The bothersome medium-sized noun has turned forty-some wins and a first-round exit from magical to underwhelming in a flash of a year. Because while the team had about as much of a makeover and as much turnover as anyone this summer, the Bucks are finally no longer re-building. They are simply building.
Into what, though?
Last season, Milwaukee won 46 games, three playoff games and the hearts of defensive-minded basketball fans the world over. They are "supposed" to do more than that this time around. Trouble is, early September, no matter what year, is just the time for 27 or 28 teams to think they can do more than they did last year. You can quickly cite all sorts of teams who seemingly got better -- in the East alone the Knicks, Bulls, (possibly the Heat), and Wizards, along with the Bucks quickly spring to mind. But short of the Cavs and probably Raptors, it's hard to find teams down on their luck.
So of course, a vast majority of teams can't win more games in 10-11 than they did in 09-10. And of course, we all expect the Bucks will.
But what, then, do you hope for?
...Until everything sort of popped out of place last year, everything sort of just fell into place last year. Ersan, 'Los, and Brandon came from Europe, Ridnour came out of an apparent career-long slump, Bogut came into his own, Salmons came from heaven (hell?), and everyone came together to form a unit that played as harmoniously on the court as you would expect from the never-turbulent locker room after games.
So it's about "talent" in this league, but it's not all about talent -- it's more about piecing together the talent. Last year, maybe not "marginal," but mediocre talent meshed. But now we have more than a half-dozen new faces on trial (because you are always on trial when you play for Scott Skiles), and the jury is out on how much the (admittedly upgraded) talent will add up to.
Regardless, 09-10 set in motion all sorts of realistic reasons for optimism. We can now go into a season hoping for more than to merely avert disaster, or to have team play badly enough to wrestle sufficient lottery ping pong balls, or to even break even.
Still it is hard to decide exactly what to hope for, in this new, unaccustomed position.
Right now, I can predict a number of regular season wins. (Fifty). But I can't put a number on success, or satisfaction. 50-32 and one playoff series win? Sounds good right about now, but what if the Bucks are bursting into the top three come February? Or what if that is the pinnacle, and they drop and droop to 44 wins the year after?
I often debated with a fellow Bucks blogger on press row last season about what might constitute satisfaction going forward as a Bucks writer/supporter/fan etc. As the playoffs transitioned from an impossibility to a guarantee over five months, I took the position that fielding a competitive playoff team for the next few years would make us both quite happy. His usual rejoinder was that anything less than a championship is not enough. That the team, the general manager, and the fans should always be gunning for a ring. That perpetually hanging out in the middle of the playoff bracket as a four or five seed isn't terribly worthwhile. And that is true, too.
One playoff appearance in, we obviously aren't at that dilemma anyway. This will still be mighty fun. But as long as we have Kobe's Lakers and SuperFriends and so forth, I don't forecast a big banner rising in the BC.
Even if Bogut is the second best center in the world, even if Jennings jumps into star status sooner rather than later like SLAM projects, and Maggette is the number one sixth man, it is going to be awfully tough to win it all, this year, or next, or the one after. A title is a noble goal, the only goal ultimately, and the 54-win 03-04 Pistons set a contemporary precedent that a team -- a real team team -- can pull together and slay a group of superstars.
So let's do that, team. Really.
But short of a championship, I don't think you can pre-quantify satisfaction in numbers. There isn't a clear number of regular season wins, or playoff wins, or individual accolades that will necessary do it, or not do it, for me. It's all fluid.
And I like that.
I expect the Bucks to win more than they lose and to make the playoffs.