The Milwaukee Bucks fan’s guide to the NBA buyout market
How the buyout market works and why it’s unlikely the Bucks are a premier buyout destination this season
The NBA Trade Deadline is the main in-season opportunity for teams to improve their rosters, but another deadline less than a month later creates a second, lesser improvement opportunity: the buyout market.
The Milwaukee Bucks have been active in the buyout market in years past, including signing Marvin Williams in 2020 and Jeff Teague in 2021, and you could consider Jevon Carter in 2022 a buyout signing of sorts too — the actual bought out player in that circumstance was Goran Dragic though, who chose Brooklyn, leading to the Nets waiving Carter to open up a spot. I wouldn’t technically consider Carter a buyout, but the Bucks certainly have to be pleased that they added him for nothing vs picking up an actual veteran who was bought out.
Anyway, that brings us to this season. Following the Jae Crowder trade (GSPN put out two podcasts on that — hit up GSPN.info to listen to our main trade deadline reaction podcast, and Monday’s Gyro Step for more Crowder thoughts) the Bucks have two open roster spots, and there seems to be some confusion on when they need to fill one, if the players they sign will be playoff eligible, and more. Let’s walk through it.
Two Different Roster Rules
The NBA’s “buyout deadline” (unofficial term) is March 1. This is NOT when players need to be signed by a team to be playoff-eligible — it’s actually the deadline for players to be waived for them to be eligible to suit up for a different team in the postseason. It’s the waiving, not the signing, that the March 1 deadline is concerned with.
Bucks fans seem to be conflating a different deadline with that one, compounding the confusion. The NBA CBA rules that teams must have at least 14 rostered players during the course of the season (not counting two-ways) and the maximum roster size is 15 (again, 17 with two-ways, but we’re only concerned with full-time NBA players for this rule).
Milwaukee currently has 13 NBA rostered players, which for the non-math majors out there is less than 14. That’s not an immediate problem as the CBA gives leeway to teams making unbalanced roster moves like the Bucks did in sending three players out to bring back Crowder, so there’s a two-week window where the Bucks can sit with 13 players.
This is where the luxury tax comes in for Milwaukee, currently third in tax bill among NBA teams with a roster costing roughly $75 million on top of the $178 million in player salaries. Since we’re past the January guarantee date, contracts signed for this season are fully guaranteed now, meaning anything given out will end up multiplied in cost as part of that tax bill.
It thus behooves the Bucks to wait out that two-week window before adding their required 14th player, as NBA contracts for rest-of-season are pro-rated based on the number of days left in the year. Assuming the player Milwaukee adds won’t be a huge part of the team given the Bucks’ deep roster and the lack of games over the next two weeks due to the All-Star break, Milwaukee can wait until that window is nearly up and then sign a series of ten-day contracts until later adding a player on a tiny rest-of-season tax hit compared to signing someone right now and having that number be significantly higher, relative to the impact of the player added.
Wait, what if a good player is available?
That logic I just laid out applies to the Bucks adding a depth piece who does not slot into their rotation in the short term — such as skilled Herd guard Lindell Wigginton, or even converting Sandro Mamukelashvili or AJ Green from two-way players to full-time Bucks after signing them to some ten-days.
The calculus obviously changes if a player becomes available and interested in signing with the Bucks who is good enough to command rotational minutes. The thing is, few if any such players seem to be available anymore.
Reggie Jackson, who is an imperfect fit with Milwaukee anyway but is clearly a skilled offensive point guard, plans to sign with Denver to fill the spot created by the Bones Hyland trade. Terrence Ross, Danny Green, and Justin Holiday also have picked other teams already. Hilariously, Dewayne Dedmon is signing with the 76ers as well.
This leaves just one player who would seem to have any shot to crack Milwaukee’s rotation: Patrick Beverley, an established, defensive-minded point guard. I don’t think it’s a no-brainer that PatBev would play over Jevon Carter, but if the Bucks wanted to shore up their guard depth and close the loop of Giannis Antetokounmpo recruiting Beverley, that option is there.
Otherwise the players left all appear to be either atrocious fits or break-glass-in-case-of-emergency options: Bryn Forbes, John Wall, Stanley Johnson, Will Barton and Russell Westbrook are not cracking the top 11 for the Bucks currently, much less the top 8.
Johnson and Barton are solid NBA wings who can play, but it’d be surprising for any premier buyout vets to pick the Bucks given Milwaukee’s depth from 2-4 — there aren’t realistically enough minutes for those players with all of the following Bucks logging time at those wing positions: Giannis, Khris Middleton, Pat Connaughton, Grayson Allen, Jae Crowder, Bobby Portis, Joe Ingles, Wesley Matthews, and probably a bit of Jevon Carter when he plays alongside Jrue Holiday as well.
When Milwaukee added Marvin Williams, for example, he was able to cleanly slide into the rotation as a backup power forward. A hole like that doesn’t really exist anymore — you could cite guard or big depth as a need, and I agree, but with the possible exception of PatBev there are not players available good enough to push Jevon Carter or Bobby Portis (when healthy) out of their current roles soaking up the available minutes at those spots on a nightly basis.
Even if their positional fit isn’t the cleanest, Bobby and Jevon’s chemistry and proven play with this Bucks core is well established. That lack of playing time is going to push most of the better players on the buyout market toward opportunities that guarantee them more of a role than Milwaukee feasibly can.
Someone like Forbes, Wall, or even Kemba Walker (who was released earlier this season) would be a fun deep bench add if they’re on board to not play every night. Bucks fans already understand Forbes’ strengths and limitations well, and Wall or Kemba seem like solid enough candidates to play the Jeff Teague role and save what they have left in the tank for one tough spot when the Bucks need them. Again though, this requires those players not pulling a Serge Ibaka when they go a while without their name called to check into a game.
We’ll be here to cover whatever moves Milwaukee makes, and I’ll gladly eat crow if the Bucks do end up making a fun/splashy buyout move, but it feels most likely the Bucks take some fliers on young players. Striving to find another Jevon Carter-like diamond in the rough who can factor in beyond this season feels like a better use of roster spot(s) than adding another 30-plus-year-old who may not play all that much anyway.
Barton or Rose (if Knicks waive him) are the perfect fit for Bucks.
In the other side, I think the team needs a 4-5 to help Brook and Giannis during Bobby´s injury and to help them to rest even during "easy" playoffs games. The thing is I don´t like any other than Barton to work in the zone.
So. Barton and George Hill again if it´s possible. If not, take Forbes again.