Tony Snell

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With Bucks hoping to take off, leaving behind Malcolm Brogdon a risky choice

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Next season is the Bucks’ time.

They shouldn’t wait.

They can’t wait.

Milwaukee is very good. Good enough to win a championship. There are no overwhelmingly dominant-looking teams this year. Most of the top contenders will beat up on each other out West. In the Eastern Conference, the 76ers must develop chemistry after a major roster makeover, and Kevin Durant‘s injury puts the Nets another year away from title contention. The Bucks got a necessary and hard-learned lesson in how to compete deep in the playoffs last season. They look primed now.

Giannis Antetokounmpo will also be eligible for a super-max contract extension next offseason. His willingness to re-up might depend on Milwaukee’s success this season. The Bucks remaining elite is totally predicated on keeping the 24-year-old MVP. His satisfaction with the team must be the priority.

With all that swirling, Milwaukee parted with restricted free agent Malcolm Brogdon.

A young talented guard the Bucks held matching rights on – gone. In return, they got absolutely nothing that will directly help them in the ultra-important upcoming season.

Maybe that was the right call. By signing-and-trading Brogdon to the Pacers, Milwaukee got a first-rounder and two second-rounders and avoided paying a red-flagged player $85 million over four years. There’s a case the Bucks got enough value and preserved enough flexibility to justify the move, even considering next season’s high stakes.

But this was also an essential decision for avoiding the luxury tax. That can’t be dismissed. If Milwaukee weakened its roster due to a refusal to pay the luxury tax this season of all seasons, that’d be incredibly disappointing.

This could be a choice that significantly shapes the Bucks for the next decade. I wish I had a better sense of their motivations.

At least Milwaukee got done the rest of its heavy lifting this summer and even rebounded nicely from the loss of Brogdon.

The Bucks re-signed Khris Middleton for less than the max (five years, $177.5 million). It was essential to keep Antetokounmpo’s lone supporting star.

Brook Lopez – with his 3-point shooting and interior defense – is even more important to Milwaukee’s identity. In a tricky situation due to holding only his Non-Bird Rights, the Bucks cleared enough cap space to re-sign him for four years, $52 million.

Milwaukee also had enough cap space to re-sign George Hill (three years, $28,771,806 with $20 million guaranteed). Hill played well in the playoffs. He’s also 33. It’s worth signing Hill to this deal. He can back up Eric Bledsoe, who struggled the last two postseasons, and help at shooting guard with Brogdon gone. But it’s far from certain Hill will live up to this contract.

The Bucks found surprising reinforcements at shooting guard with Wesley Matthews (1+1 minimum) and Kyle Korver (one-year minimum). Both are past their primes, but that’s tremendous value for those two. The big question: Would they have come to Milwaukee if Brogdon hadn’t left open so much playing time? That must be considered in the Brogdon evaluation, but again, it’s difficult to discern.

Robin Lopez signed for the room exception on 1+1. He’ll back up his twin brother. The Bucks could use Robin’s size at the position, especially with Joel Embiid and Philadelphia looking like the top threat in the East.

These are all good deals for Milwaukee. This offseason could have gone far worse for the Bucks given the steps they had to take to open cap space for Brook Lopez and Hill.

Milwaukee traded the overpaid but still helpful Tony Snell and No. 30 pick to the Pistons for Jon Leuer then waived Leuer, accepting a $3,169,348 over the next three years. That was a nasty set of transactions, but it was necessary. The Bucks also lost Nikola Mirotic, who returned to Europe.

After that, it was standard low-end roster moves. Adding Dragan Bender is intriguing. Adding Thanasis Antetokounmpo is the cost of doing business.

It just keeps coming back to Brogdon. How much will the Bucks miss him? How much did his departure improve their ability to lure Matthews and Korver? What will Milwaukee do with the draft picks acquired from Indiana?

That last one is a biggie. Trade those picks in the right deal, and the roster next could be even than it would have been with Brogdon – especially if ownership is willing to enter the luxury tax.

I just have a hard time figuring out where the Bucks stand on that, and it makes me uneasy about their summer.

Offseason grade: C

Report: Bucks, Brook Lopez ‘motivated’ to agree to new contract together

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Brook Lopez said he prioritized a one-year contract in free agency last summer so he could prove himself.

Lopez sure proved himself this season.

The center shined for the breakthrough Bucks. He became an elite 3-point threat for a big, spacing the floor for Giannis Antetokounmpo. On the other end, Lopez paired nicely with Antetokounmpo as a staunch rim protector.

But because Lopez spent only one season in Milwaukee, the Bucks have just his Non-Bird Rights. That makes re-signing tricky.

At least Lopez and the Bucks appear intent on finding common ground.

Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated:

Both sides are motivated to get a deal done, per source

The Bucks showed their motivation by trading Tony Snell and the No. 30 pick to the Pistons for Jon Leuer.

Milwaukee can now open about $14 million in cap space while keeping cap holds for Khris Middleton and Malcolm Brogdon. The Bucks could use that cap room to re-sign Lopez then exceed the cap to re-sign Middleton and Brogdon.

