Monday, June 22, 2015

Building The 15 - Ilyasova Trade and How to Handle Dudley & Middleton

I had my post in the can for how Milwaukee Bucks general manager John Hammond should approach the players on The 15 from last season that have decision points that will impact whether they are on The 15 next season since there are only two players fit that description: shooting guard/small forward Khris Middleton is a restricted free agent and small forward/power forward Jared Dudley has a player option for next season.  Hammond threw a little but of a wrench in that when he traded power forward Ersan Ilyasova aka the Poor Man's Dirk to the Detroit Pistons for small forward Caron Bulter and small forward Shawne Williams.  Before I discuss how to handle Middleton and Dudley, let's clean-up the Ilyasova trade.

This was a salary dump that gives the Bucks essentially useless salary cap space that I hope they sit on unless they can somehow lure a top-end free agent.  I don't want to step on my free agency preview for Hammond that I plan to post early next week too much but unless the Bucks can attract a potential NBA All-Star (think DeAndre Jordan, LaMarcus Aldridge, Greg Monroe, etc.) then I say sit on the sidelines for free agency because the last thing the Bucks need to do is overpay mediocre players to fill spots on The 15 given all the upcoming money they will presumably need to commit to Middleton, The Greek Freak, Jabari Parker, and possibly MCW.  The salary cap space is most likely useless given that mega NBA stars never sign with the Bucks as free agents unless they already play in Milwaukee (think Big Dog, Ray Allen, and Michael Redd).

In terms of the actual players involved, I still think Ilyasova is a Poor Man's Dirk so given that he is scheduled to earn $7.9 million this season and has what amounts to a team option for next season since only $400,000 of his $8.4 million contract is guaranteed, I would have much rather just kept Ilyasova, especially because the Bucks couldn't even beat a future second round pick out of the Pistons in this deal.  Bulter had a cup of stale coffee with the Bucks that lasted 34 games in the 2013-14 season before being waived, which was NOT what Butler expected to happen given that his presence on The 15 for the Bucks that season was being dubbed as a coming home party for the Racine native.  Don't get any grand illusions about Butler rectifying that in his second go round given that the Bucks will waive him before July 1st to get rid of his $4.5 million non-guaranteed salary for next season.  The Bucks can hold tight on Shawne Williams for now because his $1.4 million salary does NOT have a July 1st guaranteed date so he might be a useful, cheap bench guy depending on what happens in the 2015 NBA Draft and free agency.

With my analysis of the Ilyasova salary dump trade out of the way, let's turn to Middleton and Dudley.  The easier case is Dudley because he holds the cards since it is a $4.25 million early termination option so there is NOT much advice I can give Hammond other than to entice Dudley to NOT exercise his early termination option.  Dudley was clearly a useful locker room presence last season and occasionally provided some on-court production given that he can play and defend any position on the floor besides point guard. If Dudley opts out, my guess is that he would do that just to add a couple years at roughly the same average salary per season to his deal but it only takes one irrational team to inflate Dudley's market value.  There is no way that Dudley ever signs another mega-deal but given that the salary cap is going to skyrocket in a couple seasons, I could see a borderline playoff team overpaying Dudley.  Although I like Dudley, the Bucks should NOT get in a bidding war if he exercises his early termination option because next off-season they have a ton of potential free agents so The 15 could go through a pretty drastic makeover in the next 18 months.  Dudley would be a nice person to help smooth over the changes to The 15 but NOT if that price is over $5 million per season.  Let's see if Dudley actually terminates his contract.  If he does, the ceiling I would go on Dudley is three-years, $15 million.

That leaves the most interesting decision for Hammond this off-season, which is how to handle Middleton.  If I am Middleton's agent, I don't want to overplay my hand too much because Bill Simmons sadly formerly of coined the phrase "a market max player".  Feel free to read his entire take but basically it means that since the salary cap is going to skyrocket the next few seasons, there are guys that are NOT max guys that will get paid like max guys because a few years from now that contract will look reasonable given the jump in the NBA's salary structure cap thanks to the influx of cash from their new television deal.  If Middleton is willing to sign for $10 million a year or less, make the deal and move on.  If Middleton is actually holding out as "a market max player" then the decision is much more nuanced.

I assume that Middleton will be looking for between $12 and $15 million per year so let's break this down a little more.  Middleton has only played three NBA seasons but his PER has gone up each season: 11.43 in 2012-13, 12.55 in 2013-14, and 15.70 in 2014-15.  Middleton looks like the perfect 3-and-D given his body-type (6'7" and 225 lbs) and three-point shooting ability (above 40% shooter for his career).  With all the good news out the way, there are two caveats to making Middleton "a market max player".  One, I question if this year-over-year improvement is sustainable for Middleton long-term.  Two, with all the guys the Bucks might have to pay in the future, it might make sense to move Middleton for future draft picks and expiring contracts.  Given that the Bucks have such a hard time attracting free agents, I would sign Middleton to a long-term contract as long as it does NOT exceed $15 million per season.

Make sure to check back tomorrow for the start of my 2015 NBA Draft preview when I given Hammond names of guys that he should reasonably target with the 46th pick in the 2nd round of the 2015 NBA Draft.

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