The regular season is quickly drawing to a close, and the Milwaukee Bucks (now the second seed in the Eastern Conference!) could have simply stayed the course and avoided making any changes for the sake of making changes. But as we’ve learned, general manager Jon Horst is always on the job, and The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported that the Bucks are making a move at the end of their bench, waiving forward Rodions Kurucs and making good on the rumors about signing guard Elijah Bryant, formerly with Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel. As usual, Brew Hoop founder Frank Madden has the best summation of the Rodions Kurucs era in Milwaukee:
Kurucs, 23, had a promising rookie season with the Brooklyn Nets back in 2018. Since then, he’s been a non-factor in the league, and it’s unlikely that he plays another NBA game ever again based solely on his basketball merit. Of course, a quick web search would inform any intrepid basketball scout of Kurucs’ claim to infamy off the court, which was enough for fans to wholly write him off and call for his ouster from the team, despite still having a $1.8M team option remaining for the 21-22 season. Fans got their wish, and I think I speak for all of us when saying that I’m perfectly content never having to think about Rodions Kurucs ever again.
Switching focus to the future, Elijah Bryant actually is a blast from the Bucks’ recent past. Bryant, 26, played three years in the NCAA (one at Elon University, two at Brigham Young) before logging another two years with Maccabi Tel Aviv in the EuroLeague and Israeli Super League. During that time, though, Bryant also played for Milwaukee’s Summer League team in 2019 (he was previously with Philadelphia in Las Vegas in 2018) and was a free agent target for the Bucks in 2020 (Bryant opted to stick with his team in Israel).
In four games with the Bucks’ Summer League squad two years ago, Bryant averaged 14.3 points and shot 6-of-12 from three (including a 31 point, 5/7 from deep performance against Minnesota). He’s been a similar player in Israel, scoring 10.2 per game on 0.486/0.398/0.822 shooting splits, and generally producing enough everywhere else on the court to not create any weaknesses for opponents to exploit. As is always the case, his YouTube highlight video paints the picture of a player who will have a far lesser impact on the team than the video footage would suggest, but considering Milwaukee’s depth at guard there’s nothing wrong with taking a cheap flyer on a guy like Bryant.
Per Shams’ report, Bryant’s contract runs for two seasons, though one of those seasons has only five games left on the schedule before the playoffs and it’s reasonable to presume that the second year is at least somewhat non-guaranteed. Per EuroHoops, Bryant did not have a buyout clause in his contract with his Israeli club, meaning the Bucks had to negotiate with Maccabi Tel Aviv to release him from his previous deal. The CBA puts a cap on the amount that an NBA team can pay to a non-NBA team in exchange for a buyout at $750,000, but these cash considerations do not count against the salary cap for Milwaukee.
In any case, this means that Bryant’s prorated rest-of-season deal will be worth very little, likely using the remainder of the MLE that was partially used to sign DJ Augustin. It also likely fits underneath the luxury tax line and keeps the Bucks free from the repeater tax next season (though this is not yet guaranteed, since Jrue Holiday’s bonus structure still could end up putting the team into the tax, if the right criteria are met). Additionally, because Bryant was not on an NBA roster this season and was signed before the end of the regular season, he is technically eligible for the playoffs...though if Bryant actually takes the floor this postseason, something must have gone very wrong.
For now, Bryant will join fellow
BYU alum (whoops!) Mormon Sam Merrill (admittedly an assumption, but both took time off for mission trips in college so it seems safe) at the end of the Bucks’ bench, playing only in blowouts and hyping up highlight plays from their teammates. It’s tough to get too excited about this move, but hey, he’s not Kurucs.