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Bucks Offseason Preview: How Will The Griffin-Era Roster Take Shape?

It’s almost time for Silly Season!

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks-Adrian Griffin Press Conference Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

We’re just over 48 hours away from the annual June 30th NBA transaction melee. This time it’s happening on a Friday night, and if you’re like me, you’ve told your significant other, friends, family, etc. that you can’t join them for typical end-of-week diversions. We’ll certainly have up-to-the-minute news and analysis for you when the Shams/Woj tweets start flying at (or before, if you don’t value second-round picks) 5pm Central Daylight Time, but before that, let’s take our usual broad overview of what’s on GM Jon Horst’s plate in the coming days.

We’ll start with Milwaukee’s own free agents, who are likely to be the first names we hear about as we did with Bobby Portis, Wesley Matthews, and Jevon Carter last year on June 30th. Then we’ll talk about outside free agents, the luxury tax, potential extensions, trade assets, and potential targets. Unlike in previous years, though, we’ll have to think about it through a different lens with new head coach Adrian Griffin in town.

Who are the Bucks’ pending free agents?

Now that Khris Middleton and Carter have opted out of their respective contracts’ final year, Milwaukee has a whopping nine unrestricted free agents from last year’s team: Brook Lopez, Jae Crowder, Joe Ingles, Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Matthews, Goran Dragic, and Meyers Leonard to go along with the aforementioned names. That’s four more than the Bucks had last offseason. Additionally, A.J. Green’s two-way contract expired, technically making him a restricted free agent.

A few hours ago, Marc Stein reported that not only are Middleton and Lopez expected to re-sign, but so is Crowder. Since the Bucks paid such a pretty penny to acquire the Marquette alum, it makes sense they’d try to retain him, and after Crowder expressed some bewilderment (I personally wasn’t bewildered at all after watching him get pretty wrecked every time he took the floor) about being benched in the Miami series, maybe he’s coming around to staying now that a new head coach is in town. Horst and assistant GM Milt Newton reportedly paid him a visit in Atlanta recently, presumably to gauge interest in continuing the relationship.

As their most recent employer, the Bucks have ways of retaining their free agents that other teams don’t in the form of their Bird rights, of which there are three types. All of them permit the Bucks can exceed the salary cap ($136m for 2023–24) to keep these players, but only if the team keeps their cap hold on the books. That means that despite having just six players under contract for next season at $115m, the Bucks could only use space under the cap if they relinquish their rights to re-sign all ten of their free agents.

Milwaukee’s Own Free Agents

Player Cap Hold Rights Max Starting Salary Bucks Can Offer Years Total
Player Cap Hold Rights Max Starting Salary Bucks Can Offer Years Total
Middleton $47,607,175 Bird $47,607,175 5 $276,121,615
Lopez $20,860,464 Bird $47,607,175 5 $276,121,615
Crowder $19,349,220 Bird $47,607,175 5 $276,121,615
Ingles $7,774,800 Non-Bird $7,774,800 4 $33,510,360
Carter $2,730,000 Early Bird $11,331,600 4 $51,061,459
Thanasis $3,569,568 Bird $34,005,125 5 $197,229,725
Matthews $2,203,308 Early Bird $11,331,600 4 $51,061,459
Dragic $2,203,308 Non-Bird $2,203,308 4 $9,466,533
Leonard $2,203,308 Non-Bird $2,203,308 4 $9,466,533
Green $1,774,999 Non-Bird $2,162,123 4 $9,319,020

For players with full Bird rights, the Bucks can pay them up to their maximum salary and five seasons, no matter how far over the cap that takes them. For the early Bird players, their next salary from the Bucks is limited to either 175% of their previous salary or 105% of last year’s league-average salary, whichever is worth more. For the non-Bird players, the Bucks could only re-sign them for up to 120% of their previous salary or in Green’s case, the amount of his qualifying offer.

