Bobby Portis provided the Milwaukee Bucks with a much-needed spark in Game 5 against the Atlanta Hawks. Starting in place of the injured two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo (hyperextended left knee), Portis starred with a playoff career-high 22 points. He added eight rebounds, three assists and three steals across 35 minutes in the 123-112 victory over the Hawks.
Brook Lopez, Kris Middleton and Jrue Holiday also had sensational performances, but it was Portis who had the Bucks faithful at Fiserv Forum roaring more than any other player. The fan favorite and enthusiastic big man had the crowd on its feet early and often, chanting his name in celebration on multiple occasions.
🗣 BOBBY pic.twitter.com/kLjsJ0aDIP
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) July 2, 2021
Antetokounmpo’s availability for the remainder of the Eastern Conference Finals is unclear. Therefore, Portis could end up playing a major role in determining whether the Bucks, up 3-2 in the series, advance to their first NBA Finals since 1974.
While Portis’ role this postseason has been heavily dictated by matchups, he has delivered when given ample playing time. Portis was a key contributor for the Bucks during the regular season, posting 11.4 points and 7.1 rebounds per contest while shooting a career-high 52.3 percent from the field. He also shot a career-best 47.1 percent on 3-pointers, the third-best mark across the NBA.
As a result, Portis could be in for a big payday if he elects for free agency. Portis has a $3.8 million player option for next season. His deadline to opt out of the deal is Aug. 1 — the day before NBA free agency officially begins.
Portis will more than likely opt out of his low-cost contract. Players who produce in the playoffs almost always garner a pay raise on the open market. Assuming Portis opts out of his current pact, let’s examine three free agency fits for the 26-year-old big man.
3. Re-sign with Bucks
Following Milwaukee’s pivotal Game 5 win over Atlanta, Bobby Portis said he made the “best decision of his career” by joining the Bucks last offseason.
"Coming here was the best decision of my career."
— NBA (@NBA) July 2, 2021
Portis came to Milwaukee to win and things are going according to plan. The Bucks are on the brink of an NBA Finals appearance. Portis had not enjoyed much team success since entering the NBA in 2015. His only playoff trip came in 2017 as a member of the Chicago Bulls, who lost to the Boston Celtics in the opening round.
After failing to make the playoffs with the Knicks last season, Portis was motivated more than ever to play for a contender. In the midst of a deep playoff run, Portis has “found peace” in Milwaukee.
— Bally Sports Wisconsin (@BallySportWI) July 2, 2021
Made for Milwaukee. pic.twitter.com/HLzoCxXzy4
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) July 2, 2021
The problem when it comes to Portis returning to Milwaukee is his contract situation. The Athletic’s John Hollinger explains it all here:
Bobby Portis’ contract turned out to be a bargain for the Bucks, as he was one of the league’s best backup big men. The downside for Milwaukee, however, is that he is gonzo after this year. The Bucks don’t have any Bird rights and can only offer him a 20-percent raise on last year’s salary ($4.35 million), unless they use their $6 million taxpayer midlevel exception to retain him. And most likely, even that won’t be enough.
Would Portis be willing to take such a small contract again after this season? Perhaps he loves playing for the Bucks that much, but he could get more elsewhere.
2. Reunion with New York Knicks
Bobby Portis played for the Knicks in 2019-20, logging 10.1 points and 5.1 rebounds in 21.1 minutes per game. In the summer of 2019, the Knicks signed him to a two-year, $31 million pact — the second season being a $15.75 million team option that the Knicks did not pick up. They wanted to bring Portis back, but at a cheaper cost. Portis surprised many when he signed his inexpensive deal with the Bucks, but he was adamant he wanted to play for a championship contender.
While Portis was motivated to play on a deal that underpaid him relative to production this season, there’s no guarantee that will be the case next season. The Knicks are flushed with cap space and are no longer rebuilding after making the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
Updated 2021 cap space projections post-Lottery:
1 Knicks – $51.3M
2 Spurs – $48.9M
3 Thunder – $37.5M
4 Mavericks – $34.3M
5 Raptors – $23.1M
6 Grizzlies – $22.8M
7 Hornets – $20.4M
— Keith Smith (@KeithSmithNBA) June 23, 2021
If Portis were to rejoin the Knicks, he would play the bulk of his minutes at the 5. Star forward Julius Randle will eat up the majority of the minutes at power forward. The Knicks could certainly use another big man, especially with Nerlens Noel set to be a free agent.
Portis, one of the league’s best reserves despite his subpar defense, could serve as a backup center to Mitchell Robinson, who has had issues staying healthy in the past.
The Knicks would need to give Portis more long-term security, perhaps a three-year deal in the $39-42 million range, to bring the big man back.
1. Take talents to Miami Heat
The Miami Heat are in desperate need of frontcourt help. Bam Adebayo, an All-Star in 2020, is the lone big man to write home about on its roster. Precious Achiuwa showed flashes in his rookie year and could eventually be a rotation player, but the 21-year-old is a work in progress.
Bobby Portis could carve a major role with the Heat. He played 20.8 minutes per contest this season, but that figure could rise significantly if he left for Miami.
The Heat, swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Bucks, witnessed firsthand how impactful Portis can be off the bench. Despite not cracking the 20-minute plateau once against the Heat, Portis managed to hit double figure in scoring three times in the sweep.
Miami ranks inside the top 10 across the NBA in cap space for 2021, so it could entice the big man financially. Plus, the Heat are only a year removed from reaching the NBA Finals, so they offer a winning culture.