State of the Cap: Milwaukee Bucks
2011/12 Payroll: $55.2 million
2011/12 (Projected) NBA Salary Cap: $54 million
Roughly: $1.2 million over cap
Highlights: Milwaukee’s highest paid player also happens to be their best player, which is usually a good thing. Andrew Bogut is one of the top centers in the league, though he is not without his drawbacks. For one, his injury history has become a major red flag. He missed over half a season in 2008-09, missed last year’s playoffs with his horrific elbow dislocation, and missed 17 games this year due to nagging ailments. Franchise players need to be there for their teams and Bogut has had a lot of trouble staying on the court. His offense also took a dip this season, dropping 3 points a game to 12.8, partly due to his horrendous 44% free throw shooting. With $12.1, $13.1, and $14.2 million coming the next three seasons, these issues are concerning.
However, when Bogut is in the line-up, there is no disputing his production. Bogut lead the league in blocked shots at 2.6 per game and was fifth in the league in rebounding at 11.1, both numbers a career high. He was even under consideration for defensive player of the year, which is a great example of how far he has come as a player. With that kind of output, and only being 26 years old, there is little doubt that Bogut is capable of earning his money. He just needs to make sure he can stay on the court.
There aren’t a lot of success stories on the Bucks after the majorly disappointing season they had, but Ersan Ilyasova played pretty well for a relatively cheap price. The forward averaged 9.5 points and 6.1 rebounds a game, which isn’t bad compared to his $2.5 million salary next season. Although, like most Bucks players, Ersan missed a significant chunk of the season due to injury (22 games), dampening the return on their investment.
Lowlights: Part of Milwaukee’s plan to make the leap to title contender involved Brandon Jennings improving upon his promising rookie season. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. While technically his shooting percentage did improve, it only went from 37% to 39%. Not exactly the kind of bump they had hoped for. Across the board, Jennings’s numbers showed almost no change from last year, putting into question whether he is capable of developing into the marquee star the Bucks need. His biggest problem has been finishing around the rim after he uses his incredible quickness to blow by defenders. He doesn’t yet have the confidence to finish the play and his slight frame can’t handle any contact he might receive. Jennings is still a good value since he is under his rookie deal, but he needs to show improvement if Milwaukee wants to have a bright future.
Usually, when a player is nearly 30 and about to join his ninth NBA team, you don’t give him a five year contract worth $32 million. It's contracts like this that are at the center of the NBA labor dispute. Drew Gooden is a pretty decent, role-playing power forward. He can give you a little scoring and rebounding from game to game. But there is no way Gooden deserved a contract with that length and dollar value. It will be tough to trade him anytime soon so hopefully he can stay healthy and fill the role he was signed for.
The Future: After his amazing run to end the season, the Bucks rewarded shooting guard John Salmons with a surprising five year contract for about $8 million a year. They also traded for veteran Corey Maggette, who was due to make even more than Salmons. If the Bucks had done one transaction or the other, it might have worked out. Instead, they had two players at the same position who both failed. Maggette never got enough minutes to be effective and Salmons didn’t come close to matching last year’s performance as his scoring average dropped almost six points a game due to poor shooting.
A year after winning Executive of the Year honors, Bucks’ GM John Hammond had a lot of egg on his face after last summer’s regrettable moves. To make up for the Salmons-Maggette debacle, Hammond shipped both of them out of town just before the draft and brought in Stephen Jackson and Beno Udrih. Many viewed this as a step to the side since the player salaries and skill levels are arguably the same. However, I think these players are a better fit for this team. They lose their logjam at the 3 with Jackson, who can still score and hit big shots, and they now have a better backup point guard in Udrih, who had decent numbers in Sacramento (though not worthy of his $7.2 million price tag). Salmons and Maggette just weren’t panning out for the Bucks, which was a major contributor to their forgettable season.
To be fair, Milwaukee did have to endure more injuries than the average NBA team. Jennings, Bogut, Maggette, Gooden, Ilyasova, and Carlos Delfino all missed between 15 and 47 games each. This is what gives the Bucks hope for next season and why some people are saying they could be one of the surprise teams to make a big leap. They have only two players under contract beyond 2013, so the team is in a good position to make some trades and spend some money if next season doesn’t pan out. They even have a couple of promising young players besides Jennings. Center Larry Sanders showed he has some shot blocking skills and newly drafted Tobias Harris from Tennessee has a lot of upside at the power forward position. With this mix of players, if Milwaukee can reverse their health jinx and gel like they did in 2009-10, the Bucks could easily find themselves back in the playoffs and making some noise. The anticipated improvement of Jennings will have a lot to do with that.