(I assure you, it’s not all hellfire and brimstone around these parts. And to prove it, new Bucksketball addition Jon Hartzell takes an optimistic look at how Ersan Ilyasova’s probable re-signing is quite all right. There’s room for a divergence of opinion, even if I make it seem as though there isn’t. – JS)
The Milwaukee Bucks are reportedly in the process of finalizing a five-year, $45 million contract with 25-year-old power forward Ersan Ilyasova. This contract, like so many Bucks contracts before it, is easy to berate, as the team is often forced to overpay. But let’s forget that the Bucks have been a bit of a dysfunctional organization for a moment and look optimistically at this deal.
First, here is a list of some power forwards that will make around $9 million next season:
- Carlos Boozer – $15 million
- Rashard Lewis – $13.7 million (bought out by New Orleans)
- Anderson Varejao – $8.4 million
- Tyrus Thomas – $8 million
- Hedo Turkoglu – $11.4 million
- David Lee – $12.7 million
Now, just because other teams over paid for these players doesn’t mean the Bucks needed to overpay for Ilyasova. But it is clear that there is precedent for middle-of-the-road bigs making this type of money, and if Ilyasova can recreate last season, he’ll be a much better value than any of the players above.
He is entering only his fifth season as a Buck after being selected No. 36 in the 2005 NBA Draft by former Bucks GM Larry Harris. Last year, Ilyasova played only 27 mpg and had career highs in scoring (13 ppg), rebounding (8.8 rpg), field goal percentage (.492), and three point percentage (.455). He was arguably the Bucks’ best player and is reportedly still only 25-years-old – there was some mystery surrounding him when he was drafted, but it’s kind of faded away.
If he can keep up those numbers and continue attacking the rim at a higher rate for the next five years, then this contract will be a bargain. Even if he doesn’t continue to play at an all-star level and just continues with his career averages – 9.7 PPG, 6.0 RPG, .445 FG% – he will be an overpaid, but solid, bench big that will be a much greater contributor than recent contract busts Tim Thomas, Dan Gadzuric, and Charlie Bell.
The best thing to come out of this deal, though, could be how it forces the Bucks to clear their ever-growing power forward glut, and the most likely man out is Drew Gooden and the three-years and $20 million remaining on his contract. Herb Kohl clearly wants to win now, but surely even he knows that spending nearly $16 million a year on two potentially average power forwards is ridiculous. A package of Gooden and Beno Udrih’s $7.3 million expiring contract could be used to bring back a serviceable wing player for a run at the 6th seed. Or Kohl could really swallow the bullet and amnesty Gooden, though it seems that the Bucks have no intention of just letting Gooden leave. That’s a lot of dollars for the Bucks to just swallow with no return.
Most agree that in order for this contract to be fair, Ilyasova will need to play like a top 10-15 power forward in the league. If he doesn’t, then the Bucks will have overpaid once again for a role player and will be able to add another bad contract to their history books. But if the Ilyasova we saw last year is the same Ilyasova that will come to play starter minutes for the next five years, then the Bucks will have just gotten a top-10, near all-star caliber power forward at a market priced contract.
One of those scenarios is a lot less sad than the other.
The Bucks need shooting. He provides shooting. The Bucks need rebounding. He provides rebounding. The Bucks need to get Gooden off the floor. This helps. If the Bucks are truly trying to be a shot-blocking, fastbreak-running team, then a stretch four with elite rebounding skills fits well. For our own sanity’s sake, let’s assume he will bring the same level of intensity and skill this season until we have a reason to be proven otherwise.