NBA AM: The Milwaukee Bucks’ Master Plan
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What Is Milwaukee Up To?: The Milwaukee Bucks were active this summer, and while Bucks fans likely hoped for bigger, splashier moves, in reality the team not only got better, but the team got deeper today and tomorrow.
If you look at the side by side additions and subtractions, the Bucks might have lost a step in losing an impact scorer like Monta Ellis, but the rest of the swaps are for the most part upgrades, especially when you factor in the stud potential of their draft additions.
In talking with sources close to the Bucks this summer there are two key factors guiding the Bucks thinking.
The first is internal growth. The Bucks hired long-time NBA trainer Josh Oppenheimer, who will be tasked with developing the Bucks young guys, this includes the new rookies like Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The other is getting the existing guys they have playing back to form. This includes Ersan Ilyasova, who took a small step backwards last year amidst all the chaos and turmoil. The Bucks genuinely feel like Ilyasova is capable of a big leap this year and a lot of their thought process this summer was about getting him more opportunities and surrounding him with more complimentary players.
The big unknown for the Bucks is the future of their point guard position, and while the Bucks say they’d like to get a new deal done with restricted free agent Brandon Jennings, neither side seems to be closing in on an agreement.
The Bucks did issue an offer sheet to Hawks guard Jeff Teague, but Atlanta matched that offer. Bucks sources said the Teague deal was a genuine attempt at securing a guard they really felt fit the team, but it is also clear that Teague at $8 million per season was a big motivator in that offer.
Word is that Brandon Jennings’ camp is seeking a deal in the neighborhood of what Jennings’s peers like Stephen Curry, Ty Lawson and Jrue Holiday got last summer, which would be in the $11 to $12 million range and that seems to be a number Milwaukee is unwilling to entertain.
Bucks sources were adamant that re-signing Jennings was something they were very open to doing, but it has to be at a price that works for them.
Milwaukee issued Jennings a $4.53 million Qualifying Offer to make him a restricted free agent, so they can match anything Jennings is offered by another team.
As Eric Pincus pointed out in his weekly Salary Cap Update yesterday, only the Philadelphia 76ers have any meaningful cap space. The 76ers are sitting on $16.1 million in possible space; Milwaukee is next at just under $8 million, with no other team being able to offer more than an exception-based deal to Jennings, giving Milwaukee all kinds of leverage.
Sources close to the process say Jennings has strongly considered picking up his Qualifying Offer and hitting unrestricted free agency next year.
If Jennings goes the “pick up the option” route he effectively gains a no-trade clause, as the Collective Bargaining Agreement does not allow for his Bird rights to be transferred if he picks up the option year, which gives him the right to veto any trade.
The Bucks and Jennings continue to talk about a deal, but it’s clear that Milwaukee is not overly interested in a $48-$50 million deal for Jennings and that could create an immovable impasse.
The Bucks could still do a sign-and-trade deal for Jennings, but with no real starting point guard options on the roster the Bucks may have the best guard they can get this year on the roster in Jennings. It’s never wise to have a player on the roster that’s a captive, especially one auditioning of other teams, so Milwaukee may have to make a deal one way or the other.
On the flip-side, the Bucks have started extension talks with Larry Sanders. Milwaukee has until October 31 to reach a deal with Sanders or he’ll hit free agency next summer. Both sides are saying all the right things and there does seem to be a better than average chance that a deal to lockup Sanders is reached this off-season; Milwaukee views him as a key and core part of their future.
We Want To Know:
Is 2014 All It’s Cracked Up To Be?: There has been a lot of talk about the depth and value of the projected 2014 NBA Draft class, which could be one of the deepest drafts in recent history in terms of a star caliber players.
There are also a few teams looking at the 2014 NBA Free Agent Class in much the same way.
The problem with the 2014 Free agent class is that there is a sense that players like Miami’s LeBron James and New York’s Carmelo Anthony are going to opt-out of their deals and become obtainable players.
That’s just not as likely as some would have you believe.
Now admittedly James and Anthony do have the options to hit free agency, but they both also have options in 2015 too. Anthony’s contract expires in 2015, while James has a player option.
A number of teams want to be in a position to lure one or both away from their existing situations, but is either player truly unhappy with where they are, enough to believe they are picking up and bolting?
On the James front, the prevailing thought is that he is committed to Miami as long as Dwyane Wade is. Given that both are coming off a second championship in three years together, running into free agency only happens if Wade retires, which is highly unlikely, or if the wheels fall off in Miami so badly that there is no future. Neither seems likely this year, in fact Miami is still considered by most to be the front runner in the East. Getting knocked off early in the playoffs or a catastrophic injury might change the tune, but most people around the situation in Miami see James as being on the roster in Miami in 2014, it’s 2015 that becomes worrisome, mainly because of Wade’s precarious future due to injury concerns.
On the Anthony front, there is a chance he looks at greener pastures in 2014, but sources close to the process say the Knicks have already let Anthony know that their books will be basically clear in 2015 and he can pick his teammates much as Wade did in Miami.
With the New York market behind him and the almost unlimited checkbook of the Knicks, Anthony will have a lot of options in 2015 and while teams like the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers might be tempting in 2014, Anthony has a lot of influence in New York and they are willing to let him build his own team in NYC in 2015.
If James and Anthony stay where they are next summer, the free agent class of 2014 takes a huge step backwards, mainly because the next tier of available guys could be the likes of Chris Bosh, Rudy Gay and potentially Brandon Jennings; none of those looks to be the franchise changers that the Lakers or the Bulls were banking on.
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