For a franchise still marred by stale expectations and rotten results, the Milwaukee Bucks sure do look new. They've equipped themselves with a new head coach, new centerpiece player, new roster makeup, and even a new floor design. But new isn't always better. Fans have been sold on a 'new' team each of the last 22 years, but after shedding that shrink wrap it left us with one playoff series win, four plus-.500 teams, and enough broken promises and deadbeat dogma to undermine relationships with several front offices and GMs. Fans can always be suckered back for 'new,' but most will only be willing to stay for better.
After an offseason that could have ended mildly better or much, much worse, John Hammond and the Bucks' brass have been careful to avoid promising better results in the 2013-14 NBA season. They want us to get excited about the young core of Larry Sanders, John Henson, Brandon Knight and Giannis Antetokounmpo -- why didn't they make an effort to sell us on their biggest signing, O.J. Mayo? -- and a more endearing group of veteran players than we're used to. I believe the Bucks want to sell us on the value of improved effort and attitude.
The subtle promise of the 2013-14 squad is this: attitude issues will not undermine the efforts of this roster. It's a modest statement, but could be a welcome shift after the frustrating ups-and-downs in effort and disposition from Scott Skiles, Andrew Bogut, Corey Maggette, Stephen Jackson, Samuel Dalembert, Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis, and even J.J. Redick.
Caron Butler, Carlos Delfino, Gary Neal, Zaza Pachulia, and Luke Ridnour all want to be in Milwaukee, and have chosen to embrace the city and the team. They're the veteran core now responsible for establishing a better culture within the organization; a guiding light for the young talent Hammond has been quick to play up in interviews. Sure those vets may be stacked ahead of the youth on the depth chart, but as the team makes another playoff push they will be easier to cheer for, and more likely to maximize whatever collective talent they possess. It's hard to even dream up a potentially-toxic personality on this roster.
I believe the Bucks are selling us on a blue-collar, professional product, rather than any particular goal or outcome. There's no _________ or bust about it. Milwaukee is trying to do everything at once, and as long as the team succeeds in rebranding itself as being smarter and more committed than before, they can justify virtually any outcome. As our own Frank Madden put it, they're probably closer to a stealth compete plan than a stealth tank strategy, which is quite a clever design. But who knows if it will actually be better than we're used to.
Feel free to take my theory for whatever you think it's worth. With a fresh season on the horizon we're hopefully all past the feverish debate of win-now vs. tank-now. This team is built to satisfy neither philosophical stance, at least in the purest form. Instead, it's a team situation in a much muddier reality; one where nobody can't afford to ignore the fragile existence of the franchise in Milwaukee.
But with all of this in mind, how should we evaluate the Bucks this season? What things will be worth watching? What tensions will be hard to avoid? I sat down to discuss all of these issues with Frank Madden and Dan Sinclair in our latest podcast episode.
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