Before NBA teams were allowed to begin negotiating with free agents July 1, the Milwaukee Bucks were up front about the fact anything they did in free agency would hinge on their ability to get power forward Ersan Ilyasova to re-sign for the right price.
Apparently, the Bucks have found that right price, as general manager John Hammond issued a statement late Sunday night that said, “We are engaged in free-agent negotiations with Ersan Ilyasova. We intend to enter into a player contract with Ersan once the moratorium period has ended.”
That moratorium ends Wednesday, and multiple reports have surfaced that the team is working on a five-year contract for between $40 million and $45 million. The deal will allow Ilyasova to return to Milwaukee to build on his breakout 2011-12 season.
Ilyasova, 25, was a second-round pick in the 2006 draft and set career highs last season in games started (41), field-goal percentage (.492), 3-point percentage (.455), points per game (13.0), rebounds per game (8.8), assists per game (1.2) and blocks per game (0.7). Of particular note was his 29-point, 25-rebound game in a Feb. 19 win over the Nets. His improvement allowed Ilyasova to finish second in voting for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award.
Hammond made it clear early this offseason that a possible re-signing of the Turkish forward would come down to whether Ilyasova wanted to come back to Milwaukee, not whether the Bucks wanted him.
“We would love to have Ersan back here,” Hammond said in June. “It’s not what we want, it’s going to be what he wants. If we bring Ersan back, obviously that’s going to affect our free agency and the flexibility we have to go out and sign other players. If we lose Ersan, it gives us quite a bit of flexibility to move forward.”
Re-signing the 6-foot-10, 235-pound Ilyasova further solidifies the Bucks’ interior rotation, which has been bolstered this offseason by the additions of veteran center Samuel Dalembert and power forward John Henson, the team’s first-round pick. At this point, it seems the team will begin the season with a starting lineup of Dalembert, Ilyasova, small forward Luc Mbah a Moute, Ellis and point guard Brandon Jennings. Drew Gooden, who started out of position at center for much of last season, Henson, Ekpe Udoh and Larry Sanders would be available for backup minutes at the interior spots.
And with that much depth at the power forward position, it’s even possible the team could strike a deal to free up the newly created logjam. It’s also likely that Milwaukee will explore available backup options at guard, as the Bucks have said on several occasions they need more size and athleticism in their backcourt.
Milwaukee will have 13 players under contract after it signs Ilyasova, Henson and second-round pick Doron Lamb.