The end of the season was as heartbreaking of an experience as any that I’ve had in my sports fandom. But now, we’re a few weeks past the Finals and the league has shifted all of their attention to the future, which is right where I want to be. The championship Raptors as we knew them are no more, and a completely new alignment has taken form since free agency began at the end of June.
In all of the chaos, national media has pretty much ignored Milwaukee and their chances at the Finals. This isn’t totally unfair, as the storylines coming from the Bucks don’t have anywhere near the same impact the offseason’s that the LA teams have gone through. Milwaukee will be returning a very similar team to last season and that doesn’t exactly move the needle nationally, but it’s something that home fans can be excited about.
To summarize last season, Mike Budenholzer took a consistently average team and found a way to get 60 wins and bulldoze through 2/3s of the NBA playoffs before the team crumbled in four straight. As a whole, the season was an enormous success. As a team that had been stuck in the first round for nearly 20 years, getting to the ECF the way they did was incredibly refreshing. Nevertheless, the season will be remembered by the last four games.
Kawhi heading to LA helps that narrative quite a bit. The one team that decimated the Bucks is no longer the same team and the East is wide open for Giannis and company to take the next step. Oddsmakers currently have the Bucks sitting at either the second or third best odds to win it all, behind one of or both LA squads. While the general opinion is that the Bucks are essentially running it back, this isn’t exactly true. Yes, most of the roster remains the same and the style of play likely won’t change much. But that doesn’t mean the Bucks have gone without their fair share of alterations.
The top two moves made thus far for Milwaukee have been resigning Middleton and trading Brogdon with a sign-and-trade. While both moves have had quite a bit of criticism, the big picture has become more clear. Bottomline, Khris earned and deserved his extension. It’s very fair to say he was overpaid and didn’t deserve it but some fans don’t realize that the only two options the Bucks had were to resign and go for the championship or let him walk and take a step back. To me, the decision seemed simple. Resign Middleton and you admit that the team had a real shot at a Larry O’Brien trophy. Let him walk and Giannis may not think that the front office has any interest in an immediate championship push. Khris got paid and that was the right call.
Brogdon, on the other hand, can be argued for in a much more convincing way. He was drafted by Milwaukee in the second round, won rookie of the year, and has been an important young piece for the Bucks’ recent success. However, he isn’t exactly a young rookie as Giannis is younger than him while having twice as long of an NBA career as Malcolm. He has also been proven to be an injury risk. All of that combined with the nearly $90 million deal he received from the Pacers and the decision to no longer pursue was made a bit easier. Jon Horst proceeded to make the correct move and use Brogdon in a sign-and-trade that brought in three draft picks when he otherwise could’ve left for nothing.
Since Brogdon left, the shooting guard position has mostly been replaced. It won’t be the same in the sense that whoever ends up starting, whether it be George Hill who signed a new 3-year deal, Wes Matthews who signed a vet-minimum, or even a rising player such as Sterling Brown or Donte DiVincenzo, they won’t get the same minutes as Brogdon did. Coach Bud will likely elect to fairly combine their minutes as to not burn anyone out. Hill and Matthews are both on the latter part of their careers and probably couldn’t hold up to an 82-game season in a true starter role. Brown and Donte are young but neither have proven to have the consistency to be a starter on a title contending team. Sterling crumbled in the playoffs last year and Donte hasn’t been healthy long enough to get useful experience.
So, with all of the chaos that’s gone around the NBA the last week and the shakeup of the league, the Bucks emerge from the smoke as clear contenders with a full year of experience together in a new system. Four of the five starters are returning, more shooters have been added and more could be coming (Kyle Korver?), and Coach Bud is still in charge. Not to mention the incredible content that will come from the Lopez brothers. In all honesty, there hasn’t been a single more promising moment as a Bucks fan than what we have right now. The same but slightly improved roster, top level coaching and front office, and a wide open league.
Obviously, I haven’t covered everything in here. That’d just be too long of a piece. But the healing time was necessary and I’m ready to do it all over again. Bucks’ fans should be excited for October because this wasn’t a one-and-done run. This could turn into something special. Milwaukee should lay everything on the line for one year because it could mean the difference between a dynasty and a flash in the past.