If a $14 million starting salary isn’t enough for Lopez, Milwaukee can clear more room by stretching Leuer and/or George Hill. The Bucks must decide on whether to stretch Hill’s $1 million guarantee by Thursday. They can decide on Leuer’s $9.76 million salary anytime by Aug. 31.

This plan could get expensive. Middleton could command a max contract. As a restricted free agent, Brogdon could land a huge offer sheet from a team trying to poach him. How much luxury tax will Milwaukee pay?

But soon-to-be-super-max-eligible Antetokounmpo is watching. Securing his supporting cast is important.

Report: Bucks trading Tony Snell, No. 30 pick to Pistons

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For a team only lukewarm on paying the luxury tax, the Bucks are in a payroll crunch. Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, Malcolm Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic will be free agents this summer.

That’s why Milwaukee was trying to unload Tony Snell or Ersan Ilyasova.

But if they re-sign their key free agents to multi-year deals, the Bucks could face more payroll/tax concerns in 2020-21.

That’s why Milwaukee is willing to deal Snell and its first-round pick for Jon Leuer‘s burdensome contract – which carries a slightly lower salary than Snell’s next season ($9,508,043 vs. $11,592,857) and, more importantly, ends one year before Snell’s ($12,378,571 player option for 2020-21),

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

This trade lowers Milwaukee’s team salary by about $4 million next season and $14 million the following season.

The Bucks could stretch Leuer and reduce team salary by an extra $6,338,695 next season. But that’d also lock in a cap hit of $3,169,348 each of the next three years.

Milwaukee can make that decision later in the summer. It’ll depend what other free agents – especially Lopez, who has only Non-Bird Rights (technically a form of Bird Rights – command. Clearing extra money this offseason could be useful in multiple scenarios.

If Lopez signs for the non-taxpayer mid-level exception (which projects to start at about $9 million), the Bucks could maintain Bird Rights for Middleton, Brogdon and Mirotic then exceed the cap to re-sign those three. But Milwaukee would be hard-capped at a projected $138 million. Stretching Leuer could help the Bucks stay under that line.

If re-signing Lopez requires more than the mid-level exception, Milwaukee could open about $14 million in cap space by waiving George Hill and renouncing all its free agents besides Middleton and Brogdon. Stretching Leuer would open even more cap room to spend on Lopez.

If Lopez leaves, the same math applies to an outside free agent who could get the mid-level exception or cap room.

This extra maneuverability comes at a cost, though a reasonable one.

Snell, who fell from the Bucks’ rotation, could be the Pistons’ starting small forward next season. Detroit was desperate for wing depth. Though Snell isn’t the biggest wing, he adds size to a group comprised of Luke Kennard, Bruce Brown and Langston Galloway.

The No. 30 pick is a helpful piece to the Pistons, who also have the No. 15 pick in tomorrow’s draft. But this is a weak-looking draft that thins considerably before the end of the first round.

Milwaukee also had to take Leuer, who has been ineffective for years.

Detroit gets helps now with Snell and potentially later with the No. 30 pick. In between, that extra year of Snell’s contract looks burdensome.

The Bucks are just happy to have it not be theirs.

As expected, Khris Middleton to decline his $13 million option with Bucks

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Khris Middleton doesn’t want to leave Milwaukee, but the man does want to get paid.

Which has led to the expected: The All-Star forward is opting out of the $13 million his is owed next season and will negotiate a new contract with the Bucks, something first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Milwaukee Bucks All-Star forward Khris Middleton is declining his $13 million player option and will become an unrestricted free agent, his agent told ESPN on Wednesday…

Middleton and the Bucks are planning to work together toward a new long-term deal, league sources said. Middleton is expected to command a max contract with Milwaukee or elsewhere. He is eligible to sign a five-year, $190 million deal to stay with the Bucks, or a four-year, $141 million contract with another team.

Middleton is the Bucks’ top priority in a free-agent class that includes Malcolm Brogdon, Brook Lopez and Nikola Mirotic.

The Bucks want to keep the band together, they like the group they have around Giannis Antetokounmpo. Middleton was the second best player on a team that won 60 games and made it to the conference finals before falling to the eventual champion Raptors. This team is a contender and, while it will take them into the luxury tax, ownership wants to bring most of the roster back (Mirotic may be the odd man out).

Middleton averaged 18.3 points and 6 rebounds a game, shot 37.8 percent from three, and had a true shooting percentage of 55.8. He also plays good defense. He’s the ultimate glue guy who can do everything well, which is why a lot of teams will make calls and try to lure him out of Milwaukee this summer.

The Bucks are expected to offer the fifth year (Middleton will be 28 at the start of next season, so not a huge risk) and the max or very close to it. Middleton is expected to take it. But the Bucks need to move Tony Snell or Ersan Ilyasova to make all the pieces fit, something they are trying to do.

Milwaukee is close to a title, it will be interesting to see what moves GM Jon Horst makes this summer to try and put them over the top. Keeping Middleton is a no-brainer at the heart of that plan. The Bucks will pay up.

