30 Teams in 30 Days: Milwaukee Bucks enter new arena with ingredients to contend in East
New coach Mike Budenholzer inherits a roster full of potential
That’s a question many fans ask as the flurry of trades, free agent news and player movement seems to never stop during the summer. Since the Golden State Warriors claimed their third title in four years back on June 8, NBA teams have undergone a massive number of changes as they prepare for the season ahead.
With the opening of training camps just around the corner, NBA.com’s Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise as it sits today — from the team with the worst regular-season record in 2017-18 to the team with the best regular-season record — as we look at 30 teams in 30 days.
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Today’s team: Milwaukee Bucks
Who’s new: Coach Mike Budenholzer, Donte DiVincenzo (Draft), Ersan Ilyasova (free agency), Brook Lopez (free agency), Pat Connaughton (free agency)
Who’s gone: Jabari Parker, Jason Terry
The lowdown: Last season was the coronation of a star as Giannis Antetokounmpo generated Kia MVP chatter and showed the multiple skills that should make him a force in the NBA for years to come. Giannis led the Bucks in scoring (helped by improved outside shooting) and rebounding and was second in assists and steals. He flourished in the open court but his half-court play was noticeably better as well. Along with Khris Middleton, the Bucks had a solid two-man tandem and they were aided by Eric Bledsoe, who arrived by trade midseason and assumed the starting point guard spot. Depth was an issue at times because of injuries to guards Malcolm Brogdon and Matthew Dellavedova; Parker was inconsistent while Tony Snell and John Henson rarely impacted games. Yet the Bucks, months after firing Jason Kidd and using Joe Prunty as the interim coach, pushed the Celtics to the limit in the first round and went into the offseason feeling frisky.
When Kidd arrived three years ago from the Brooklyn Nets, he was projected as a long-term solution at coach and a mentor for Giannis. But after firing Kidd midseason due to a lack of progress, the Bucks found themselves back at square one regarding the coaching spot.
Since Prunty wasn’t the answer either, now comes Budenholzer, who had a solid run in Atlanta that included winning the 2014-15 Coach of the Year award. The Hawks granted Budenholzer permission to interview for other positions this summer when he made it clear he was not interested in guiding their long-term rebuilding plan.
With the blessing of their superstar, the Bucks hired Budenholzer and now, including Prunty, Giannis is on his fourth coach in five years.
That’s not a great situation for a young franchise player, which means the Bucks need the instability to end with Budenholzer. And his longevity depends on his system and how it maximizes Giannis’ talents while incorporating the skills of a supporting cast that remains full of question marks.
Or to put it another way: Is this the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James, Part I all over again? Remember, the Cavs’ failure to give help to LeBron caused him to lose confidence in the organization and take his talents to Miami.
If the Bucks improved themselves on paper this offseason, it was perhaps marginally so; they essentially swapped Parker for Ilyasova at forward and brought in Lopez to solidify their frontcourt depth.
Parker was a tough call for Milwaukee as a restricted free agent. He endured a pair of knee surgeries and made a courageous return to mixed reviews last season. They chose not to match the two-year, $40 million offer sheet given by the Bulls and wished him well.
The Bucks instead gave three years and $21 million to Ilyasova, who spent the first seven years of his career in Milwaukee. The Bucks figured Ilyasova (10.9 points, 5.9 rebounds last season) would prove to be a better fit alongside Giannis because of his ability to stretch the floor and crash the boards.
Three years ago Lopez was a very functional big man who averaged nearly 20 points and brought a soft shooting touch with range. Now he’s someone who only fetched one year and $3.4 million in free agency after two seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers. There’s a good chance Lopez could get a second wind in Budenholzer’s system, which allowed Al Horford to stretch the floor in Atlanta to solid results. As long as the Bucks don’t expect Lopez to rebound, he should be a decent compliment to Henson, Ilyasova and Thon Maker.
In the draft the Bucks went for DiVincenzo, who was named the Most Outstanding Player in the NCAA tournament after dropping 31 points in the championship game. He was the most important player on the floor for Villanova in the Final Four and suddenly found himself on radar for the NBA draft despite starting only 12 games in his college career.
He has good size at 6-foot-5 and took charge for ‘Nova when it mattered most. He’s a bit of a gamble if only because, with the exception of the Final Four, he was rarely the focal point in college. But at No. 17 in the draft he could prove to be good value and a player to be developed for the future.
The Bucks are one of a handful of teams that must draft wisely and have a slim margin for error in trades because Milwaukee isn’t a destination spot for A-list free agents. That’s the challenge for the Bucks during the prime years of Giannis. With no blockbuster deals or high lottery picks this summer, the Bucks will mostly look to improve from within — without Parker, a former No. 2 overall pick who was once considered a keeper.
Coming Next: Miami Heat
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