The Milwaukee Bucks are in a sneaky-strange position after
relinquishing their place as defending NBA champions.
They still have a core in Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton
and Jrue Holiday that figures to keep Milwaukee in contention for
several years. There's no major drama surrounding the team and no
marquee free agent hitting the scene this summer. The Bucks have
more stability than most of the recent ousted champions. In fact,
I'd argue that you'd have to go back to the Kobe Bryant-era Los
Angeles Lakers, Big Three Boston Celtics or early-dynasty San
Antonio Spurs to find teams who gave up the title but still had
Yet, the Bucks also seemed like they were playing from behind in
most of the second round despite leading the series against the
Boston Celtics multiple times. Their half-court offense was
horrendous; Milwaukee averaged a putrid 81.9 points per 100
possessions on half-court plays, per Cleaning the Glass. Their
defense was solid but solvable, as shown by the Grant Williams Game
7 extravaganza and Al Horford's explosion in Game 4.
How much failure can be atrributed to the loss of Middleton? How
much can the Bucks stand pat as other Eastern Conference powers
continue to make moves? How much will they weigh postseason failure
against regular-season success and injuries?
These are the questions leadership will ask itself as Milwaukee
approaches a murky offseason.
The Bucks have their star trio locked down for the next two
years (though Middleton holds a player option in 2023-24). However,
they will have several smaller free agents to manage. Bobby Portis
holds a $4.5 million player option, per Spotrac, and should command
over twice that amount if he decides to hit the open market. Pat
Connaughton ($5.3 million) and Thanasis Antetokounmpo ($1.8
million) also hold player options.
Wes Matthews, despite his low scoring numbers, was one of the most impactful Bucks in
their playoff run. His defense on Jayson Tatum in particular
made the second round a slog for the Celtics' star, helping keep
Milwaukee in contention. Matthews will be an unrestricted free
agent this offseason. At 35 years old, and with a limited offensive
ceiling, he'll be an interesting player to watch this summer. I'm
all for Milwaukee doing what they must to return Matthews, but will
his age and injury history make them hesitant? If so, does another
Serge Ibaka will also hit unrestricted free agency, and was not
much of a factor in Milwaukee this season after being acquired at
the 2022 trade deadline. Jevon Carter joins him and Matthews as an
unrestricted free agent; his case might be more intriguing after he
emerged as a rotation-caliber guard and shot the ball better than
he ever has in his short career. Jordan Nwora and Lindell Wigginton
will both be restricted free agents.
This free agency period ultimately forces Milwaukee to evaluate
its supporting cast around the three stars. Giannis is the rudder
for every decision the franchise makes for at least the next four
years. Milwaukee has to reflect on which players best fit his
strengths and needs, particularly on offense.
Unfortunately, they won't have much free agent flexibility. The
Bucks only have the $6.3 million taxpayer mid-level exception to go
out and sign a complementary piece. They also hold a $1.5 million
trade exception that has almost no functional value. So if they
want to chase a player with more stature, they'll have to get
creative with trades.
However, unlike many past champions, Milwaukee does still hold
its first-round pick outright at No. 24 overall. The NBA Draft
could be an easy way for them to add a rotation piece either by
selection or with a trade. The franchise forfeited its second-round
pick, however, in the fallout from the Bogdan Bogdanovic fiasco of
the 2020 offseason.
Our Senior NBA Draft Analyst Matt Babock currently projects the
Bucks to select Blake Wesley in his most recent 2022 NBA Mock Draft. A 6-foot-5 freshman guard
from Notre Dame, Wesley brings an enticing mix of length, slashing,
scoring potential and defensive upside.
Does a seven-game sample dictate how the Bucks approach this
offseason? It feels unfair to the larger roster and the shooters
who ultimately went cold in a pivotal Game 7. But Milwaukee's
expectations are now to win in these seven-game series, and when
the offense looked as bad as it did in Round 2, running it back
It's not a call for Mike Budenholzer's ousting or saying that
any particular player is holding the team back. The Bucks instead
have to take a long, hard look at what team they want to be and
what current players fit into that mold. They're still very much
title contenders, but this season was a reminder that contention
doesn't get you very far in the NBA.
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