Following their disappointing exit in the second round of the playoffs, Milwaukee Bucks ownership has reportedly made a promise to superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo that they will now commit more money towards building a championship team.
According to ESPN, they are now willing to go into the luxury tax after avoiding taking the plunge so far during their rise with Antetokounmpo at the helm. That approach famously led to the departure of Malcolm Brogdon, who they sorely miss.
ESPN Sources: MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo's 3-hour lunch with Bucks co-owner/governor Marc Lasry on Friday covered the season, how Bucks can improve roster, Lasry confirming willingness to spend into luxury tax and agreement they’ll talk again after Giannis returns from a vacation.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) September 14, 2020
The idea of the Bucks going into the luxury tax, though, has some caveats. For one, we don't know what the luxury tax threshold will be, or even what the total salary cap will be, until the league finalizes the numbers following lost revenue from the coronavirus. Also, Milwaukee isn't going to have much room to work with, no matter what.
According to Spotrac, the Bucks already have about $130.6 million in salary committed to next season and that only leaves about $8.4 million under the luxury tax, based on current projections. Basically, the Bucks have a series of contracts that will escalate year-over-year including for Antetokounmpo, who is in line for a raise of nearly $1.7 million. Khris Middleton's deal also goes up $2.4 million, Eric Bledoe's goes up about $1.3 million and D.J. Wilson earns about $1.6 million more.
Those increases are enough to offset the few players coming off their books; Kyle Korver, Pat Connaughton, Sterling Brown and Marvin Williams among them. Milwaukee also has three players still earning money via the stretch provision next season, including Larry Sanders who was bought out in 2015.
There is really not that much room for the Bucks to do big damage purely by spending more money. They could add some low-priced free agents, but they likely can't just spend their way to a title.
The Bucks' best option is probably going to be via trade and, arguably, with something involving Middleton and/or Bledsoe. Both are good players - in Middleton's case, very good - but they are 29 and 30, respectively, and both signed long-term. Trading either might be considered selling high, especially in a deal involving Middleton who just made his second straight All-Star team.
Trading Middleton now could be smart when considering the prospect of two years from now, if his game diminishes but he's still making $35.5 million with nearly $80 million remaining on his deal. That would then be contrasted with Antetokounmpo, who at 25 is on a different timeline.
It would be bold for Milwaukee to trade Middleton, their second-best player, especially when things have worked so well with him alongside Antetokounmpo for the most part, the last few weeks not \withstanding. But taking the Bucks from very good to great will not be easy, and it may require something much riskier than paying a few extra million in luxury tax dollars.