The Milwaukee Bucks’ hopes of taking the next step in the East came crashing down after a heartbreaking Game 7 loss to the undermanned Boston Celtics. NBA fans had high hopes for the Bucks this season with Giannis entering what should be the prime years of his career, Eric Bledsoe boosting the backcourt, and Jabari Parker returning midway through the season. But in a season defined by inconsistent play and lofty expectations looming over the team game after game, it almost seems fitting that the Bucks were unable to get over the hump and take out the second-seeded Celtics. With the Bradley Center era complete, Milwaukee’s management will have a plethora of crucial decisions to make in order to put together a team that can live up to their expectations in 2019.
1. Find a head coach that fits!
After a horrific year in 2013-2014, the Bucks announced NBA legend Jason Kidd as their head coach. Kidd was brought to Milwaukee from Brooklyn in exchange for two second-round draft picks, and he had shown some promise helping the Nets to a 44-38 record in his first year as a coach. However, over the last four years Kidd struggled to discover how to optimize the strengths of Milwaukee’s long and athletic roster. Perhaps Brooklyn had succeeded thanks to veteran leadership from Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Deron Williams among others, but the Bucks were never able to get clicking under Kidd. After he was fired midway through last season, interim head coach Joe Prunty was put at the helm. Minimal changes could be noticed under Prunty, even with the return of Jabari Parker. The team went 21-16 in the 37 regular season games he coached, and with the world watching in the playoffs it became clear that Prunty was not as poised for the challenge as Celtics coach Brad Stevens, even with the far stronger roster.
General manager Jon Horst’s immediate focus during the summer should turn to finding a coach that can nurture this still very young Bucks roster. The Greek Freak is becoming more and more of a team leader, and with strong coach there to get a better system in place around him, things should look up pretty quickly for Bucks fans. With Giannis and company still locked into contracts in Milwaukee, the recruitment process for coaches should not be too difficult. Rumors have been circulating for weeks with names like Mike Budenholzer, David Fizdale and David Blatt among the most notable, but it will come down to who Horst sees as the best fit for Antetokounmpo.
2. Figure out what to do with Jabari Parker
After recovering from a second ACL tear in his young career, Jabari Parker returned to the court in February looking to prove that he was still a player worthy of the second overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. Unfortunately, he was unable to carve out a star role with Milwaukee as the team was already deep into the season and preparing for a playoff run. Parker appeared in 31 regular season games and all seven playoff games, but started just three times and averaged just 24 minutes per game. With the Duke product averaging just under 13 points per contest, it was still clear that he and Antetokounmpo struggled playing together. Jabari will become a restricted free agent this summer, meaning that all teams will have the opportunity to make him a contract offer, but Milwaukee will have the choice to match any offers to keep him around.
With injury risks more than apparent and Parker misfitting with Antetokounmpo, the question Jon Horst will face is simple: under what circumstances is it worth keeping Jabari? If nobody comes knocking at Parker’s door, Milwaukee will have the chance to sign him for the one-year qualifying offer worth $7.4 million. Under today’s salary cap, perhaps that type of money is worth it to keep a 23-year old who was once looked at as the future of the organization. But with Giannis as the obvious face of the franchise going forward, maybe it is time for Horst and the Bucks to look to spend elsewhere in search of better role players to surround their star.
3. The 2018 NBA Draft
The 2018 NBA Draft is closer than you might think, and Milwaukee’s 17th spot in the draft is not so bad for a playoff team. This year’s draft is as deep as any in recent league history, and the Bucks could really benefit from nailing their pick this year. Last year, the team had this same pick waiting for them in June and Michigan forward DJ Wilson became the new rookie in Milwaukee. The now 22-year old played sparingly during his first year as a pro, seeing the court in just 22 contests and averaging a measly three minutes per game. Second-rounder Sterling Brown made more of an impact in his rookie season playing in 54 games and even starting in four of them. However, neither of the two prospects were able to create impacts that would pay off in the playoffs, and unless they can make leaps during the offseason, the 2017 NBA Draft might be one Milwuake fans will want to forget about. Whether it is a guard, a big man, or anyone in between, getting better through the draft is something the Bucks ought to prioritize in their offseason quest to improve and move up in the East in 2019.