Getty Images

Spurs to waive veteran Pau Gasol, who will sign with Bucks for playoffs

2 Comments

The Milwaukee Bucks are thinking NBA Finals — as they should, they have been the best team in the East all season — but for a team that hasn’t done it before, it never hurts to add a guy with a couple of rings to the locker room.

Enter Pau Gasol.

He had fallen out of favor in San Antonio, so the Spurs agreed to waive him just in time for the March 1 deadline (allowing he to sign with another team for the playoffs), and the Bucks lept at the chance. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the story.

The San Antonio Spurs and center Pau Gasol have agreed on a contract buyout, clearing the way for the six-time All-Star to join the Milwaukee Bucks, league sources told ESPN…

Gasol, 38, has seen his role diminished with the Spurs this season, partly due to him missing 26 games with a stress fracture in his foot. Gasol was guaranteed $6.7 million of his $16 million salary in 2019-20. He is earning $16 million this season.

Gasol himself has confirmed it.

What the Spurs do is save some money, and they open a roster spot to add someone who likely would play more for them than Gasol.

With the Bucks, Gasol will not see the court that much. Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova split the minutes at the five, while the four spot is Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Mirotic. Gasol can get some scattered minutes behind them, but he’s not going to be a significant contributor on the court because that’s not who he is anymore. Gasol is smart and can still be efficient, but father time is winning the race with the 38-year-old. He gets 45 percent of his shots around the rim, but is hitting just 53 percent of them, according to Cleaning The Glass.

What he brings to an inexperienced team is a guy who has titles and the Kobe Bryant stamp of approval. While the Bucks are loaded with talent and there are veterans on the roster, nobody has a ring. Nobody has been on a team that has faced the kind of pressure Gasol has in his career. That’s the kind of voice teams want for the playoffs.

We’ll see if this pays off for the Bucks.

Report: Jeremy Lin signing with Raptors after Hawks buyout

AP Photo/John Bazemore
Leave a comment

In their trade for Marc Gasol, the Raptors surrendered Delon Wright, leaving them only Kyle Lowry (an All-Star) and Fred VanVleet (one of the NBA’s best backups) as point guards on standard contracts.

Enter Jeremy Lin.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Toronto frequently uses two-point guard lineups. So, there should be plenty of room for Lin to contribute.

He and Hawks had been playing better lately, but Atlanta is focused on rebuilding. So, this isn’t a big loss as much as it shows a lost opportunity.

Lin will likely follow the footsteps of Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova, who got bought out by the Hawks last season then helped a playoff team (76ers). It’s not ideal for Atlanta to keep losing solid veterans for no return, but the trade deadline has passed. Might as well let Lin go where he wants at this point. Also maybe find a trade next time.

But this is good for the Raptors, good for Lin and – because of that – good for the Hawks’ reputation among players and agents.

Report: Bucks trading for Pelicans’ Nikola Mirotic

4 Comments

The Pelicans are in turmoil with Anthony Davis asking out.

The Bucks want to avoid that situation with Giannis Antetokounmpo.

So, Milwaukee is vulturing the wreckage in New Orleans for Nikola Mirotic. To do so, the Bucks will turn their not-yet-official Thon MakerStanley Johnson trade with the Pistons into a three-way deal involving the Pelicans.

Tim Bontemps of ESPN:

The team with the NBA’s best record and best net rating just improved. Mirotic is a high-quality stretch four. His outside shooting and defensive competitiveness will fit Milwaukee perfectly. Essentially, the Bucks upgraded on Ersan Ilyasova, who was their top free agent last offseason but has underwhelmed.

Mirotic is on an expiring contract, and New Orleans was unlikely to get much value from him the rest of this season or retain him. Four second-rounders are a nice haul and will help into a post-Davis future.

Mirotic’s impending free agency will soon become the Bucks’ problem. They already have four starters – Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, Brook Lopez and Malcolm Brogdon – heading into free agency. Keeping all four could be difficult, and re-signing Mirotic now adds another challenge. On the other hand, Milwaukee gains leverage in negotiations if it tries to keep four of the five. Previously, that would have been four of four, giving the players an upper hand.

Stanley Johnson and Jason Smith, also on expiring contracts, were likely included primarily for salary-matching. At least Johnson is a decent flier. The Pelicans can make him restricted this offseason.

Thon Maker is still headed to Detroit.

Report: Bucks sending Thon Maker to Pistons for Stanley Johnson

Getty Images
1 Comment

Thon Maker wanted out of Milwaukee, where he was getting squeezed for minutes.

