Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks are living their best lives now.
From winning Olympic gold medals, to making appearances in AEW, the Bucks have been basking in the fruits of their championship glory (and the hard work it took to get it) both on and off the court.
Yet when all the confetti is swept up and the taste of Armand De Brignac champagne disappears, it’s time to get back to work.
The first order of business naturally points to getting the band back together, which can be easier said than done. Pat Riley, who has won championships with the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat, brought up the idea of the “disease of more”, which plagues teams from successfully defending titles. Players would want more opportunities and money, and while these can at times be warranted, limitations such as the salary cap and positional complications ultimately make this a difficult situation.
Not everyone will be back as champagne chugger PJ Tucker and Bryn Forbes have signed with the Heat and the San Antonio Spurs, respectively. Nevertheless, Milwaukee has already worked on getting replacements as they signed Rodney Hood ($2.2 million), Semi Ojeleye ($1.8 million) and Sandro Mamukelashvili (two-way contract) to one-year deals. This is on top of bringing back fan favorite Bobby Portis (two years, $8.9 million), George Hill (two years, $8.0 million), and Thanasis Antetokounmpo (two years, $3.6 million).
Last August 7, the Bucks also acquired Grayson Allen from the Memphis Grizzlies by sending Sam Merrill and two future second-round picks. He brings bench scoring and toughness at the guard spot, especially as Donte DiVincenzo works his way back from a torn ligament in his left ankle, an injury he suffered in the first round of last season’s playoffs.
Their 2021 Summer League squad could also offer some options they can develop. Jordan Nwora’s continued progress will earn him some minutes moving forward, but it’s Mamukelashvili, who the Bucks signed to a two-way contract, that could also offer some promise.
Mamukelashvili, who last played for Seton Hall and has represented Georgia in international competitions, provides offense from various spots on the floor and has demonstrated some smarts that have led to nifty passes and key defensive stops in the summer league that can translate to the regular season even in small spurts.
Milwaukee also gave head coach Mike Budenholzer a three-year extension despite having one year left in his current deal. Not only would it be ridiculous to not give him some sense of job security after winning the franchise’s first title in 50 years, but it also ensures stability in terms of the winning culture the Bucks have been trying to instill since Budenholzer came into the picture.
Things are looking up for two-time NBA Coach of the Year, who a year ago had to fend for his coaching life after years of early playoff exits despite boasting higher seeds and at times more talented rosters than his opponents.
Beyond the additions and subtractions, Milwaukee will have to adjust to playing with targets on their backs. Teams will enter matchups against the Bucks with a new mindset considering they are now one of, if not THE, barometer to which the rest of the league is to be measured.
Winning a title is good and all, but defending it is another matter altogether. Milwaukee will have to show up every night and while having new found championship experience helps, bringing their A-game should be more than enough against most teams. There will certainly be some championship hangover that will lead to some slumps but the Bucks will have to weather the storms with all eyes on them.
Giannis will continue to be one of the unstoppable forces in the NBA, but it would be interesting to monitor the likes of Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton, both of whom have been playing non-stop since opening night of the 2020-2021 season last Christmas. Add to the fact that COVID-19, particularly the Delta variant, remains pervasive and it can be said that the past two years have been quite tough for everyone. While there could be some form of load management in play, hopefully Budenholzer and the rest of Milwaukee’s coaching staff can use that time to develop the rest of the roster.
Tom Brady, arguably the greatest quarterback of all time, has often said that his favorite ring is the next One. This is the mentality Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks, or any other NBA team for that matter, should have moving forward. The first championship, especially after quite some time, is definitely something to savor, but getting another one should only motivate them further.