The past few days have been tough to keep up with, especially since everything for the Milwaukee Bucks was suddenly knocked off track the day of the NBA Draft. However, we’re at a point now where things are as close to finalized as they’ll get, and we have a clearer picture of what the 2020-21 Milwaukee Bucks will look like.
Still Pending: Giannis’ Supermax
As of Sunday afternoon, Giannis Antetokounmpo has not taken the opportunity to accept the Bucks’ offer of a designated veteran extension, the supermax contract that everybody is still holding their breath that he will sign. He can choose to do so until the eve of the regular season (December 21); if he does not, he will not be able to revisit the issue until the next offseason.
It’s fair to say that all of the Bucks’ hopes hinge on Giannis deciding that his future is in Milwaukee, and that fans will be holding their collective breath from now until he signs on the dotted line.
Home Run Swing: The Jrue Trade
It took a while, considering it was first announced on Monday, but the Jrue Holiday trade is complete. There may have been some way to pry another contributor out of any of the teams involved in this deal, but it ended up not working out that way. The cost for Holiday was steep (this year’s Pacers first, two future unprotected firsts, and two future pick swaps), but another consequence of his addition are his contract’s bonuses; unlikely bonuses only count against the salary cap (or luxury tax calculations) if they’re earned, but they do count against the tax apron (the hard cap) if the team puts themselves in that situation. Roughly $3.4M of his remaining contract contains bonuses that Holiday is not likely to reach, and the presence of those clauses is what put the Bucks in the position of only being able to fill 14 regular roster spots.
Trade complete:— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) November 22, 2020
MIL: Jrue Holiday, No. 60 pick Sam Merrill
NOLA: Steven Adams, Eric Bledsoe, ‘25/'27 1sts, ‘24/'26 swaps via MIL
OKC: George Hill, Josh Gray, Kenrich Williams, Zylan Cheatham, Darius Miller, ‘23 protected 1st via Denver, two 2nd round picks
DEN: RJ Hampton
We’ll admit it, it’s tough to ignore the events where Bogdan Bogdanovic was expected to end up in Milwaukee, but pulled out after the trade was reported. However, Jrue Holiday is a major difference-maker and the real prize of the offseason, regardless of any other moves. He is just as talented on defense as Eric Bledsoe (the guard he’s replacing) while offering the ability to play up a position or two, but he is vastly superior as an offensive creator, playmaker, and a reliable shooting threat. A Jrue-Giannis pick-and-roll is a deadly offensive weapon that Mike Budenholzer will have in his arsenal, and with Khris Middleton now able to share some of the scoring duties with a capable guard, the Bucks’ top-end talent is simply at a higher level than last season.
Restocking the Cupboard: Milwaukee’s Free Agent Haul
With the departure of so many veteran contributors, Bucks general manager Jon Horst had a difficult path to reinforce the roster after landing Holiday. Giannis, Khris, and Brook Lopez were the core pieces that remained in place, and Donte DiVincenzo ended up staying put after being included in the failed Bogdanovic sign-and-trade. Besides Thanasis Antetokounmpo and D.J. Wilson, the rest of the bench was empty and Milwaukee only had so much they had to work with.
Despite the limitations, Jon Horst has built a roster that should be able to get over the hump that the last two versions could not. In D.J. Augustin, Milwaukee has a pure point guard who can both operate in the pick-and-roll to distribute the ball or pull up off the dribble for a three pointer. Augustin is older (33), undersized (5’10”), and a target on defense, but he landed a similar contract to Ersan Ilyasova from two years ago and offers a skill set at the 1 that the Bucks simply haven’t had in the Giannis era.
Bobby Portis has languished in his stays with Chicago, Washington, and New York, but offers a jolt of intensity into the frontcourt. He’s a stretch big with some ability to create for himself off the dribble, and he’s a tenacious competitor. His reputation on defense is horrendous, which could be in some part because of the teams that he’s been on, but usually good defenders somehow stand out even when saddled with deficient teammates or strategies. He is young (25) and energetic, and will have every opportunity to contribute to a winning effort in Milwaukee.
Bryn Forbes is a legitimate shooter from the San Antonio system, and will make up for the assumed retirement of Kyle Korver. Torrey Craig is a plus-defender on the wing, a necessity after the departure of Wes Matthews. Jordan Nwora, Sam Merrill, Jaylen Adams, and Mamadi Diakite, even if none of them contribute this year, give the Bucks an injection of youth where they sorely needed it.
Overall, there are very few holes left in the Bucks’ roster left behind by the players who have left, with the exception of one. Robin Lopez, who opted out and got a decent payday from the Wizards, leaves the Bucks without a true backup center, meaning that some combination of Giannis, Wilson, and Portis will likely see some time at the 5 at some point, barring any future moves. It’s possible this could have been mitigated by avoiding the sheer weirdness that was tied up in Pat Connaughton’s re-signing, which is a confusing story at best and a case of inexcusable ineptitude at worst. That being said, Connaughton gives the team depth on the wing and good vibes in the locker room, and even if overpaid he’s not likely to cause any problems (as long as his playing time doesn’t go overboard).
Championships aren’t won in the offseason, but Jon Horst has seemingly done everything in his power to put the Bucks in a position to be successful. The level of overall talent is higher than last year, the Bucks’ top 3 players (Giannis, Khris, and Jrue) today are better than their top 3 last year, where the third spot alternated between Bledsoe and Brook. They have more weak links on defense (Augustin, Portis, and Forbes) in the rotation this year, but those players also offer a more diverse approach to offense in the playoffs, which is one of the major flaws Milwaukee needed to resolve with new talent. There are still changes to be made, which Mike Budenholzer will have to be responsible for, in order to maximize the Bucks’ chances at making it out of the East and competing in the NBA Finals. As it stands today, Milwaukee has as strong of a case as anybody else.
The only barometer of success this offseason that matters is whether or not Giannis commits by signing the supermax. If he does, the team looks great for a long time. If he doesn’t, the team looks perilous as soon as next year. There is no middle ground anymore. Championship or bust.
Exciting, isn’t it?