Wednesday, July 4, 2007

What Now, Darko?

Rashard Lewis' signing in Orlando suddenly has made Darko Milicic an unwanted man, which is pretty shocking given the Magic gave up a first-rounder to acquire him and the scarcity of decent young bigs. So not only will the Magic not be able to re-sign Milicic, but he also won't be able to be shipped to another team in a sign-and-trade deal. Still, Magic GM Otis Smith is generally considered a moron, so handing a max deal to a 20 ppg guy that doesn't play defense while letting go a skilled but unproven 22-year 7-footer isn't all that shocking.

Would the Bucks be interested in Darko? Pre-draft I would have said without a doubt. While he's yet to live up to his potential he's already a good defender (nearly 2 bpg in 24 mpg) and his age, mid-range touch and size suggest he has a lot of room for improvement. Given defense and shot-blocking were huge holes for the Bucks last year, Milicic would fill an obvious need, though his mediocre rebounding would not solve Bucks' problems on the glass. And It also says something that the Magic gave up on him, especially since their new coach Stan Van Gundy spoke at his introductory press conference about the rarity of having two talented young big men. While Darko has a lot of talent, a ton of questions remain.

Now that Milicic is an unrestricted free agent the Bucks would appear to be ahead of the pack from a cap perspective, should they have interest. Of course whether he finds Milwaukee an acceptable location is another question, and he wouldn't necessarily get 35 mpg with Villanueva and Yi potentially on the roster, which could be another major stumbling block. While Milwaukee, Charlotte, Memphis and Orlando were the teams with potential cap space coming into free agency, Memphis has apparently focused on signing Andres Nocioni and Orlando would have neither cap space nor Milicic's Bird rights, eliminating the possibility of a sign-and-trade deal. I'm not sure how interested the Bobcats would be considering they just added Jason Richardson's salary and want to re-sign Gerald Wallace as well. That leaves the Bucks, who with a $55 million cap could make Milicic an offer starting around $7.5 million, with the total deal worth as much as $43.5 million over five years AND still retain the ability to sign Mo Williams, Charlie Bell and Ersan Ilyasova. Milicic's other suitors would likely be able to offer only the mid-level exception with a first year salary about $2 million less than what the Bucks could offer.

Here's where the Yi situation becomes an extra headache. While the Bucks hold significant leverage in that Yi seems unwilling to play outside the NBA next year, his presence also makes signing a free agent big man trickier. The one thing the Bucks can offer Yi as of now is playing time even with Villanueva on the roster. Should the Bucks sign Darko (or Anderson Varejao for that matter) then Yi's ability to get on the court would be greatly reduced. To which you might say tough, Yi should have thought about that before trying to force a trade. Still, the Yi situation makes it harder to sign Darko, and signing Darko probably makes it tougher to sign Yi.

So what will Larry Harris do? If he does meet with Yi today it could clarify their situation with him somewhat, though I doubt anything will be resolved. Yi is playing with the national team this summer regardless of his NBA situation, so unless his camp realizes they can't win and are concerned about drawing more negative press, there's little reason for him to sign with the Bucks now.

Should the Bucks sign Milicic it would certainly put even more pressure to move Dan Gadzuric. Gadz is owed roughly $26 million over the next four seasons and has been unable to get consistent minutes the past two seasons, making his salary a major albatross for the Bucks. Even if Gadzuric were dealt and someone like Brian Skinner picked up for the minimum, you could realistically only keep three of the four young big men on the roster for the long haul. Of the Bogut/Dark/CV/Yi foursome, Bogut is the most likely to stick around and Darko is the most obvious complement because of his defense. CV and Yi meanwhile are potentially explosive scorers but soft defenders, and Charlie along with Bogut will be eligible for an extension next summer.

I'd personally be surprised if the Bucks made Darko a significant offer, as he's yet to play at a level worthy of his salary demands and because for now the Bucks do seem committed to bringing Yi to Milwaukee. Still, Larry Harris has promised the Bucks would be much better defensively and as of now he's yet to upgrade the roster in that area. While the number of quality free agents is limited, the number of teams with cap space is even more limited, so the Bucks will have no one to blame but themselves if the free agency game of musical chairs leaves them empty-handed.

No comments: