Posted Jun 20, 2013 8:53 AM
Official word that Monta Ellis is opting out of the final season of his contract, at $11 million, came Monday in an email to the Bucks office.
So it's set. Milwaukee will have three prominent guards entering free agency on July 1 and an obvious backcourt need to address in the NBA Draft June 27. Unless it won't.
Two players from the United States withdrew: Norvel Pelle, trying to jump start his career after going from a top prospect in high school to being unable to find stability in college, and Joshua Simmons.
Of all the teams that will be attempting to see the future next Thursday night as the selections roll out at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., no one will be trying to predict quite like the Bucks. Milwaukee needs to choose a prospect in the middle of the first round, while having a strong handle on what will happen starting the next week with the starting backcourt and a key reserve. Four decisions, one crystal ball -- no waiting.
Ellis will be an unrestricted free agent, Brandon Jennings restricted. That's the 2012-13 starting backcourt. J.J. Redick, a key reserve, will be unrestricted. And that, along with power forward Ersan Ilyasova, accounts for three of the top four scorers and the three leading assist men.
Keeping all three seems unlikely, especially since Ellis turned down an extension last fall reportedly worth $25 million for two years on top of the final deal already in place, putting him at $36 million for three seasons. He's not going to top $12 million a year in free agency. That's a guy who wants out, and, no, the Bucks were not surprised to get the email on Monday.
The trick is to make decisions now that eventually sync up to what happens in July. Use the No. 15 pick on a point guard and still re-sign or match on Jennings? Use No. 15 on a point guard and still match or re-sign on Jennings with the intention of trading one later, rather than let a major asset walk for nothing? Go shooting guard as the Ellis replacement no matter what happens with Redick, figuring Redick is best suited for his 2012-13 role as a scorer off the bench?
"One could impact the other, but we'll have to wait and see what happens in the draft," general manager John Hammond said. "If you say we're drafting for a need, obviously the backcourt is more of a need than the front line, especially at the four and five positions. But once again, I think probably the safest route in approaching the draft is to go best player on the board first. And if that also fills a need, so be it."
The other issue for the Bucks is that the middle of the first round may not exactly be loaded with backcourt options. German point guard Dennis Schroeder could be there, although he is a virtual duplication of Jennings in size and could only play behind, and not with, Jennings -- if Jennings is back. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the shooting guard from Georgia, could be there. Maybe UCLA swingman Shabazz Muhammad is still on the board. Otherwise, No. 15 could fall right around a run of front-court players.
"You say, 'best player first,' and if it fills a need, you feel even more satisfied in the process," Hammond said. "But first and foremost, you probably look and say best player. I think it's probably very disconcerting to say that you have to fill a need in the draft, especially with the 15th pick."
The 15th pick in a weak draft at that.
The Bucks got Larry Sanders at 15 in 2010 and that has paid out, and Jennings with the 10th pick the year before likewise has become a big return, so there is a good track record on draft night (the 2011 choice was used in a trade for veterans and '12 selection John Henson averaged 13.1 minutes as a rookie).
No. 15 this time comes as part of a particularly busy intersection for the franchise. A pick in a draft when adding depth is more realistic than finding a replacement starter in the middle of the first round, followed four days later by the start of free agency and the next set of decisions.
"There's probably a little more angst as you move forward, just because some of the uncertainty within our roster," Hammond said. "But, as I said, it's going to work itself out as we move into July."
Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.
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