NBA AM: Bucks Not Satisfied With Recent Success

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Milwaukee Bucks not resting on this past season’s success

The Milwaukee Bucks, a season after winning just 15 contests and punching a trip to the draft lottery, secured the Eastern Conference’s sixth seed in this year’s playoffs after posting 41 victories in the 2014-15 campaign.

The fact Milwaukee became one of the league’s surprise teams this season still defies odds, especially when you consider all of the hurdles the franchise had to overcome over the past 11 months.

First, there was the questionable handling of firing head coach Larry Drew in order to hire Jason Kidd to roam the sidelines. Then, the team lost heralded rookie Jabari Parker for the season to a torn ACL. Next, the team had to deal with abrupt retirement of center Larry Sanders. This doesn’t even factor in the surprising midseason trade, and adjustment period, after dealing guard Brandon Knight to acquire former Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams.

To put it simply, Milwaukee had numerous stops along their journey this past season to fold up like a worn out tent, but the franchise continued to march on diligently, even pushing the heavily favored Chicago Bulls to six games before being eliminated from the playoffs.

Heading into the summer, the Bucks don’t appear comfortable with the notion of hanging their hats on the success from the past few months. There is momentum building in Milwaukee around the franchise. The team unveiled new uniforms that have received praise, Parker appears headed to a full recovery while also toning a physique once questioned for not being as fit and the core group are under contract next season.

However, the team will need to maintain their momentum once free agency begins. Assuming the team issues the $2.3 million qualifying offer to emerging forward Khris Middleton, he’ll be restricted and they’ll have to navigate the free agency waters to retain him. The squad will have control once the qualifying offer is issued since it would give the team the right to match any offer for his services.

Depending on forward Jared Dudley’s early termination option ($4.3 million) and Middleton’s cap hold ($2.3 million), the team could have between $15.9 and $29.7 million in cap space this summer to use in free agency. Of course, this number will fluctuate based on how the team decides to move on non-guaranteed deals to players such as Caron Butler ($4.5 million), Shawne Williams ($1.3 million) and Jorge Gutierrez ($950k).

With Milwaukee now armed with the financial flexibility needed to become a buyer in free agency, expect the franchise to be extremely active on this front.

Big men will be the team’s primary focus once free agency begins in July, according to a recent report by ESPN’s Marc Stein:

“League sources say the Bucks want a proven center in free agency if they can score one, and have pinpointed two kinds of former All-Stars — Dallas’ Tyson Chandler and Brooklyn’s Brook Lopez — as targets for the top of their wish list. Bucks coach Jason Kidd knows both of them well, having played alongside Chandler in both Dallas and New York and having coached Lopez with the Nets. And word is that Milwaukee intends to chase both hard come July 1 in hopes of emerging as a serious contender for at least one of them.”

Veteran Zaza Pachulia started the majority of the games at center for Milwaukee last season, providing a solid 8.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per contests in just under 24 minutes per night.

As good as Pachulia performed, unexpectedly taking on a larger role while stepping in for Sanders, the Bucks could benefit from more bodies on the interior.

Chandler, a former Defensive Player of the Year, averaged 10.3 points and 11.5 rebounds on 67 percent shooting this past season. The veteran also logged 75 appearances after spending the last few years battling an assortment of nagging injuries.

Lopez on the other hand was the primary driver in Brooklyn’s late season playoff run. The former All-Star averaged 19.7 points and 9.2 rebounds after the All-Star break, shooting 53 percent from the field.

Chandler would obviously give the team a defensive boost, being paired with the rugged Pachulia and having the luxury of rim protector John Henson also in the fold. Lopez would provide the team with more offensive firepower in the post as support for Henson and Pachulia.

There are no guarantees once free agency begins. A team could emerge and force Milwaukee’s hands when it comes to Middleton by offering his a larger deal than expected. Veterans Chandler and Lopez could look for bigger markets or a more established situation than a still building franchise.

Even with the potential obstacles, Milwaukee is headed in the right direction after a disastrous 2013-14 campaign.

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