For a team that mostly stays out of mainstream headlines, the Bucks will head into this summer as one of the more intriguing teams to watch. Head coach Jim Boylan only holds the position on an interim basis, a state of flux that is representative of nearly the entire roster.
No matter who the next Bucks head coach is, he may have to make do without guard Monta Ellis. The 27-year-old Ellis will likely enter into unrestricted free agency this offseason, joined by backcourt mates Brandon Jennings and J.J. Redick.
To put it another way, Milwaukee may possibly lose three of its four best players. And as much as we all love (or hate, whatever) Larry Sanders, he can't be the face of a franchise.
That makes the future of all three players captivating, but Ellis may be the wild card to watch. In his first full season with the Bucks, Ellis struggled in a more off-the-ball role. His points per game dipped to 19.2, his first season below 20 a night since 2008-09—the year he came back from a moped accident and played just 25 games. Even more disconcerting was Ellis' field-goal percentage, which dipped to 41.6 this season.
Not exactly what one would call a contract-year breakout. Nevertheless, his impending free agency remains something of note for NBA diehards regarding what it means for this era of general managers.
With that in mind, let's take a look at all of the latest notes about the Bucks guard's future.
Ellis Plans to Opt Out of Contract This Summer?
The biggest reason Ellis' future in Milwaukee is so up in the air heading into this offseason is that he has an early-termination option in his contract next season. Ellis is scheduled to make $11 million in 2013-14, the final year of the six-year, $66 million deal he signed when still with the Golden State Warriors.
Though $11 million is a bevy of money for a player like Ellis, his opt-out clause has hung a cloud over his season with the Bucks. By opting out, Ellis could land a long-term contract that would give him financial security beyond next season. And at 27 years old, the score-first guard is in the prime of his career, right when he theoretically should be signing the richest deal of his career (again, in theory).
According to the Journal Times' Gery Woelfel, Ellis plans on cashing in. Two sources close to Ellis have confirmed he plans on opting out of his deal to score a long-term deal this offseason:
At least, that’s the prevailing sentiment of some Ellis acquaintances. They claim Ellis, the Bucks’ potent-scoring guard, has indicated to them that he intends on opting out of his contract after the season and becoming an unrestricted free agent.
The prevailing reaction to this news is a resounding "no duh." Ellis opting out of his deal has been expected since the beginning of the season, and Milwaukee's acquisition of J.J. Redick was in part a contingency plan for that reality.
Whether or not Ellis comes back will be dictated by the market. The Bucks likely have a figure in mind they're willing to pay, and one dime more would be enough to end the Ellis experiment.
Bucks Choosing Between Ellis and Redick?
Though trading for Redick worked as a sort of contingency plan, there's just one problem: Redick is an unrestricted free agent this offseason as well. And having been on a below-market-value contract for the past three seasons, Redick won't be giving Milwaukee a hometown discount
The Bucks were rumored to be dangling a five-year, $40 million deal in front of Redick, but those rumors were quickly debunked by the guard himself. It seems, like Ellis, that Redick's career with the Bucks might be a short-term venture.
That's especially the case if a recent report from ESPN's Chris Broussard rings true. According to Broussard, the Bucks "realistically" understand they'll only be able to bring a maximum of two of their trio of guards back next season:
While the Milwaukee Bucks would love to keep their three free-agent guards this summer -- Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis and J.J. Redick -- they understand they'll realistically be able to keep only two.
Who should the Bucks keep?
Broussard goes on to mention Brandon Jennings being the most likely because he is a restricted free agent. So it doesn't exactly take Dr. Sheldon Cooper to figure out that Milwaukee's decision is between two players: Redick and Ellis.
Again, this will come down to money. Redick and Ellis are of a similar age, both in their primes but likely signing their last long-term NBA contract. There won't be a penny of consideration from either side, even if Milwaukee offers both more scoring opportunities than a different destination.
That being said, if one bolts quickly in July, the Bucks might throw a fat contract at the other out of desperation. It's safe to say we've seen crazier things happen in an NBA offseason.
"Thanks But No Thanks," Say NBA GMs on Paying Ellis $11 Million a Year
If you take a straw poll around the league, it's hard to find many players more polarizing than Ellis.
A captivating scorer who can beat you off the bounce in an instant and stroke beautiful mid-range jumpers when he's on, Ellis has been one of the league's most electrifying scorers for the better part of a decade. He's a guy who had a scintillating stretch when playing Nellie Ball in Golden State, averaging 25.5 points per game in 2009-10 and 24.1 points per game in 2010-11.
No one is denying his talents. What has come under question is his black-hole scoring mentality, how the ball stops moving when it's in his hands and how his ability to knock down jumpers is downright schizophrenic. And when those jumpers aren't falling, Ellis isn't about to stop shooting.
For some, 25-points-a-night potential is good enough that you take the good with the bad. For others, he's a cancerous figure who has no place on their teams' rosters. It's a juxtaposition faced by many shoot-first players in today's version of the NBA, where ball movement has become paramount.
As such, it's not surprising that some NBA general managers have questioned Ellis' decision to opt out. According to the Journal Times' Gery Woelfel, several team executives have said they would not pay Ellis his current $11 million salary over a long-term deal:
In conversations with several general managers, not one said they would pay Ellis more than he’s already receiving. That’s $11 million, which is the same amount he would be paid next season if he opted to remain with the Bucks.
Again, not a big shocker. Ellis will be walking into a market that includes plenty of top-flight players, including the similarly polarizing J.R. Smith—the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year who made a pittance this season.
But Ellis opting out of his deal isn't about landing a max contract. It's rooted in him landing a long-term deal, one that will take him into his 30s and give him financial security for life. All it takes is a four-year, $34 million deal—which is below market value—to put Ellis' career earnings as a player at $100 million.
That's what he's looking at—not the yearly figure. While it's questionable which team will step up, one will, making Ellis' decision to decline his option both understandable and advisable.