The Bucks are Different Now
What looked like a routine Giannis smash on Tobias Harris – in the second quarter of the win over the Pistons on Wednesday – gave me an unexpected little flashback to 2013.
In his first home game against Milwaukee since being traded by the Bucks to the Magic, Harris had hit a game-tying three to force overtime and helped the Magic run away in the extra period. The cap on the game was this full-court-sprint, rub-it-in dunk by Harris to make it 113-103 as the buzzer approached, as everyone else on the court had stopped playing.
Mike Dunleavy Jr., a couple years before he became a Bucks villain, cared not for these theatrics, and made sure that Harris crossed his path and felt his ire on the way back down the court, earning technical fouls for each.
Even if you were in the camp of people who felt that Harris was never going to develop into a meaningful star player, even if you didn’t wish that Harris was still on the Bucks – and I was one of those people – this was a night of deep breaths and blank stares at your television, at best. It was one of those nights that made you feel part of something, only that “something” was a connection to the suffering of other Bucks fans. The image above encapsulates the exact feeling best.
J.J. Redick, one of the greatest shooters ever and logically in his prime at age 28, was in the tail-end of the worst extended shooting slump of his career. He was the prize (and ultimately a three-month rental) in the trade for Harris. Harris, age 20, finished that game with 30 points and 19 rebounds.
The Bucks, who were trying to avoid the Heat in the first round, just about had their fate sealed that night in Orlando: They would go on to finish the season at 38-44, mediocre enough, bizarrely, for the playoffs, but also destined for a matchup with the Heat. They were swept. Redick – along with Dunleavy, Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis, Luc Mbah a Moute, Marquis Daniels, Gustavo Ayon, and Samuel Dalembert – would all find new NBA homes after that series.
Whatever happened in the eleven weeks after Harris dunked that basketball to push the Magic to a 20-59 record, it led to the Bucks drafting a 6-foot-9, 215-pound, 18-year-old mystery from Greece at number 15 overall in what was largely considered a weak draft. At the time, many assumed that he would not get regular minutes for two or three years.
“Being able to play multiple positions. He is a player, with his size, who could play point guard, shooting guard possibly, and small forward. The other thing he does that is remarkable with his offensive skill set, is that he really makes the effort to play defense. He doesn't just play on one side of the ball, which is very impressive.”
“And the way he handles the ball, and being able to bring it down in transition and make a play for himself or other people is pretty remarkable. He has a really good feel for the game and court vision.”
This is how you are supposed to talk about your own draft picks. But how often does the “best-case scenario” on draft day turn out to not only be right, but turn out to be not even superlative enough?
There is a certain type of casual Bucks fan or Wisconsinite who is just aware enough to know that Giannis is good, or important, maybe even more. During a chat over the holidays, if you give this person a minute or two on the subject, they will probably say: “But he’s not going to stay in Milwaukee, right?”
Fortunately, this is where you get to explain that Giannis recently signed a four-year contract with the Bucks – that he took less money than what he could have, matter of fact, to stay in Milwaukee. You get to smirk a little as you say it, or you can’t help but smirk a little, if only to yourself, as you talk. This is new, weird, almost uncomfortable, but also warming and delighting.
At this very moment the Bucks are a .500 team and tied for the eight spot in the East. That may seem like something you have seen before, but this does not feel like anything else before.
Where the Harris trade seemed infamous in late-2013, it feels serendipitous now.
The irony is that the Bucks found their superstar in the middle of the first round of the draft, just a few months after going all-in to make a run at a lower-bracket spot in the playoffs – only to settle for the eight seed and get swept. If the Bucks had played better down the stretch in 2013 (as they hoped, at the time) they may have slipped down a spot or two in the draft and missed out on Giannis.
These days, you don’t hear many Bucks fans pining for Harris… or Brandon Knight, or any other former Bucks player in the league, for that matter. Only, every other team would now love, love, love to have a current Bucks player. The Bucks are different now.