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Offseason of tough and expensive decisions lies ahead

The Milwaukee Bucks’ new recipe for success has been working, but the looming offseason poses some serious questions for the future of the franchise.

To be honest, I didn’t expect the Milwaukee Bucks to be performing so well at this point in the season. The Bucks are steam-rolling their competition, and have shattered all expectations up to this point of the year.

From stellar coaching to improved on-court play, the Bucks’ have seemingly figured things out. Together, they look like favorites to emerge from the Eastern Conference.

That being said, it is getting closer and closer to the upcoming offseason, where serious questions about the future of the team will have to be addressed.

Fans often grow attached to certain players and their respective roles within the franchise. As an example, for as much as I used to harp on Eric Bledsoe, over time it has become much easier to recognize and appreciate his value to the team. However, that does not mean that he will be a Buck for life. The same can be said for Khris Middleton, Malcolm Brogdon, and Brook Lopez.

Good players command big money, and often, the better teams are not able to pay all of their players what they are worth. In turn, they venture off for broader (and richer) horizons.

The Milwaukee Bucks are in an interesting place, though. There is a strong possibility that the Bucks can shed some salary and retain their core players.

In order to keep the nucleus of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bledsoe, Brogdon, Middleton, and Lopez, the Bucks may have to dump contracts to ensure that their main players are properly compensated.

If the Bucks waive veteran guard George Hill before July 2, 2019, they will only have to pay him $1,000,000 instead of his full salary of $18,000,000 for next season.

Tony Snell is another expensive piece the Bucks could look to ship out. Snell could provide a litany of sound defense and excellent shooting for a number of NBA teams. With a price tag of $11,000,000 for, at most, two more years, Snell’s contract should be friendly enough for a team to take the bait and bring him in for the last year of his deal.

Brogdon is going to be a restricted free agent. A restricted free agent is a player who must remain with their existing team into their new contract, unless another team offers them a contract that their current franchise chooses not to match.

If a lucrative offer comes in that tests Milwaukee’s resolve, the Bucks could let Brogdon walk by deciding no to match the offer sheet. Conversely, the Bucks could match it and pay Brogdon the higher price at the risk of being unable to bring in other free agents and possibly retain current players.

Another interesting situation to monitor is Khris Middleton and his upcoming free agency. Middleton has a player option which can either be invoked or declined this offseason, meaning that he can either choose to become a free agent, or remain with the Bucks for one more year.

Middleton’s current contract has paid him an average of $14 million per year. As most Bucks fans would agree, that is less than what he deserves. As such, Middleton will likely decline his player option and enter free agency. This would be a blow to the Bucks; but not an end-of-the-world scenario. If Middleton declines his contract, the Bucks would simply have to offer him a larger deal in an attempt to persuade him to stay longer-term.

Middleton is going into year eight of his NBA career. At this point, teams are eligible to offer him 30 percent of the salary cap. Meaning if there’s sufficient interest to push the Bucks to that range, Middleton could be averaging out at upwards of $30 million per year on a new deal. If the Bucks pay Middleton that amount, they may end up losing either Lopez or Bledsoe, if the owners are eager to avoid a tax bill.

Bledsoe and Lopez are both on expiring contracts, becoming free agents this offseason. This means that when their contract expires after the season, they are free to go wherever they choose. Both are in peculiar spots. I have touched on how much I think Lopez is worth previously, so for now, we’ll address Bledsoe and his situation.

Bledsoe is having a great year. He has found his role in the Milwaukee Bucks’ rotation as a staunch defender, crafty inside scorer, and an average shooter. He brings intensity each and every time he steps on the court, making him a valuable asset to the Bucks.

It is unlikely that Bledsoe will find another situation as ideal as Milwaukee. The best teams in the NBA already have All-Star caliber point guards, so he would likely be relegated to the bench.

In Milwaukee, Bledsoe is a starter, and a good one at that. Milwaukee would have the funds available, even with a max deal thrown at Middleton, to offer Bledsoe a healthy, mid-sized deal. Will they want to do that for a 29-year-old with a troubling injury history and a game largely predicated on athleticism, though?

If the Bucks want to bring the band back together, these are the kind of difficult decisions and potentially expensive deals they’re going to have to face up to. As currently constructed, the Milwaukee Bucks are championship contenders. With more time spent playing together, the Bucks chemistry should improve even more than it already has. Re-signing core players could prove to be a price worth paying for success.

The time to compete for a championship is now. The current rotation has proven their ability to compete at a high level, and if they can continue their strong play through this year’s playoffs, retaining core to make future deep runs is certainly easy to imagine.

Next: Win in 6 Podcast #254: Getting excited about the Bucks in 2019

For now, the Bucks still have plenty of work to do this season, and the fans can sit back and comfortably enjoy the greatness that is the Milwaukee Bucks’ 2018-2019 season. Don’t get too cozy, though, because change could still be brewing in the summer months.

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