Much on line as Parker makes season debut for Bucks

Jabari Parker is set to make his long-awaited debut this season tonight for the Milwaukee Bucks as they host the New York Knicks.

Parker will make his return from tearing his left ACL for a second time last season and should provide the Bucks, who already feature Giannis Antetokounmpo, Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton, with yet another prolific offensive player.

However, underlying the return of the former No. 2 overall pick is Parker’s contract status. He is set to become a restricted free agent after this season and negotiations with the Bucks did not result in a contact extension.

The issues seem fairly simple — Parker views himself as a max contract-caliber player. While the team might agree with his assessment, his long injury history is problematic.

Zach Lowe of ESPN writes Milwaukee was willing to offer Parker a big contract, just not big enough to satisfy Parker.

Parker conceives of himself as a star — a max player. Extension talks between Parker and Bucks fizzled in October, and Parker will enter restricted free agency this summer. The Bucks were prepared during those October talks to offer a three-year deal worth around $54 million, according to sources familiar with the discussions. The two sides discussed other permutations — shorter deals, incentive-laden four-year deals — and the talks never narrowed to a single on-paper offer. Still: Milwaukee’s upper limit in annual salary — about $18 million per season — was clear, sources say.

Lowe said there is plenty on the line for Parker as he begins his comeback from the second ACL tear tonight against the Knicks.

Parker bet on himself. If he plays well over the next two months, he will have suitors. The Bucks, at risk of crossing the luxury-tax threshold, will face hard choices.

The Bucks with Parker are good, perhaps very good, but any team lucky enough to find a top-10 (and likely top-five) player must chase greatness during that guy’s prime. The Bucks are running out of time to see if this core can be great, and they risk running low on trade assets if they pay everyone and discover it isn’t.