Milwaukee Bucks: Robin Lopez faces interesting dilemma with player option

After being phased out of the Milwaukee Bucks’ playoff rotation, Robin Lopez has an interesting decision to make with his $5 million player option for next season.

Over the Mike Budenholzer era, the Milwaukee Bucks have prided themselves on their depth and their proverbial strength in numbers.

However, their latest playoff collapse exposed their strength in numbers for what it was and their bench unit now looks to be in free fall with the amount of impending free agents hitting the open market or having retired in Marvin Williams’ case. And that’s not accounting for what Robin Lopez does with his $5 million player option for next season.

On paper, picking up $5 million would be a no-brainer for the veteran center, especially in such an uncertain financial climate.

Discussions between the NBA and the NBPA have been ongoing in terms of setting the salary cap for next season amid the coronavirus pandemic and once those numbers come in, the Bucks will be among the biggest teams to benefit from some overdue clarity on that front.

Even with those projections unconfirmed at this point, having $5 million on the table as Lopez does is a nice fall back to have, especially with limited cap space held by opposing teams and a less than robust free agent market, especially at his position.

On the flip side, the lasting image of Lopez’s 2019-20 campaign is far from reassuring, from his and Bucks fans’ perspective. After all, Lopez played just 21 total minutes over the Bucks’ postseason and was inactive for all but Game 5 of the Bucks’ Conference Semi-finals series against the Miami Heat with superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo out with his sprained ankle.

It was the culmination of Lopez’s supporting role and limited minutes fluctuating throughout the season before being cut entirely as the Bucks and head coach Mike Budenholzer veered into playing small with the likes of Antetokounmpo and Williams to mixed results. Not the best look for the Bucks’ biggest incoming free agent who had signed a two-year, $10 million deal that took up the team’s room exception.

That, of course, isn’t the fault of Lopez, who had adapted to the Bucks’ offensive philosophy by stretching his range to hit 33.3 percent of his 105 3-point attempts this season as well as being a strong paint protector for the second unit. All while seeing the fewest minutes on the court (958 total) since his fourth season in the NBA, then as a member of the Phoenix Suns.

Lopez knew that his role would be downsized compared to what he had been used to as a starting center between his stints in New Orleans, Portland, New York and most recently in Chicago. Trading that in favor of backing up his twin brother, Brook, and chasing an NBA title was a fair play to make from Lopez’s perspective while still making solid money simultaneously.

In light of their latest playoff failure and embarking on an offseason that will chart their long-term future with Antetokounmpo a year out from free agency, the Bucks have most of the foundation to vie for next season’s title. Even as that foundation is likely to change, with trade buzz surrounding starting point guard Eric Bledsoe.

This is certainly baseless speculation, but given the hardships of building up a trade package that will net the Bucks a difference maker who could bring them over the top, who’s to say that they could eventually flip Lopez and his salary in a deal, should he pick up his option? That’s certainly a thought that has to be considered from the 32-year-old’s perspective.

Next: Shooting alone couldn’t solve Bucks' larger issues

With his peripheral role at risk of being diminished at a moment’s notice, the financial security Lopez has in his back pocket comes with a trade off of not seeing the floor to the degree that he surely would like to. All of that makes his decision regarding his player option a very interesting one.