The highest-profile free agent signing last season was LeBron James going to the Los Angeles Lakers, but the highest-value free agent signing was Brook Lopez coming to the Milwaukee Bucks for the bi-annual exception of $3.4 million. Without Lopez, that 60-win season probably doesn’t happen.
A former interior post-player who completely transformed his game, Lopez is now a 3-point bomber who opened up the floor offensively for MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo to work inside. No seven-footer in NBA history has ever made as many 3-pointers as the 187 he drained last season.
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Defensively, Lopez was critical to the league’s top defense as well, a massive rim protector who directed teams out of the paint in Mike Budenholzer’s conservative scheme. With high-level perimeter defenders and Antetokounmpo roaming as a weak-side destroyer-of-worlds, Lopez in front of the rim was a seamless fit. He isn’t the player to slide around the perimeter in front of speedy guards, but he doesn’t need to be on this team.
Losing Lopez would be punitive, as no player on the roster has the two-way impact he does outside of Giannis. There are other options — play Antetokounmpo at the 5 for 10 minutes a game, add 15 each from D.J. Wilson and Ersan Ilyasova — and the rotation is almost complete. Yet a Bucks team eyeing the title would be taking a step back. A free agent such as Dewayne Dedmon could come in and approximate some of what Lopez did, but he may cost nearly as much as Lopez without being quite as good.
If the trade sending Tony Snell to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Jon Leuer opens up enough cap space to bring back Lopez — around $12 million depending on which other cap holds they renounce — then the Bucks should absolutely bring him back on a multi-year deal. If he can command more on the open market, they have the option to stretch Leuer’s contract over the next three seasons to get close to $17 million, which should almost certainly do the trick.
Stretching Leuer just to give more money to Lopez should be done only if absolutely necessary, but the Bucks’ window is now. If Lopez is willing to stay, the Bucks should do everything they can to make it happen.