The NBA Finals are knotted at 2-2, with as many as three more games potentially on the horizon, and there’s less than two weeks left until the draft. But teams are already engulfed in salary cap cleanup and scuttlebutt before free agency begins at midnight on July 1.
In one of the first of what could be several major shakeups this offseason and during the draft, the Milwaukee Bucks jettisoned smooth shooting and veteran forward Ersan Ilyasova to the Detroit Pistons for the unguaranteed contracts of Caron Butler and Shawne Williams, according to ESPN.
The deal has the potential to free up almost $23 million in salary cap space for the Bucks, the network’s Marc Stein reported.
And the Bucks already have big plans, so to speak, to spend that extra space in free agency according to Stein.
Two free agents Milwaukee intends to pursue in July according to ESPN sources: Big men Tyson Chandler and Brook Lopez
â€” Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) June 12, 2015
Milwaukee owned the No. 8 defense in the league last season, allowing 97.4 points per game, but ranked 24th in rebounding and could use a rim protector and low post threat to anchor the middle with young budding stars Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo on the wings.
Now in his second stint with the Mavs, Chandler’s been one of the best rebounders, defenders, and shot blockers in the league but his future in Dallas could be hindered if he expects a salary like the $14.5 million he made this past season.
Lopez’s potential on the open market becomes much more intriguing since the Bucks are evidently interested in the offensively polished seven-footer. The 27-year-old Lopez, who averaged 17.2 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocks over 72 games for the Brooklyn Nets this season, holds a $16.7 million option for the 2015-2016 season.
Lopez’s decision largely comes down to whether or not he or his reps believe he could earn better than that figure, but Milwaukee can afford to overpay a bit. With such a young team that’s been built through the draft, the Bucks are on the hook for $47 million next season and only $5 million in the two subsequent years.
Both Lopez and Chandler also have a history with Bucks head coach Jason Kidd. Chandler played with Kidd in New York and Dallas, and Lopez played under Kidd during his one-year as the Nets head coach.
Another big man whose future remains a bit murky is Portland Trail Blazers power forward LaMarcus Aldridge. According to Bleacher Report’s Ric Bucher, Aldridge is “aggressively exploring” opportunities outside of Portland.
Named an All-Star the last four years and scoring better than 21 points a game since 2010, the 29-year-old Aldridge will be one of the most coveted free agents on the market his summer. It's possible the Los Angeles Lakers may even make a run at the polished big man with their ample salary cap space.
Since Portland selected him with the No. 2 overall pick in 2006, Aldridge has guided the squad to the playoffs five times, but made it out of the first round only once. It’s that lack of success that has Aldridge looking elsewhere, with the Dallas Mavericks and a return to his home state of Texas especially intriguing, according to Bucher. The San Antonio Spurs were also mentioned, but the futures of Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan leave any interest in Aldridge unclear.
However, the issue of total compensation and the chances of competing for a title in Dallas remain major sticking points. Aldridge is evidently unsure if the Mavs' Dirk Nowitzki can again win a championship, over say Portland’s young core of guards Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, and forward Nicolas Batum. Portland can also offer Aldridge an extra year on a new contract and $27 million more.
The future of Blazers guard Wesley Matthews, who will also be a free agent this summer, but suffered a torn Achilles tendon prior to the start of the postseason. He and Aldridge are evidently close friends.
The Mavericks also figure to be major players in free agency this summer, and Aldridge may wait to see what moves they make. Dallas has $43 million devoted to salaries next season and only $28 million for 2016-2017.