With NBA Summer League complete, things are beginning to be quiet around the league. (Except for the Kevin Durant trade rumors; those seem destined to persist all summer.) Most teams have sorted out their rosters and made the signings they negotiated during the first few days of free agency officially. With things largely set in place, it is a perfect time for a mailbag to look at where things stand heading into the next season.
Even with things slowing down, you all still managed to load up this mailbag and give me way too many Milwaukee Bucks-related questions to answer. First, thank you. Your passion is always appreciated and the reason I am lucky enough to get to do this for a living. Second, as we’ve needed to do the last few times we’ve asked for questions, we are going to try to condense all of these questions into the topics that were asked about most and make this a three-part mailbag. If I didn’t answer your exact question, hopefully I will be able to shed some light on the topic you found most interesting.
With that explanation out of the way, let’s dive into:
I feel like people are sleeping on what a proper offseason will mean for Giannis and the rest of the team. Do you think it’ll have an impact on the season? — Jeremy S.
This was my fourth season at The Athletic covering the bucks. These are the dates and scores of the final game of each of those four seasons:
There are only 614 days between Oct. 11, 2020, and June 16, 2022. The gap between the Raptors’ championship victory in 2019 and the Warriors’ championship victory in 2017 (June 12, 2017) was 732 days. Doing some simple math, that is a 118-day difference, roughly four months. The NBA completed the last three seasons much quicker than normal, and that obviously had an effect on everyone in the league, especially the players and teams that went to the NBA’s bubble and participated in the 2020 playoffs.
As the Bucks began to accept that their offseason had begun the day after dropping Game 7 to the Boston Celtics on May 16, multiple players conducting exit interviews in Milwaukee admitted to looking forward to having a full offseason for the first time since 2019. I think the Bucks players who went through those condensed three seasons as a member of the team will certainly enjoy the extended time away from the floor, but there are always complicating factors.
For example, while it appears the full, normal offseason will give him time to recover and be ready for the start of 2022-23, Khris Middleton’s left wrist surgery will make his offseason disjointed. And while Giannis Antetokounmpo will have a full offseason to work on his game, he will also be playing games for Greece in FIBA EuroBasket 2022, as well as friends before the official games begin on Sept. 1, 2022. That will take time away from specific individual workouts and introduce the potential of in-game injury.
The Bucks will very much appreciate a real offseason, but other teams will be getting that same opportunity. While the Bucks will enjoy it, the advantage gained from it will likely be negligible.
Do you think Mamu can earn rotation minutes this year? —Andrew L.
Additional Sandro Mamukelashvili questions from Dan P. and Andreas K.
Injuries can happen, so it is certainly possible for Mamukelashvili to earn some minutes this season, but his path to real rotation minutes seems difficult.
Mike Budenholzer used a three-man rotation with his big men for the last two seasons. In the 2020-21 season, that worked perfectly as Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez and Bobby Portis avoided injury and played in a vast majority of the Bucks’ games. Last season, Lopez missed a majority of the season, and the Bucks were left scrambling to fill those minutes. In that scramble, Mamukelashvili received a couple of different opportunities for rotation minutes, but those chances will likely not come again in 2022-23 with the Bucks re-signing Serge Ibaka. As a proven veteran who can execute on the defensive end, Ibaka will almost certainly get the first chance at any opportunities that might arise if one of the Bucks’ primary three big men is forced to miss time.
This should not take away from the strides Mamukelashvili has made. His performance at the Las Vegas Summer League rightfully earned him first-team All-Summer League honors and showed he does have real potential. His size will likely always keep him from being effective on defense as a rim protector, so he still needs to find a way to stay on the floor defensively in NBA action, but his 3-point shot is quick, confident and compact, and he is quite skilled offensively. He proved the value of those skills against summer-league competition but now he needs to show how he can stay on the floor outside of Las Vegas.
Do you think there is room on the roster for Jordan Nwora this season? His defensive deficiencies are apparent, and Beauchamp looks like a player who can do much more for the team. Would the Bucks trade him for a likely high second-rounder and call it good? A team in need of a scorer may bite on the offer. — Jay F.
Any word or insight on Nwora? Seems strange to give him the qualifying offer if they have no intention of having 15 guys on the active roster. Why suppress his value if he is unlikely to be on the team? — Zack B
Additional Nwora questions from John G., Jason P., and Verge M.
During our one-on-one conversation in Las Vegas, Bucks general manager Jon Horst expressed just how much the organization appreciates and values Nwora and their desire to make sure they find the proper next step for him together. I found his response to be genuine. I do believe that is actually their goal, but this is also a business, and restricted free agency favors the team.
The Bucks extended the qualifying offer to Nwora because it didn’t make business sense to let Nwora walk away for nothing at the start of the offseason. If the discussions or negotiations for any of the free agents the Bucks signed went poorly, they could have signed Nwora and been pleased with the result. If they found a trade on draft night that consolidated the roster, they could have signed Nwora to fill out the roster. Instead, the Bucks didn’t end up making a trade before the draft, used their first-round pick on a player they highly valued and managed to retain all of their in-house free-agent targets. Now they have 14 players already on the roster, and Nwora is still waiting. So, what happens next?
