Bucks must take advantage of their retained group to go all the way
By Tyler Job
Milwaukee Bucks general manager Jon Horst had one task to do once NBA free agency officially opened June 30: retain his team’s key players as much as possible.
Well, here we are.
Khris Middleton is back on a five-year, close to max deal worth $178 million that includes a player option in his final year. Multiple reports before the news broke claimed he’d sign a max deal for $190 million, which is now the amount Klay Thompson is getting from the Golden State Warriors. Some will say Middleton is not worth the amount he agreed to, but it had to be done because there are not many players out there like him.
Veteran George Hill, who was originally waived before the free agency period, decided to return to Milwaukee on a three-year, $29 million contract with a partial guarantee in the third year.
Big man Brook Lopez played a huge factor in Milwaukee’s scheme last year, and is coming back on a four-year deal worth $52 million.
Oh, and his twin brother Robin is the Bucks’ new back-up center and will utilize the full, $4.8 million room exception to reunite with Brook for the first time since their Stanford days.
However, the Bucks were unable to retain one of their most consistent players in Malcolm Brogdon, who went to the Indiana Pacers on a four-year deal worth up to $85 million via a sign-and-trade. Milwaukee in return got a first-round draft pick and two future second-round picks. The Bucks did not get a single draft pick this year, so instead of matching an overpaid offer sheet, they decided to amp up its future draft opportunities.
And then Milwaukee replaced Brogdon by signing Wesley Matthews to a one-year, league minimum contract. So there’s its starting shooting guard.
ESPN Senior NBA Insider Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted July 3 that Kyle Korver, one of the game’s best shooter’s of all-time, is considering the Bucks, along with the Lakers and 76ers, as potential landing spots once his contract is bought out from the Phoenix Suns. The 38-year-old last season shot 38 percent from downtown while averaging 9.1 points per game with the Utah Jazz.
The Bucks also could have a $10 million trade exception to use and may add one more piece with it. Trading Ersan Ilyasova remains a possibility.
Don’t forget Milwaukee has the reigning MVP of the league in Giannis Antetokounmpo.
You cannot blame Horst for putting a lot of faith in this group that fell just two games short of the NBA Finals. Giannis is the MVP, but one would think he’s only going to get better and will develop a reliable midrange game.
Milwaukee has not faced expectations this high for a long time, but this team is determined as ever. Middleton acknowledged on his ESPN article that he’s been practicing with Giannis and will do everything he can to help the team win. Bucks fans have been craving for a championship team for years.
Even Las Vegas sees the opportunity Milwaukee can capitalize on. The Bucks are currently the favorite to win the Eastern Conference and have the second-best odds to capture the title, only behind the Lakers (although a lot can change depending on where Kawhi Leonard goes).
The Bucks’ legacy is on the line for the next several years. Many teams have retained their key pieces in hopes of winning a championship, but only few have succeeded.
Barring an unforeseen disaster, the Bucks are going to win a lot of games next year, the year after that, and the year after that. All of this is assuming Milwaukee’s key players stick around in the long-term. The Bucks will have to extend Giannis to a supermax deal, perhaps as soon as after next season, but you have to figure Horst and co. will do everything they can to make that happen.
It will be difficult for Milwaukee to repeat a 60-win regular season, but there will be no excuses if the team underachieves.
With a proven and revamped system, the Bucks have shown they can win, and even dominate, during the regular season. Some thought they could carry their regular-season dominance to its first title since 1971. They fell two, winnable games short.
There will be ups and downs along the way, but good teams take advantage of the ups they are awarded.
Horst seems 110 percent committed to the group he’s seeking to retain long-term. Bucks fans must embrace the commitment. There is no turning back now.
And with the NBA wide open, it’s Milwaukee’s time to shine.