Less than an hour into the 2019 free agency period, the months long questions surrounding the Bucks have already been answered. Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez and George Hill are back with Milwaukee, while Malcolm Brogdon is headed to Indiana.
Let’s start with Middleton, who re-signed with the Bucks as expected on a five-year/$178 million deal, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Middleton could have earned up to $190 million across five years from his incumbent team, and only $140 million over four years from a new team. In the end, he took slightly less to stick in Milwaukee as the Bucks’ number two option on what is still the largest contract for a second-round selection in NBA history.
It’s still a hefty chunk of change for Middleton – roughly $35 million annually – but Milwaukee did not really have any other choice. With little cap space to work with, the Bucks could only go over the $109 million salary cap to re-sign their own players. Milwaukee was not going to be able to replace Middleton’s production, so they were forced to overpay for the soon-to-be 28-year-old wing. Giannis Antetokounmpo is extension eligible next summer, which is another layer in this Middleton deal. Ideally, this signing should placate their franchise centerpiece who is clearly hellbent on capturing an NBA title.
In the Bucks’ defense, this contract shouldn’t be too ghastly. Middleton, who appeared in his first All-Star Game this season, averaged 19.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg and 4.1 apg on efficient shooting marks over the past two years. He is a multi-faceted two-way player who makes life easier on Giannis on both ends and should age reasonably well into his early thirties. And outside of the time he missed following his horrific hamstring injury in a freak accident in 2016, Middleton has proven to be an incredibly durable piece for Milwaukee.
The Bucks also retained Lopez on a four-year/$52 million pact, Wojnarowski reported. Lopez was critical to the Bucks’ identity as a floor spacer and a rim protector in the first season of the Mike Budenholzer era. Lopez is the only player in league history to average at least two blocks per game while shooting at least 36 percent on over six attempts per game. He also still has a loaded low-post arsenal, something the Bucks likely should tap into more often going forward, especially when opponents’ switch guards onto Splash Mountain.
Defensively, Lopez is probably Milwaukee’s linchpin, as his reliability in the paint allows Giannis to freelance across the floor. Lopez can also slide onto smaller players in a pinch, something he did effectively on Kyrie Irving in the Eastern Conference semifinals this spring.
The Middleton and Lopez inkings left Brogdon’s status up in the air, something that was shortly resolved by yet another Woj report. Milwaukee moved Brogdon to Indiana for a first round pick and two future second’s, and the Pacers ultimately signed Brogdon to a four-year/$85 million deal. Brogdon will be tough piece to replace in Milwaukee; he averaged 15.6 ppg last season and became just the eighth 50/40/90 shooter all-time. But clearly the Bucks prioritized the cheaper Lopez and Eric Bledsoe (who signed a four-year/$70 million extension in March) over the more expensive and oft-injured UVA product as they prepare for Antetokounmpo’s mammoth contract.
For the most part, though, the Bucks are running back last year’s 60-win squad and should enter 2019-20 as a true Finals contender. They also received some future draft capital in return for Brogdon, though it remains to be seen what protections – if any – are on the picks from the Pacers.
Milwaukee also obtained a considerable trade exception in the Indiana deal, which could mean more transactions are on the way. One already happened: Hill – who was initially waived to save $17 million – is back on a three-year/$29 million agreement (per The Athletic’s Shams Charania) as a Brogdon replacement and Bledsoe insurance. Pat Connaughton will also soak up some time in the backcourt, as he did when Brogdon missed substantial time at the end of the regular season and into the playoffs.
Losing Brogdon stings for Milwaukee, especially after developing him as a second-round selection, but the Bucks still have a 24-year-old MVP, a legitimate second star and a pair of quality two-way cogs to work with in 2019-20, plus the flexibility to add during the season. There were a handful of franchise-altering questions facing general manager Jon Horst and the Bucks’ front office this summer, and so far, they have come out of the wilderness with one of the best teams in the NBA.
When Brian's not writing about sports, he is probably prattling on about Marquette hoops, digging through statistics, or re-binging his favorite television series. Any conversation that begins with a quote from "The Office" or "West Wing" is a surefire way to grab his attention.