Milwaukee – The Milwaukee Bucks could have gone a different direction this offseason, but their general manager John Horst has shown no interest in this plan. To start the season, Horst made it clear that he wanted Chris Middleton and Brooke Lopez to stay in Milwaukee. He made it happen on Saturday.
According to Sun Charania, Lopez and Bucks agreed to a $48 million two-year deal on Saturday that would keep Lopez in Milwaukee. In doing so, the Bucks kept their four best players on the roster for another season with the prospect of having Middleton, Lopez, Jrue Holiday and two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo together for two more seasons. That would set up the Bucks for seven straight seasons in the NBA title picture, the exact kind of continued success that Horst discussed repeatedly during his tenure as general manager.
“Our goal has always been to maintain our success, to continue to be competitive and to be in a position to win year after year,” Hurst said after the 2023 NBA draft.
Keeping Lopez, even at a higher-than-expected salary, is the kind of move that will allow the team to maintain success going forward.
Lopez, 35, finished second in NBA Defensive Player of the Year voting last season and blocked more shots (193) than any other player in the league. He’s been an essential part of everything the Bucks have done defensively under former head coach Mike Bodenholzer. While the defensive scheme will change with Adrian Griffin now in charge, Lopez will make a difference on the defensive side.
Last season, Lopez put together his best year as a member of the Bucks with 15.9 points per game, while hitting a career-high 37.4% from the three-point line and 53.1% overall from the field. With Middleton out for most of the season, the Bucks have needed to rely more on Lopez and he’s averaged his highest since he put up 20.5 points per game in the 2016-17 season with the Nets.
With the contributions he makes on both sides of the floor, Lopez is undoubtedly one of the Bucks’ four best players, but the deal is not without risks. Lopez will be 35 at the start of next season, and only a year after back surgery, making $48 million over two years a significant commitment. But letting him transfer to another team this off-season would be disastrous for the Bucks.
Saturday’s news about Damian Lillard suggests there may be another team to worry about at the top of the Eastern Conference sometime this summer, but the Bucks did what they needed to do to keep themselves in the conversation among the best teams in the East. As evidenced by the organization’s decision to move from Budenholzer after a first-round exit this past season, the level is incredibly high in Milwaukee. The return of top roster talent suggests the Bucks will still have championship expectations when they first hit the ground running with Griffin as head coach.
These expectations mean that Horst will need to maximize every part of the list, which will be difficult due to the salary owed to the top of the list. If Lopez gets an eight percent year-over-year increase instead of a fixed $24 million annually contract, his salary next season will likely be just over $23.07 million. Add that to the potential $146.62 million in the Bucks’ books after agreeing to a three-year, $102 million deal with Middleton Friday night and the Bucks’ total salary could already be $169.69 million with just eight players signed for next season.
With at least six more players needing to fill the roster, the Bucks could still fit the second salary apron at $182.79 million, but it would prevent the Bucks from using the full average taxpayer-level exception ($5 million) and instead require the roster That fills minimal contracts or bird rights deals with its players.
Jay Crowder would be one of those players. on saturday, the athlete He confirmed that he and the Bucks had agreed to a one-year deal. Bleacher Report was the first to report on the agreement. The Bucks spent most of the 2022-23 season trying to trade for the veteran forward, who was sitting out with the Suns, before effectively pulling out of the deal in February by trading five second-round picks to get him.
Crowder’s tenure at Milwaukee, however, did not go as planned. He hit the ball well from the three-point line (43.6 percent), but struggled to provide the impactful defense the Bucks were hoping to see. With a full season and a regular regular season, the Bucks are betting on Crowder to put together an even better second season.
Outside of Crowder, Horst will need to get creative. Here is a quick look at the expected depth chart:
It seems fair to assume that Thanasis Antetokounmpo will return, but he’s not listed there just yet because the Bucks usually wait to put him on the roster late in the process to allow for maximum flexibility beforehand. If Thanassis, Jackson and Livingston are on the NBA roster next season, that would bring the total to 12, leaving two or three roster spots for Horst to fill.
Looking through the list, a backup protection point is clearly needed. With Jevon Carter signing a three-year, $21 million contract with the Bulls, the Bucks need to find a replacement.
While their options may not be plentiful, there are a few that stand out. Kendrick Nunn might be an interesting choice. He missed the entire 2021-22 season with a bone bruise in his knee and doesn’t look like the player he’s been with the Miami Heat since returning from injury, but he’s still only 27 and could be an interesting candidate at a low price. Corey Joseph was in the league for 12 seasons and spent his last two seasons with Detroit. While he was 31 years old, Joseph played a key role on a few of San Antonio’s playoff teams earlier in his career.
Outside of point guard, the Bucks have a relatively good roster balance and could look elsewhere on the roster and take a chance on a player with some upside.
Terrence Davis, 25, appeared in 63 games with the resurgent Kings team last season and averaged 6.7 points in 13.1 minutes per game. It’s possible that both Malik Beasley, 26, and Lonnie Walker IV, 24, did so well last season that they both ended up with minimum contracts, but if the Bucks can nab either of them, it’s likely that be stealing. Dallano Banton was a 6-foot-9 point guard who has played a backup role for the Raptors the past two seasons and is still only 23 years old. If Griffin sees some potential in him, Pantone could be a potential option as well.
In the end, though, those spots on the list mean something and hold potential value because of the work Horst did at the top of the list in his first two days of free agency. Without reaching agreements with Middleton and Lopez, the Bucks won’t have the outstanding talent needed to be part of the championship picture for another season. With four starting teams now in place, the Bucks have the potential to be among the best teams in the league for the sixth consecutive season. But after a disappointing early playoff exit, this core team needs to find true playoff results like they did in 2021.
(Photo by Brook Lopez: Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images)
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