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Bucks may turn to restricted free agency for point guard

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By Charles F. Gardner
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
July 6, 2014

The Milwaukee Bucks took a swing in restricted free agency last summer but could not connect when Atlanta matched its four-year, $32 million offer to point guard Jeff Teague.

Could the Bucks be willing to try again?

A pair of restricted free agent point guards are tantalizing targets—the Phoenix Suns’ Eric Bledsoe and the Toronto Raptors’ Greivis Vasquez.

Bledsoe likely would require a max offer, which would be approximately $64 million over a four-year deal. And there’s a strong possibility the Suns would match any offer to the 24-year-old Bledsoe, a player they acquired from the Los Angeles Clippers in a trade last summer.

Bledsoe and Goran Dragic formed a potent backcourt duo for the Suns last season, although Bledsoe missed two months following knee surgery. Despite the injury, Bledsoe averaged 17.7 points, 5.5 assists and 4.7 rebounds in 43 games, including 40 starts.

He was one of just eight NBA players to average more than 17 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds and 1.5 steals, and he did it in limited minutes (32.9 per game).

The Bucks have approximately $12 million to $13 million under the projected salary cap to spend on free agents if they desire to do so.

Vasquez has finished his rookie-scale contract and also should command a multiyear deal, though not in Bledsoe’s price range. Toronto made a $3.2 million qualifying offer to Vasquez and can match an offer made by any other NBA team.

The Raptors have made several recent moves in an effort to be in position to keep the 6-foot-6 Venezuelan. He played a key role in their run to the third-seeded position in the Eastern Conference playoffs last season.

Vasquez also said recently he hoped to return to the Raptors.

Toronto agreed to trade former Marquette star Steve Novak to Utah on Friday in a money-saving move. The Raptors earlier agreed to a four-year, $48 million deal with starting point guard Kyle Lowry, who was an unrestricted free agent.

Vasquez averaged 9.5 points and 3.7 assists while playing 21.5 minutes per game with Toronto last season. He played in 61 games with the Raptors and made five starts after being acquired as part of the trade that sent forward Rudy Gay to Sacramento.

The former Maryland player averaged nearly 20 points a game in three matchups against the Bucks last season and hit 13 of 19 three-point attempts (68.4 percent).

He scored 26 points on 10-of-15 shooting in the Raptors’ 102-98 victory in Milwaukee on April 4 and added 25 points and seven assists in Toronto’s 110-100 decision over the Bucks at the Air Canada Centre on April 14.

The Houston Rockets are shopping guard Jeremy Lin, scheduled to make $15 million next season in the final year of his contract, while they try to clear salary space for a run at one of the top free agents on the market.

But it’s unlikely the Bucks would be interested in taking on Lin’s salary.

Adding to the intrigue is the Bucks’ hiring last week of Jason Kidd as their new head coach.

Bucks general manager John Hammond said Kidd’s experience as a 10-time all-star playmaker should be a great asset in directing the team’s point guards.

“We have two point guards on the roster right now—Brandon Knight and Nate Wolters—and we like both of those guys,” Hammond said. “I thought Brandon had a great year for us last year. He’s going to continue to improve.

“He’s only 22 years old, soon to be 23. Because he’s been in the league so long (three years), people tend to forget that. Nate Wolters came out in his rookie year and was having a great year until he broke his hand at the very end.”

Knight finished last season as the Bucks’ leading scorer at 17.9 points per game and averaged a team-leading 4.9 assists.

“If I’m a young point guard—I talked to Brandon about that and to Nate about that,” Hammond said. “I said, ‘Guys, can you imagine a better situation than to be coached by arguably one of the best point guards to ever play this game,’” Hammond said.

Kidd agreed to a three-year, $15 million deal to coach the Bucks after spending just one season as coach of the Brooklyn Nets. He will begin meeting players this week in Las Vegas as players gather for the NBA Summer League.



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