After this summer’s top free agents, the likes of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Kawhi Leonard, choose their next destinations, a string of Tier-2 options will start to make their decisions.
Among the headliners of that group will be Milwaukee Bucks forward Khris Middleton.
The six-year veteran is coming off one of the best campaigns of his career, putting up 18.3 points, 6.0 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game, and slashing pristine 44.1/37.8/83.7 shooting marks in the process. According to Synergy Sports, Middleton also ranked in the “excellent” range as both a spot-up shooter and as an isolation scorer, two very important play-types for wing basket-hunters of Middleton’s ilk.
For his troubles, Middleton was awarded his first All-Star bid this year while helping the Bucks win 60 regular-season games and make a deep playoff run.
Now, the talented small forward has to think about the next step to take in his career. Middleton has a player option on 2019-20 of his contract, one that he is almost certain to decline since it’s worth merely $13 million next season, a number the first year of his next deal will easily overshadow. When asked about his impending free agency, Middleton didn’t go into great detail, stating rather subtly:
Although a return to Milwaukee seems likely for the 6-foot-8 scorer, a rival team offering him the max – or close to it – to pry him away from the Bucks can’t be ruled out.
Below, we break down four potential landing spots for Middleton in free agency.
One of the few rumored suitors said to be interested in Middleton this summer are the Dallas Mavericks.
According to The New York Times’ Marc Stein, Dallas will be targeting Middleton, as well as Charlotte Hornets point guard Kemba Walker, in hopes of landing one or the other. Middleton, in particular, would be a great fit for what the Mavericks currently lack: an off-ball, bucket-minded wing who could take some of the scoring pressure off of young phenom Luka Doncic. Middleton’s shooting ability (he’s nearly 39 percent from three for his career) would especially play well off of Doncic, who is going to be tasked with primarily playmaking duties for Dallas again next season.
Depending on what the Mavs do with Kristaps Porzingis and Dwight Powell, two big men they will need re-sign this offseason, Mark Cuban and Co. should have northwards of $20 million in cap space to spend in free agency, money they can directly offer Middleton to convince him to join their cause.
With Doncic projected to be the team’s best player for years to come yet still set to be on his rookie deal for at least the next three seasons, Dallas would be wise to splurge on the rest of the roster and surround their burgeoning superstar with players who can help them win now.
Middleton, along with a presumably healthy Porzingis next season, profiles as the type of talent who could do just that.
With cap space to blow and a potential void on the wing to fill, the Indiana Pacers would also make a lot of sense as Middleton suitors.
An astonishing seven players who featured heavily in head coach Nate McMillan’s rotation this past season will be free agents this offseason, including swingman Bojan Bogdanovic, who had a career year, averaging 18.0 points nightly and shooting 42.5 percent from behind the three-point line. With that opening at small forward set to come available, a target like Middleton would be a savvy one for the Pacers, since he would present an upgrade over the Croatian thanks to his more well-rounded scoring ability, his better playmaking chops and his stingier defensive prowess. Middleton would also fit well playing off of All-Star Victor Oladipo, as the duo would form a strong 1-2 bucket-getting punch on the perimeter.
Due to having so many players set to hit free agency, Indiana could have nearly $44 million in cap space this offseason, enough to not just present Oladipo with a sizable contract offer, but also enough to re-sign some of their most important players about to be on the open market, including Thaddeus Young and Darren Collison.
An in-his-prime (and hopefully fully healthy) Oladipo deserves another All-Star to share the floor with, and few could have as positive an impact next to the 27-year-old 2-guard as Middleton.
Another team with a budding star ball-handler, the Atlanta Hawks would also be smart to get in on the Middleton sweepstakes this summer.
Atlanta will have cap space to spend this offseason, but they might have some trouble attracting elite free agents due to how far they appear to be from legit contention. A player of Middleton’s caliber, however, could be right in their wheelhouse. Middleton might even be enticed by the chance of having a larger role for a team like the Hawks, whose up-and-down style is appealing to players, and where he could get enough shots up to average over 20 points per game again.
The Hawks should have over $26 million in cap space this summer, enough to offer Middleton a deal approaching $100 million over four years. Depending on how the Bucks’ summer goes, that could be enough for Atlanta to get involved in the Middleton conversation, at least.
With the team already having one promising player in the backcourt in Trae Young, and another in the frontcourt in John Collins, finding a great wing has to be next up on their to-do list – and a guy like Middleton would be perfect for that role.
The likeliest outcome of Middleton’s summer is for him to decline his player option and re-sign with the incumbent Bucks. Not only can they offer him the most money, the team’s most important player, Antetokounmpo, made it very clear at Milwaukee’s end-of-year presser that he wants everyone from the 2018-19 team back next season:
And considering next season has to be as drama-free as possible since Antetokounmpo will be extension-eligible the summer after, the Bucks should do everything they can now to keep their Greek superstar happy.
Of course, Milwaukee should want Middleton back for more reasons than just Antetokounmpo enjoying playing him.
The Texas A&M product is coming off an All-Star campaign, proved that he can be relied upon as a second option on an elite team this season and, at just 27 years old, he’s still just getting into the thick of his prime, meaning his game is still improving rather than regressing.
The Bucks won 60 games this season and fell just two victories short of reaching the NBA Finals; getting the band back together and trying to make another run should be their top priority this offseason. That would make re-signing Middleton No. 1 on their list of things to accomplish this summer.
You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter: @FrankUrbina_.