Milwaukee Bucks: Grades and reactions for the Tony Snell trade

MILWAUKEE, WI - NOVEMBER 04: (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WI - NOVEMBER 04: (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /
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MILWAUKEE, WI – MAY 23: (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WI – MAY 23: (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Trade motivation

The motivation behind the trade is very unambiguously to create some much needed cap space for the Bucks.

As I alluded to at the beginning of this piece, it’s very much a transaction in the mold of the deal that sent John Henson and Matthew Dellavedova to the Cleveland Cavaliers at the end of 2018.

At this point, it would be beyond unfair to paint this as a move motivated by avoiding the luxury tax. As things stand, the prospect of the Bucks paying the tax next season seems inevitable. The owners have expressed their willingness to take that step, and as recently as hours before the Snell trade, Jon Horst addressed the prospect of the Bucks being a tax team without even the slightest hint of apprehension.

If cost cutting presents itself over the next two weeks and proves to be to the Bucks’ detriment in free agency, then it would be time for scrutiny to fall on ownership. So far, there’s no reason to take that tack.

Instead, this currently appears to be the kind of aggressive cap management that is designed to position the Bucks to be significant players, even if it’s just for their own players, once free agency opens.

That is all but certain to amount to retaining free agents being a priority, and this move certainly helps in Milwaukee’s push to keep their 60-win, Conference Finalists together for the foreseeable future.

Holding Bird rights for Khris Middleton, Malcolm Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic, the Bucks have the option of going over the cap and deep into the luxury tax to retain any or all of that trio. What was much more complex prior to this deal was the prospect of retaining George Hill and Brook Lopez.

Hill will likely be waived soon and paid a partial guarantee of $1 million instead of the $18 million his current deal is set to earn him if it guarantees for next year. As a result, if the Bucks want to re-sign him beyond that, their only options will come via a minimum salary deal or by signing him into cap space.

More importantly, without holding Bird rights for Lopez, the Bucks will also be required to sign their starting center, a key cog on both ends of the floor, into cap space once free agency opens.

With this deal, the Bucks set themselves up to be able to pay Lopez north of $10 million, and even considerably more than that amount, if required. There’s a real chance that the urgency with which the Bucks looked to shed salary in recent days is an indicator that the market for Lopez will be strong, and their ability to offer a deal that comfortably exceeds the mid-level could be crucial. Renouncing Mirotic’s rights and stretching Leuer would open up a path to the Bucks having as much as $19 million in cap space, and would seem to hypothetically ensure the return of their starting five.

With that scenario also likely safeguarding the Bucks’ status as a leading title contender heading into a season that’s going to be crucial in convincing Giannis Antetokounmpo to sign a supermax next summer, that’s a strong position for Milwaukee to be in the days ahead of free agency opening.