I approached the Milwaukee Bucks 2013-2014 season with halting optimism. My gut was telling me it would be a meh season with a reasonable shot at bad. Certain pundits, however, (looking at you, Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose) thought the Bucks had a respectable shot at a playoff berth. Hey, they watch more hoops than I do, so who was I to argue? There was a downright plausible scenario for a non-lottery season: If a majority of the veteran additions (Butler, Mayo, Ridnour, Delfino, Pachulia, Neal) played more or less to reasonable expectations and the younger core (Illyasova, Sanders, Henson) maintained or built off their previous season's performance, the Bucks had a shot at capturing a tail-end playoff berth in the NBA's
Pacific Coast League Eastern Conference. The new backcourt (Knight, Mayo) needed to be capable NBA starters and any production from the rookies (Giannis, Wolters) and the taxi squad (Middleton, Radjulica, Udoh) would be gravy. Plus, new coach Larry Drew seemed like a competent choice, and the new Bradley Center floor looked fantastic!
I harbored nagging doubts that the new floor might the highlight of the season, but quickly diluted those thoughts with a little Kool-Aid. Even if the season went south, the Bucks would have a reasonably high pick in a loaded draft. This team couldn't be any less rewarding to watch than last year's edition of the NBA's Dysfunctional Theatre, I reasoned, and I would welcome a high-effort loss in place of the brick-laying, shoulder-shrugging, half-hearted, my-lease-is-up-June 1st performances from a season ago. I purchased tickets and made hotel reservations for November 23 game against Charlotte.
Then, the Robert Indiana floor had issues (omen alert!) Injuries struck. A losing streak stretched for two weeks. I kept telling myself the Bobcats were the ideal streak breaker, but the argument rang hollow. I hoped the 'Cats game might be the return of the new floor. It wasn't. We found ourselves apologizing to a couple of Canadian gentlemen sitting next to us for the Bucks' performance that night. They were looking to kill time ahead of the Packer game the next day and unwittingly purchased tickets in hopes of seeing NBA-caliber basketball. They, us and the rest of the Bradley Center did not. We spent much of the third quarter discussing the upcoming Packer game with occasional glances at the scoreboard while boos rained down. On the plus side, we got to see Giannis play and I found a Bradley Center beer vendor that carried Capital Brewery's Supper Club brew.
I spent the next two months trying not to measure DirecTV's NBA League Pass on a dollar/victory ratio, reviewing 2014 draft options, and hoping more Giannis minutes.
More injuries. An overripe Caron Butler jacking up more bricks than Todd Day. Larry. O.J. Mayo looking like Ken Norman 2.0. Yet more injuries. Illyasova. Gary Neal, diplomat. My friend the Phoenix Suns fan laughing at me while pointing to the Suns/Bucks box score on his monitor. Did I mention more injuries?
The plus side of the ledger is much smaller but not entirely barren: Giannis minutes. Radjulica showing some skills. Middleton's shooting. Brandon Knight. Henson's post game. Larry's 1.5 games before the orbital bone injury. Nate Wolters' heady play. Giannis' family arriving in Milwaukee. The Robert Indiana floor. Atlanta matching Jeff Teague's offer sheet. Not drafting Dennis Schroder or Shane Larkin.
Thankfully Giannis and not the floor is the season highlight, although truth be told the floor is still in the top five. I fully expect Ridnour to be a Washington Wizard on Friday and hope that Gary Neal is out the door as well. Perhaps the Bucks can reobtain Szymon Szewczyk's NBA rights for him. Please please please no Eric Gordon under any circumstances.
2014's draft night will be the biggest Bucks moment since the interval between the John Salmons trade and Bogut's horrific injury. My preference is for Dante Exum.