Sunday, July 22, 2007

What the Voskuhl Signing Means

Jake Voskuhl was officially unveiled on Friday. He signed a one-year deal worth $3 million, certainly not a bargain for a backup big man (as the eternal optimist, I refuse to use the word "stiff"). Voskuhl had signed a two year deal for $4 million with the Bobcats last summer, but the second year was a player option and he took advantage of it by signing with the Bucks for about a million more. With the official announcement of Desmond Mason's signing coming on Monday, the Bucks will be mostly done with signing outside free agents--they'll only be able to sign free agents using the minimum exception. They will still be able to use Bird rights to re-sign Mo Williams and Charlie Bell while the rookie exception allows them to sign Yi Jianlian and Ramon Sessions.

The move signaled the Bucks' intent not to re-sign Brian Skinner, who had started 44 games last year after being reacquired in the Jamaal Magloire/Steve Blake trade. To make room for Voskuhl the Bucks renounced their Bird rights to Skinner, who now could only be brought back on a minimum contract (assuming the Mason signing eats up the rest of the Bucks' cap space, which is a near lock). All things being equal it would appear the Bucks would have preferred to bring Skinner back, as he did a decent job as Bogut's bodyguard, often accepting the chore of guarding opposing team's best big men. But the rumors are he wanted a multi-year deal that the Bucks simply weren't interested in.

Further complicating the situation is that the Bucks' big man rotation is currently being held hostage by the continued uncertainty over Yi Jianlian. Going after a potential starter like Darko Milicic or Anderson Varejao would have added much needed depth and insurance against Yi forcing a trade, but also would have given Yi and his reps the ability to question the Bucks as a fit for a player whose number one priority is getting NBA experience ahead of the '08 Beijing Olympics. The fact that Yi would immediately be relied on as the Bucks' backup PF is one of the Bucks' best negotiating chips. It appears the Bucks never seriously were interested in Milicic or Varejao, and that they've never wavered from their stated belief that Yi would be on the team. It's that sort of determination which makes it very likely the Bucks win their stare-down with Yi and his wranglers, but it may be a little while before it becomes official.

The Voskuhl signing is also a signal of the Bucks' confidence in Charlie Villanueva, or at least their willingness to see what they have in the third-year forward. Voskuhl played about a quarter of his minutes last year at PF, so he can provide some relief there, but as of now the Bucks have only Villanueva, Yi and the Damir Markota Experience as natural PFs. Yi remains something of a question mark obviously while Markota is junk. Ruben Patterson and Ersan Ilyasova provided depth at PF last year and will not be back. Bobby Simmons could provide some minutes at PF but his health has yet to be proven. So it appears Villanueva will have every opportunity to prove to the Bucks they have their PF of the future regardless of whether Yi ever puts on a Bucks uniform.

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