We can safely assume that the Bucks will want to remain over the cap this offseason by holding onto most, if not all of these rights. As has often been discussed, the Bucks simply cannot replace the salary some of these players were making last season by signing a free agent using any cap room they’d gain from renouncing them. If all ten of these players opt to leave, yes, the Bucks will have a bunch of cap space, but will then have only that $20m plus individual, much smaller exceptions that cannot be combined. With those limitations, they’ll need to acquire at least six players on top of last week’s second-round picks Andre Jackson Jr. and Chris Livingston (if they both receive standard contracts).

It’s practically a given that you won’t be able to replace a player like Middleton with that kind of money, which is why keeping him on the team is Milwaukee’s best possible move. Reportedly, the expectation among league executives is that he’ll re-sign for four years and $130m. That’s a fine enough number and while lower wouldn’t be worse, to be frank, it would be disastrous in multiple ways for Milwaukee if he left and got nothing in return. The front office knows this, and it showed when they included him in the final stages of the head coaching search. His $37.9m salary from last year is gone from their ledgers, but if they re-sign him with Bird rights, they can move that money for other players in the future if they so choose.

If he leaves, that optionality leaves with him, as does the Bucks’ ability to sign someone for comparable money. Even after an injury-marred campaign, Middleton’s value around the league is high and he’ll get paid somewhere. Several teams would have the cap room to sign him via that method but as many fans have postulated, capped-out teams could work out a sign-and-trade if they really wanted him. That would mean they’d have to send comparable money to Milwaukee in return, but I don’t think any of this is very likely. First, I believe he’ll take slightly less money to stay than he could (though may not) earn on the open market from one of the cap-space teams, most of whom are rebuilding. Second, among the franchises without cap space, I’d be surprised if there is mutual interest in a Middleton contract.

You probably also can’t sign a Lopez replacement with any cap space the Bucks could create, so keeping Splash Mountain operational (unlike a certain rodent-led theme park) is also the Bucks’ best option in regard to him. With the rest of these guys, the choice of whether or not Milwaukee should re-sign them is less clear. Crowder cost them five second-round picks to acquire and shot the ball well in the regular season before playing himself out of the rotation in the Miami series, perhaps due in part to spending over half the season holding out from his previous team. Carter was also so ineffective that he wound up on the bench by Game 4 after a nice regular season. Ingles and Matthews are still pretty skilled in some areas but will be 36 and 37 by opening night. Dragic and Leonard were depth pieces that scarcely played. Green could be kept on another two-way. Thanasis is Giannis’ brother.

It seems likely that a good chunk of these players are back in Milwaukee next year, mainly the two longest-tenured ones and Crowder. Fans polled last week were in favor of re-signing both Lopez and Middleton to long-term deals. The former seems to like the team a lot, and despite rumors that the Rockets will look to sign him with their ample cap room, I can’t see him leaving a title contender for a young team. After finishing second in Defensive Player of the Year voting, he’ll be due a raise. Carter will be too, whose potential next contract I discussed here, but everyone else seems destined for a pay cut—Crowder made $10.2m last season and appeared in just 22 games including the postseason—or another minimum salary. Judging by how many soon-to-be free agents (I count four) came to Griffin’s introductory press conference, most of them may want to stay.

How much can the Bucks offer to outside free agents?

Being over the cap, the Bucks can only use the exceptions allotted to every team in order to sign players on the open market. Re-signing Middleton and Lopez will probably put the Bucks just below the luxury tax threshold. If they go over that mark of $165m—and they probably will—they can’t use the bi-annual exception and are restricted to a smaller portion of the midlevel exception—the taxpayer version of the MLE or TPMLE. They also can’t sign-and-trade for a player without being hard-capped at the first apron of $172m, so even if they were to sign someone like Fred VanVleet and send players to his former team to satisfy salary-matching rules, they’d then have even less money to work with while needing to sign more players. Signing a top free agent would be really difficult to make work.

Importantly, under the new CBA, that portion has shrunk relative to previous seasons. Last year, it was about 62% of the $10.5m full MLE value, but this year it’s down to 40% of an even larger full MLE. That works out to a $5m salary compared to $6.5m last summer, and a contract signed with this year’s TPMLE can only be for two years and $10.3m total. Like last year, the TPMLE will be their chief tool for signing free agents, and they can use that $5m for next year on however many players they’d like. Beyond that, they can sign players to minimum-salaried deals.

What happens if they’re over the luxury tax line with the new CBA?

For the first time, they’ll be paying a repeater tax since they’ve been above the tax line since 2020–21, which means a bit more of a penalty per dollar spent than the last few seasons. That’s not as big of a deal as the new rules about the second apron above the tax line, though. Should they be in the vicinity of the tax line after re-signing Lopez and Middleton, they’ll have to be mindful of that $182.5m figure. Go over it and they face some punitive measures per the new CBA: they’d lose the ability to trade away their most distant first-round pick, sign buyout players, or receive more salary than they send out in a trade. It’s essentially a hard cap and should definitely be avoided.

To fill the six roster spots needed to get up to the NBA’s minimum, they should be able to stay under this figure, though. For one, a good wrinkle for teams in the new CBA is the new exception for second-round picks. Previously, teams would have to use part of their MLE to sign these rookies, but now they can be signed the same way a first-round pick would be with the rookie-scale exception, and for up to four years too. If Livingston gets a standard contract—far from given as the last pick in the draft—they have five roster spots left and might have anywhere between $14–20m beneath the second apron. That’s enough space to use all of the TPMLE, sign multiple veteran minimums, and have wiggle room to take back more salary in a trade.

Could the Bucks extend any of their players already under contract?

Technically, Crowder and Lopez are eligible for veteran extensions (which come with their own set of rules) until tomorrow, when their contracts officially expire. While the Bucks can negotiate with both guys before the June 30th, 5pm “opening” of free agency since they’re their own free agents, it seems unlikely either will extend before testing the market, even if it’s only for ostensibly a few minutes. Grayson Allen is also eligible for an extension as he goes into the last year of his contract.

These guys aren’t the main reason I’m bringing extensions up, though. While Giannis is under his supermax contract for two more seasons plus a 2025–26 player option at a total of $146.4m, he too becomes eligible for an extension this offseason, specifically between September and the start of the regular season. He can tack on two years and $113.4m to keep him in Milwaukee through 2027–28 when he’ll turn 33 years old. Voices around the league don’t think he’ll accept it when the Bucks offer it—and they certainly will do so when able—but now is a bit too early to fret since he’ll become extension eligible again the following offseason.

What do the Bucks have to trade?

Last offseason, there was a lot more we could rule out from this discussion. Now, however, in the wake of a very disappointing playoff outcome, everything aside from Giannis Antetokounmpo should be on the table. On the bright side, that means Milwaukee’s collection of assets looks a lot better than it did this time last year or even at the deadline. While they’re not under contract yet, I’ll even include the new rookies, but not two-way signee Omari Moore (just not realistic). A first-round pick that was off-limits prior to last week’s draft is now available too. As per usual, I’ll rank their assets in order of how I think trade partners would value them:

  1. Jrue Holiday at $36.9m plus a $39.4m player option for 2024–25
  2. Marjon Beauchamp at $2.6m with up to two more years and $7.5m left on his rookie-scale contract
  3. 2029 first-round pick*
  4. 2030 first-round pick*
  5. 2028 first-round pick swap
  6. Grayson Allen and his $8.9m expiring contract
  7. Pat Connaughton at $9.4m with two years and $18.9m left on his contract (2025–26 player option)
  8. Bobby Portis at $11.7m with two years and $26m left on his contract (2025–26 player option)
  9. 2024 second-round pick from Portland
  10. 2027 second-round pick
  11. Andre Jackson Jr. (unsigned)
  12. Chris Livingston (unsigned)

*if either of these is traded, the other becomes a pick swap per the NBA’s Stepien rule

Holiday’s name has been bandied about by fans on Twitter and Brew Hoop’s comments for weeks as the outgoing piece in a blockbuster deal. He pretty much would have had to have been in an offer for Bradley Beal. Mame any other star who could be on the market in the weeks ahead and Holiday would probably be involved, even if the salary numbers don’t quite match up at first glance. Should the Bucks trade him, though? Last week’s poll showed that 65% of Bucks fans were opposed to it, but 25% said they’d do it for a star. I’d tend to agree with the majority; while I’m open to trading him for an upgrade in the backcourt, the players that are potentially available who I’d accept in return for him are countable on one hand, assuming Middleton and Lopez stay.

