Khris Middleton is about to make a lot of money. A lot, as in $70 million over the next five seasons.
ESPN first reported Wednesday morning that the Milwaukee Bucks and their emerging wingman had agreed to those contract terms. It will make Middleton the Bucks’ highest-paid player with an annual average salary of $14 million, though the deal can’t be completed until July 9 when the NBA moratorium is lifted.
At its most basic, some might flinch at Milwaukee paying that amount for a player who averaged 13.4 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists last season. However, there are a lot of finer details that need to be considered before deciding whether the Bucks overpaid.
The most important factor is the NBA salary cap, which is about to increase at drastic levels.
This upcoming season, it will be around $68 million. That’s a bump up from $63 million last season. But brace yourself for what’s to come over the next two years.
When the 2016-17 NBA season begins, the league cap is expected to be around $89 million. A year later, when Middleton is beginning the third year of his contract, the salary cap projects at $108 million.
Understanding that information is critical in analyzing the real value of Middleton’s deal. What we all know as $14 million in today’s NBA will soon not represent such a large amount – relatively speaking, of course.
Middleton might not make a flat rate of $14 million per season, as it could be escalating or declining based on the structure. But let’s assume it’s a flat amount every year.
- Middleton: $14 million
- NBA cap: $68 million
- Percentage of Bucks cap space being used on Middleton: 20.5%
Middleton will earn slightly more than one-fifth of the entire Milwaukee payroll
- Middleton: $14 million
- NBA cap: $89 million
- Percentage of Bucks cap space being used on Middleton: 15.7%
- What $14 million will equate to in terms of 2015-16 cap: $10.7 million
Middleton will earn slightly less than one-sixth of the entire Milwaukee payroll. Once the NBA salary cap hits $89 million, the value of Middleton’s $14 million will be what we know today as $10.7 million.
- Middleton: $14 million
- NBA cap: $108 million
- Percentage of Bucks cap space being used on Middleton: 12.9%
- What $14 million will equate to in terms of 2015-16 cap: $8.8 million
Middleton will earn about one-eighth of the entire Milwaukee payroll. Once the NBA salary cap hits $108 million, the value of Middleton’s $14 million will be what we know today as $8.8 million.
Even if Middleton plateaus at his current ability level, is he worth what’s essentially $8.8 million?
Using one-eighth of the salary cap on a player like Middleton – who will still just be 26 years old when the 2017-18 season begins – seems reasonable.
The Bucks acquired Middleton, along with Brandon Knight, in a July 2013 trade that sent Brandon Jennings to the Detroit Pistons.
With Knight and Middleton both on the verge of approaching restricted free agency this summer, Milwaukee made a decision at the February trade deadline about which of them was the better long-term piece. Milwaukee valued Middleton more.
Knowing it would likely take a five-year, $70 million commitment for both players, the Bucks planned ahead and traded Knight to the Phoenix Suns in a three-team deal. The three players Milwaukee received (Michael Carter-Williams, Tyler Ennis and Miles Plumlee) are all on rookie-level contracts. Carter-Williams, Ennis and Plumlee will combine to make $6.17 million this upcoming season. Meanwhile, Knight is expected to sign the same deal with Phoenix that Middleton got from the Bucks ($14 million per season).
From a performance perspective on Middleton, it’s important to look beyond the traditional NBA stat line. He was 10th in the NBA in real plus-minus (a metric that is intended to signify the impact each individual player has on both offense on defense) and ninth in wins above replacement (a stat in which he was ahead of John Wall, Damian Lillard and DeMarcus Cousins, among other star players).
Middleton was Milwaukee’s best long-distance shooter, making 40.7 percent of his three-point attempts last season. Considering that Middleton made 41.4 percent of his threes a year earlier, it’s fair to predict that he’ll consistently maintain that level of accuracy. Middleton’s career 85.8 free-throw percentage is another indication of his quality shooting stroke.
If $14 million per season is still too much for Middleton in the mind of any Bucks fans, there needs to be a suggestion for what else to do with that money. Al-Farouq Aminu reportedly agreed to a free-agent deal with Portland for $7.5 million per season over the next four years. Is it better to have two Aminus or one Middleton? Thaddeus Young re-signed with Brooklyn for $12.5 million per season over the next four years. This is the cost of doing business in the NBA right now with the way the salary cap is set to explode.
Everyone is free to make their own decision on Middleton’s new contract with Milwaukee. Just make sure to have all of the facts straight before jumping to any conclusions.