Potential Free Agency Landing Spots for Milwaukee Bucks' Khris MiddletonJune 4, 2019
Potential Free Agency Landing Spots for Milwaukee Bucks' Khris Middleton
Fresh off his first All-Star appearance, Khris Middleton can decline a $13 million player option and enter unrestricted free agency with seven years of NBA service under his belt.
His current team, the Milwaukee Bucks, has a number of financial decisions on the horizon, including the possibility of a supermax extension for Giannis Antetokounmpo.
All these factors could add up to a huge payday for Middleton, whether it's with Milwaukee or elsewhere.
Having seven years of service means Middleton is eligible for a deal that starts at 30 percent of the salary cap, which is estimated to be $109 million next season. Signing such a deal would give him a starting salary of $32.7 million with the potential for 8 percent annual raises.
In addition to the two teams to which Las Vegas is currently giving the best odds for signing Middleton, we'll look at three other teams on which he would fit and that can accommodate a $32.7 million salary for 2019-20.
A team on the rise, the Atlanta Hawks have some intriguing core pieces in place with John Collins, Trae Young and Kevin Huerter. The addition of an All-Star on the wing, in concert with in-house development of the youngsters, could have them contending for a playoff spot as early as next season.
According to RealGM, Atlanta is projected to have $41.2 million in space this summer—more than enough to sign Middleton to the max. And he's never played with a passer on Young's level.
"I think people enjoy playing with me because of my passing," the point guard told The Ringer's Paolo Uggetti. "One day we're gonna get big free agents because of that."
That day may come sooner than later thanks to Young's surge in the second half of the season.
From Jan. 1 to the end of his rookie campaign, he averaged 21.9 points, 8.6 assists and 2.4 threes. He shot 43.3 percent from the field and 35.3 percent from three.
Throughout the entire season, he hit more shots from beyond 30 feet than anyone else in the league, and his 24-of-70 performance from that range led to a better percentage (34.3) than second-place Stephen Curry (19-of-61 for 31.1 percent) and third-place Damian Lillard (15-of-49 for 30.6 percent).
Teams must pay attention to him that far from the rim, and that opens the floor up for his teammates, who he finds with precision timing and accuracy.
As a Hawk, Middleton would get loads of open looks while spacing the floor off Young's deep hoists and pick-and-rolls. And he could handle the ball himself, too.
"[Young] doesn't pound the ball into the dirt hunting for assists," Nekias Duncan wrote for SB Nation. "He keeps the chain moving, and that Nashian ability to empower his teammates makes them all threats."
The case for the Sacramento Kings is similar to that of the Hawks. This is a team with loads of potential, led by a dynamic young point guard who would get Middleton open looks galore.
A lineup of De'Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Middleton, Harrison Barnes and Marvin Bagley III could be a nightmare to defend. Or, the Kings could go even more offense-heavy and put Bogdan Bogdanovic at the 3 while moving Middleton to the 4.
When you have a bunch of fun young players, you have a bunch of fun options.
With $38.4 million in projected cap space, Sacramento could add Middleton with some room to spare. The only question—and this probably applies to the Hawks, too—is whether it's time to accelerate the timeline.
Do they keep developing the young guys, giving them tons of possessions and waiting another year or two to make the big move? Or, is it time to go for it?
Sacramento was ninth in the West this season. The average age of Fox, Hield, Bogdanovic, Barnes and Bagley is 24. But those middle three are all 26 or 27. They may already be in their primes.
Adding Middleton, who'll be 28 in August, doesn't really change Sacramento's timeline. And as good as the West is, the Kings could conceivably return to the playoffs in the life of a four-year deal for the All-Star.
Fox and Bagley are going to get better. Those 26- and 27-year olds may have another year or two of development, as well. Middleton could be the veteran leader who holds it all together—perhaps like a younger version of Paul Millsap, who has filled the same role for the Denver Nuggets.
The Utah Jazz are projected to reach $33.4 million in cap space, but their road to a max slot is a little trickier than Atlanta's or Sacramento's.
