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.
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)