Owning the future, the uncertain present and the messy path to success

Last season’s playoff berth did not guarantee that the Bucks were going to be good this season. Ending the Warriors record-setting winning streak did not lead to the Bucks ripping off a string of victories. Getting Jabari Parker back, getting OJ Mayo back and benching (and unbenching) Michael Carter-Williams did not solve any of Milwaukee’s problems on its own.

If we’ve learned anything through the Bucks first 29 games this season, it’s that the path to sustained success in the NBA is not always a straight line.

Last season the Bucks were a trendy pick to be among the worst teams in the league.  Cast off veterans populated the roster. The Clippers traded Milwaukee Jared Dudley for virtually nothing. Zaza Pachulia was a backup center on the worst Bucks team of all time a season before. Larry Sanders was a mystery. Brandon Knight didn’t have a position. Kendall Marshall‘s contract wasn’t even guaranteed. Giannis was unproven. Jabari was a rookie.

Somehow, they made it all work.

This season, in trying to build on everything that went right while keeping an eye on the future, Milwaukee mucked up what made them special last season. This season is the season they were supposed to have last season after experiencing the season they were supposed to have this season last season.

Clear enough?

And this season’s failures have resulted in fan unrest. What happened to the master plan? What happened to everything going so smoothly? How’d it get off track? Now we’re reaching the point in the season at which people start to demand clarity and security that this season will make sense in the bigger picture of the franchise’s development. People seem to want the Bucks to make a move to either solidify the roster or ensure the team can tank the rest of the way. Rumors of a Carlos Boozer signing enraged Twitter users, as he lends himself to neither process. He isn’t much of a player anymore, evidenced by his unemployment in late December, but he’s probably an upgrade over a younger player like Johnny O’Bryant. He doesn’t make the Bucks good, but he doesn’t contribute to their developmentally targeted demise. That’s why reactions to tweets that paired his name with Milwaukee’s were so harsh. People want a direction.

But the Bucks seem comfortable with their future. The marketing arm is always talking about #OwnTheFuture, and Jason Kidd can’t stop talking about how young his team is. What both groups mean is that Giannis and Jabari are young. The other guys are young too, but if anyone on this roster other than Giannis, Jabari, Middleton and Henson is here in three years, it’d be one of the biggest upsets I’ve ever seen. The future is still two guys and the team remains confident in those two.

Giannis, the recent drama that’s surrounded his status in the starting lineup and usage on the court aside, is still an improving player and a centerpiece for the team to build around. He’s making more jumpers. He’s shooting a better percentage overall. He’s over 80% on his free throws, of which he still attempts over four per game. And for all the talk of him being a ball-hog, he’s got a career high assist percentage and a career low turnover percentage. It’d be inaccurate to say he isn’t developing.

Meanwhile, Jabari Parker has picked up where he left off last season, which is an accomplishment considering a terrible knee injury separated these two seasons. He’s been only average through 48 NBA games, but the organization is confident that very good basketball exists in his future.

Everything else? Details that can be worked out in the future. Carter-Williams, Greg Monroe, and Khris Middleton could still have a place on this team eventually, but only if they can work effectively around the centerpieces and only if better options don’t become available. Milwaukee isn’t tied into anyone or anything, but it still does believe in its two-man young core. And if the season continues to go to hell, they could even add a third guy to that core.

At 11-18, with a coach out injured and four road games directly on the horizon, things are likely to keep going South on the Bucks. But a season full of losses wouldn’t necessarily be a lost season.

The new ownership group wants to win a title and has made that goal very clear. An apparent step back this season doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ve veered into a new direction on their path to a title.

But it means that this whole process thing is way messier than it is enjoyable.

(PS: Sorry for the lack of recaps/coverage lately. West Coast games and the current schedules of the Bucksketball Staff weren’t a great mix. We’ll be back on track shortly. Merry Christmas, Toni Kukoc. – JS)

Categories: This Is Apparently Where Things Are Going Now?

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8 Comments

  1. Thanks for this, Jeremy. It really helps put things back in perspective. Just went to game v Sixers and am so impressed by how good Giannis is becoming.
    I’ve really missed Bucksketball’s game grades. I’m perhaps excessively attached to them (maybe bc I’m a teacher). Hope they’re back soon!

  2. This is a nice piece of writing. As Jane said, this puts everything in perspective. Expectations were too high for this team before the season even began due to the fun turnaround they had last year. However, as Kidd keeps stressing, this is the youngest team in the league and the only two players who are for sure the future and untouchable are Giannis and Jabari. They are still developing and polishing their games. Yes at times watching the Bucks is frustrating with how inconsistent they are, but that should have been the real expectation from the start. All the fans who are upset with the team not being a top 3-4 seed are, dare I say, a little naive? Have patience Bucks fans. Have patience. Again, this was a great piece of writing – one of the better ones you’ve written so far this year. Thanks for keep us entertained guys. I’ll look forward to the next podcast after the all holidays. Best wishes.

  3. Nice write up, but I have to ask. Why sometimes does this blog go silent for a week or so? Sometimes I wonder if the site crashed when there’s old game recaps 3 games ago. Love the site, which is why I get a bit sad when I don’t get to hear you guys’ thoughts most especially after a big game, like GS.

    • yeah, I agree. very disappointed by the lack of recaps lately (they’ve missed 5 of 7). love the site, but I’m missing the recaps.

    • Came in to say the same thing. The opinion pieces are nice, but ultimately the primary reason for me visiting the site is to read the recaps and get the Bucksketball writers insight on what was good/bad with the players and the game as a whole. So when you guys suddenly go on an unexplained hiatus, needless to say it’s extremely disappointing.

      • But you see it was explained (last podcast). Also with deductive reasoning you should figure with the holidays it will be a bit before they can do another episode and recaps. It’s a busy time of the year.

        • Gotta be honest with you, I’m not much of a podcast guy and so I haven’t listened to any of them. If I’m given the option I almost always prefer to just read content versus listen to it.