MILWAUKEE — When the clock struck midnight on the east coast, NBA free agency officially began. While it was still June 30 in Milwaukee, Bucks general manager John Hammond was ready to go.
Teams can’t officially sign free agents until July 10, but July 1 is the first day teams can negotiate with free agents. Players can give verbal commitments to teams and then sign on July 10. Just a few short days after Hammond and the Bucks were focused on the NBA Draft, their attention had to shift quickly to an important free agency period for the franchise.
“That’s the next step,” Hammond said. “We’ve had our eye on both targets over the last few weeks, trying to figure out this draft and looking to see what would be the right fit for us on the free-agent market.”
How much money do the Bucks have to spend? It’s a complicated calculation. The salary cap for the 2013-14 season will be set later in July, but it’s estimated to be around $58.5 million. Teams have to fill 90 percent of the salary cap at minimum, meaning the Bucks may need to spend close to $20 million this offseason just to meet the minimum salary required.
Milwaukee would free up even more salary cap space if it amnestied power forward Drew Gooden. The seldom used Gooden still has two years and $13.4 million left on his contract. Because he’s the only player left on the roster from the old collective bargaining agreement, Gooden is Milwaukee’s only chance to use the one-time amnesty clause. If the Bucks choose to go that path, Gooden will still get paid the money he’s owed, but he wouldn’t count against the salary cap.
It’s a complicated calculation to estimate exactly how much salary cap space the Bucks will have, but it’s a significant amount. They have money to spend with holes to fill.
First, Hammond must decide what to do with the team’s three big free-agent guards. Brandon Jennings is a restricted free agent, meaning the Bucks can match any offer sheet he would sign with another team. Monta Ellis and J.J. Redick are unrestricted free agents, meaning they are free to sign with any team, and the Bucks can do nothing about it.
Jennings, 23, averaged 17.5 points and 6.5 assists per game last season, shooting 39.9 percent from the field and 37.5 percent on 3-pointers.
Jennings has started 289 of 291 games in his four years with the Bucks, averaging 17.0 points and 5.7 assists.
When asked if the Bucks plan to bring Jennings back, Hammond’s response to FOXSportsWisconsin.com was “100 percent.”
“Our intentions would be to negotiate with Brandon and hopefully we can come to an agreement before he goes out into the market or needs to go out into the market,” Hammond said. “If it does happen and he goes on the market and signs an offer sheet, our intentions will be to match that.”
Jennings seems to be warming to the idea of returning to Milwaukee, as well. He tweeted “Hopefully im back in Milwaukee. Got some unfinished business” on Sunday, but later deleted the tweet.
The market for point guards is dry, as the most teams looking for a floor general picked one up in Thursday’s draft. It’s unlikely a team will toss Jennings an offer sheet the Bucks won’t feel comfortable matching, making it likely he’ll be back with the Bucks next season.
Restricted free agent Jeff Teague could be a fallback option for the Bucks at point guard if Jennings gets an offer they don’t want to match. Bucks coach Larry Drew coached Teague in Atlanta and is said to be interested in bringing him to Milwaukee. Like Jennings with the Bucks, Atlanta can match any offer sheet Teague signs.
Hammond didn’t sound as confident went talking about Ellis and Redick. Multiple reports Sunday said the Bucks have agreed to part ways with Ellis, while Yahoo! Sports reported it’s “unlikely” Redick returns to Milwaukee.
If both decide to leave, the Bucks will need a shooting guard. Reports have linked the Bucks to free agent shooting guards J.R. Smith, O.J. Mayo, Kevin Martin, Tony Allen and Chase Budinger.
The Bucks also plan to try and bring Mike Dunleavy Jr. back in the fold at small forward, but the prized free agent at that position is Atlanta’s Josh Smith. He’s familiar and has a good relationship with Drew, but Smith will be seeking close to a maximum contract. The Bucks would have to pay a premium to add Smith, as up to five or six other teams are in pursuit of the talented forward.
With just seven players under contract and two draft picks to sign, the Bucks have a lot of work to do just to build a roster for next season. If Gooden is amnestied, Milwaukee will have to add at least four players in free agency to fill a 12-man roster.
Milwaukee has money to spend and holes to fill, usually a formula for an exciting offseason. Nobody knows how the next few weeks will turn out for the Bucks, but they will certainly be exciting.