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Report: Bucks’ willingness to pay luxury tax next season depends on this year’s playoffs

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The Bucks have been the NBA’s best team throughout the season.

They won 60 games in the regular season. They swept the Pistons in the first round. They just won four straight to beat the Celtics, 4-1.

But money threatens to prevent Milwaukee from rolling this momentum into next year.

Four key Bucks – Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, Malcolm Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic – will be free agents this summer. Keeping all four could push Milwaukee into the luxury tax, a rare expenditure for the small-market franchise. The Bucks have paid the tax only once, the first year it was assessed, 2003.

Would Milwaukee really pay the tax to keep this team intact?

Tim Bontemps of ESPN:

That is something ownership is willing to do, sources say, depending on how far the team goes this season.

This is a misguided outlook. The Bucks’ willingness to pay the tax next season should be based only on whether that extra spending would produce sufficient rewards next season.

Of course, the best indication of Milwaukee’s ceiling next season is probably this postseason. It’s just important to assess with a forward-looking, not backward-looking, approach.

And maybe the Bucks are. Their internal process could easily get twisted as it leaks to the public.

The important thing is their willingness to pay the tax. A conference finals appearance certainly bodes well in that regard.

Milwaukee projects to be about $54 million below the tax line before considering those four starter-level free agents. It’s unlikely the Bucks can keep all four for that little. Middleton, an All-Star this year, could get more than $30 million himself.

With full Bird Rights for Middleton, Brogdon and Mirotic, Milwaukee can re-sign them for any amount up to the max. The only cost is real dollars, which would be multiplied as the team enters the tax.

But it gets tricky with Lopez. To give him a starting salary above $4,058,400, the Bucks would have to clear cap space (highly unlikely) or use a mid-level exception. The non-taxpayer mid-level exception projects to be about $9 million, and the taxpayer mid-level exception projects to be about $6 million. However, using the higher mid-level exception would hard cap Milwaukee at a projected team salary of about $138 million.

Based on their current roster, a $30 million salary for Middleton, a $12 million salary for Brogdon (whose market could be depressed by his restricted status), a $9 million salary for Mirotic and the non-taxpayer mid-level exception would put the Bucks right near the hard cap. And those salaries are conservative estimates.

At least salary-cap rules won’t stop Milwaukee from paying Middleton, Brogdon and Mirotic more. Lopez comes with different constraints.

There’s no guarantee Lopez would settle for a starting salary of just $9 million. He has been so valuable as a stretch five and paint protector. He could get far bigger offers, though maybe not a better fit.

The Bucks could also unload Tony Snell ($11,592,857) and Ersan Ilyasova ($7 million) to create more flexibility. However, Milwaukee already has two outgoing future first-round picks and will be limited trading another.

It’s incumbent on the Bucks to solve these dilemmas, not just to maintain an excellent team but to keep Giannis Antetokounmpo happy as he approaches his super-max-extension decision. Paying the luxury tax could go a long way.

Report: Boston trying to trade Aron Baynes, something good for both sides

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Just a little over a week ago, Aron Baynes opted into the final year of his contract with the Celtics, worth $5.4 million. He did so in part because he believed himself and Al Horford would split time at the five on a team contending in the East.

Horford is all but gone, likely following Kyrie Irving out the door in Boston. Anthony Davis isn’t coming (obviously). Title contention next season appears off the table for the Celtics.

The Celtics are now reportedly looking for potential trades for the Baynes, the defensive-minded big man, something Adrian Wojnarowski reported. Baynes is reportedly good with the move.

If you want to take that a step further, if Boston trades Baynes into cap space — meaning the Celtics don’t take a player and salary back, just a pick — then renounces all its free agents, they could have enough money to sign a 7-9 year max player, such as Kawhi Leonard or Jimmy Butler, something noted by Keith Smith of Yahoo Sports. Not the Celtics will go that route, they probably can’t land one of those guys at this point, but it’s an option.

With Danny Ainge’s best-laid plans in tatters (pairing Irving and Davis), the Celtics are looking to regroup. They still have a good team with Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward (who is probably better next season, two years removed from his injury), Marcus Smart, and others. With player development and shrewd moves to get an elite player or two, they can return to contention in a couple of years. How exactly that comes together remains to be seen, but it is possible. It just requires patience.

Aron Baynes isn’t going to be sticking around to see that.

Report: Lakers reportedly never asked Anthony Davis about waiving trade kicker

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The Lakers reportedly didn’t address the trade date with the Pelicans before agreeing to deal for Anthony Davis. That oversight cost the Lakers leverage in negotiating parameters that’d open max cap space.

So, the Lakers are scrambling now.