Then there are the three mid-tier salaries to Portis, Allen, and Connaughton. These are good assets; none of them are overly cumbersome from a long-term perspective and any or all could be aggregated together—at least this offseason—in a trade. That results in combinations from $18.3m to $30.1m, which puts you in the range of higher-priced, higher-caliber contributors. Acquiring teams will certainly prefer Allen and his expiring salary over the two years plus a player option left on the deals of both Connaughton and Portis. If packaged with draft assets, especially a future first, I could see any one of this trio bringing back someone who would be an upgrade.

How much of an upgrade, though? And if it’s a two-for-one or even three-for-one deal, then the Bucks will have additional empty space on their roster and limited ways to address it. All this is to say that these three are quality trade candidates in their own right, but moving on from more than one could create depth issues. 65% of respondents in our poll opposed trading Portis, but only small numbers preferred keeping Allen and Connaughton when given a choice between the mid-tier trio and Beauchamp.

Finally, we have the youngsters. The new rookies probably stay, but you never know. Beauchamp is the young trade piece any team would request in a deal for higher-tier talent, but as Milwaukee’s most recent first-round pick coming off a rookie year where he showed flashes, that means he’s worth holding onto as well. To wit, 47% of fans said he shouldn’t be dealt. This is a pivotal year for his Bucks’ tenure; should he see playing time under Griffin and really pop, he’s worth holding onto, if not to develop further, but as a trade piece. If he doesn’t show growth or even worse, doesn’t establish himself as an NBA player, then his trade value sinks. It’s possible that he may now be at his highest value, but if that ends up being true, he was probably never going to help the team win. He shouldn’t be untouchable.

What kind of players should the Bucks target in free agency or trades?

This was a lot easier to answer when the Bucks had an established system under Mike Budenholzer. We knew the type of players that worked well within his scheme and/or alongside Giannis. But now, with a rookie head coach coming in, it’s hazier than Milwaukee’s smoky air. We don’t know what Adrian Griffin values in his system, which will determine the personnel the Bucks acquire. Recall in 2018 when they signed Lopez despite having ample depth at center. Horst and Bud identified him as a fit with the drop zone, Let It Fly identity of the team, and it worked out marvelously.

If last week’s draft is any indication, Griffin and Horst aren’t as concerned with shooting in their young players but rather with other skills, most notably playmaking. They also seem to be particularly focused on athleticism and length, though perhaps not as long as the Tube Men days of yore. I don’t know how much that philosophy will carry over when it comes to established NBA players, but maybe there’s a little something we can glean from the breadcrumbs of Griffin’s short tenure. While this offseason presents far from a clean slate, there’s more opportunity for us to get creative here since the roster is shaping more around returning players than a specific scheme.

Let’s assume the Core Four of Giannis, Middleton, Holiday, and Lopez remains intact. What do the Bucks need to help them get back to the NBA Finals? Here are a few ideas, in no particular order:

  • Playmaking, particularly from the backcourt: Holiday’s limitations were obvious last year
  • Size and athleticism on defense: they need a more viable option than Holiday on star wings
  • Shot creation, including free throws: not enough of it aside from Giannis and Middleton
  • Perimeter shooting: you can never have enough in today’s NBA
  • Youth: even if aging vets like Ingles and Matthews leave, the roster still skews old

Perhaps with a new (for the most part) coaching staff, the Bucks’ consistent offensive issues in the halfcourt ameliorate, somewhat checking the playmaking and shot creation boxes above with existing players. Maybe they help Beauchamp and Giannis become better shooters, and Carter a better facilitator. Leonard or Crowder could come back and rejuvenate their careers. I’m not at all willing to bank on any one of those possibilities happening, though.

Trade Targets

Here are a variety of players the Bucks could explore trading for and would fill multiple needs. They run the gamut from high-level role player to superstar, so yes, Damian Lillard is mentioned. As I always state in these pieces, note that the outgoing trade package from Milwaukee is only to approximate the value of the player they’d get in return, plus the salaries they’d be required to send out by NBA rules. I’m not necessarily saying that the acquiring team—Portland, for example—would take all of the assets listed because the deal could be expanded to three or four teams, and predicting other participants is beyond the scope of this exercise.


