The Milwaukee Bucks’ young core is coming together, but a huge weight rests on the development of several young pieces due to salary constraints.
After years of owning the future, the Milwaukee Bucks are nearing closer and closer to that time when their assets will need to fully make the transition from potential to production.
This puts the Bucks in a tough spot this summer, likely running close to the luxury tax just to re-sign Tony Snell and not allowing them to make any other significant upgrades in free agency.
If their young pieces pan out as planned, this won’t be an issue. Of course, NBA fans know that counting on the linear development of so many moving parts is much easier said than put in practice.
Consider a core of Malcolm Brogdon, Snell, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker, D.J. Wilson, and Thon Maker. Each player has the potential to be a difference-maker in their prime, but there exists a divide between those who have performed consistently and those who have yet to do so.
Brogdon, Snell, Middleton, and Giannis have already proven themselves on a high level, with the contracts and awards to prove it. Parker would be included in that group if not for his injuries, which makes his status more uncertain.
Wilson and Maker represent the youngest and least-seasoned players of the group, and although their positions are fully stocked at the moment, that will not be the case in 12 months.
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Cap relief will come next summer once Monroe and Hawes come off the books, but that space will most likely be used on an extension for Parker, who will become eligible for the same type of deal Antetokounmpo signed last summer.
His extension could be signed this summer but would not kick in until the 2018-19 season in the same way that next year will be Giannis’ first earning north of $20 million.
This deal is inherently risky for the Bucks. There is little precedent for a player sustaining two ACL tears to the same knee and returning to their previous level of play, but at the same time, the club can’t afford to let a player of Jabari’s potential caliber leave.
Assuming the Bucks won’t have enough cap room available for a starting center, the only possible centers left on the roster will be John Henson, Thon Maker, and whatever low-cost asset the club brings in.
Henson has been thought of as a building block in the past, but his play has largely stagnated over the last two seasons.
Last year, he racked up more than 15 DNP-CD’s despite starting the most games of his career.
When Henson was on the floor, the Bucks’ offensive rating decreased by two points per 100 possessions and their defensive rating went down by 1.2 points.
He’s always been a non-factor on offense, and at 26, he’s probably not improving his areas of weakness.
This puts a ton of pressure on Maker to bring along his development quickly, lest the Bucks be left with a roster hole at center with little capital with which to fill it.
Thon is already very much ahead of schedule considering his superb postseason play, but counting on him to be a full-time starter for a playoff team at age 21 is fairly ambitious.
Similarly, counting on Parker to return to his old glory goes against conventional wisdom, although the Bucks countered his absence well last season with a smaller lineup featuring Giannis at power forward.
The best way for the Bucks to rectify their cap situation would be to send out a bad contract, perhaps Henson’s or Mirza Teletovic‘s. Given the current center market, the former’s $11 million-per-year deal is unlikely to receive traction, so trading Telly would be the most realistic.
This would open up some space for Wilson to receive more playing time, as his frame is really only conducive to playing the 4 at the moment. There’s a chance he could play center, but it would take a ton of work in the strength and rebounding department.
With only a few hitches, the Bucks’ plan is proceeding as many hoped it would, although the pressure is definitely on some of their more raw assets to come along quickly.
If Thon Maker and the rest of the bigs can develop within the next year, the Bucks will be on a fast track to contention. If they can’t, Milwaukee will be stuck between two timelines and left without a fully stocked center position.