Milwaukee Bucks’ salary crunch set to get dramatically worse

SANTA MONICA, CA - JUNE 24: (Photo by Jennifer Pottheiser/NBAE via Getty Images)
SANTA MONICA, CA - JUNE 24: (Photo by Jennifer Pottheiser/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Milwaukee Bucks were facing a tough salary cap situation already, but with a reported cap drop for next season, it’s only going to get much worse.

Since the NBA season was brought to an abrupt halt by the coronavirus pandemic, there’s been little doubt that the financial outlook of the league would be completely overhauled.

The NBA’s revenue sources have been disrupted across the board, with many stopping entirely, but there was still a question as to whether that would be allowed to make an impact on the league’s rosters immediately.

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Could the league look to artificially smooth out the salary cap so any hits would be absorbed over the span of a few years, rather than all at once?

The answer on that front is likely in the affirmative, and yet that still may not prevent cap space-strapped teams such as the Milwaukee Bucks from feeling some ill-effects on their roster building as soon as next season.

According to a variety of reports to have emerged in light of Adam SIlver’s call with the NBPA and the league’s players on Friday, a rude awakening is coming for the salary cap.

The New York Post’s Marc Berman has framed a decreasing cap as one of the only certainties for the NBA in the current climate:

"“There is so much uncertainty with the coronavirus pandemic, but one thing is for sure: the salary cap will be lowered, according to league sources.”"

While reporting on the specifics of that phone call, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski detailed how the league’s commissioner was incredibly direct in relaying the salary realities on the horizon to players:

"“Through it all, Silver reminded players that these were issues that needed to be collectively bargained with the NBPA. Among those issues, he said, included how future basketball-related income and salary caps would be affected by massive decreases in revenue.He flatly told players about the current collective bargaining agreement: ‘The CBA was not built for extended pandemics.'”"

So, if the CBA isn’t built for extended pandemics, what exactly would a cap drop mean for the Milwaukee Bucks?

Firstly, the situation would be turned upside down for their many free agents.

It would become even more likely that Robin Lopez and Wesley Matthews opt in to their player options for next season. Ersan Ilyasova being waived before his contract guarantees would be completely inevitable, even if the Bucks plan on re-signing him for a lower price. Sterling Brown‘s restricted free agency market would become even less crowded. While unrestricted free agents Pat Connaughton, Marvin Williams, and Kyle Korver would all find themselves out of contract at the worst possible moment.

Of course, the Bucks also have the far from insignificant prospect of a Giannis Antetokounmpo supermax deal on the table. Antetokounmpo’s actual salary would be set relative to the value of the cap in the 2021-22 season, when it would actually kick in, so gauging its specifics at present is near impossible.

Still, the higher cap would have played to the Bucks’ advantage in terms of widening the gap between their offer, and the best that could have been offered by other teams. The original projections for 2021-22 would have penciled Giannis in for a five-year, $253.8 million deal, but now if he does agree to a deal, it could well be for considerably less.

As things stand, waiving Ilyasova would have left the Bucks over $7 million over the cap mark that been projected for 2020-21 prior to COVID-19, and with five roster spots still left to fill. That situation is now only likely to get more difficult.

Some form of cap smoothing would seem essential, but it still seems highly unlikely that the Bucks won’t be plunged deep into the luxury tax starting next season, whether they’d like to be or not.

Next. Neutral-site games could be an advantage for Bucks. dark

At the juncture of trying to convince Antetokounmpo to commit long-term, that level of commitment on the team’s part may essentially be a necessity anyway. But it won’t make Jon Horst’s job any easier when it comes to trying to maximize talent and maintain flexibility in the years ahead.