Player Age Team Fit 2023–24 Salary Seasons Remaining Possible Outgoing Salary Possible Outgoing Picks
Player Age Team Fit 2023–24 Salary Seasons Remaining Possible Outgoing Salary Possible Outgoing Picks
Alec Burks 31 Detroit Playmaking wing $10.4m 1 Allen
Alex Caruso 29 Chicago Defensive guard $9.4m 2 Any of Allen, Connaughton, or Portis Both seconds or a first
Anfernee Simons 24 Portland Shot-creating PG $24.1m 3 Beauchamp + Allen and/or Portis Multiple firsts/swaps/seconds
Cole Anthony 23 Orlando Shot-creating PG $5.5m 1 Allen Both seconds
Collin Sexton 24 Utah Shot-creating PG $17.3m 3 Beauchamp + Allen and/or Portis Multiple firsts/swaps/seconds
Damian Lillard 33 Portland Shot-creating PG $45.6m 4 Allen + Beauchamp + Holiday + Connaughton and/or Portis Multiple firsts/swaps/seconds
De'Andre Hunter 25 Atlanta 3 & D wing $20.0m 4 Allen + Beauchamp + Portis Multiple firsts/swaps/seconds
Delon Wright 31 Washington Versatile combo guard $8.1m 1 Any of Allen, Connaughton, or Portis One second
DeMar DeRozan 33 Chicago Shot-creating wing $28.6m 1 Holiday
Dorian Finney Smith 30 Brooklyn Defensive wing $13.9m 3 Portis Both seconds
Gary Harris 28 Orlando 3 & D wing $13.0m 1 Beauchamp + Allen or Connaughton One second
Jae'Sean Tate 27 Houston Versatile wing $6.5m 2 Allen Both seconds
Kenrich Williams 28 Oklahoma City Versatile wing $6.1m 4 Allen One first
KJ Martin 22 Houston Versatile wing $1.9m 1 Allen Both seconds
Kevin Porter Jr. 23 Houston Playmaking wing $15.8m 4 Beauchamp + Portis Both seconds or a first
Larry Nance Jr. 30 New Orleans Versatile big $10.3m 2 Allen Both seconds
Maxi Kleber 31 Dallas 3 & D big $11.0m 3 Allen
Monte Morris 28 Washington Playmaking PG $9.8m 1 Any of Allen, Connaughton, or Portis Both seconds or a first
Norman Powell 30 LA Clippers 3 & D guard $18.0m 3 Allen + Portis Both seconds
Reggie Bullock 32 Dallas 3 & D wing $10.4m 1 Allen
T.J. McConnell 31 Indiana Versatile PG $8.7m 2 Any of Allen, Connaughton, or Portis One second
Taurean Prince 29 Minnesota Catch & shoot forward $7.4m 1 Allen
Terry Rozier 29 Charlotte Shot-creating PG $23.2m 3 Allen + Portis Both seconds or a first
Tyus Jones 27 Washington Playmaking PG $14.0m 1 Portis; Allen + Connaughton Both seconds

A word about Damian Lillard: if (and this is a big if) he wanted to leave Portland and come to Milwaukee—he and Giannis have talked or tweeted about teaming up for years—they’ll owe him $58.5m in 2025–26 before he has a 2026–27 player option worth a staggering $63.2m. That’s not to say it wouldn’t be worth it to trade everything necessary to get Dame, at least in the short term. He’s one of the league’s all-time greats and is coming off a career year. The injury problems and age—he’ll be 36 when he decides on that option—give me some pause, but you wouldn’t have to twist my arm at all.

Alex suggested the Holiday-DeRozan swap in May, and I think that could be either a straight-up swap or even see a pick coming back Milwaukee’s way. Outside the All-Stars, the oft-injured Hunter is yet again popping up in trade rumors but would represent a great infusion of young talent on the wing. Exciting young scorers Simons and Sexton would be welcome additions to the backcourt as playmakers and creators, though I’m not sure how gettable they are and they may demand more draft capital than the Bucks can offer. Rozier could provide similar output at a lesser cost, and getting Scary Terry in Milwaukee would make for a good story.

