2023-24 Kia Season Preview

Bucks' massive trade for Damian Lillard puts NBA on notice

With the new superstar tandem of Lillard and Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee emerges as the favorite to win the 2024 title.

Damian Lillard and Giannis Antetokounmpo form an unexpected star duo in Milwaukee.

NBA basketball returns Oct. 24. We are counting down the days like the seconds on a shot clock — literally, that’s what we’re doing. Starting today, our writers will list 24 storylines heading into the 2023-24 NBA season.

A new storyline will drop each day. Here is No. 24:

The Bucks made a massive trade for Damian Lillard. Here’s why the NBA is on notice: 

Lillard’s desire to compete for a championship pushed him to ask out of Portland. Giannis Antetokounmpo’s determination to chase titles prompted him to publicly challenge Milwaukee management to keep upgrading. Now the two Top 75 players are teammates, set to lead the other Bucks as favorites to snag the 2024 Larry O’Brien trophy.

There are other contenders, of course. But Milwaukee was among them even before the trade. Now they have arguably the top tandem in the league, a pair of All-Stars whose strengths complement each other. Antetokounmpo is as freakish as ever, capable of dominating defenses for three and a half quarters. Lillard is one of the NBA’s best closers ever, eager to take over late in games. Each averaged more than 30 points last season, which shouldn’t be necessary now with each other’s considerable help and the opportunities their dual presence opens for Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez and the rest.

Nothing is guaranteed. Adding Lillard required serious subtraction, sending out Jrue Holiday’s two-way excellence and importance to the team’s chemistry. It is possible Holiday could wind up haunting Milwaukee if, as anticipated, the Trail Blazers trade him to an East rival such as Boston, Miami or Philadelphia.

Also, the Bucks will be trying to pull this off with a rookie coach, Adrian Griffin, who is going to navigate his own learning curve under heightened scrutiny. Having assistant Terry Stotts, Lillard’s coach for nine seasons in Portland, next to Griffin should ease the transition all around.

The trade instantly turned this into a no-excuses season for Lillard and Antetokounmpo. Neither is a perfect player, so both need to keep working – better defense from the former and a go-to mid-range shot for the latter are reasonable asks. They need to have fun this season, each with his new toy, but they also need to embrace the expectations. They’re the stars. They have the most responsibility.

Lillard and Antetokounmpo also have a new level of help, which the Bucks imagine as the cry from the other contenders. As in, help!

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Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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