- Coach Adrian Griffin, G Malik Beasley (free agent), C Robin Lopez (free agent)
- Coach Mike Budenholzer
The Bucks went from bang to bust in the span of several months when, after compiling the NBA’s best regular-season record, they were ambushed in the first round of the playoffs by a Eastern Conference Play-In Tournament qualifier and eventual conference champion Miami Heat. It was a humbling experience for Milwaukee. Obviously, there was a reason for this – Giannis Antetokounmpo was injured and missed 2 1/2 games of that playoff series, which proved costly.
But has been same-old, same-old for the Bucks ever since their 2021 championship. You could argue that had Khris Middleton stayed healthy in 2022 and Giannis last season, the Bucks would have at least one more title, maybe two. Instead of a dynasty, it was a die-nasty for this franchise because of crummy luck. And in the end it cost Budenholzer his job. At least the Bucks in 2022-23 if nothing else demonstrated where they stand when healthy and Giannis was once again in the conversation for Kia MVP. They’re arguably the best team in the NBA. This played a major part in the thinking inside the front office when it came time to make decisions this summer.
After giving it some thought, and really not much debate, the Bucks decided to run it back with the championship core for a third straight season. This won’t come without some risk, and perhaps they didn’t really have much choice, but the lineup we’ve seen the last three years will be the same 2023-24.
With that said, re-signing Middleton and Brook Lopez to extensions cost the Bucks. It’s a combined $150 million for two starters who, while obviously productive and critical to the success of the last three years, are on the back end of their careers. Yet they compliment Giannis quite well, and the Bucks are all about winning now, so if there’s a serious drop-off from Middleton and Lopez at the end of those contracts, the Bucks are apparently OK with that.
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And really, what was Milwaukee’s other option this summer? The salary cap put limits on what the Bucks could do, and the idea of rebuilding during Giannis’ prime seems silly. So Bucks general manager Jon Horst chose continuity, even at the risk of tapping out sooner than later with this core, and will take his chances with a team that averaged 55 wins the last five regular seasons.
Middleton opted out of his option year and took two additional years (three total) instead, a smart move for him because of his age (32) and his recent injury history. He’s not the defender that he was but remains solid. He’s also a reliable scorer, though less of an efficient volume shooter; his scoring average and shooting percentage have dropped three straight years.
Lopez is coming off perhaps his best season in Milwaukee, encouraging for a player who missed virtually all of the previous season with a back injury. He ranked second in voting for Kia Defensive Player of the Year, again proving solid on the boards and capable of stretching the floor with his 3-point shooting. As a free agent this summer, Lopez toyed with the idea of playing elsewhere – the Warriors and Rockets were in conversation – but the Bucks came correct with the money and softened the choice to return.
As a bonus: Milwaukee now has a pair of Lopezes after bringing back twin brother Robin, who missed out on all the fun of the championship year. These brothers will lighten the locker room for sure, and Robin still has enough in the tank to provide 10-15 minutes a night as a backup big man.
There were enough salary cap scraps leftover to sign Malik Beasley, who offers an extra layer of shooting – having led the league last season in 3-pointers off the bench – and could crack the starting lineup (a role previously held by Wesley Matthews), depending on the system employed by new coach Adrian Griffin.
Griffin was the choice to replace Budenholzer, who the Bucks soured on after a horrific performance in their first-round loss to Miami when Bud botched a number of late-game decisions. Bud also didn’t use Giannis on Jimmy Butler and his fate was perhaps sealed when Giannis, after the elimination, said he would’ve welcomed a chance to guard the Heat star. Teams usually don’t give up on coaches so soon after a championship; this was one of those instances.
This is Griffin’s first head coaching job on any level, so there is some risk to that. Again, it’s rare when championship-ready teams are handed over to first-timers; the Celtics learned last season how tricky that can be when they turned to Joe Mazzulla and subsequently failed to return to the NBA Finals. But Griffin is a seasoned assistant, most recently in Toronto, and received Giannis’ blessing during the coaching search, and that’s all he needed.
New coach, same rotation. It’s seemingly a decent combination, and now, we’ll see if it’s the formula the Bucks need to regain the throne.
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