All those trades are pretty sexy, but I would personally be very pleased to acquire any of Washington’s guards. After their pre-draft trade for Jones, they’re stacked with three of the league’s best backup point guards. Jones and Morris are both playmaking savants who rank near the top of the league in assist-to-turnover ratio every season, while Wright works well on- or off-ball and has some great defensive chops. The latest from Yahoo’s Jake Fischer suggests that the Wizards are seeking draft assets in return for Morris and/or Wright. If I’m Horst, I’m calling up their new front office to help alleviate their backcourt glut.

Free Agent Targets

Finally, here are some possibilities for how the Bucks could use their exceptions, which again are the $5m TPMLE and the veteran minimum. A few of these guys—Dennis Smith Jr., Shake Milton, and Troy Brown Jr. jump out at me—could be outstanding value if they accept the TPMLE and could be in line for big roles with a contending team. The vets are a mixed bag and none of them excite me, but how often do minimum free agents ever excite anyone? Well, one of the candidates was also profiled by Alex last month, so there’s one!

Unrestricted Free Agents

TPMLE Targets Age Fit Vet Minimum Targets Age Fit
TPMLE Targets Age Fit Vet Minimum Targets Age Fit
Cory Joseph 32 Playmaking PG Alex Len 30 Big man depth
Dennis Schröder 30 Shot-creating PG Chimeze Metu 26 Big man depth
Dennis Smith Jr. 26 Playmaking PG Damion Lee 31 Catch & shoot guard
Derrick Jones Jr. 26 Defensive wing JaMychal Green 33 Catch & shoot forward
Georges Niang 30 Catch & shoot forward Juan Toscando-Anderson 30 Defensive wing
Hamidou Diallo 25 Athletic wing Mo Harkless 30 Defensive wing
Jalen McDaniels 25 Defensive forward Oshae Brissett 25 3 & D wing
Javonte Green 30 Defensive wing Rodney McGruder 32 Catch & shoot guard
Josh Okogie 25 Defensive wing Stanley Johnson 27 Defensive wing
Josh Richardson 30 3 & D wing Trey Lyles 27 Catch & shoot forward
Justin Holiday 34 3 & D wing
Justise Winslow 27 Playmaking wing
Kendrick Nunn 28 Shot-creating guard
Seth Curry 33 Shot-creating guard
Shake Milton 27 Versatile combo guard
T.J. Warren 30 Catch & shoot wing
Troy Brown Jr. 24 Catch & shoot wing
Yuta Watanabe 29 Catch & shoot wing

Some of the above likely won’t command the entirety of the TPMLE as Ingles did last summer, so it could be possible to sign multiple names. None of them profile to be starters on Milwaukee unless a more major move occurs, but most of them could slot in as the third or fourth man off the bench. The minimum targets would almost all be depth pieces. Guys like Robin Lopez (wouldn’t that be fun?) and Derrick Rose (that wouldn’t be as fun) could come to ring chase too but probably would be best used in garbage time. I’d rather the rookies get those minutes anyway.

As with previous offseasons, we’ll probably have the answers to the Bucks’ biggest offseason questions by 5:30pm Central, if not sooner. Other smaller transactions will trickle in as we move deeper into the summer, and you can’t rule out a big trade at any point in July. But since Horst hasn’t dealt from the roster yet and most offseason trades happen before the draft, I’ll be surprised if we see anything after July 7th or so.

Thanks for reading my gigantic biannual compendium. What do you think of the trade candidate and free agent lists? Any hard passes or “yes please”s in there? Anyone who I didn’t consider—like I omitted Ingles last offseason—that might be a fit? Let me know, and definitely feel free to propose your own moves below in the comments.

All numbers based on a $136m salary cap and $165m luxury tax line, per the league’s most recent projection.

Contract and pick info from RealGM, Hoops Rumors, HoopsHype, Spotrac, and Larry Coon’s CBA FAQ. Salary-matching courtesy of Fanspo’s Trade Machine & Cap Manager.