Different proposals for revising the deal include Davis waiving his $4,063,953 trade bonus. At last check, he intended to receive the full the amount, though maybe he’s willing to leave money on the table to help his new team.

But the Lakers apparently haven’t even asked him yet.

Howard Beck of Bleacher Report:

The Lakers could have asked Davis to waive the kicker as part of the deal. Per league sources, they never broached it.

To give the Lakers (far too much) benefit of the doubt, maybe they’re waiting to see which free agents they can attract before asking Davis about the trade bonus. The Lakers might think they have a better chance of getting Davis to waive the bonus if they can present a compelling plan of how the extra money would be used.

More likely, it seems Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka just isn’t covering all the bases he should.

There are still ways for the Lakers open max cap space and get Davis more, if not all, of his bonus. Essentially, the Lakers must send out more money in the trade so they can take in more money, including Davis’ trade bonus. They could guarantee more of Jemerrio Jones‘ salary and/or sign-and-trade Alex Caruso in a revised version of the deal.

But Jones and Caruso would have negative value in those scenarios. So, the Lakers would have to attach sweeteners to whichever team took them.

That might be a justifiable cost of forming a team with LeBron James, Davis and a third star. It’s also a cost that should have been more thoughtfully considered before agreeing to terms with New Orleans.

To get under luxury tax, Thunder reportedly would trade Steven Adams, Andre Roberson, No. 21 pick

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As you read this, without their roster completely filled up yet, the Oklahoma City Thunder are more than $6 million over next season’s luxury tax line of $132 million. That’s just the guaranteed money. By the time you factor in non-guarantees and the cost of the No. 21 pick, the team will be more than $19 million into the luxury tax.

That price may be a little steep for Thunder ownership, according to Jake Fischer of Sports Illustrated.

It would be impossible for the Thunder to avoid the luxury tax without doing serious damage to their chances to chase a ring next season — and in a Western Conference that doesn’t have a dominant Golden State team on top, the Thunder believe they have a shot. This is likely more about reducing the tax hit than avoiding it.

The Thunder will pay $38.5 million next season to Russell Westbrook and $33 million to Paul George, and obviously those two are untouchable.

Adams will make $25.8 million next season and $27.5 million the one after that, however, trading him would do serious damage to OKC’s fourth-ranked defense last season. Adams is an integral part of the Thunder identity on and off the court, and trading him is highly unlikely. Dennis Schroeder will make $15.5 million each of the next two seasons, and he provided a lot of value for the Thunder off the bench.

Andre Roberson seems a more likely candidate. He missed all of last season due to a ruptured left patellar tendon (although they did miss him(. He’s set to make $10.7 million and if a team can be convinced the defensive specialist is back and healthy there would be teams interested. The challenge for the Thunder is constructing a trade that does not bring back salary.

Nothing may happen around the draft, but keep an eye on Thunder this summer as they try to save a little cash without damaging their playoff dreams.

Report: Rockets tried to give away Chris Paul, but teams – including Knicks – said no

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Rockets general manager Daryl Morey not only denied a report that Chris Paul demanded a trade, Morey said Paul would remain in Houston next season.

We might never know how tense the situation has gotten between Paul and James Harden. We might never know whether Paul requested a trade.

But we will know whether Paul begins next season in Houston.

Morey’s credibility is on the line with that. Will he really refuse to trade Paul? That’s not Morey’s style.

More likely, Morey made that declaration only after exhausting the market for Paul and the three years, $124,076,442 remaining on his contract.

Shams Charania of The Athletic, via CBS:

There’s not a team in the league right now that is like, “I’m going to go trade for Chris Paul.” Even some teams that they’ve called, I’m told, as just a dump, like, “We’ll give you Chris Paul for free,” those teams are like “We’re good.” So, the value just is not there right now.

Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer:

The Rockets recently explored trading Chris Paul into New York’s cap space, but the Knicks refused, according to league sources.

Good for the Knicks resisting. With Kyrie Irving apparently (maybe?) headed to the Nets and Kevin Durant‘s future up in the air, that’s the type of desperate move New York is known to make.

Paul, 34, is overpaid and declining. No team should absorb his contract into cap space.

But he’s still pretty good. Not nearly as good as he once was, but good enough to help the Rockets. Their championship window hasn’t necessarily snapped completely shut yet. There’s value in keeping Paul and trying to repair his and Harden’s relationship.

There also might be better opportunities later in the summer to trade Paul. Teams want to preserve their cap space now for free agents. But some teams will strike out and might view Paul as a good fallback option.

Of course, if Morey thought a deal later in the offseason were a possibility, he probably wouldn’t have so explicitly insisted Paul will remain in Houston.