With the new year upon us, we say goodbye to the year 2014 and offer up our favorite moments from a year of extremes for the Milwaukee Bucks. From the new ownership era to the growth of Giannis Antetokounmpo, the arrivals of Jason Kidd and Jabari Parker, there are many things to remember.
Check out our personal highlights below and post your favorite Bucks 2014 moment in the comments below.
Realizing Giannis' physical talents
When the Bucks played the Indiana Pacers on February 22 at home, they held a special "Y2K Night" that featured a halftime performance from hip-hop artist Coolio, and a special tribute to former Buck Glenn Robinson. Before the game, I stood outside of Coolio's dressing room with Eric Buenning hoping to say hello just for a second. While we were waiting outside waiting for Coolio, the Bucks had just finished up their pregame warm-ups, and Nate Wolters walked by. I said "What's up?" to Nate, and he did the same as he walked by. Then Giannis came past next. I said the same thing to Giannis -- who was walking with his head down with a pretty focused look on his face -- but didn't get a response. Giannis generally recognizes me, so when he didn't say anything, it was a small surprise. Still, no big deal -- I knew he was in game-mode and focused on other things at the moment.
About five seconds after he walked by me, I felt a quick tap on my shoulder. When I turned around to see who touched me, it was Giannis, who was already 15-20 steps away from me heading down the tunnel. It was a nice gesture from him to show that he didn't just ignore me, but it was also absolutely insane that he could tap me one second and be on the other side of the universe by the time I turned around. Even though I've been around these guys in the locker room on many occasions, that was the moment that helped me understand just how ridiculously long Giannis is. Down the road, people will continue to talk about Giannis' incredible physical talents through his dunks and Euro step moves, but Y2K night will always be when I felt it for myself.
Jason Kidd returns to Brooklyn
Jason Kidd's arrival in Milwaukee may have made for the most awkward week of the Bucks' year, but in many ways it also made his winning return to Brooklyn on November 19 all the sweeter.
Whether Kidd's purported "power play" in Brooklyn was actually intended to displace Billy King or simply force an exit to greener pastures of Milwaukee may never be entirely clear. Still, the Nets and New York media weren't bashful about dragging Kidd and the Bucks through the mud in early July, forcing Milwaukee to pay a public relations price beyond the two second round picks shipped to Brooklyn for their big splash. Even if the displaced Larry Drew had done nothing to suggest he was deserving of a second season, the process of bringing Kidd on board took its public toll. The honeymoon for the team's new ownership was seemingly over, but brighter days were ahead.
Fast forward four months, and the national spotlight was once again on Kidd as he returned to New York for his first game against his old team. We wrote about it for ESPN, talked about it on the radio, and one Bucks fan used it as inspiration for...well, this:
Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov also had his fun leading up to the game, but the upstart Bucks entered the night ahead in the standings and finished it ahead on the scoreboard as well.
Just as important was how they did it. The teenage duo of Jabari Parker (23 points and 8 rebounds) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (18 points and 12 rebounds) were the standouts for Milwaukee, while Kidd kept his lineup fresh through three overtimes and ultimately walked away with a 122-119 win. It was a fantastic finish -- Brandon Knight missed layups and all -- and sweet validation for a Bucks team going places faster than anyone had expected.
The Merciful End of an Era
There are many moments from 2014 that are worth reviewing, but I think my favorite moment was on April 16th, 2014: Game 82 of the 2013-2014 season, a 111-103 loss to the Atlanta Hawks. Like several times before, the Bucks were overmatched by their opponents' offense, allowing the Hawks to shoot 54% from the floor and six Atlanta players to score in double-figures. Same old, same old.
More importantly, it served as the merciful end to the worst season in franchise history, made particularly more painful because of the attempts made the previous offseason to build a competitive team shooting for the 8th seed in the East. And it totally didn't work. This game was the punctuation mark on what many were waiting for: finally, the team bottomed out! It may not have been deliberate, but it sure was effective in terms of getting the franchise rebuilt (both on- and off the court), and in position to draft an impact player to help accelerate the team towards something (anything!) worthwhile. This day was the end of that dreadful season, which just so happened to also be the same day that the deal to sell the team to Lasry/Edens was announced. A memorable conclusion to a forgettable era.
Oh, and Giannis had an ORtg of 148 that game. Just sayin'.
We had spent the weeks and months leading up to June's NBA Draft arguing about who the Bucks should take. The team had "earned" their second overall spot in the draft, and though there were plenty of discussions over who made the most sense, we all knew that someone potentially great was about to join the roster. On June 26th, Commissioner Adam Silver announced that the player to join the Milwaukee Bucks would be Jabari Parker.
I was lucky enough to attend the Bucks' draft night coverage, as well as all the events the following day. Looking back on it five months and one season-ending knee injury later, I still have the same reaction to the video above. Seeing him cry in the tunnels of the Barclays Center makes me root for him. Seeing him giggle on his way to and from the mound at Miller Park makes me smile. Seeing the way the city of Milwaukee reacted at the Public Market and Summerfest makes me--and all Bucks fans, really--feel very hopeful and excited for what the future holds for him and this franchise.
Those 24 hours in mid-summer didn't just help re-energize the Bucks. The whole city got a boost -- and finally could call a superstar talent their own. It was truly Christmas in (almost) July, and I won't forget that moment anytime soon.
When a trade is more than a transaction
Jared Dudley has been pretty good this year. He's also, at times, been denounced as an example of lingering adherence to the strategy of the previous ownership, when reasonably effective veterans supplanted young guys in the rotation because they seemed to help win more games. Whatever your opinions of Dudley as a player, it was hard to find fault in the trade that brought him to Milwaukee.
I wasn't a monumental deal likely to alter the trajectory of the franchise, but it was a marked departure from previous tendencies. The Bucks used a strategic resource (cap flexibility) not to patch a ship that could barely float, but to acquire a decent player and, more importantly, a future asset. Simple in statement, grand in gesture. This was the first time in years the Bucks made a move with their eyes squarely on the end of the road instead of the looming intersection (note: don't do that when you're, you know, actually driving). For many, myself included, it was one of the first signs that the new direction of the franchise would be what we hoped.
The question still remains what will happen with this roster and Dudley as a member of it. Jabari Parker's injury denies the Bucks a chance to double-up on youth development between him and Giannis Antetokounmpo, perhaps making a playoff push the new goal by default. Will Dudley be leaned on to help achieve that goal? Will the Bucks fall back into old habits and chase the playoffs potentially at the expense of the future? Or will they redouble their commitment to rebuilding and jettison a few valuable veterans like Dudley for less tangible considerations? We don't know yet, but it's sure nice to have options.