I did not attend media day this year. I’ve been to a handful of them, and it’s a fine time, but everyone just says what they are supposed to say. It’s not super beneficial in terms of actually understanding much about a basketball team. That’s how we end up with Media Day MVPs like Stephen Jackson and teams that say all the right things and then explode a few months later, like the 2013-14 squad.
But I read a lot of quotes from Monday’s media day and drew on my experience at media day last season, and I’m struck by the similar nature of a lot of the things said. If the Bucks are handling themselves in a similar manner at media day this season as they did at last season, that’s more than a little remarkable to me. It’s also one of the better indicators that the Bucks are in great shape going forward.
Allow me to explain.
It genuinely seems like the Milwaukee Bucks are not worried about how this upcoming season will go. They don’t have to make the playoffs. They don’t need a better record than last year. There isn’t a mandate issued by ownership one way or the other. Jobs don’t hang in the balance. Results seem irrelevant. That’s why there has never been more reason in the past 25 years to be optimistic about the future of the Milwaukee Bucks, both immediate and long-term.
Media day is always heavy on good vibes and the messaging that the team is trying to push. With the Bucks, that messaging has often been something to correct the previous season.
This year we’re going to improve on offense.
This year we’re going to focus more on defense.
We’re not worried about everyone counting us out.
You know the type of platitudes.
But this year’s media day produced a lot of quotes that sounded like last year’s media day, despite the drastically different circumstances surrounding them. Last year Jason Kidd told the media over and over that he wasn’t worried about the playoffs or setting expectations, but that he was focused on trying to teach a very young team. This year he told the media that when the Bucks arrived in Madison for camp on Tuesday that there would be two college teams in Madison. He’s still got a young squad, and he’s still focused on teaching them. A little bit of success hasn’t changed his primary talking point about getting better every day.
“We’ve got a long ways to go, and it starts today here at media day,” Kidd told reporters as he sat on the stage next to General Manager John Hammond. “But it starts tomorrow on the floor to get better each time we take the floor.”
That’s what Jason Kidd is all about and, more importantly, that’s what the entire franchise seems to be all about these days. We’ve seen plenty of media days over the past handful of years where the questions focused entirely on whether the Bucks were going to make the playoffs that season, as was the goal every year. The focus for the franchise was never building towards a championship; rather it was just to make the playoffs that season. But Wes Edens made it clear where this franchise wants to be heading while allowing that it’s a work in progress, not a one-year goal.
“It was a great experience getting in the playoffs and being competitive in the series against the (Chicago) Bulls, but that’s obviously not what the objective is,” Edens said. “We’re trying to build a team that can compete to the Eastern Conference finals and the championship.
“It doesn’t happen overnight. The team is still very young. It will be really interesting to see how they start the year, with a bunch of new guys on the team. We think the team is better because it’s a year older and it’s better because of the people we brought in.
There seems to be a unification that we rarely used to see from the Bucks. Kidd doesn’t have to coach worrying about making the playoffs this season. Hammond doesn’t have to negotiate deals that are going to improve the Bucks quickly without considering the impact long-term. Everything the organization does now is done under the unifying umbrella goal of making the team better every day with the ultimate goal of winning a title. None of them expects a title this season, and there is no win total mandate or 8th seed or better demand. But they all expect the team to focus at every practice, play hard at every game and show constant improvement.
That’s what’s worth taking away from media day. Ignore the stories about Jabari Parker looking more muscular or Michael Carter-Williams having worked on his game this summer. Soon enough we’ll see these guys in action and then we’ll be able to discuss how healthy Parker is or how much better Carter-Williams is as a shooter. Until then, we’re just hearing PR.
But this organizational shift has been monumental, and it looks very legitimate. The Bucks are finally a team that’s focused on the process that will allow them to be successful. They aren’t taking shortcuts. They’re just putting in work from the top down and won’t stop until they get a title.