The annual free agency bonanza started at midnight eastern time July 1st and with Tony Snell back in the fold after inking a 4-year $68 million dollar extension the Milwaukee Bucks are left with limited moves for the rest of the offseason. Given the market for 3-D wing specialists Snell’s contract is not outrageous, but it does bring up questions about what they will do moving forward. The biggest mystery remains what the Bucks will do about extending former second overall pick Jabari Parker. Parker became eligible for an extension of his rookie deal at the inception of free agency, and how the new front office regime approaches that deal will have lasting impact for the future of the Bucks salary cap.
Parker can sign a long-term extension with the Bucks all the way up until the October 31st deadline. Before tearing his ACL for the second time in short NBA career Parker seemed like a lock for a near max-level extension. He had extended his range beyond the three-point arc while still displaying explosive finishing ability. With Khris Middleton set to return, the big three the Bucks had envisioned was beginning to take shape. When Parker went down, Milwaukee continued to play well and secured a playoff birth leading some to question Parker’s value and fit long-term.
There are three options for the Bucks with Parker’s restricted free agency looming in the summer of 2018. The first is to extend Parker before the Halloween deadline and lock him into the fold. If there were an assurance that he was going to come back the same player he was pre-injury, this would be a no-brainer. That is far from the case, seeing as Parker will likely miss a good portion of the 2017-2018 season rehabbing from ACL surgery. If they were able to get him to agree to a team-friendly extension before the Halloween deadline that could be optimal.
The second, and more realistic scenario, is that they will let him play out the season and see what his market value is come next summer. He will be a restricted free agent, meaning the Bucks will have the ability to match any offer sheet a team extends him. This is not without risk. Teams like the Brooklyn Nets and Sacramento Kings have an exorbitant amount of cap space, and have made a habit of throwing large offer sheets at restricted free agents to put pressure on their incumbent teams to overpay to retain their players. If the Bucks choose to let it get to this point they could be outbid and risk losing Parker for nothing.
The third and most extreme option is to dangle Parker as trade bait in order to see if they can pry a haul for him. If they gauge the trade market and see that there are teams willing to unload a war chest for Parker, they could pull the trigger on a deal that allows them to continue building for the future around Giannis. Given the recent trade returns for proven All-Star forwards like Paul George and Jimmy Butler, it is unlikely that they could get a great return for him. This may feel like a press of the panic button, but with the cap smoothing out and uncertainty about the landscape of the Eastern Conference committing big dollars to a player that has been injury-prone may be an even bigger gamble.
Having talented players on the roster is never a problem for an NBA team, but for a small market team like Milwaukee maintaining cap flexibility as Giannis enters his prime is paramount. Middleton is locked into a steal of a deal through 2019 and both Malcolm Brogdon and Thon Maker will be on their rookie deals through 2020. With Tony Snell inked for the foreseeable future, Parker is the next player that the new regime needs to address.