The Runner Sports

The Milwaukee Bucks And Jabari Parker’s Looming Extension Deadline

Jabari Parker appeared to be on the verge of a potential jump to stardom before suffering the second major knee injury of his career last year. His ascension as one of the NBA’s truly elite was not a foregone conclusion, but Parker had shown enough flashes of brilliance to believe that sustaining a high-level of play was in the cards for him. He was explosive, willing to attack the rim, and appeared to have expanded his shooting stroke out to the three-point line. On his best nights, Parker was essentially unguardable, a reflection of the breadth of the means of which he was capable of scoring the ball.

He wasn’t consistently efficient in every offensive context, but Parker was a monster in transition, a mismatch in the post against players big and small, and average or slightly above in almost every other setting other than pure isolation situations. That’s not the exact definition of a star, but it’s certainly the profile of a player with the potential to grow into one.

Parker would have needed to prove he could hit from deep at a respectable rate for an entire season before Milwaukee would have considered compensating him in a manner that matched such lofty expectations. The Bucks would have also wanted to see signs of progress on the defensive end, where Parker has been a significant minus at all times in his career. His injuries kept him from proving either of those things, and now the Bucks find themselves less than a week away from the deadline to decide whether or not they’d like to offer Parker an extension on his rookie contract.

The negotiation was likely to be challenging regardless of Parker’s most recent injury. His stark one-way impact was enough to make a team balk at committing major money to him long-term. The possibility of him playing with reduced athleticism, or missing substantial amounts of time with future injury could stall things out entirely.

Injuries are an unfortunate reality of professional sports. There is nothing redeeming about them –never a good time for them to occur– but the timing of Parker’s most recent ACL tear was particularly unfortunate for both him and his team. He took something of an in-season jump from an inefficient, no-defense bucket getter with limited range, to a fast-breaking, matchup nightmare of a fringe All-Star candidate. The preponderance of evidence suggests he is the former, but the developmental arc he seemed to be riding the latter.

If Milwaukee had some guarantee that Parker would progress along a similar path upon returning from injury, then a deal would likely already have been struck. But they don’t, and now they’re stuck making a major personnel decision without a lot to go off of. The safest move would be to just ride out the year, see how Parker plays, and enter into the dance of restricted free agency with him next summer.

If he turns into a star the Bucks could always give him oodles of money in a year’s time, or match whatever offer sheet he might get from other suitors. Things get more difficult if he doesn’t reach that level, a real possibility given the delayed start he’s getting and the rust that is likely to be associated with it. Should that be the case, Milwaukee faces the threat of being outbid, and losing Parker to another team with higher hopes for his long-term future, or, should negotiations fail, signing him to a qualifying offer, and dealing with the even more intense uncertainties of unrestricted free agency the following offseason.

That might be worth the risk. Parker needs to prove to the Bucks that he’s worth big money. Assuming they don’t sign Greg Monroe or Mirza Teletovic to deals that extend beyond the life of Parker’s contract, the Bucks could conceivably free up a decent amount of cap space by letting Parker walk in the summer of 2019. Whether or not they can free enough cash for a max slot will depend on the size of Malcolm Brogdon’s next contract (assuming he gets one) and by what degree the cap rises (or does not rise) in coming years.

That’s a lot of future assumptions that need to be built into the Bucks’ decision making model in the present, and an unexpected change in any of the variables could have a drastic impact on how any deal they hand Parker is perceived. And we haven’t even touched on the question of whether or not hoarding cap space makes sense for a team that operates in a traditionally undesirable free agent destination. It’s not clear that Milwaukee can attract the kind of top-level talent they should be seeking to pair with Giannis Antetokounmpo. Parker might be their best chance, and negotiating an extension now may even be an opportunity to land him on the cheap.

If the Bucks convince Parker to take a below-market deal as a hedge against his injury-riddled past, they may be able to retain a major contributor on a contract that doesn’t reflect his true worth, the type of roster building tool that has proven invaluable for the league’s elite. Parker’s representation would be foolish not to point out that Joel Embiid just landed a five-year, $148 million deal, despite playing in only 31 games in the last three seasons. They’d be fools not to try to use that as a market setter, and Milwaukee would be more so to accept it as one.

Embiid is a different caliber of player. He’s already a star in the present (when he can stay on the court), and has the potential to develop into the best player on the face of the Earth. Parker can’t claim either of those truths. He may grow into an incredibly dynamic offensive weapon though. Becoming a perennial All-Star, and the Bucks’ primary source of offense is, albeit somewhat unlikely, still in the cards. The NBA has a screwy enough compensation structure that both he and Embiid could ultimately be paid at similar rates, but at the end of the day, Parker isn’t worth the same kind of risk.

Milwaukee already has its franchise-altering talent in Antetokounmpo. Their evaluation of Parker is as a second¬†or even third fiddle. The Bucks have clogged their books with the likes of Matthew Dellavedova and John Henson. They can’t afford to miss on one of their larger contracts too. That’s why it’s unlikely that the two sides are going to come to an agreement. Milwaukee needs to play this conservatively, or risk surrounding their superstar with pieces that won’t allow them to compete meaningfully. If the Bucks miss out on a chance to extend Parker at a discounted rate this year, that means he proved himself worthy of a big payday. That should be a welcome outcome.

Greg Cassoli

Greg Cassoli is a contributor at TRS, covering the Milwaukee Bucks. He's an ardent supporter of three-point shooting, good defense, and positionless basketball.