Ilyasova could get big money as free agent

MILWAUKEE — Ersan Ilyasova spent much of his career with the Bucks as a lingering question mark. Would the Turkish forward, a 19-year-old second-round pick in the 2006 NBA draft, ever amount to much in Milwaukee?
 
As he began to establish himself in the NBA, the questions changed year after year. Would he become a consistent contributor? Would he become a starter? Does this guy have potential to become an All-Star?
 
Many of those questions were answered last season, as Ilyasova had a career year in Milwaukee, shooting 49.2 percent from the floor and averaging nearly a double-double (13.0 points and 8.8 rebounds). Now another question — a different kind of question — has arisen regarding Ilyasova: Can Milwaukee afford to re-sign him this offseason?
 
That will be the overarching question in Milwaukee as the free agency negotiation period begins Sunday. Teams can begin to negotiate deals but not officially sign players until July 11, and the Bucks hope to retain Ilyasova at the right price as well as sign some additional talent for a roster that now has added flexibility following a predraft trade. After dealing forwards Jon Leuer and Jon Brockman and guard Shaun Livingston, the Bucks have only 12 roster spots filled.
 
But before any other decisions are made, the team will likely have to decide whether it is willing to pay up for Ilyasova, a talent who will likely command more money than he normally might due to the relative weakness of this year’s free-agent class. The 6-foot-9, 235-pound forward could find a team willing to offer him about $10 million a year.
 
That kind of payday would make Ilyasova the second-highest paid player on Milwaukee’s roster behind shooting guard Monta Ellis. But with point guard Brandon Jennings likely looking for a contract extension soon, that kind of money could be tricky to part with.
 
And considering the Bucks just spent a first-round pick on another player, John Henson, who could slot into Ilyasova’s position, the likelihood of his re-signing with Milwaukee is rightfully in question.
 
“The free-agent issue with us is going to be what happens with Ersan,” Bucks general manager John Hammond said. “We would love to have Ersan back here. … 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.”
 
That flexibility could allow the Bucks to sign other talent for less, including small forward Carlos Delfino, who along with big man Kwame Brown, comprise the rest of the Bucks’ unrestricted free agent class.
 
Hammond and other Bucks officials had mentioned their hopes, prior to the draft, of adding more size and athleticism to a backcourt that struggled defensively and lacked the athletes necessary to compete with some of the bigger backcourts in the Eastern Conference. Second-round pick Doron Lamb doesn’t quite fit that bill, so it’s fair to expect a wing to be on the Bucks’ minds.
 
And though Milwaukee won’t command the attention of some of the league’s top free agents — Deron Williams, Steve Nash, Ray Allen, Eric Gordon and even recently jettisoned O.J. Mayo are more than likely untouchable — the Bucks could very well find a sixth-man-type wing who can be an effective shooter and defensive stopper off the bench.
 
In that vein, the Bucks could look to a shooting guard such as the Clippers’ Nick Young, a scorer with size but an average defender at best; the Knicks’ Landry Fields, who can shoot and has serious size; or the Mavericks’ Vince Carter, who has reinvented himself as more of a shooter than a rim-rocker. Or, of course, cheaper options such as Shannon Brown (Suns) or C.J. Miles (Jazz) could add more depth to the backcourt as well.

Most important, added flexibility both with roster spots and payroll give the Bucks options.
 
“Three or four years ago, we were losing free agents and we had no way to replace them,” Hammond said. “Those days are over, which is a good thing. We have to at least be able to protect ourselves that if we lose a free-agent player, that we can sign someone to replace him. That’s the position we’re in. We want Ersan back, but if we lose him, I think we can get help.”

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