Five burning questions and answers about the immediate future of the Milwaukee Bucks in the wake of their first-round playoff exit and their trade Thursday which sent veteran forward Ersan Ilyasova to Detroit:
1. What do the Bucks plan to do with their newfound salary-cap space?
By jettisoning Ilyasova for the more cap-friendly contracts of Caron Butler and Shawne Williams, Milwaukee potentially cleared nearly $23 million in salary-cap space in hopes of becoming a true free-agent player.
And they're thinking big with the sudden rush of available funds.
Big men, specifically.
League sources say the Bucks want a proven center in free agency if they can score one, and have pinpointed two kinds of former All-Stars -- Dallas' Tyson Chandler and Brooklyn's Brook Lopez -- as targets for the top of their wish list.
Bucks coach Jason Kidd knows both of them well, having played alongside Chandler in both Dallas and New York and having coached Lopez with the Nets. And word is that Milwaukee intends to chase both hard come July 1 in hopes of emerging as a serious contender for at least one of them.
Chandler, though 32 now, holds appeal not only for his unquestioned rim presence defensively, but also the veteran know-how he'd lend to a team full of kids crying out for more on-court guidance.
The offensive-minded Lopez, meanwhile, is obviously a completely different player, but he'd certainly provide a focal point for all of those still-developing Milwaukee youngsters to play off of if Kidd and the Bucks could actually convince the 27-year-old to leave Brooklyn, where Nets general manager Billy King has made no secret of the fact he wants to keep Lopez at (virtually) all costs.
Sources say that the Bucks would likewise be willing to jump into the DeAndre Jordan sweepstakes if they thought they had a reasonable shot at prying him away from Hollywood, but the incumbent Los Angeles Clippers and the Dallas Mavericks are widely regarded as the early co-favorites for Jordan.
2. What are the Bucks' biggest needs?
And veteran toughness.
All three are the more general target areas for the club beyond the specific pursuits of Chandler and Lopez.
If the Bucks managed to land one of those coveted bigs mentioned above and a top-flight wing defender, they'd be celebrating a dream summer. Especially with prized sophomore-to-be Jabari Parker said to be progressing well in the wake of the knee injury that limited him to 25 games as a rookie.
Tangible progress on the specifics of the deal so badly needed to erect a new building downtown and thus cement the franchise's future in Milwaukee, which began to crystallize last week, would only add to the optimistic feel.
3. How will the Bucks' trade this week and their hopes of making a splash in free agency affect the status of restricted free agent Khris Middleton?
Not if the Bucks have their way.
All signals emanating from Brewtown at this stage, as you'd expect, hold that the Bucks are determined to match any offer sheets Middleton attracts after his emergence this season as one of the league's rising defensive gems.
How high those offers actually go, given Middleton has assembled only one season of sustained success, remains to be seen. But one source close to the situation, when asked to assess Milwaukee's chances on a scale of 1 to 10 of having Middleton on the roster when training camp opens, replied with no hesitation: "Ten."
4. What's next for Giannis Antetokounmpo?
You see the fast progress and the highlight-reel plays and the impossibly long limbs and you forget that The Greek Freak is a mere 20 years, 187 days old.
The Bucks, meanwhile, simply (and quietly) salivate about the things they think Giannis can add by the time next season starts.
Better outside shooting.
Yes: Shooting the 3-ball.
Shooting the corner 3, that is.
The Bucks will naturally be expecting more out of Giannis on the boards next season, too. But for Antetokounmpo and newly acquired Michael Carter-Williams (getting stronger and sharpening his ballhandling are also on MCW's list) -- as well as for Parker as soon as he's able -- shooting is the offseason emphasis.
5. What about other Bucks business?
Veteran swingman Jared Dudley has until the end of the month to decide if he wants to invoke the final season of his current contract at $4.25 million or opt for free agency. It's believed that Dudley, either way, wants to stay in Milwaukee.
As Caron Butler essentially confirmed via Twitter in the wake of Thursday's trade, he will be waived before July 1 and head to free agency. Shedding the contracts of Butler and Shawne Williams will create nearly $8 million in cap space.
Caron Butler text to @RacSportsZone: "There's no story here. I'm going to be a free agent on July 1st."
— Eric Buenning (@ericbuenning) June 12, 2015
The Bucks actually created a trade exception worth $3.4 million in the Ilyasova trade, but it will vanish in July when Milwaukee begins to operate as a cap-room team.
Thanks to the buyout struck with Larry Sanders in February, Milwaukee will see the amount of $1,865,546 on its books through 2021-22.