Bucks offseason preview: Three challenges facing Milwaukee going forward

Bucks offseason preview: Three challenges facing Milwaukee going forward

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Bucks offseason preview: Three challenges facing Milwaukee going forward

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The Milwaukee Bucks are NBA champions for the first time 50 years. This team will likely remain a contender going forward, especially with Giannis Antetokounmpo locked in for five more seasons… but it will still be challenging getting back to the Finals assuming good health to the rest of the top of the Eastern Conference.

The botched Bogdan Bogdanovic sign-and-trade would’ve dwelled over the franchise had they not won. At the same time, maybe it was better things worked out this way because the hard cap issues wouldn’t have allowed them to sign Bryn Forbes and Bobby Portis. They also wouldn’t have been able to use the mid-level exception, meaning they would’ve had difficulties matching salaries for PJ Tucker in a trade while remaining under the hard cap.

Head coach Mike Budenholzer made an impressive 180 going from potentially not being with the team anymore to likely locking himself in for the foreseeable future. Milwaukee will still be facing challenges improving this roster against age-related regression with little-to-no flexibility going forward.

Lack of flexibility

Brook Lopez

When Giannis Antetokounmpo signed his supermax, the decision was a no-brainer for the Bucks: extend him and worry about the rest of the roster later. But having any player earning $40 million-plus is going to impact what the rest of the roster looks like. To make things more complicated, Khris Middleton is also owed an average of $38 million over the next three seasons while Jrue Holiday will earn an average of $34 million on his base salary.

It goes without saying that Milwaukee is going to be a luxury taxpayer over the foreseeable future thanks largely to these players. They are already projected to be over the luxury tax next season with just 10 players on the roster. If they still have their expensive trio two years from now, they will get into the repeater tax, growing their tax bill exponentially starting in 2023-24. While this is way out in the future, this could provide a rough window of contention remaining for this core to contend. If things fall apart by then, ownership could decide to break up the core to avoid the repeater tax.

After those three players, their next biggest salary is Brook Lopez, who is set to earn $13.2 and $13.9 million over the next two seasons. Their next biggest salary is Pat Connaughton averaging $5.5 million over the next two seasons. This makes Lopez their most tradeable salary, but as long as he continues this level of production, there’s no reason for Milwaukee to trade him.

Milwaukee’s lack of mid-tier salaries in the $10-20 million range could bode well for Donte Divincenzo this offseason. He is extension-eligible and there’s a good chance the Bucks give him a salary in that range, not just because of his production but also because they need more big salaries for potential trades down the line. While it would further increase Milwaukee’s luxury tax bill, this is a route they can take to increase future trade flexibility.

Limitations to re-sign top free agents

Bobby Portis, Milwaukee Bucks

As mentioned earlier, not acquiring Bogdanovic likely allowed the Bucks to sign Forbes and Portis. Forbes got a portion of the mid-level exception while Portis got the bi-annual exception, both salaries that wouldn’t have been able to fit within the hard cap along with Bogdanovic. Budenholzer did what he does best and got the most out of these players, which was a very big development considering how much depth the Bucks lost from last season.

Now they face the prospect of losing one or both of these players and having to strike gold in the bargain bin again. Forbes and Portis have player options worth $2.5 million and $3.8 million, respectively, that they will likely decline. The most Milwaukee can offer Forbes is his $2.8 million Non Bird amount, which he should outearn. Portis’ Non Bird amount is $4.3 million, which he should also outearn.

The Bucks may have to offer the $5.9 million taxpayer mid-level exception (T-MLE) to one of these players to keep them. Portis could be prioritized but he could get offers north of the T-MLE after his performance in the latter rounds of the playoffs. Meanwhile, Forbes could be prioritized due to his three-point specialty, but any team with cap space could easily outbid the T-MLE. Perhaps it will be enough for him to return on a short-term deal to prove that his 45 percent clip from three wasn’t just an outlier, allowing him to return to the open market soon to earn more.

Milwaukee has PJ Tucker’s full Bird rights so they won’t have any issues re-signing him. Like DiVincenzo, Tucker could benefit from the Bucks’ lack of tradeable salaries. What’s also helping him is that the Bucks have no means of replacing his salary slot if he doesn’t return. He reportedly declined two-year, $17 million extension with Houston that was only $10 million guaranteed. Tucker earning around the same amount of money annually as he’s been earning recently is reasonable on a short-term deal.

Projecting their luxury tax bill for next season

PJ Tucker, Milwaukee Bucks

Retaining Tucker and utilizing the taxpayer mid-level exception will be costly. For example. Tucker earning an $8 million salary in 2021-22 on top of the current Bucks’ roster would add an additional $15 million to their luxury tax bill. They would already be looking at close to a $24 million luxury tax bill with 11 players, including the 31st-overall-pick on a minimum salary.

