The Milwaukee Bucks had a phenomenal 2018-2019 NBA season. On top of having the NBA’s best regular season record (60-22), the Bucks have a front-runner MVP candidate (Giannis Antetokounmpo), Coach of The Year candidate (Mike Budenholzer), Defensive Player of The Year candidate (Giannis Antetokounmpo), and Executive of The Year candidate (Jon Horst). Prior to this postseason, they hadn’t won a playoff series since 2001. Even though they fell two games short of an NBA Finals appearance, Bucks fans have a reason to be excited about the bright future that the franchise has. That being said, the 2019 off-season is going to be a busy one for the Bucks’ front office. Three of the Bucks five starters will be free agents.
First reported by ESPN Insider Adrian Wojnarowski, Khris Middleton opted out of his $13 million player option (as expected), making him an unrestricted free-agent. Middleton is reportedly expecting to receive near a max contract offer sheet, coming off of an All-Star season. Middleton averaged 18.3 PPG, 6.0 RPG, and 4.3 APG on 52% shooting. In addition to Middleton, Bucks guard Malcolm Brogdon is a restricted free-agent. Brogdon is coming off of a career year, becoming the eighth player in NBA history to post a 50/40/90 stat-line (50% shooting, 40% three-point shooting, 90% free-throw shooting). Brogdon is expected to receive at least a three-year deal worth $17-20 million per year contract. A couple of teams that are expected to be interested in Brogdon are the Dallas Mavericks and Chicago Bulls. The third of three Bucks free-agent starters is Brook Lopez. Lopez came off of a record-breaking year, making 187 3-pointers (most by a 7-footer in NBA single-season history). Lopez took a substantial pay-cut for the 2018-2019 NBA season, signing a one-year $3.3 million deal with the Bucks.
So realistically, can the Bucks retain these three key players and run it back in the 2019-2020 season? The answer is yes.
Khris Middleton (UFA)
Players that have been in the NBA for at least seven seasons are eligible to earn up to 30% of the salary cap if signed to a max contract. The league’s salary cap for the 2019-2020 season is set at $109 million. That makes Middleton’s potential first year salary to come out to $32.7 million. Now, initially when you see this number, you think “Is Khris Middleton worth all that money?” There is really no correct answer to that question. Sure, 18.3 PPG might not come off as “max player” production, but that is what the NBA free-agent market has him valued at. This may not necessarily sit well with Bucks fans, but because of Bird rights, it doesn’t really hurt their salary cap (for now). Still, the Bucks have to decide if Khris Middleton is indeed their second “star”, or if the search for Giannis’ sidekick will have to continue.
My prediction: Five-year $190 million max contract w/ Bucks.
Malcolm Brogdon (RFA)
Malcolm Brogdon is as fundamentally sound as they come. The 26 year-old guard from Virginia is known as “The President” to Bucks fans in Milwaukee. His calm, smooth demeanor seems to catch the heart of many Bucks fans. Brogdon had a fantastic season production-wise, finishing leading the league in free-throw percentage (yes, even over Steph Curry). His leadership on and off the court has been a huge part of the success that the Bucks had this season. Brogdon had a minor plantar fascia tear in his right foot late in the 2018-2019 season, causing him to miss two months. When he returned from his injury, he was a big part of the Bucks’ playoff run. Will the Bucks match any offer, or will Brogdon be in a new uniform come October?
My prediction: Four-year, $84 million contract with the Milwaukee Bucks.
Brook Lopez (UFA)
Brook Lopez was arguably the steal of the 2018 free-agency class. Lopez signed a one-year, $3 million contract with the Bucks last summer. Initially, it was looked at as a head-scratcher around the league. But it really was a match made in heaven. Lopez, who has made his fair share of money in his NBA career, was clearly willing to take a pay-cut in order to play for a contender. Lopez transformed his game in the 2016-2017 season with the Brooklyn Nets. Prior to that season, he only attempted 31 three-pointers (only making three). In the 2016-2017 season, he attempted 387 (making 112). Two seasons later, he made a career best 184 3-pointers for a Bucks team that averaged 38 3PA per game. It’s unclear what kind of money Lopez will be demanding this off-season, but the Bucks can’t expect him to take another aggressive pay-cut. With how successful they were both offensively and defensively with Lopez on the floor, you should expect the Bucks to do what they need to in order to keep him around.
My prediction: Three-year, $33 million contract w/ the Milwaukee Bucks.
In addition to these three starters, the Bucks have some decisions to make off the bench, too. George Hill and Nikola Mirotic are both unrestricted free-agents. Hill was acquired mid-season from the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for John Henson and Matthew Dellavedova. If Hill is waived prior to July 1, he is only owed $1 million. Hill was a big part of the success the Bucks had in the post-season showdown with the Boston Celtics. As of now, the Bucks projected cap space is roughly $17 million. Unless the Bucks are willing to pay excessive dollars in the luxury tax (a fraction of every dollar you go over the salary cap), they are going to be forced to let one of the two walk. George Hill may be of more value to the Bucks, with the potential of young Bucks’ forward D.J. Wilson (who would realistically replace the minutes of Mirotic).
My prediction: Hill: two-year, $18 million contract w/ Bucks.
All in all, the Bucks are in pretty good position to retain most of the pieces to contend for another Eastern Conference Finals appearance. We all know that once the first domino falls in free-agency, there is a lot of different scenarios that can happen. The Bucks could very well bring everybody back, or very well only retain one or two of the players above. One thing for certain is that they have Giannis Antetokounmpo. As long as they have him on their side, they will always be contenders. If they do miss out on key pieces this off-season and it ends up hurting them, they are putting at risk the opportunity for Giannis to be a Milwaukee Buck for years to come. No pressure, Jon Horst and company.
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