating things, but at some point the team is going to need to fill out their guard rotation further. Fortunately the Bucks do have three roster spots (at least) to work with, because...
Jon Horst isn’t finished.
If the 2018-19 season taught us anything, it’s that Jon Horst knows what he’s doing. He didn’t win Executive of the Year for nothing, just like Mike Budenholzer didn’t win Coach of the Year (or Giannis Antetokounmpo winning Most Valuable Player) for nothing. This isn’t to say that anyone should be expected to accept resting on their laurels, but that there’s a proven history of unpopular moves working out better than expected. There is the possibility of a $10+M trade exception available to use. And what if signing Robin Lopez this year is akin to Ersan Ilyasova last year? Or if letting Brogdon walk is similar to letting Jabari Parker walk? These comparisons might be overly generous, but the Bucks have earned a little bit of generosity...for now.