And lo, the Bucks lost to the Knicks, and the fates of men were sealed.
Well, maybe it's a little early to close the book on the 2011-2012 Milwaukee Bucks season. They still face some more bad teams this season--the ones they've been crushing with regularity, you know? The Knicks got a big boost from the win and catching them might be an unrealistic goal, but the fading 76ers are only three games ahead and play in Milwaukee on April 25th, the second-to-last game of the season. So if you're still hoping for the playoffs, all hope is not lost. The target has simply shifted to the back of another opponent.
So that's good, right? Maybe not. There's a large segment of Milwaukee Bucks fandom that would tell you the Bucks were only deluding themselves with this run at the playoffs, mortgaging the future for a shot at fleeting "success". The Andrew Bogut trade drove a wedge through the community (are we a community?) that has us questioning the merit of just about everything this team does.
Honestly, that's all fair game. Every one of us has made valid points, and we can all agree the tire spinning is getting old, fast. So another near-miss on the playoff front, which threatens to land the Bucks right back in the marginally-helpful late-lottery, seems like a rather damning end.
The whole thing is just a big disaster then, huh? The Bucks traded away their de-facto franchise player of the past seven years because he wasn't helping them achieve a goal this instant. Now that goal looks to be in serious jeopardy, and all the Bucks have to show for it is another lateral shift. Get out your torches and pitchforks, comrades! We're hunting mediocrity!
Hang on. It sucks to have to characterize failure (and I should continue to clarify, the race isn't over yet), but in the interest of fairness I think some characterization is needed. The Bucks gambled, and it's looking like they'll pay the price. But they didn't just toss all their chips on red and spin the roulette wheel. They were playing craps, and figured that Monta Ellis and Ekpe Udoh were the equivalent of loaded die. You, me, and John Hollinger use percentages and figures to quantify a team's chances because we're interested in the outcomes and consequences of every event between now and when the seeding is set. I doubt that in John Hammond's mind the blockbuster deal was viewed strictly in numbers. Even if the organization has become more analytical (and we should hope it has to some extent), there were too many compounding factors in play to consider nothing more than metrics and projections.
No, I'd bet the Bucks made the trade primarily because they were convinced the answer to "will we make the playoffs if we don't do this?" was no, and that was deemed unacceptable. Monta Ellis and Ekpe Udoh were an all-or-nothing acquisition, because why else would you trade a guy like Bogut? You do it because you think it puts you over the top. "Top" in this case being equivalent to "not the worst", which is, again, another issue entirely. Were they asking the wrong question? Yeah, maybe. The die has been cast, though. I want to put aside the question of "were the Bucks pursuing the right goal?" and suggest that we instead ask why that goal now seems unlikely to be met. It's a different question with a similarly disappointing answer, but at this point I think it's the more important of the two.
I'll admit, what I'm asking reeks of extricating team performance from team makeup, which is mildly ridiculous. It's easy to answer my proposed question with, "well, the guys they traded for just aren't that good". But I can't ignore all those blowout wins against bad teams, either. The dichotomy between Milwaukee's sheer dominance of sub-.500 teams and struggles against the rest is astounding, and to me still stands as the enduring mystery. Why couldn't they get it done against New York? If the answer is simply, "their roster has doomed them to fail", then I'm chasing my own tail. I'm not prepared to accept that just yet.
Point is, the Bucks have some talent. They have a good coach. They've showed off an offense at times this season that has been described as, no joke, scary good. They've even played passable defense of late (admittedly buoyed by the cheese-filled schedule). This team probably should have beaten the Knicks, and it should probably be in the driver's seat to earn that less-than-enviable final playoff spot. Or maybe it's all a mirage, and I'm just crazy. Fact is, I've reached the point where questioning why a goal was missed is preferable to debating the merits of the whole approach in the first place.
It's really just a different kind of failure, but right now it's all I've got.