In the early days of free agency on July 3, the Milwaukee Bucks sat down for a meeting with free-agent point guard and former MVP Derrick Rose. According to ESPN’s Chris Haynes, the two sides are discussing a possible second meeting that could occur as soon as this weekend and would likely be held in Los Angeles.
The apparent mutual interest is complicated by the fact that Rose reportedly is interested in a larger contract than the Bucks can offer. In fact, what the Bucks have to offer — to anyone — right now is relatively little.
With the re-signing of Tony Snell, the addition of first-round pick D.J. Wilson and the acquisition and signing of second-round pick Sterling Brown, the Bucks are about $1.6 million over the tax line, according to Haynes. Being over the luxury tax by that amount would trigger a payment of about $2.4 million and would exclude Milwaukee from receiving a portion of the pool of taxes paid by other teams this season. Only non-tax-paying teams receive tax payouts.
By being over the tax line and with their roster currently filled with 15 contracts, the Bucks don’t have much wiggle room. To add Rose, the most they could currently offer would be $4.4 million of the mid-level exception in order to stay below the luxury tax apron of $125.2 million. Exceeding the apron would cut off the Bucks’ ability to use several exceptions going forward and staying below it through the use of exceptions could trigger a hard cap.
The Bucks have only paid into the luxury tax once, in the 2002-’03 season. That year, their luxury tax bill was $4.73 million.
As a team that almost never goes into the tax, it’s unlikely the Bucks would be inclined to do so this year. After a year in which the salary cap spiked a record $24.1 million, spurring a league-wide spending spree last summer, the cap only went up about $5 million for this season to $99.1 million. That’s about $3-8 million less than the early projections from last summer, which is causing a crunch for numerous teams, including the Bucks.
Regardless of what they do concerning Rose, the Bucks have an incentive to try to shed some salary to get under the tax line, something they have the whole season to do. If it decided not to sign a free agent, Milwaukee could lower its salary by making a trade at any point in the year or utilizing the stretch provision to release a player and spread his salary over multiple years.
If the Bucks want to add a free agent over the summer, especially one like Rose who would be interested in more money than they have to offer, they would have to get some salary off the books via a trade. That situation could prove difficult.
As a young, up-and-coming team, the Bucks will want to keep as much of their core together as possible. If it is trying to sign a free agent, Milwaukee will likely want to release as much salary as possible while keeping the negative impact on the team at a minimum.
With that in mind, the most plausible players to move would be center John Henson, who still has three years, $32 million left on his contract; Mirza Teletovic, who has two years, $21 million left, and Matthew Dellavedova, who has three years, $28.8 million left. Center Greg Monroe, who opted into the final year of his contract at about $17.8 million, has been rumored to be in trade discussions for nearly as long as he has been in Milwaukee, though the Bucks would logically have less incentive to deal him considering his deal is expiring and his impact on the court has been substantial off the bench.
Henson, the longest-tenured Bucks player at five seasons, has seen his playing time dwindle over the past two seasons due to a combination of injuries and coaching decisions. Following the addition of Spencer Hawes in February, Milwaukee also has a glut of big men, which, along with a sprained left thumb that knocked him out of 10 games, resulted in Henson getting fewer opportunities.
Considering their cap situation, the Bucks would likely have to sweeten any deal with draft picks were they to try to move someone to create space. Last week, the Toronto Raptors, which were in a tighter cap situation than the Bucks, sent DeMarre Carroll’s two-year, $30 million contract and their 2018 first- and second-round picks to the Brooklyn Nets in return for the Justin Hamilton and his one-year, $3 million contract.
The question then for the Bucks would be what are they willing to give up in order to create some cap flexibility now and into the future, especially considering Jabari Parker is up for a contract extension this fall?
Is Rose a good fit for Bucks?
Should the Bucks go the route of shedding salary to clear the path to signing a free agent, the questions would then shift to whether Rose is the right fit.
The 2011 MVP is still a talented player and a big name in the league. Inserting him into the Bucks’ dynamic lineup along with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, rookie of the year Malcolm Brogdon and Thon Maker and Parker could unlock some of his better qualities when it comes to playmaking and running the court.
With the Bucks inexperienced at point guard — their only current options are Dellavedova, Brogdon and Gary Payton II — Rose could provide a battle-tested veteran presence. Unlike nearly every other team he’s been on, Rose would not be asked to shoulder the brunt of the scoring load, which could lead to him dominating the ball less than his career 27.9(PERCENT) usage rate and open up new avenues for him to impact the game.
While he doesn’t create space with his shooting, he’s better than the Bucks’ current point guards at creating his own space off the dribble. That could open drive-and-kick opportunities for Milwaukee’s shooters and lead to free-throw opportunities for a team that ranked 20th in free-throw attempts last season.
However, Rose’s value has diminished greatly since his MVP season, much of that the result of major injuries. He tore his left anterior cruciate ligament on April 28, 2012, causing him to miss the whole 2012-’13 season. He returned for 2013-’14, but tore his right meniscus after playing just 10 games and missed the rest of that season.
In 2015, Rose suffered a fractured orbital bone in practice before the season. He tore his right meniscus again in February of that season, but returned in time to help the Chicago Bulls dispatch the Bucks in the first round of the playoffs.
Outside of his injury history, there are other potential negatives to adding Rose. A prolific scorer and playmaker, the 6-foot-3 guard is a 29.8(PERCENT) career three-point shooter, which could hurt Milwaukee’s court spacing. He’s also not known as a strong defender, though his weakness on that end could be mitigated to some extent by the incredible length of the Bucks’ other players.
Though cleared of all counts by a jury in a civil trial in 2016, Rose still carries a negative public perception from a lawsuit in which an ex-girlfriend accused him and two friends of gang raping her while she was incapacitated.
Last season with the New York Knicks, Rose averaged 18.0 points, 4.4 assists and 3.8 rebounds over 64 games, but also made headlines when he skipped the Knicks’ game against the Pelicans on Jan. 9 without telling the team. Rose called his absence a family issue, but complicated things by declining to pick up the phone when the Knicks called to inquire about his whereabouts.
Matt Velazquez writes for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, part of the USA TODAY Network.