Following his return from another season-ending knee injury, Jabari Parker flashed moments of brilliance for the Milwaukee Bucks, but they weren’t consistent enough to guarantee anything regarding his future.
Parker is set to hit restricted free agency this summer, which gives Milwaukee a leg up in bringing him back as they can match any offer the Duke product were to sign.
But are they an absolute lock to match?
It probably depends on the size of the offer sheet Parker signs. The Bucks would likely scoff at matching a max contract, but something along the lines of a two-year, $20 million agreement would make their decision a bit less difficult.
In 2017-18, Parker put up decent numbers – 12.6 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.0 three-pointers nightly on healthy 48.2/38.3/74.1 shooting splits – but they were of the empty variety. During the small forward’s time on the floor in the regular season, Milwaukee was actually outscored by 4.3 points per 100 possessions.
And in the playoffs, that number only got worse; the Bucks boasted an ugly -8.3 net rating in Parker’s 167 minutes of postseason action.
Sure, some of that may have to do with the fact that Milwaukee had a lame-duck head coach in Joe Prunty, a leftover from Jason Kidd’s staff who many expect will be replaced now that the team’s season is over.
Could a more able leader have gotten more out of Parker this year? It’s possible.
Either way, with his injury history (Parker has only been able to suit up in 183 of a possible 328 contests in his four seasons as a professional), lack of efficiency and non-existent defensive prowess, it’s hard to see Parker landing a big-time contract offer this offseason – especially the kind a player at his age (23) and with his level of potential would usually expect to receive.
We break down Parker’s likeliest landing spots.
Two factors could make a Chicago Bulls union with Parker plausible.
For one, Parker’s hometown is Chicago, and to this day, it’s a place he still holds near and dear to his heart. In 2016, Parker penned an emotional article for the Players’ Tribune about the city, showing just how much love he has for the place where he was born and raised.
Additionally, the Chicago native is still in a part of his career that makes his fit within the Bulls’ current timeline sensical. After all, they’re a year removed from hitting the reset button and starting their rebuild, while Parker’s still a few years away from hitting his prime.
At the start of 2017-18, the Bulls’ average age was 24.5 years old. Parker will be about one year younger than that by the time the 2018-19 season rolls around.
What’s more, though Chicago is set up decently well for the future with ball-handlers (Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine) and big men (Lauri Markkanen and Bobby Portis), their core still lacks a true wing like Parker.
Ultimately, the need is there, the fit makes sense and bringing a hometown hero back could help the Bulls’ front office get fans to buy into the rebuild.
As far as money goes, only three teams are projected to have more cap space than Chicago this offseason; thus, they’ll likely be willing to pay above market value for Parker’s services.
A three-year, $36 million deal with a player option on Year-3 would probably be enough to let this union come to fruition.
The Utah Jazz are pretty much solidified at the 3-spot for the foreseeable after signing the underrated Joe Ingles to a four-year, $52 million contract in the summer of 2017.
However, at times, it’s apparent that the Jazz lack one more scorer capable of attacking in isolation. Donovan Mitchell has done an outstanding job in that capacity in his rookie season. But apart from the Louisville product, Utah doesn’t really have anyone else who can be called upon to go one-on-one when they need a bucket.
That’s where a player like Parker could come into the picture.
Although over the past two campaigns Parker hasn’t been very efficient as an isolation scorer (he placed in the 34th percentile in 2016-17 in one-on-one situations, and the 23rd percentile in 2017-18, per Synergy Sports) one of the reasons he was drafted second overall in the 2014 draft was thanks to his abilities as a point-producing weapon.
Perhaps playing under a head coach like Quin Snyder, who’s quickly developing quite the impressive resume, could help Parker begin to reach his potential.
Financially, a union between Utah and Parker depends on what the Jazz decide to do with two of their own impending free agents: Derrick Favors and Dante Exum.
Neither should require huge deals to re-sign, but combined, they could take Utah from the $83.7 million they currently owe in salaries for 2018-19 to near the projected salary cap of $101 million.
At that point, the Jazz would only have the standard mid-level exception to offer Parker, worth roughly $8.6 million. Would that be enough to fend the Bucks away from matching the offer? Probably not.
But what if Utah lets Favors walk?
The Jazz would still bring back Jonas Jerebko and Jae Crowder next year, two wings with the ability to man the 4-spot next to All-NBA center Rudy Gobert. Letting Favors sign with another team would open up the room to make a legit run at a player like Parker, who is versatile enough to play small or power forward, and whose scoring could help Utah improve upon their 15th-ranked offense from last regular season.
Not to mention, Parker being a member of the LDS Church only makes a potential deal between the small forward and the team located in the heavily Mormon state all the more logical.
A fully guaranteed two-year, $22 million deal between Parker and Utah, provided Favors walks, is possible, and could be rich enough to make the Bucks decline matching.
A team with a decent core but poor depth, the Detroit Pistons would also make some sense as a potential Parker landing spot.
Of course, due to Blake Griffin’s acquisition (due $31.9 million in 2018-19) and the contracts of Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson ($25.4 million owed to the big man in 2018-19, and $17 million to the point guard), Detroit is set to be about $12.6 million over the salary cap next season. This means that the only way Detroit can sign Parker would be to the standard mid-level exception.
With Stanley Johnson’s development seemingly stuck in the mud – the small forward out of Arizona is shooting 37 percent as a professional, and converted on a career-low 28.6 of his three-point attempts last season – the Pistons could use help on the wing and Parker could provide it.
Parker has nailed 37.1 percent of his threes over the past two seasons, meaning he should be able to space the floor around Jackson-Drummond pick-and-rolls and Griffin high-post touches.
Plus, he’s still pretty young; getting hard capped (something that occurs whenever a team uses its standard mid-level exception, which prevents them from crossing into the luxury tax) would be a better investment on a 23-year-old with upside than a 30-year-old journeyman.
To keep the Bucks from matching on Parker, Detroit may have to go a bit longer on their contract offer. Something like a three-year, $25.8 million offer with a player option on Year-3 would make sense (but Milwaukee may still match).
Thanks to ownership of his Bird Rights (meaning Milwaukee can go over the cap to re-sign its forward) and the fact he’s set to hit restricted free agency, the likeliest possible outcome to Parker’s spell on the “open” market is a return to the Bucks.
His most recent comeback from injury didn’t go all that well, as Milwaukee was statistically a better team with Parker on the bench.
Nevertheless, the 6-foot-8 wing is just one season removed from averaging 20.1 points and 6.2 rebounds nightly over 51 contests, so the potential for Parker to be a reliable secondary option on offense is still there.
Under a more creative head coach, there’s a chance he and Giannis Antetokounmpo could blossom into the fearsome one-two punch many hoped they’d become. What’s more, with the sense of security that comes from a long-term contract, Parker may be able to relax and just play ball for the first time in a long while.
That’s why, despite things not going as planned for Parker thus far in his career, a return to Milwaukee for the Chicago native cannot be ruled out.
Not only is he still young enough to improve, but he’ll also likely be inexpensive for the Bucks to re-sign considering the lack of cap space there will be around the Association this summer.
A cheap investment on a player with Parker’s still-existent upside, whom the team selected No. 2 overall just four years ago, would be smart business by Milwaukee.
You can find Frank Urbina on Twitter @frankurbina_.
HoopsHype’s Alberto de Roa contributed to this article.