I sat in the best seats I’d ever had in my entire life for a Milwaukee Bucks game on Saturday night. Center court, on the court. The refs couldn’t head to their private replay screen to review a play without getting in my face. I heard Amir Johnson complain about the chicken wings he’d eaten before the game.
I heard Jim Boylan call out Bucks plays on offense and correctly predict Raptors plays on defense. He’d tell Larry Sanders to be ready for the screen and read the play. He told Gustavo Ayon that his responsibility was to rebound when he entered. He chided a bad pass by Ersan Ilyasova and complimented a strong stretch of uptempo play.
I heard Dwyane Casey’s hoarse, gravely voice stretching to its aural limits to bark out instructions to the Raptors. I watched Kyle Lowry turn from even keeled individual to furiously upset maniac right before my eyes.
At the end of the game, confetti fell from the ceiling as the Bucks clinched a playoff spot for the first time in three seasons. It was one of those nights that so many Bucks fans would do anything for. And the seats, they were worth it. This blogging thing is not without its perks.
But as that confetti fell, I merely dusted it off my shoulders and picked it out of my keyboard with a hint of annoyance, because I wouldn’t be me if I was ever satisfied with what was happening around me.
Was this moment really worth such celebration? A 37-39 record and a schedule the rest of the way difficult enough to make a .500 record look nearly out of the question at this point. Three wins in its last 10 games. A negative point differential on the season. Two coaches, neither with a winning record. A big mid-season acquisition that failed to produce a winning record following the move.
Of course, a playoff berth is a playoff berth. And there’s the aspect of setting a goal and achieving it, which the Bucks have now done this season. So that’s cool.
But I can’t help but feel like this season is no more successful than last. Sure the Bucks won more games, but does anyone really feel like the Bucks are closer to being anywhere near a consistently important team in the NBA? Many people will say the experience that comes with a playoff berth will push the team forward, but I’m not so sure.
Are there any numbers confirming that making the playoffs alone has any benefits for future seasons? I seem to remember the Bucks making the playoffs in 2009-10 and then missing in each of the last two seasons. Why didn’t that playoff experience buoy the Bucks in each of those seasons? Why didn’t it get them back into the playoffs or at least over .500? Because the team didn’t have the right mix of talent and chemistry. Maybe there are some fringe benefits to making the playoffs and perhaps the experience can drive players, but ultimately, it doesn’t matter if the talent isn’t there.
The Sixers won in the first round last season, but how useful was that for them this season? They’ll watch the playoffs from home after finishing 10+ games under .500. Why? Because they made a big move for Andrew Bynum and it didn’t work out. But they recognized that last season’s eight seed wasn’t really worth building on. The experience of playoffs itself wouldn’t make up for the lack of talent that team had. I commend the courage of the Sixers and hope things work out for them with Bynum in the future.
As for the Bucks, it’ll be an interesting few weeks. The rest of the season isn’t easy: Six games left, five on the road and four against teams better than .500. Then, most likely, Miami in the first round. The Bucks will have the opportunity to pull off one of the all-time great playoff upsets, but most likely will be dispatched easily in four or five games. They’ve been down that road before. And then what?
Three of Milwaukee’s best five players, Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis and J.J. Redick, will be eligible for free agency of one kind or another. Jennings somehow seems both most and least likely to return. He’ll be a restricted free agent, with the Bucks capable of matching any offer he gets, but he’s also been most vocal about displeasures or potentially leaving someday. Ellis rarely says a word and Redick has hardly had time to make a decision on what he’ll do.
Will this playoff berth sway any of these players? Will it sway management? Do any of the parties involved even want to continue this relationship? Have the Bucks reached their ceiling with this group? Beyond the roster, does management know what sort of team they even want? And how does Boylan’s interim status fit into that?
After 76 games, the Bucks have clinched a playoff spot. But the more important “accomplishment” is that Milwaukee somehow seems to have just as many questions as it had when the season began.