Waiving Derrick Favors' fully non-guaranteed $16.9 million for 2019-20 would do the trick, but he's been loyal to the small-market Jazz and just had perhaps the best season of his career.
Favors was 19th in the entire NBA this season in box plus/minus, just ahead of Joel Embiid. He was eighth in win shares per 48 minutes.
And despite his starter-level talent and production, he's willing to take on a unique role in which he starts out of position at the 4 and plays the bulk of his limited minutes as a backup 5 to accommodate All-NBA center Rudy Gobert.
If you look at this potential move as just a swap of Favors for Middleton, you may be taking a step back in raw talent. This season, Favors topped Middleton in real plus-minus, box plus/minus, win shares per 48 minutes and true shooting percentage. None of the categories were close.
Is the upgrade in fit enough to outweigh the downgrade in productivity and efficiency? At the risk of sounding wishy-washy: maybe.
Favors is a starting-caliber center. He just happens to be on the same team as an All-NBA center who's the reigning Defensive Player of the Year.
The Favors/Gobert numbers aren't as bad as some suggest. Utah was in the 73rd percentile for net rating when those two were on the floor this season, according to Cleaning the Glass. But they were in the 91st percentile when Favors' backup, Jae Crowder, shared the floor with Gobert.
Now, imagine Middleton receiving those minutes as a playmaking 4. This past season, Middleton more than doubled Crowder's assist percentage, and his three-point percentage was nearly five points higher.
Utah is certainly closer to real contention than Atlanta or Sacramento, and Middleton could fit seamlessly in a core with Gobert and Donovan Mitchell.
According to odds posted by Yahoo's Keith Smith, Vegas is only taking bets on two potential destinations for Middleton right now: the Bucks and Luka Doncic's Dallas Mavericks. And according to Marc Stein of the New York Times, Dallas intends to pursue the All-Star forward and Kemba Walker of the Charlotte Hornets during this summer's free-agency period.
With Dwight Powell declining his player option for 2019-20, the only guaranteed money on the books belongs to Tim Hardaway Jr., Courtney Lee, Doncic and Justin Jackson. They're set to make just under $42 million combined.
If you factor in the cap holds for Kristaps Porzingis and J.J. Barea, Dallas would have around $43 million in space, and that would drop by another $10 million if Porzingis signs a max deal. His starting salary for such a contract would be around $27 million, which makes adding both Middleton and Walker impractical.
But a core of Luka, Middleton and Porzingis is plenty intriguing.
Flanked by Middleton, pick-and-rolls with Doncic and Porzingis would be difficult to defend. And Doncic and Middleton's names may be interchangeable in that sentence.
Dallas has a budding star in its Rookie of the Year candidate. Now, it's all about finding talent that helps Doncic hit his ceiling. Middleton has plenty of experience playing with a ball-dominant point forward and could even impart some of his own wisdom and skills.
Vegas sees Middleton re-signing with Milwaukee as the likeliest scenario. And it's not close.
That makes sense, given the fact that the Bucks just came within two wins of the NBA Finals. Plus, almost every core player is still under 30.
But if Middleton is going to be on a max deal and Giannis is going to be on the supermax, things are going to get expensive quickly.
In addition to Middleton possibly entering unrestricted free agency, Malcolm Brogdon also becomes a restricted free agent this summer. Because Milwaukee will have the option to match any offer sheet Brogdon signs, a team hoping to pry him away may have to pony up more than it would like.
Brogdon's max is 25 percent of the cap. Middleton's is 30 percent. Giannis' supermax would be 35 percent. Together, that's 90 percent for three players.
Of course, this isn't uncharted territory. Plenty of teams are top-heavy in terms of salary, and the NBA has mechanisms for going over the cap. But if the Bucks think that's a title-contending top three, they'll have to be creative filling out the rest of their roster.
This season, Milwaukee was plus-7.8 points per 100 possessions (90th percentile) when those three shared the floor, according to Cleaning the Glass. And since Middleton is 27, Brogdon is 26 and Giannis is 24, it's not inconceivable to think that trio has room for a little more growth.
All statistics, unless otherwise indicated, courtesy of Basketball Reference.