Despite the absolute brilliance of Giannis Antetokounmpo, he wasn’t enough to lead the Milwaukee Bucks to back-to-back NBA championships.
With Khris Middleton sidelined to a knee injury, Milwaukee fell in seven games to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Including the team’s blowout Game 7 loss, a ton of things stood out behind the Greek Freak in Milwaukee.
Among them, the obvious point that Jrue Holiday is not a No. 2 option on a championship contender.
- Jrue Holiday stats (Eastern Conference Semifinals): 21.0 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 6.3 APG, 36% shooting, 30% 3-point
Despite the 31-year-old Holiday still playing great defense, his inability to shoot on a consistent basis proved to be one of the Bucks’ major downfalls in a series they easily could have won even without Middleton in the mix.
Milwaukee has one of the best players in the modern generation. It has some nice role players. Middleton will return to full health next season. There’s not a whole lot that general manager Jon Horst has to do in order to return the Milwaukee Bucks to championship contention. Below, we look at three off-season moves that would help expedite that process after a premature playoff exit.
Milwaukee Bucks must use mid-level exception on big
Despite being a taxpayer team heading into free agency, the Bucks will be able to exhaust a mid-level exception of roughly $6.34 million during NBA free agency. There’s no reason to believe that they won’t do this given the team’s championship contending status. Sure it would cost ownership a lot more than that $6-plus million, but there’s a lot of options out there.
It has to start with a big. Serge Ibaka proved to be a pointless addition this past season. Brook Lopez is not getting any younger. Bobby Portis will likely opt out of his team-friendly contract. Finding another veteran to team up with Lopez has to be in the cards here.
The good news? There’s a ton of veteran options at Milwaukee’s $6.34 million price point. If the Bucks are looking at strictly a five, the likes of JaVale McGee, Dewayne Dedmon and Andre Drummond could make sense. However, Horst seems to value flexibility. Ibaka played the four and five. Portis has the ability to play the three and four. If so, someone like Thaddeus Young or Nemanja Bjelica could make sense in free agency.
Related: Top 2022 NBA free agents
Milwaukee Bucks turn first-round pick into veteran player
How often is it that a team in the Bucks’ position gets an immediate contributor with the 24th pick in the draft? Typically, looking to trade this late first-round pick for a veteran bench option would make more sense. It’s a bit complicated for the Bucks in that NBA rules prohibit them from trading the selection before the draft (they have already given up their 2023 first-round pick and can’t trade first rounders in consecutive years).
Even then, we wouldn’t put it past Horst to make a move during the first round of the draft this coming June. Attaching the contract of players like George Hill, Rayjon Tucker and Luca Vildoza could net the Milwaukee Bucks someone in the $8 million range.
Perhaps, Milwaukee looks to add more to the backcourt. Indiana Pacers veteran T.J. McConnell or Josh Richardson of the San Antonio Spurs could be in the cards. If it’s frontcourt help, don’t sleep on veteran forward Larry Nance Jr.
Milwaukee Bucks bite the bullet, trade Jrue Holiday
We’ll be 100% honest here. It’s highly unlikely that Milwaukee moves off from Holiday. The team fancies itself as a title contender with a healthy Khris Middleton in the mix. Giannis touched on that following the Bucks’ Game 7 loss.
The series itself might have turned out a bit differently if the Bucks had Middleton in the mix. But he was not going to make a huge difference in a 28-point Game 7 loss.
As for Holiday, potentially trading him while his contract is not viewed as a negative asset could make sense. The idea would be to avoid the situation the Los Angeles Lakers are currently in with Russell Westbrook.
Holiday, 31, is set to count north of $67 million against the cap over the next two seasons. He has a player option of $37.37 million for the 2024-25 campaign. Despite this, there would still be some interest in his services.
Whether’s it’s bringing in another point guard in a complicated three-team trade (Dejounte Murray) or seeking an upgrade at another position while using the mid-level on a point guard, this is something the Milwaukee Bucks should seriously consider during the offseason.