Milwaukee Bucks: Why Ersan Ilyasova is key to building any trade package

With $7 million owed to him next season, should his salary be guaranteed, Ersan Ilyasova may be key to any trade package the Milwaukee Bucks seek to upgrade their roster.

The trade machine is in full force around the Milwaukee Bucks in the aftermath of their playoff collapse to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

Milwaukee’s playoff flameout has opened up the pursuit to upgrade their roster, something that co-owner Marc Lasry reportedly promised to superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo in a recent meeting from over the weekend. Whether it’s Chris Paul, or offloading Eric Bledsoe, names are swirling around the Bucks heading into an immense offseason on a variety of levels.

But well before we reach the point where trade talks can occur and be put into action, the Bucks have some housekeeping to do on the horizon. And some of it will certainly inform any kind of deal the organization seeks to retool their supporting cast around Antetokounmpo going into the final year of his contract and with a supermax extension soon to be on the table.

Case in point, Ersan Ilyasova’s final year of his three-year, $21 million contract has a guarantee date that comes two days following the NBA Draft. Of course, this year’s draft keeps getting pushed back and pushed back due to the league’s calendar being disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic and it’s currently slated for November 18, per a recent report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

The perpetual limbo that the draft, free agency and those important guarantee dates that come between the cornerstone offseason events certainly affects the Bucks greatly, and mirrors the current state of affairs and uncertainty that surrounds the organization at the moment.

While the Bucks have to wait on the decisions of player options that the likes of Robin Lopez and Wesley Matthews each possess, they hold the cards on Ilyasova’s future with the $7 million he’s owed next year. As easy as it may be to decide whether to guarantee Ilyasova’s salary or not in hopes of including him in a deal from our outside perspective, it’s a high risk-reward proposition for a Bucks team that has little margin for error this fall and winter.

After all, Ilyasova was completely phased out of the team’s rotation by the end of the Bucks’ run through the regular season and playoffs after Marvin Williams supplanted him as the backup 4 behind Antetokounmpo. The Turkish veteran was limited to just 21 minutes over three appearances in the Bucks’ first round series against the Orlando Magic and didn’t see the floor against the Heat.

For someone that didn’t play any meaningful role within the Bucks’ rotation during their most critical moments of the season, the $7 million that Ilyasova is currently owed would be shot down in any other situation. But the Bucks’ salary cap situation is hardly any other situation.

Simply forming a deal to upgrade their point guard spot, as they’re rumored to want to do, requires plenty of salary going out to get something of value or a difference maker in the vein of Paul or other players that may be had this offseason. The problem, though, is the Bucks have a great disparity between their eight-figure salaries and mid-level contracts that will be on their books going into free agency.

Paul’s exorbitant $41 million salary for next season, in particular, makes any route for the Bucks to build a deal that much harder if they don’t guarantee Ilyasova’s salary. And the Bucks will face up against similar bumps in the road if they chase for an All-Star-level guard, at minimum, to replace Bledsoe, if that’s the direction they end up going.

In the shrewd way that Bucks general manager Jon Horst has built out and retained the Bucks’ core over the last 12-plus months, he’s maintained the good foundation that has brought the Bucks this far into contending for titles as they have for the last two seasons.

Next: Trading Eric Bledsoe for a clear upgrade will be difficult

But in their new quest to raise their roster to another level to fulfill their championship pursuit, those sensible decisions have left them in a bind as it currently stands, particularly given how their run came to an end in explosive fashion and far earlier than anyone could have imagined.

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