Stanley Johnson was not in the plans for Detroit going forward, he might not even have gotten the qualifying offer from them after the season.

The Pistons and Bucks decided to swap players who wanted a new home. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the news (others have confirmed it).

With the trades of Reggie Bullock and now Johnson, Detroit has cut deep into its wing depth.

For the Pistons, they take a flier on Maker, who has one more year at $3.5 million on the books after this one then would be a restricted free agent. Maker will get minutes behind the frontcourt of Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, and if he can show he can defend, get some buckets inside and space the floor a little, he could find a home as a role player. Maker wasn’t getting a chance in win-now Milwaukee, Detroit will be different.

Plus, the Pistons save some money.

For the Bucks, they get another long, switchable defender who might help them in the postseason. You can picture Johnson getting playoff minutes against Kawhi Leonard or Jimmy Butler. Johnson will get a chance the rest of the season to carve out a niche on a contender. That said, if Brook Lopez or Ersan Ilyasova get injured — or just schemed out — in the playoffs, the Bucks could miss the length and versatility of Maker as a big.

Giannis Antetokounmpo is next

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
2 Comments

DETROIT – Giannis Antetokounmpo said the Bucks presented him with two choices for his rookie-scale contract extension in 2016:

  • A four-year, $100 million extension
  • A five-year extension that, by rule, would provide a max starting salary with max raises

Antetokounmpo took the shorter deal.

“I was 21 years old,” Antetokounmpo said. “My agent told me that was the best deal we could get and eventually you’re going to make more on the back end, but right now, that’s the best choice for you. And I trusted him.”

With that decision, Antetokounmpo set the timer.

In the likely event he makes an All-NBA team this season or next, Antetokounmpo will be eligible for a super-max extension during the 2020 offseason. If he doesn’t sign an extension, he’ll become an unrestricted free agent in 2021.

As superstars approach their first unrestricted free agency, those inflections points test their commitment to their current team. And everyone knows it. Other teams position themselves to poach the player. Reporters dig up details about the player’s and teams’ plans. Fans and media speculate. Every development feeds the every-expanding news cycle.

Anthony Davis is in the midst of it right now. Before him, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard had their turns.

Antetokounmpo is next in line.

Right now, his existence in Milwaukee appears happy. The Bucks’ record (38-13) and net rating (+9.6) lead the league. Antetokounmpo is an MVP candidate.

But how will he feel in a year or two?

In 2015, Antetokounmpo wrote, “Right now I feel like I want to play for the Milwaukee Bucks forever.” That quote has drawn plenty of attention since. Often forgotten is the perspective Antetokounmpo showed in that same 2015 blog post: “You never know how life turns out. … I don’t know how I’ll be feeling and thinking in 2, 3 or more years.”

So, a few years later, how does Antetokounmpo feel about playing for the Bucks forever?

“I still feel the same,” Antetokounmpo said. “As long as me and the Bucks are on the same page and we build an organization that’s all about winning and nothing more than that, I want to be here.”

Milwaukee obviously wants him there, too. Which warrants revisiting his 2016 contract extension.

At the time, it seemed the Bucks did well to secure Antetokounmpo for less than the max. C.J. McCollum had just signed a four-year, $106,633,450 extension with the Trail Blazers. Getting Antetokounmpo for only $100 million looked like a coup.

There was some consideration Milwaukee should’ve pushed him onto a five-year extension. Though such extensions required a max starting salary with max raises, locking up Antetokounmpo for an extra year held value, too. But he hadn’t even made an All-Star team at that point. The consensus was the savings during the four-year extension made it the right call for the Bucks.

In hindsight, it was a mistake. A five-year extension would have meant paying Antetokounmpo about an extra $4 million total* over the first four years in exchange for paying him about $30 million in the fifth year (2021-22). Now, Antetokounmpo projects to have a max salary of about $44 million in 2021-22.**

*That’s based on the max raises (7.5%) and max-salary calculation required by the previous Collective Bargaining Agreement, which was in effect when Antetokounmpo signed the extension. Had he signed a five-year extension, it’s possible the owners and players would have negotiated special rules for Antetokounmpo’s extension, which went into effect under the current CBA. The current CBA mandates a higher raise (8%) and uses a different max-salary calculation (resulting in a higher amount) for such extensions. Russell Westbrook and James Harden had special rules written for them due to the CBA change. When the previous CBA took effect between him signing an extension and it taking effect, Kevin Durant had his contract terms altered to reflect new CBA terms. Without special dispensation, Antetokounmpo could have wound up earning less during the first four years of his “max” extension than McCollum did on his extension.