Adjusting for playoff rotations shows Trail Blazers’ and Celtics’ vulnerabilities

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Most team statistics used for playoff predictions – from won-loss record to more-complicated metrics – rely on full-season data.

But by the time the playoffs begin, teams often look radically different than they did at various points of the regular season.

The Clippers traded Tobias Harris. Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic suffered a season-ending injury. The Nuggets will likely drop Trey Lyles from their postseason rotation.

Yet, those players, and many others like them, heavily influenced their teams’ regular-season results.

So, I measured team performance when the entire five-man lineup is comprised of players projected to be in the first-round rotation. It’s a glimpse into the effectiveness and chemistry of the players who’ll actually be on the court in these series.

It’s only one data point among many that should be considered. I don’t know precisely how each team will set its rotation, so I must predict. The playing-time distribution among players in the rotation can change into the postseason. Opponent quality varies. Some sample sizes are larger than others.

Still, I find it a useful indicator.

Here’s each team’s offensive, defensive and net ratings from Basketball-Reference adjusted from the regular season to counting only lineups that include five players projected to be in the first-round playoff rotation:

Western Conference

1. Golden State Warriors

Offensive rating: 115.9 to 121.9

Defensive rating: 109.5 to 106.2

Net rating: +6.4 to +15.7

4. Houston Rockets

Offensive rating: 115.5 to 117.3

Defensive rating: 110.7 to 107.2

Net rating: +4.8 to +10.1

5. Utah Jazz

Offensive rating: 110.9 to 113.9

Defensive rating: 105.7 to 104.5

Net rating: +5.2 to +9.3

2. Denver Nuggets

Offensive rating: 113.0 to 116.1

Defensive rating: 108.9 to 108.1

Net rating: +4.1 to +8.1

6. Oklahoma City Thunder

Offensive rating: 110.3 to 116.0

Defensive rating: 107.0 to 108.2

Net rating: +3.3 to +7.8

7. San Antonio Spurs

Offensive rating: 112.9 to 116.9

Defensive rating: 111.2 to 110.3

Net rating: +1.7 to +6.6

3. Portland Trail Blazers

Offensive rating: 114.7 to 114.0

Defensive rating: 110.5 to 109.1

Net rating: +4.2 to +5.0

8. L.A. Clippers

Offensive rating: 112.4 to 115.3

Defensive rating: 111.5 to 111.9

Net rating: +0.9 to +3.4

Eastern Conference 

2. Toronto Raptors

Offensive rating: 113.1 to 122.4

Defensive rating: 107.1 to 106.5

Net rating: +6.0 to +15.9

1. Milwaukee Bucks

Offensive rating: 113.8 to 115.7

Defensive rating: 105.2 to 107.1

Net rating: +8.6 to +8.6

3. Philadelphia 76ers

Offensive rating: 112.6 to 115.8

Defensive rating: 110.0 to 107.3

Net rating: +2.6 to +8.5

7. Orlando Magic

Offensive rating: 108.9 to 114.0

Defensive rating: 108.1 to 107.9

Net rating: +0.8 to +6.1

8. Detroit Pistons

Offensive rating: 109.0 to 114.7

Defensive rating: 109.2 to 110.2

Net rating: -0.2 to +4.4

5. Indiana Pacers

Offensive rating: 109.9 to 110.3

Defensive rating: 106.5 to 107.4

Net rating: +3.4 to +2.9

6. Brooklyn Nets

Offensive rating: 109.7 to 112.2

Defensive rating: 109.7 to 111.7

Net rating: 0.0 to +0.5

4. Boston Celtics

Offensive rating: 112.2 to 110.6

Defensive rating: 107.8 to 110.4

Net rating: +4.4 to +0.3

Observations:

  • The Trail Blazers really miss Nurkic. Portland’s adjusted net rating would have been about twice as good with him. As is, Portland falls behind its first-round opponent – Oklahoma City – after the adjustment.
  • Marcus Smart‘s absence affects the Celtics nearly as much. He has been so good as a glue player with higher-usage teammates. Put more of those ball-dominant players on the court together, and Boston’s chemistry could get bumpy.
  • The Pacers also their net rating drop with the adjustment, though. They rank ahead of the Celtics but might not be good enough to pull an upset without homecourt advantage.
  • The Raptors and Warriors improve the most with the adjustment. I trust that more with Golden State, which I project with a deeper rotation that can be trimmed if necessary. Toronto might need to go deeper into its bench with OG Anunoby sidelined.
  • The teams with the second- and third-best adjusted net ratings in the West, Houston and Utah, play each other in the first round. The winner advances to face the team with the conference’s best adjusted net rating, Golden State. That’s a brutal section of the bracket.
  • Malcolm Brogdon, Nikola Mirotic and Tony Snell are banged up for Milwaukee. As they get healthier, expect the Bucks to vault toward the top of the league.
  • Joel Embiid is included in the 76ers’ rotation. If he can’t play, Philadelphia’s adjusted offensive/defensive/net ratings drop to 110.2/109.3/+0.9. Yikes.
  • The Spurs and Magic could be punchier than expected.