If he wants to force the issue and find a resolution, Nwora needs to figure out if he has a market around the league. If there is interest from other teams, then Nwora either needs to sign an offer sheet that would force the Bucks to match or inform the Bucks of that interest and let the organization try to figure out a trade with the interested team. (The Bucks cannot match an offer sheet and then trade him. Think of the Deandre Ayton situation in Phoenix.) As Horst said, they can work together to figure out the best solution, even if restricted free agency can be a bit awkward for all parties.
(It is also worth noting that while the Bucks have carried only 14 players for much of the last two seasons to keep their salary totals slightly lower, they could end the offseason with 15 players and find a trade to cut down the payroll at a later dates.)
Knowing Bud is normally averse to giving minutes to rookies, what are realistic expectations for MarJon Beauchamp this year? Do you think a playoff role is in the cards for him? I’m hoping his defensive prospects earn him some floor time at the very least. Thanks Eric! — Cameron R
Is there a chance MarJon starts Day 1, or am I being irrationally optimistic? I like his defensive fit with that group above all else. Thanks! — Daniel W.
Additional Beauchamp questions from Saul T. and Luke M.
I think Beauchamp will fit into a role between the two ends of the spectrum suggested by Cameron and Daniel. I do not expect Beauchamp to start on opening night, nor do I think he will struggle to get minutes.
In my opinion, Budenholzer’s unwillingness to play rookies/young players is a bit overblown. Did Budenholzer shy away from playing DJ Wilson and Christian Wood in his first season in Milwaukee? yes Have there only been limited opportunities for Jordan Nwora thus far? yes But does that mean he just won’t give minutes to young players? It’s a bit more complicated than that.
The Bucks have made just one first-round pick — Donte DiVincenzo with the No. 17 pick in 2018 — during Budenholzer’s time in Milwaukee. DiVincenzo started the season with a major role. He was the first player off the bench on opening night and averaged 19 minutes per game before getting injured in his 14th game. DiVincenzo could execute defensively from Day 1 and helped give the Bucks a different look off the bench. The organization clearly valued him because they used a first-round pick to draft him, and Budenholzer was invested in his success because he was a part of the organization when DiVincenzo was selected. All of those same things appear to be true for Beauchamp.
On top of that, the Bucks have the added bonus of knowing Joe Ingles will likely be getting back on the floor around the same time Beauchamp could be hitting the rookie wall around January. If the Bucks are committed to Beauchamp’s development and success, there is a real path to getting him minutes during his rookie season while also giving him a chance to be ready for the postseason, even if his postseason role ends up being smaller.
In your last interview with Horst, he mentioned a lot of players with no mention of George Hill. What are the chances he still gets moved? — Jared M.
Do you foresee any consolidation trades upcoming before the season? For example: Allen + Hill + second-round pick(s) for a decent wing that can defend the 3 well. — Kris B
The only players that seem tradeable right now are Hill and Allen, but besides getting a Luke Kennard right now, I just don’t see a viable trade partner. Realistically I don’t see a trade happening until other salaries open up. What are the odds those two are still on the roster then? And who would you like to see in a Bucks uniform if those two were the core of a trade? — Brian S
Additional trade questions from Josh R., Kyle S. and Hunter V.
Taking a look around the league, I think it’s tough to find a deal that really makes sense.
To start, I don’t think the Bucks find Grayson Allen to be nearly as unplayable in the playoffs as Bucks fans seem to think he was. Subscribers in our comments section were very harsh on my assessment of Allen’s play after the season, and I merely said he would have looked much better in the playoffs if not forced into an outsized offensive role in their second-round series against the Celtics, the league’s best defensive team. Horst’s positive outlook on the potential for Allen in his second season in Milwaukee helps give some insight into what I believe is a strong internal belief in Allen’s ability to perform well in the postseason moving forward. I don’t think the front office is quite as motivated as fans to move Allen.
The Bucks also just didn’t have quite enough to get in the trade market for those types of players this offseason and now those opportunities are probably gone until the trade deadline. Here are the notable trades for wings that occurred this offseason:
Some of the trades required cap space (or a sizable trade exception), which the Bucks could not do because of their current salary-cap restraints. Both Barton and Caldwell-Pope might have been interesting players to acquire, but they were traded for each other and a part of packages the Bucks could not match. Melton was traded for the pick directly ahead of the Bucks’ selection in the draft. If Hill had performed better after his neck injury, maybe the Bucks would have had enough to complete a deal for an upgrade over Allen on the wing, but with Hill’s poor performance to end the season and no reasonable way to trade a first-round pick now that the 2022 draft has passed, the likelihood of one of the trades suggested above getting done has decreased significantly.
(Top photo of MarJon Beauchamp: Stephen R. Sylvanie / USA Today)