No. 3 – The Milwaukee Bucks need to keep the squad together as much as they can
The Milwaukee Bucks need to get back as many of their key pieces as possible, but the road there is uncertain, and there will be tough decisions they need to make along the way. The Milwaukee Bucks are projected to have a salary of $221 million for the 2023-24 season. This is $27 million over the salary cap, which basically means that they have no cap space to spend on free agents this offseason.
Khris Middleton is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent in 2023. He has a player option for the 2023-24 season, but there is a lot of interest in Middleton from other teams. Middleton could command a max contract in free agency, which would be worth $30 million or more per year.
One sign for optimism is that Middleton was supposedly included in the in-person meetings during the front office’s search for a new head coach. This could indicate that his future with the team is still secure.
Brook Lopez is also set to become an unrestricted free agent in 2023. He is coming off a season in which he averaged 19 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per game for the Bucks. He shot 41.2 percent from 3-point range in a season where he completely revitalized his career. After looking like an aging shell of himself in past years, Lopez looked like a legitimate star for the Bucks post-back surgery with his dominant impact on both ends of the floor.
It is still too early to say where Middleton and Lopez will play in 2023-24. However, they’re certainly among the most sought-after free agents in the NBA, and they’re sure to have a lot of options outside of the Bucks. This is not to say that they’re the pieces the Bucks need to win a title, but the Bucks will need to bring them back if they want to get other assets back for them in return.
There are quite a number of free agents that general manager Jon Horst will need to decide on as well, and not all of them have a good chance of sticking around. Fifth-year point guard Jevon Carter has a $2.2 million player option to come back to the Milwaukee Bucks next season, which he has a chance to decline after pulling out the best year of his professional career.
Jevon Carter is likely testing his value in free agency, but if there’s any chance the Bucks can get him back, they should pounce on it. Carter was one of Milwaukee’s best two-way players on their roster this season, hard stop. Per PBP Stats, the Milwaukee Bucks gave up 110.4 points per 100 possessions with Jevon Carter playing, and 113.8 when he was on the bench. There’s no denying the impact he had on the team, particularly on the defensive end.
If Carter opts against exercising his player option, the Bucks stand to lose one of the best shooters and defenders on the Bucks roster. Jevon this season averaged eight points, 2.5 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per game while shooting 42.3 percent from the field and 42.1 percent from 3-point range. All year long, Carter was a key contributor off the bench for the Bucks, providing energy, defense, and hustle. He even showed he has what takes to start for the team a few times in place of the injured Khris Middleton.
The thing is, after two years of playing meaningful minutes in the regular season only to rack up DNPs in the postseason, it’s likely Carter will look to take his talents elsewhere. He had one of the best seasons of his career with the Bucks in 2022-23 but was often relegated to a bench role. It’s not difficult to imagine he will likely capitalize on his excellent play to command a bigger contract with another team in free agency.
Wesley Matthews was a key piece for the Bucks this season because of his defense and 3-point shooting. He posted below-average norms of 3.4 points and 2.2 rebounds per game and shot just 32 percent from 3-point range. But Matthews was a key contributor on the defensive end and was a driving force behind the Bucks’ top-10 defense this season.
Joe Ingles, too, was an important part of the Bucks’ offense, providing them with a reliable outside shooter and play connector. He shot 40.9 percent from 3-point range this season while averaging 3.3 assists per game. His shooting opened up the floor for Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday, His presence overall helped the Bucks create more space for their drives to the basket and gave them a more dynamic offense every time he stepped on the court. He also helped the Bucks move the ball more effectively. His playmaking was particularly important when Antetokounmpo and Holiday were double-teamed.
If the Bucks eventually lose these big names, they’ll have to be ready with contingency plans for their free agent replacements.