If the Bucks utilize the $5.9 million taxpayer mid-level exception on top of that, potentially on one of Forbes or Portis, their luxury tax bill would project at just over $41 million. This is what Milwaukee’s ownership signed up for when they extended Antetokounmpo and Holiday. After winning the title, now is the time to pay the luxury tax. Accountability must be held on ownership going forward if they decide to hold back on spending.

2021-22 SALARY SITUATION

Guaranteed salaries: $130,725,705

Non-guaranteed salaries: $4,553,943

Dead money: $5,034,894

Total salary: 140,314,540

Luxury tax space: $4,075,764 over the luxury tax

Exceptions:

Taxpayer Mid-level: $5,890,000

DJ Augustin trade exception: $4,886,515

Torrey Craig trade exception: $1,620,564

Giannis Antetokounmpo

2021-22 salary: $39,344,900 (based on 35 percent of $112.4 million salary cap)

Remaining salary guaranteed: $228,200,420 through 2025-26

Additional notes: Eligible to be traded on the one-year anniversary of signing the supermax.

Has a player option for 2025-26.

Khris Middleton

Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks

2021-22 salary: $35,500,000

Remaining salary guaranteed: $111,844,828 through 2023-24

Additional notes: Has a player option for 2023-24.

Jrue Holiday

Jrue Holiday, Milwaukee Bucks

2021-22 salary: $31,051,333

Remaining salary guaranteed: $134,997,332 through 2024-25

Additional notes: Has roughly $24.7 million in total incentives that gives him room to earn as much as $159.7 million on his contract.

Is eligible to be traded on the six-month anniversary of signing his extension.

Brook Lopez

Brook Lopez, Milwaukee Bucks

2021-22 salary: $12,697,675

Remaining salary guaranteed: $27,209,301 through 2022-23

Additional notes: Is eligible this offseason to sign an extension that can add three additional years and up to $54,070,322.

Pat Connaughton

Pat Connaughton warming up before game in Orlando

2021-22 salary: $5,333,334

Remaining salary guaranteed: $11,061,727 through 2022-23

Additional notes: Has a player option for 2022-23.

Donte DiVincenzo

2021-22 salary: $4,675,830

Remaining salary guaranteed: $4,675,830

Additional notes: Is eligible this offseason to sign a rookie-scale extension for up to 25 percent of the salary cap.

Jordan Nwora

2021-22 salary: $1,517,981

Remaining salary guaranteed: $1,517,981

Elijah Bryant

Elijah Bryant

2021-22 salary: $1,517,981

Remaining salary guaranteed: $0

Additional notes: His 2021-22 salary is non-guaranteed but becomes $500,000 guaranteed on December 15, 2021 and fully guaranteed on the league-wide cutdown date.

Mamadi Diakite

Mamadi Diakite

2021-22 salary: $1,517,981

Remaining salary guaranteed: $100,000

Additional notes: His 2021-22 salary is $100,000 guaranteed but becomes $500,000 guaranteed on December 15, 2021 and fully guaranteed on the league-wide cutdown date.

Sam Merrill

Sam Merrill

2021-22 salary: $1,517,981

Remaining salary guaranteed: $500,000

Additional notes: His 2021-22 salary is $500,000 guaranteed and becomes fully guaranteed on August 8, 2021.

PJ Tucker (unrestricted free agent)

Cap hold: $15,142,120

Type of free agent: Bird

Additional notes: Is limited to signing a three-year deal with any team this offseason without complications from the over-38 rule.

Bobby Portis (unrestricted free agent)

Cap hold: $4,347,600

Type of free agent: Non Bird

Additional notes: Has a player option worth $3,804,150 that he will most likely decline. Milwaukee is limited to signing him to the veteran minimum, his Non Bird amount (same as cap hold), or up to the taxpayer MLE.

Bryn Forbes (unrestricted free agent)

Cap hold: $2,804,574

Type of free agent: Non-Bird

Additional notes: Has a player option worth $2,454,002 that he will most likely decline. Milwaukee is limited to signing him to the veteran minimum, his Non Bird amount (same as cap hold), or up to the taxpayer MLE.

Thanasis Antetokounmpo (restricted free agent)

Thanasis Antetokounmpo

Cap hold: $2,126,991

Type of free agent: Early Bird

Jeff Teague (unrestricted free agent)

Jeff Teague, Milwaukee Bucks

Cap hold: $1,669,178

Type of free agent: Non Bird

Justin Jackson (restricted two-way free agent)

Cap hold: $1,489,065

Type of free agent: Non Bird

Axel Toupane (restricted two-way free agent)

Cap hold: $1,489,065

Type of free agent: Non Bird

2021 Pick No. 31

Additional notes: HoopsHype’s draft expert Bryan Kalbrosky has the Bucks selecting David Johnson with the 31st overall selection in his most recent mock draft.

According to Kalbrosky, Brandon Boston Jr. is ranked as the 31st best prospect based on an aggregate of mock drafts published as of June 26, 2021.

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