ST. FRANCIS, Wis. — Milwaukee Bucks general manager John Hammond made it clear early in the free-agent process that his team’s primary goal was to re-sign forward Ersan Ilyasova, who had completed a banner year in 2012 that included being named as one of the NBA’s most improved players.
And on Thursday afternoon, as the team announced that it would indeed bring back its efficient stretch forward, it was clear Ilyasova had felt from the beginning that Milwaukee was where he had hoped to end up.
“I think it’s the best decision to make to come back to the Milwaukee Bucks because I was really comfortable,” Ilyasova said. “I was really comfortable with it and my family was as well.”
Ilyasova’s agent, Justin Zanik, reflected the same sentiment went asked whether the Bucks were the leader from the beginning in the bidding for his client’s services.
“As long as that want was reciprocated, certainly Ersan had performed at an extremely high level and there’s an extreme amount of interest,” Zanik said. “You never want to be in a place that doesn’t want to communicate that with you. Of course, all things being equal, absolutely.”
Although the specifics of the deal were not announced by the Bucks, early reports peg the contract at five years for $45 million, making Ilyasova the team’s second-highest paid player, behind guard Monta Ellis. There was some belief that the deal will include a team option for the fifth year, but that information has yet to be confirmed.
In 41 starts and 60 games last season, Ilyasova averaged 13.0 points per game, 8.8 rebounds per game, and shot 49.2 percent from the floor — all career highs. He also shot 45.5 percent from 3-point range, which ranked second in the NBA.
Aside from the Bucks, the Brooklyn Nets had seemingly shown the most interest in signing Ilyasova to a long-term deal. But in the end, the 2006 second-round pick decided to stay in the city where he had started his career, met his wife and is raising his children.
” It’s always going to be a hometown for me,” the Turkish forward said of Milwaukee. “It was not a really big decision between just stay here or go to a different team. It was really clear for me.”
With the stricter cap rules in the new collective bargaining agreement, a long-term contract can be a big risk for an NBA franchise — especially one that has toiled on the fringe of the NBA playoffs for several seasons. But Hammond said Thursday that the Bucks believe Ilyasova, 25, is a risk worth betting on.
“This is a good day for the Milwaukee Bucks,” Hammond said. “For us, we’re really excited to have Ersan as a long-term piece in our organization as we move forward. In this process, you’re kind of banking on something, and I think if you say there’s a risk in what you’re doing, we think a guy like Ersan is as safe of as a risk as we can possibly have.”
Bucks coach Scott Skiles reflected the same sentiment, explaining that Ilyasova has already shown a motivation to prove he’s worth what his new contract says he is.
“You either take a deep breath and say, ‘Ah, I made it, I got my big contract’ … or you feel a burden, a responsibility to perform,” Skiles said. “He’s already verbalized that, and it’s not surprising that he did. That’s what you’re hoping for. As much as he’s comfortable being here, we’re comfortable with him.”
Beyond future salary-cap implications, Ilyasova’s signing is a clear message the Bucks believe the player who once racked up 29 points and 25 rebounds in the same game last season is going to be a significant part of their future plans.
When asked if Ilyasova is expected to be a cornerstone of the Bucks’ franchise, Hammond said the forward had already proven as much with his breakout 2012 season.
“You look at production … during the course of the season and Ersan was one of our most productive players. … We expect him to be that,” Hammond said.
Added Zanik: “With the length and size of the contract, they’ve made a very large commitment to him. And he’s made a very large commitment to them. From a production standpoint, he’s proven it, and he’s got some equity here. They’ve got equity in him; he’s got equity in them.”