Milwaukee Bucks Need To Learn From Past Free Agency Mistakes

Oct 15, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks center Miles Plumlee (18) dunks the ball in the third quarter during the game against the Chicago Bulls at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 15, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks center Miles Plumlee (18) dunks the ball in the third quarter during the game against the Chicago Bulls at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports /

Although it is a tempting thought to want to keep the band together, the Milwaukee Bucks should be wary of overpaying for replacement level free agents this summer.

The Milwaukee Bucks gained momentum towards the end of their season, and look to build on that going into next year. Contributions both from Giannis Antetokounmpo and some promising role players around him made the Bucks much more fun to watch later on than they were earlier in the season.

That paragraph could apply both to the playoff run that happened this postseason, and the last several games of the 2015-16 NBA season when Giannis began to run point more often and the Bucks became much more tolerable to watch.

In both situations, a role player shined over the fun stretch of basketball the Bucks played. Tony Snell had a very solid season in Milwaukee and that strong play continued into the playoffs, whereas last year Miles Plumlee‘s insertion into the starting lineup coincided with Giannis’ late-season surge.

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Bucks fans who pay attention to roster moves know that Plumlee was dealt on deadline day for Roy Hibbert and Spencer Hawes in a salary dump move for Milwaukee. Hibbert was later traded to the Denver Nuggets for essentially nothing, and Hawes spent most of his Milwaukee time on the bench.

The Bucks were lucky to get out of that deal. Milwaukee agreed to pay Plumlee $50 million over four years after his breakout season, which actually wasn’t much of a breakout season in the first place.

Even when he started games, Plumlee averaged just 6.6 points and 5.4 rebounds in 20 minutes played per game. Those aren’t big money numbers, as the Bucks found out this season when Plumlee’s performance didn’t merit even playing him at all after the first few weeks of the season.

The Bucks have been cavalier in giving out expensive contracts lately, which is a trend that will have to be monitored. John Henson received a deal that seemed like a bargain at the time, but now he’s being paid $11 million per season (on average) to be Milwaukee’s third center.

Matthew Dellavedova is getting $9.5 million per year to be a backup point guard and average 7.6 points and 4.7 assists per game while shooting just 36.6 percent from three-point territory. Mirza Teletovic is getting $10 million each season for his shooting, although he made just over 34 percent of his threes and became largely unplayable in the NBA Playoffs thanks to his lack of defense and lengthy cold spell from beyond the arc.

Every team has to pay up for some player they’re not positive on at some point or another, but Milwaukee has paid a lot to retain replacement level talent over the past few seasons. If the Bucks are aggressive in keeping Snell, the team could end up dedicating $15 million more per season.

Even assuming Snell signs for less than that–let’s say $12 million, although he could certainly get a bigger offer–the Bucks would then be deeply invested in a lot of players who aren’t central to their success.

Between the presumed Snell deal and deals already inked to Delly, Teletovic and Henson, Milwaukee could be paying over $43 million next year for three bench players and either the team’s fourth- or fifth-most important starter, depending on other moves made to bolster the point guard spot.

If Snell indeed continues to play at the level he has this season, he might be worth that money. His raw production isn’t overly impressive, but the spacing and solid defense he provides has value beyond the 8.5 points per game he scores.

That if matters. When Teletovic signed his deal with the Bucks, he was coming off of a season in Phoenix in which he hit 39.3 percent of his threes and scored over 12 points per game. It was the best season of Telly’s career, and Milwaukee bit on–and got stung by–his contract year performance.

One of the harder parts of free agency is the phenomenon of contract years. Players approaching free agency work extra hard and shine in that last season, only to regress back to the mean once they ink a new deal until the last season of that contract approaches.

Tony Snell, for what it’s worth, was noticeably better in his lone Bucks season than he was in any of his three seasons with the Chicago Bulls. Milwaukee gave Snell more playing time, but he shot 45.5 percent from the field and 40.6 percent from deep as a Buck, as opposed to 39.6 percent from the field and 35.1 percent from beyond the arc as a Bull.

Was Snell’s boost in play due to an increased role and a better system for him in place in Milwaukee, or was this a classic example of a contract year that could lead to a player getting a more lucrative deal than they might be worth?

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That’s just one of several questions the Bucks will have to answer in regards to Snell. Others include: will he continue to be a starter if Khris Middleton and Jabari Parker are both healthy? Can the Bucks replace his contributions for a reasonable price in free agency by looking elsewhere, or do they need to overpay to retain Snell? Was Snell crucial to Milwaukee’s success this season?

It’s fine if Milwaukee answers those questions truthfully and decides it really is worthwhile to pony up for Tony Snell. The decision should be made looking forward and backward, though, not just one way or the other.

Snell was a crucial part of Milwaukee’s playoff run and their success against the Toronto Raptors, but if he won’t be as important going forward he might not be worth eight figures per season.

That’s the mistake Milwaukee made in signing their centers. Henson and Plumlee both gave the Bucks reasons to be optimistic in spot minutes, but neither of them were either good enough or important enough to justify the money they got, especially after the Bucks brought in Greg Monroe and later drafted Thon Maker.

On the other hand, the Bucks were burned by Teletovic’s deal in its first season because he outplayed his average career performance in his last year with Phoenix. A promising stretch of games can’t spur a team to spend $30 million or more on a player with a history of inconsistency who won’t be vital going forward.

Next: How Does Giannis' Playoff Run Rank In Bucks History?

Poor decisions in the past shouldn’t spur the Milwaukee Bucks to err in the other direction and let an important piece walk away, but Milwaukee should be wary of giving out big deals to replaceable players this summer.