Bucks' 2022 Free Agents, Targets and Draft Needs After NBA Playoff Loss
The Milwaukee Bucks will go back to the drawing board as they look for a fresh start next season after the Boston Celtics eliminated them from the 2022 NBA playoffs in Game 7 of the second round on Sunday.
Milwaukee had defeated the Chicago Bulls in five games during the opening round.
After breaking through in last year's postseason with an NBA championship, expectations were justifiably high for the Bucks coming into this season. But they never really hit that high gear during the regular season because of injuries, health-and-safety protocols and a feeling of coasting until the playoffs.
Despite not playing at that elite level for the entire season, the Bucks still entered the playoffs as one of the favorites to win the title. They were the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference with a 51-31 record and had the league's third-best offensive rating (115.1), per Basketball Reference.
Giannis Antetokounmpo was the steady presence around which everything else on the roster revolved. The 27-year-old had another MVP-caliber season with 29.9 points, 11.6 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game. Jrue Holiday shot a career-best 41.1 percent from three-point range, and Khris Middleton was named to the All-Star team for the third time in his career.
The main core of Milwaukee's roster is under contract through at least the 2022-23 season, but there are important role players who could leave in free agency this summer.
Looking ahead to the offseason, here are the key storylines for the Bucks front office.
Unrestricted Free Agents
Serge Ibaka, C
Wesley Matthews, SG
Jevon Carter, PG
Bobby Portis, PF ($4.6 million player option)
Pat Connaughton, SG ($5.7 million player option)
Restricted Free Agents (Qualifying Offer Value)
Jordan Nwora, PF ($2.012 million)
Lindell Wigginton, SG ($1.58 million)
Qualifying offer values via Spotrac.
If Bobby Portis declines his option for next season, he will be the biggest offseason question for the Bucks. The 27-year-old signed a two-year deal with the 2020-21 NBA champs after a terrific season that saw him shoot 47.1 percent from three-point range in 66 games.
Serge Ibaka and Wesley Matthews were significant contributors off the bench for head coach Mike Budenholzer.
Matthews was a terrific find, as he didn't sign with the club until Dec. 3 but he became an invaluable part of the defense. Even as the 35-year-old's offensive performance has declined, his ability to still hold up as a wing defender could make him a strong candidate to re-sign on a cheap one-year deal.
Ibaka would seem unlikely to be brought back. The 32-year-old was acquired at the trade deadline on Feb. 10 from the Los Angeles Clippers as part of a four-team deal. He was brought in to provide insurance at center while Brook Lopez was recovering from a back injury that kept him out for 67 games.
As long as Lopez is healthy, the Bucks could look to sign a low-cost backup center if Ibaka is out of their price range.
Jevon Carter's primary role is as a shooter off the bench, and he made 55.8 percent of his three-pointers in 20 games with Milwaukee down the stretch.
For his career, the 26-year-old is a 38.3 percent shooter from behind the arc. He's another player who could return to the Bucks on a low-cost one-year deal.
Potential Free Agent/Trade Targets
One benefit of having your core group of players under contract and being one of the best teams in the league is that you don't have to sweat over free agency.
Of course, one drawback of having so many players on big contracts is that it can limit what you want to do. The Bucks already have $160.2 million in salary commitments for 13 players next season, per Spotrac. They are projected to have the second largest luxury-tax bill in the league ($19.33 million).
Prior to signing a five-year extension with Milwaukee in December 2020, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported Antetokounmpo received assurances from governor Marc Lasry that they would be willing to spend into the luxury tax.
Given all of that, the only real options for the Bucks are probably going to be below-market deals for high-quality backups who want the opportunity to play for a title contender.
If Portis opts out and leaves as a free agent, backup center will be a position of need given how much time Lopez missed this season. Dwight Howard could be an option just as a player who can provide 10-12 minutes off the bench.
The 36-year-old was already more expensive than Portis with a $7 million base salary in 2021-22. It doesn't seem like that would go down after he averaged 7.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and made 41.5 percent of his three-point attempts this season.
The Bucks could add a potentially valuable role player during the draft. They own the No. 23 pick this year after not picking in the first round last year as part of the compensation in the Tucker trade with the Houston Rockets in March 2021.
Donte DiVincenzo is the last first-round pick by the Bucks who played for the team. The 17th overall selection in 2018 appeared in 176 games for Milwaukee from 2018-21. He was traded to the Sacramento Kings on Feb. 10 as part of the Ibaka deal.
Looking at potential roster needs for the Bucks and matching up with who could be available in the draft, there are some intriguing options they could look at.
Mark Williams could be used to fill the backup center role. B/R's Jonathan Wasserman said the 20-year-old has the "draft field's best tools for finishing and shot-blocking." He averaged 7.4 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game in 39 appearances for the Blue Devils this season.
The Duke product is a limited player coming into the NBA, but the Bucks are a team that can afford to bet on him because his skill set aligns with what they might want from a No. 2 center.
Wasserman cited G League guard Dyson Daniels as a potential option for Milwaukee in his mock draft from April 16.
"Daniels didn't put up notable scoring or shooting numbers in the G League, but there is interest in his versatility," he wrote. "Improving his three-ball remains a priority, though it won't need to be a 40 percent shot given his projected contributions as a driver and finisher, playmaker and defender."
The Bucks aren't at a point where they need to start drafting players who can help for their future, but it's going to come sooner than later.
Jrue Holiday is 32 in June, and Khris Middleton will turn 31 on Aug. 12. Milwaukee needs to start finding some young players who can turn into contributors by the time both veterans exit their prime years.