If every ruling had gone in his favor, Antetokounmpo would have earned an extra $10,984,160 during the first for seasons of a five-year extension and had a $32,700,690 salary in the fifth year. It still would have behooved Milwaukee to have him on that contract.

**Based on the salary cap rising the same amount in 2021-22 as projected between 2019-20 and 2020-21 and if he makes an All-NBA team this season or next. Without either honor, his projected max in 2021-22 drops to $38 million – still far more than what his final-year salary would have been in a five-year extension.

Escaping that rabbit hole and returning to reality, Antetokounmpo is on the four-year extension. That is Milwaukee’s timeline to please him.

Right now, it looks great. But the future is filled with potential pitfalls.

Four Bucks starters – Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, Brook Lopez and Malcolm Brogdon – can become free agents after the season. Re-signing all four could be difficult, especially if Milwaukee is unwilling to pay the luxury tax. The Bucks have paid the tax only once, the first year it was assessed, 2003.

Even if they re-sign all four, will that be enough? Middleton is 27. Bledsoe is 29. Lopez is 30. How much better will they get?

Milwaukee is also out two future first-round picks. One got sent to the Suns for Bledsoe. The other got traded to the Cavaliers to unload salary and acquire George Hill.

That’s one lingering cost of recent bad signings. The Bucks overpaid John Henson and Matthew Dellavedova then had to surrender that first-rounder to dump them. Larry Sanders’ stretched salary remains on the books through 2022. Milwaukee somehow turned Miles Plumlee‘s toxic contract into smaller pieces, but one of those pieces – Spencer Hawes – still has stretched salary counting through next season. At least the Bucks  dodged a bullet with Greg Monroe taking a three-year max contract in 2015, when he could’ve gotten a four-year max deal that ran through this season.

Still, Milwaukee also squandered the value of the No. 2 pick in the 2014 draft, as Jabari Parker provided little on the court then left in free agency. No. 17 pick Rashad Vaughn was a bust the next year. The No. 10 pick the following year, Thon Maker, barely plays and wants to be traded.

But, in the NBA landscape, these are first-world problems. Milwaukee is an elite team trying to take the next step. So many teams struggle to reach this level.

The Bucks already look championship-caliber. They might be unfortunate to exist at the same time as the super-charged Warriors. But if Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins leave Golden State, Milwaukee could have a better title chance next year.

Yet, it’s impossible to overlook how high the stakes are with Antetokounmpo on the roster. All this success is possible only because of him. Any misstep that threatens his commitment to the franchise could undermine the operation.

But the Bucks keep getting everything right. Even a move some thought would sow unease with Antetokounmpo has done the opposite.

When Milwaukee’s mangled process for hiring a general manager in 2017 sparked talk about Antetokounmpo eventually leaving, he tweeted:

It helps that Bucks general manager Jon Horst, a compromise choice among ownership, has performed so well in his new job. Though he was supposed to signal Milwaukee’s discord, he has fostered stability. Horst helped attract Coach of the Year-favorite Mike Budenholzer and signed players, like Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova, who fit Budenholzer’s system. The Bucks look especially aligned.

It also helps that Antetokounmpo makes so few waves. He even said he could never see himself playing for Los Angeles – music to everyone’s ears in Milwaukee.

Yet, Antetokounmpo also expressed more-nuanced views on loyalty while explaining Durant’s move from the Thunder to the Warriors. A plugged-in former general manager reportedly said, “There’s no way in hell Giannis is going to stay in Milwaukee. I would bet everything that he leaves the Bucks.”

It’s simply impossible for Antetokounmpo to end speculation about his future. As he elevates into superstardom and heads closer to free agency, chatter will only increase.

“He has been incredibly loyal,” Budenholzer said. “I think that’s something that’s important to him. So, he’s a gift, for sure.”

Of course, Budenholzer isn’t taking anything for granted. He obviously always wants to win, but he knows that’s particularly important for the franchise right now.

“Most teams feel that pressure,” Budenholzer said. “Having Giannis does maybe heighten it, but it’s a great part. It’s great to be in Milwaukee with Giannis.”

More importantly, Antetokounmpo thinks it’s great to be in Milwaukee, too.

“It’s not about small market, big market,” Antetokounmpo said. “I don’t think about that. I don’t think about lifestyle. I just think about organization that has treated me well, my family well. And it’s all about winning.

“If the organization main goal is winning, I don’t care about the rest. I feel like my family is getting used to Milwaukee. I’m used to Milwaukee. So, it’s a great place to be.”