On the night of the NBA draft, Milwaukee Bucks coach Jason Kidd spoke encouragingly about the team’s intentions in free agency this summer.
Even in a market where contracts were expected to explode due to the huge, television-driven increase in the salary cap, Kidd was optimistic about the Bucks’ ability to augment maturing young stars Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker and Khris Middleton with veterans who can shoot or defend or do both.
“This is a special situation,” Kidd said. “This is a reset for all 30 teams. Everybody has cap (room). So it’s not that we’re competing against two teams or four teams. We’re competing against the 29 other teams that all have cap (room). Can we compete? Yeah, we feel that we can compete and we feel that we can get guys signed. That’s going to be the exciting part of free agency, being able to get the guy that you want.”
Pardon my skepticism, but who the Bucks want and who they get in free agency are historically two different things. I had doubts that a foray into free agency that would dramatically impact the team next season was something the Bucks could or would pull off.
First, the Bucks used their first-round draft pick on forward Thon Maker, who they think is 19 years old. That puts them in the minority, but whether you think Maker is 19 or 24, he is still a developmental pick who won’t provide significant help for years.
Then, they unsuccessfully shopped center Greg Monroe during the draft. Monroe represented the Bucks’ biggest free agent catch ever when he signed a maximum contract last summer, but while he is a good player, he was a bad fit for Kidd’s style of play, which made it fair to wonder if getting burned would temper the Bucks’ enthusiasm for free agency.
Finally, the anticipated increase in the NBA salary cap from $70 million to $94 million meant every team would have carloads of money to spend in free agency. The painful truth about the Bucks is that, Monroe aside, free agents often go elsewhere if the money is close to even. Also, since the cap figures to take another quantum leap next offseason and that free agent class is expected to be much stronger, it seemed like the Bucks might lay low for another year.
Well, it turns out Kidd was right. The Bucks had no intention of sitting this one out.
Although contracts can’t be signed until July 7, Milwaukee reached contract agreements with 6-foot-4 Cleveland combo guard Matthew Dellavedova (four years, $38.4 million) and 6-9 Phoenix power forward Mirza Teletovic (three years, $30 million) on the first day teams could negotiate with free agents. Neither one is a franchise-altering player, but both are good enough to play in the rotation for a contender and will fill team needs, all at a price that looks extravagant but actually is consistent with the new, cash-infused NBA.
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If neither of those free agent deals was a real head-turner, the Bucks’ pursuit of guard Dwyane Wade was. It has been reported that Wade, a 12-time All-Star with Miami and a former Marquette All-American, will meet with the Bucks this week. Wade reportedly also is talking with the Knicks.
Bringing Wade, 34, back to Milwaukee would be a home run for the Bucks, fast-forwarding the rebuilding process and making them an instant playoff contender. Unfortunately, it has almost no chance of happening and they’ll probably have to settle for hitting a solid double in free agency with Dellavedova and Teletovic.
Wade is upset with the Heat for low-balling him with a $10 million-a-year offer and appears to be shopping not for a new team but for leverage in negotiations with his old one. The Heat are keeping their cap space free because they want to lure Oklahoma City star Kevin Durant in free agency, but since they aren’t expected to win the Durant derby, they likely will re-sign Wade, who has said he wants to finish his career in Miami.
But while signing Wade is pure fantasy, it doesn’t mean free agency will be a bust for Bucks. Dellavedova, from Australia, and Teletovic, from Bosnia, will add proven pieces to their young core for the next few years.
Because Dellavedova, 25, is a restricted free agent, he and the Bucks have only agreed on an offer sheet. However, indications are the Cavaliers won’t match it and he will replace the departed Jerryd Bayless in Milwaukee’s rotation.
Dellavedova, who can shoot the 3-point shot and defend point guards, is a better fit than Bayless because he can play with the ball or off the ball. That’s important because Kidd has said Antetokounmpo will be the team’s primary ball-handler.
With slashers such as Antetokounmpo and Parker assuming leading roles, the Bucks need shooters to space the floor and Teletovic, 30, is one of the NBA’s best 3-point shooters among power forwards. He played for Kidd two years ago in Brooklyn and loved it, though he is a defensive liability.
If Parker and Teletovic play extensive minutes together, the Bucks will need a rim protector at center to play the kind of defense Kidd wants. That makes Monroe expendable and all but assures that the biggest news out of Milwaukee this summer won’t be who is coming to the Bucks but who is leaving.