Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Free Agency Update

So with all the Yi stuff I've been somewhat ignoring the Bucks' free agency situation, but as of yet no deals appear to be imminent with either our own other team's free agents. Gery Woelfel reports Larry Harris called both Gerald Wallace and Desmond Mason when the clock struck midnight on July 1st, but the latest on Wallace is that he's close to re-signing with the Bobcats for upwards of $60 million. More importantly, the Bucks are continuing their discussions with Mark Bartelstein, the agent for both Mo Williams and Charlie Bell. As of now the Bucks have about $7.5 million in cap space when you include the small cap holds for Mo, Bell and Ersan as well as the rookie slot for Yi Jianlian (unsigned first rounders count against the cap, while unsigned second rounders do not). Ramon Sessions has evidently not signed so he won't count against the cap until he does. This assumes a $55 million salary cap, which won't be official until Wednesday. Last year's cap was a shade over $53 million, so most expect the cap to be in the $55-56 million range. That $7.5 million starting salary translated into a maximum possible deal of 5-years and $43.6 million that the Bucks could offer another team's free agent.


As Charles Gardner reports, Williams is facing a difficult decision between the Bucks and Heat. The Bucks are the only team realistically able to offer Mo more than an MLE-type deal (about $5.5 million starting salary), so given Chauncey Billups is re-signing in Detroit the Bucks should be heavy favorites to re-sign him. It's been reported the Bucks have offered Mo a 5-year, $40 million deal, which sounds about right given what players like Kirk Hinrich (5 years, $47.5 million) and TJ Ford (4 years, $33 million) signed for. Mo has reportedly been talking to Miami about a deal starting at the MLE (probably around $5.5 million to start, up to $32 million over 5 years), but the Bucks' offers would be about $2 million per year more. So expect a more likely to deal to be a three-year offer at the full MLE or a five-year deal with an opt-out after three years, which would then also allow Mo to have the option of re-signing with the Heat regardless of their cap situation.

Having played the last three seasons in Milwaukee, the Bucks retain Mo's "Bird rights," so while he is an unrestricted free agent the Bucks have a major advantage in that they can offer him a larger starting salary, bigger annual raises (10.5% vs. 8%) and a longer deal (six years vs. five). With Orlando signing Rashard Lewis, Charlotte having space but not needing a point guard, and Memphis having just drafted Mike Conley 4th overall, no team with cap space has reason to sign Mo. An MLE deal with Miami could be tempting, but the Bucks' can always offer more money and it certainly seems Mo is comfortable in Milwaukee.

The only other option would be for the Bucks to sign Mo to a contract above the MLE and then trade him to a team over the cap like Miami for some combination of players and/or picks. Would Miami be interested enough in Mo to offer Jason Williams' expiring deal and a 1st rounder for the right to sign Mo to a big contract? I'd have to think so, though the bigger question is whether the Bucks would be ready to give up on Mo. Even with Mo signed to a big contract he'd probably be pretty movable given his relative youth, so overpaying slightly for his services doesn't leave you stuck with him for years to come. So if the Bucks eventually change their mind and feel Mo is not the answer at the point you could still get something for him next summer.

I'm guessing the Miami speculation is at least in part an opportunity for Mo to increase his leverage, though their interest seems genuine and the appeal of playing with Wade and Shaq in South Beach is obvious. It could come down to an interesting chess game: will the Heat and Mo offer the Bucks a sign-and-trade deal, and if the Bucks hesitate would Mo actually take the MLE offer instead? Young players almost never take less money to play for a better team, but this decision appears to be going down to the wire. Should Mo leave for nothing, the Bucks would have close to $11 million in cap space, meaning they could offer a max deal of 5 years, $63.4 million. However, who would they spend it on? Billups is going back to Detroit and no other PG is worth more than the MLE. As for non-PGs, Gerald Wallace is likely staying in Charlotte and Darko Milicic would be a huge gamble for anything more than $6-7 million per.


Bell has been working out in Milwaukee and appears highly likely to re-sign, all the more so if Mo bolts for South Florida. The team has asked him to work on his point guard skills over the summer, in large part due to the uncertainty over the Mo Williams situation. As a veteran free agent with three or fewer seasons played, Bell (like Ersan Ilyasova) is an "Early Bird" free agent, meaning that while Bell is free to sign an offer sheet for as much as the MLE with any team, the Bucks would have one week to match the deal and can go over the cap to do so. It's difficult to say what exactly the market for Bell will be--he'd likely be most valuable as a PG because of his size and defense, but he's barely played that position the past two seasons. Offering Bell an MLE deal would be risky since the offer sheet would prevent another team from offering the MLE to another player for the week in which the Bucks have to decided whether or not to match it.

Re-signing Mo and also having PGs Lynn Greer and 2nd rounder Ramon Sessions on the roster probably means Bell would continue to see most of his minutes at the 2, especially with no other obvious backups for Michael Redd on the roster. I think playing him there diminishes his value somewhat, so I'm hoping that the Bucks might be able to keep Bell for three years and $10-12 million. We've seen guys like Jason Kapono (5 years, full MLE) and Matt Carroll (6 years, $27 million) get long deals to essentially be role players, and I'm not crazy about that philosophy. You do need good role players, but it's those types that you can find in the D-League or abroad for next to nothing. One of Larry Harris' strengths has been finding relatively unknown players like Bell, Mo and Lynn Greer, so the Bucks have a track record of succeeding in that respect. I think you overpay for guys who aren't easily replaceable--Redd, eventually Bogut--so while a 5 year deal averaging $4 million for Bell wouldn't be atrocious, it just seems like an unnecessary financial commitment for a guy that you should be able to replace for less.

Re-signing Bell would clearly take on added importance should Mo Williams leave for Miami, a fact that would no doubt not be lost on Bell and Williams' agent Mark Bartelstein. But it would also finally give Bell a chance to contribute as a starting PG, so he'd also have a better chance to earn his paycheck. The debate over whether Bell might be a better fit to run the Bucks has been a long debate over on the Bucks' RealGM board, with Bell proponents pointing out his excellent size and defensive potential against opposing PGs. And while he's not a creator off the dribble, he's a good spot-up shooter who could blend in well with the Bucks' talented offensive weapons by simply bringing the ball up and getting out of the way. Still, going from a Mo/Bell PG rotation to a Bell/Greer/Sessions rotation would no doubt be a huge downgrade.


While it's unlikely another team makes an aggressive offer for Ersan, the bigger threat is the possibility Ersan returns to Europe, where he's already received a 3 year, $7.5 million offer to play for his former national team coach at Turkish club Fenerbahce. After spending his rookie year in the D-League, Ersan showed flashes of his potential last year but for the most part was as inconsistent as you'd expect a 19-year old Turkish rookie to be. He's reportedly bulked up seriously this offseason and now weighs over 240 lbs as he's been working out at the Cousins Center this summer ahead of playing in the European Championships.

I'm definitely optimistic that Ersan could become a useful rotation player this season, and his potential to be much more down the road would seem to warrant a deal worth in the ballpark of 2-3 years and $3 million per. However, European teams often pay players' taxes as well, meaning the offer from Fenerbahce could be worth much more than a similarly structured deal from the Bucks (note I have not seen anything confirming the $7.5 million number is net of taxes).

No comments: