Did the Milwaukee Bucks go all-in? Or did they trust themselves to run it back?
Milwaukee celebrated its first championship in 50 years on Tuesday. The Bucks were led by the franchise star, for whom they went out of their way to keep them. They designed a 19-year-old who had just started playing basketball a few years ago. They developed him and watch him relentlessly attack his career.
Giannis Antetokounmpo was the star they needed.
They added a Detroit second round player in Khris Middleton and watched him become one of the best guards in the league. They added young pieces like Pat Connaughton and Donte DiVincenzo. Brook Lopez left the Lakers and became an important part of their size and defense.
They hired Mike Budenholzer, and immediately everything was different. The team immediately exceeded expectations, becoming number 1 in the East with the best record in the league, only to miss in the conference finals against a fateful Toronto Raptors team (and runaway shootout by Fred VanVleet).
They left it behind. They thrust into the Miami Heat, which was the perfect antithesis to them in every way in the bubble, with no home court – amid strife and turmoil and a global pandemic – and were overthrown.
Giannis was ready for an extension. The pressure was great to fire Budenholzer due to playoff fights in order to adapt and adapt. It was thought that everything could fall apart. So many superstars in Giannis’ possession had taken it easy, got a deal, and enjoyed the advantages of a shiny new town on a coast.
The Bucks took the step.
They swapped everything. Her starting point guard (who was handed out to Milwaukee for two first rounds) and five – FIVE (!!!) – first round picks for Jrue Holiday, who only made one All-Star appearance seven years earlier.
This deal lowers the franchise if the bet doesn’t pay off. When Antetokounmpo looks at it and says, “No, I would prefer it to be easier. I’ll just go to the Warriors. ”The Bucks have sunk completely. You’d have a good squad without a superstar with no debt for half a decade.
They even swung out on the other train to add Bogdan Bogdanovic. This deal was thwarted by either: A) manipulation fees; B) a better deal from the Hawks; or, C) Bogdanovic’s agent who – let’s just say – has an interesting past in the discussions of the free agencies.
Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo smiles at a 2016 contract renewal press conference. Copyright: Gary Dineen / NBAE via Getty Images.
But then Giannis did something remarkable.
He signed it. It took him the most money, and most of the years, to stay with the team that designed him, just like how the NBA system was designed.
It was not enough to suppress the conversation completely. Executives still wondered if it would be enough. If they came up short again, what would happen? With the way Superstars passed out of their businesses with their remaining years, who knows?
But here they are, NBA champions. Everything worked out. Even if the team never hits the top again, most teams and their fans would swap five-year draft assets for a title without much thought.
The lesson is of course split in two. You can’t roll it back and you shouldn’t blow it up just because something didn’t work.
The Bucks were largely considered old news going into the playoffs. Antetokounmpos lack of a jumper was too easy to plan in the playoffs. The Bucks shooters could not be trusted and they would always underperform. And Budenholzer was simply not made for the postseason.
Antetokuonmpo has shown something incredible on the free throw front. When you just don’t care about the stress of make-or-miss when you keep an eye on the prize by forcing the defense to foul you, limit their minutes and affect their rotations and give themselves the chance to win equalize on a bad average of 1.0 points per possession … then it doesn’t matter what you look like.
Count to 10 what you want. Say Giannis doesn’t have a pocket to her heart’s content. He’s still one of only two players in NBA history to take a title in Game 6 or 7 with 50 or more points in the NBA Finals. He made his free throws – 16 of 17 to be precise – and won the title.
In a league that in modern times was defined as driving rocket launchers from afar, Giannis’ Game 6 was hammer against iron for the ages. Just bend the sun’s defense blow by blow until it collapsed. It wasn’t a glorious set of moves and fading jumpers. Instead, it was about jumping over the defenders to keep stuffing the ball back into the basket from close range.
Giannis Antetokounmpo didn’t let the game sing for him. He beat the absolute hell out of it until it collapsed.
The Bucks shooters had their usual fights through Game 5 this postseason. On the road, in a 2-2 streak, the most unlikely place it could be, Milwaukee had the largest difference between their actual eFG% and expected eFG% playoff runs on three occasions. They shot out the lights at just the right time. Vacation played a major role in this.
And Budenholzer pressed all the right buttons. He played against the Suns Drop Coverage at the beginning of the series and later switched to a switch-all scheme in the games after the team was tired and desperate. He added Bobby Portis and removed Bryn Forbes when the matchup called for it.
Budenholzer faced 0-2 deficits against Brooklyn; 0-1 against the Falcons; and, 0-2 against the Suns, but came out on the other side. He adjusted his rotations and approaches to counter what was ahead of him.
Ultimately, the title of the Bucks is a beacon for small markets and superstars who are fighting for victory without any advantage. It’s an example for other stars in these cities that if things go well, they can reach the top.
The Bucks are betting on Giannis. Giannis bet on the bucks.
And their tickets were eventually redeemed.
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