Asset management and how the Bucks could handle the salary cap going forward

The events of Thursday’s trade deadline caught many of us by surprise:

Nonetheless, as we continue to sort through the fallout from the Bucks’ shakeup, it’s also important to consider its impact on the team more broadly than simply on the product that goes on the court. Today’s increasingly value-oriented and cost-conscious NBA isn’t just about acquiring good players – it’s about keeping those good players under team control at an acceptable cost for as long as possible. That much is highlighted in the Bucks’ decision to trade Brandon Knight–while they gave up (arguably) the best player in the deal, the team pushed off the necessary decision of Knight’s impending restricted free agency while acquiring three players with at least one more year of team control.

That control, coupled with the team’s continued emphasis on building toward the future, made moving its current best player more palatable, especially when the Bucks’ front office didn’t seem entirely sold on the idea of paying Knight the amount of money that he would get in restricted free agency. If they weren’t totally committed, it’s pretty easy to see the logic – it only takes one team with too much free money and an interest to float an offer sheet that the Bucks wouldn’t match, letting Knight leave without any compensation whatsoever.

While they could also have preempted that by signing him to a contract for somewhere between $48 and $60 million dollars over four years, doing so would have locked up a significant chunk of the team’s cap space during a critical period in the team’s growth. Instead, John Hammond and company opted to defer another payment decision down the line and give themselves the opportunity to evaluate several young players for several more seasons.

To illustrate the flexibility afforded by that decision, I whipped up this (extremely rough) salary chart:

[table id=40 /]

 

A few things to keep in mind:

1. There are probably numbers that don’t entirely add up, particularly in the arithmetic. Math was never my strong suit. This will give us a good estimate, however.

2. Qualifying offers aren’t factored into the total cap space figure, as I only included guaranteed salary and options that are likely to be picked up. In all likelihood, by the time we reach those decisions the salary numbers attached to them will be dramatically different.

3. Salary cap numbers are projected and subject to change; much has been made about the league’s new television deal and its potential to bump the salary cap by up to $20 million for the 2016/17 season. That is reflected in this chart.

4. The guaranteed salaries of the Bucks’ first round picks are represented collectively and accumulate though the years – the salaries of 2015’s rookie and 2016’s are combined for 2016/17 season and so on. For the purpose of generating concrete numbers, I’ve used the salary scale for the 16th overall pick as the closest thing we can get to an average.

If we break down the major decisions for each year, it looks something like this:

2015/16:

Restricted: Khris Middleton

Unrestricted: Larry Sanders(ish)

Player Option: Jared Dudley

The impact of the Knight trade will be felt immediately–while he would have been a restricted free agent this offseason, the Bucks can now focus on a single offseason question; that is, the value of Khris Middleton. He won’t command Knight-level money if only because his counting statistics aren’t as impressive, but it’s not inconceivable that he garners at least one offer north of $10 million per year in restricted free agency. It’s even less inconceivable that he’s worth that money when this season is said and done. While the Bucks didn’t appear to have that much cap space available prior to this weekend, the next piece of news allows the team to free up the necessary funds:

Sanders’ contract mostly comes off of the books after the news of his buyout on Saturday; if the Bucks do exercise the stretch provision on the $15 million buyout it will count approximately $2.14 million toward the team’s salary cap for 7 seasons.

Finally, Dudley has a player option for the same salary that he’s earning this year – while nothing is for certain, he does seem to like the situation he’s found for himself in Milwaukee and barring something dramatic we can expect to see him back in Milwaukee for the 2015 season.

2016/17:

Restricted: John HensonMiles Plumlee

Unrestricted: O.J. MayoZaza PachuliaJerryd Bayless

Partially Guaranteed: Ersan Ilyasova ($400k of $8.4 million)

The cap situation becomes simultaneously better and more complex with the salaries of Mayo, Pachulia, and Bayless coming off of the books. It’s tough to determine which of the three will be looking to return–or who the team will be interested in retaining past their current contracts. Based on the development of the team’s young players, any of the positions that those three play could be valuable–Pachulia as a veteran big, Mayo as a bench scorer, or Bayless to run the team’s bench units. However, developments and/or acquisitions in the next year could render those players unnecessary.

It seems more likely that Ilyasova won’t be paid the full value of his contract in that season, as the Bucks could waive him and only be responsible for $400,000 of his $8.4 million. While a variety of reasons, mostly injury-related, have caused Ilyasova’s ineffectiveness since signing his current contract, it would take some kind of miracle for the team to decide to exercise the full value of that contract.

Henson and Plumlee will also be eligible for extensions in the summer of 2017–and if Henson can continue to demonstrate his effectiveness over (occasional) starters’ minutes, the big man may be in line for a big payday. He may also cement his place as a valuable contributor for a Bucks team that has suddenly found itself thin at the forward position, giving the team an incentive to keep the long-armed hook specialist around. Meanwhile, Plumlee demonstrated in Phoenix that he can be effective as a defender and rebounder, which may make him an attractive extension candidate at a reasonable cost going forward.

