The drama and the noise in the NBA offseason had quieted down until Giannis Antetokounmpo made some remarks about an NBA destination other than the city of Milwaukee.
Antetokounmpo’s words certainly raised eyebrows as he has normally been vocal about his commitment to the Milwaukee Bucks and pretty much the state of Wisconsin. Shock aside, much of it likely comes from the deference and respect to the six NBA championships the Chicago Bulls won with Michael Jordan in the 90s. He may have also wanted to be nice and respectful since he was speaking to a Chicago news station when that question was raised.
So while all this means the Bucks can take this with a grain of salt, this doesn’t mean that Milwaukee shouldn’t make a self-assessment on how this past season unfolded.
Prior to the start of the 2021-2022 NBA Season, the Bucks looked poised to repeat as NBA champions with a relatively intact championship core. However, Milwaukee struggled to maintain a level of consistency at the start of the season, stumbling to 8-8 a little over a month after they received their championship rings. In the end, the Bucks just needed to get their legs under them, as Milwaukee went 43-23 the rest of the way in what was a close fight for the Eastern Conference’s top seed.
The Bucks’ run in the 2022 NBA Playoffs started strong as they easily dispatched the Bulls in five games, however, against one of the hottest teams in the NBA at that time in the Boston Celtics, things went the distance. Unfortunately, Milwaukee could not overcome the Celtics, who went on to represent the East in the NBA Finals.
Championship or bust may be the standard now considering that Antetokounmpo is entering his prime and the primary focus should be made towards an examination of the supporting cast the Bucks have put together for Antetokounmpo. Much of the current cast of characters that helped Milwaukee win the NBA title in 2021 remain, but things have changed since then.
Due to a back injury, Brook Lopez played in only 13 games in 2021-2022, the fewest since he played in five contests back in 2011-2012. However, Lopez wasn’t the only Buck that missed a significant amount of time as Donte DiVincenzo encountered some struggles and was eventually traded to the Sacramento Kings. Even if most of the roster got to see the court together, only Bobby Portis played more than 70 games, with six more players playing at least 60.
Although they were on the court more than some of their oft-injured teammates, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton weren’t at par to what they usually were though at times through no fault of their own. Part of it came from both Holiday and Middleton playing non-stop since last season, as they both played for Team USA in the Tokyo Olympics. Fatigue and wear-and-tear likely set in especially during the postseason, where Middleton missed the last 10 Milwaukee postseason games after spraining the MCL in his left knee. Meanwhile, Holiday, who had to deal with a few lower leg injuries during the regular season, struggled as the perimeter defense shifted to him with Middleton out.
Coaching has been a source of stability for the Bucks over the years, but Darvin Ham moving to Los Angeles to become the head coach of the Lakers leaves a void among Milwaukee head coach Mike Budenholzer’s staff. Other members of the Bucks coaching staff will likely step up to fill in for Ham, with Charles Lee being promoted to associate head coach and Blaine Mueller being promoted to an assistant coach role. Milwaukee also rounded out their staff by hiring Vince Legarza from the Utah Jazz and bringing in 11-year NBA veteran DeMarre Carroll as assistants.
For the Bucks, it’s not just about adding and subtracting as they must ensure the core can be kept together. Antetokounmpo, Holiday, and Middleton are signed through the 2023-2024 NBA Season, but Middleton has a player option for that season and locking him up to an extension should be a priority for Milwaukee.
Of course, it’s a huge boost whenever your franchise player continues to raise the bar and reset the standard with which the team must follow. While other players seem to let their guard down or post workout videos more for the gram than for the game, Antetokounmpo has continued to refine his game, with the goal of eliminating any perceived weakness.
The Bucks can take on that approach as well, as they have been able to pull off savvy moves to keep their franchise player happy even when the roster is solid in its current form. Acquiring Holiday is a prime example of such, and while they don’t have to break the bank, the effort and the precise timing could be all they would need.
Should the Milwaukee Bucks worry about Giannis Antetokounmpo? The quick answer is no. However, the results of last season show that there’s work to be done and the Bucks acting on those realizations will help keep any apprehensions away.