2017/18:

Restricted: Giannis AntetokounmpoMichael Carter-WilliamsDamien InglisJohnny O’Bryant

Two of the biggest variables in the Bucks’ cap considerations will have to be decided in the 2017 offseason. I wouldn’t dare predict the contractual future of the team’s two longest names, it seems safe to assume that retaining both players in restricted free agency will require a significant portion of of the salary cap. However, a vast majority of the team’s money will also be unburdened at that point in time. If, by the time those decisions come around, Antetokounmpo and Carter-Williams have proved themselves worthy of big contracts, the team will be able to secure two of its young stars.

Meanwhile, Inglis and O’Bryant will also be in line for a payday if they also find their way into the team’s future plans. While neither player’s contract is guaranteed due to their status as second round picks (and we won’t get any sense of Inglis’ ability until he returns from an injury over the summer), it’s feasible that they could be retained affordably as role players or simply for depth.

2018/19

Restricted: Jabari ParkerTyler Ennis

Finally, we get to the last Bucks currently under contract. If everything goes correctly, we’ll only be debating whether or not Parker is worthy of a maximum contract by the time he’s eligible for one. While predicting actual cap space out to this point is an exercise in futility, the lack of long-term money currently invested in other players is an encouraging sign of the team’s ability to retain its young players while also filling in the key players necessary to contend.

Meanwhile, Ennis hasn’t had the chance to show much in his young NBA career, so we’ll give him a TBD on the whole extension thing.

———-

The Bucks’ deadline deal illustrates the new reality of asset management in the NBA, but it also demonstrates a change in priorities for the team. While past years might have seen the team trading young players for short-term rentals to aid in a playoff run, this deal showed a clear focus on building both future assets and a clean cap sheet to retain young, core players to build something bigger. It seems that all of the team’s talk about emphasizing the future and building for the long term was backed by its actions last week.

With regards to the players involved, the deal also trades the need to make a decision on a player that team management may not have been entirely confident in for the opportunity to evaluate Plumlee, Carter-Williams, and Ennis for one, two, and three more years respectively. Though MCW may present even more questions than Knight did, the ability to watch his development for two more years combined with the ability to watch the overall development of the team before committing significant amounts of money to any one part of it creates an advantageous position for the team going forward. While the deal may make the team worse in the short run–maybe even less fun to watch–it is a breath of fresh air to those looking for reaffirmation of the Bucks’ new direction.

Categories: Contract Stuff

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4 Comments

  1. I kind of look at this trade and the future in a different context. Could the best option be if Dudley uses his ETO and sign&trade with Middleton(or just let him walk)? I like both a lot, but thinking out loud on this the bucks have in recent history having to pay more for mid-level guys and it always seems to hurt the bucks in the long run. Could they then go after a Wesley Matthews or Jimmy Butler type in this off-season?

    • Couch Potato Scout

      Middleton is basically Wesley Matthews except 5 year younger and 3 inches taller. I’ve always been a fan of Butler, but I don’t think he can handle the scoring load I think he’ll only be a 2nd or 3rd option, (and why would you pay max money for a 2nd option?). I see where you are coming from but I think they should just keep their young nucleus together (Giannis, Jabari, Middleton, and possibly Henson, Inglis, and MCW), instead of looking for answers elsewhere. The only signing I think they possibly should make is Deandre Jordan, since he’s basically the elite version of Larry Sanders. The only way they would have enough money to sign both Middleton and Deandre would be if they somehow traded OJ Mayo and Ersan and take back basically no money in return, which is basically an impossible deal. But I’m still not sold on Deandre since he’s approaching the end of his prime, and relies heavily on his athleticism.

      • I hear ya but a max guy now isn’t like a max guy in the next couple years.Hopefully within the next couple years either/both giannis and jabari could take that no.1 option over(and I think thats what the front office is thinking too) Other than Deandre I was thinking someone like Big Al if he opts out. I I’ve always been a big fan of his eventho the defense hasn’t been great. If we have a old school mentality with a post guy that can get his shot I think that would help the young guys out alot.

  2. Just pointing it out, I have heard rumors that we are not using the stretch provision with Larry Sanders, making his salary more in the ballpark of 4.5 million per year. Also referring to Khris Middleton, hes not your typical mid level guy.The man can create offence, shoot off the dribble and off the catch, post up, rebound, pass, he doesn’t turn the ball over, plays defense, and its all brought together by his basketball IQ. I see him being a valuable piece for a CHAMPIONSHIP contending team, much like Trevor Ariza was essential for the Kobe Pau Lakers squads that won it.