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PODCAST: Managing the Bucks with increasing playoff odds, returning veterans, and an improved Khris Middleton

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The Bucks have been winning more lately. They have some veterans returning from injuries. Khris Middleton is playing the best basketball of his career. What does it all mean?

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The Bucks have put themselves in a very interesting and complicated place over the last two years. The team has simultaneously added veterans to address perceived areas of need, but also traded away key veterans to make room for young guys (Zaza Pachulia and Jared Dudley). They've focused on giving Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker ample opportunities, but also signed Greg Monroe to be a stalwart on the offensive end. In Milwaukee, an underlying duality exists that has informed the many questions asked throughout this season, one that John Hammond readily acknowledged in a Q&A this week with Charles Gardner of the Journal-Sentinel.

Right now there is a definite vision. Our goal is to become a championship-caliber team. There are no shortcuts for getting there. We like our young players; we still believe in these young players. We believe these young players as a core can become that team. We just might need to be a little patient as we get to that point. You don't go out and add a player like Greg Monroe and say we're not trying to be competitive, and sign Khris Middleton back and make a trade for Greivis (Vasquez), some of the things that we did. We're trying to be as good a team as we possibly can be, but at the end of the day, it's not about who we are today. It's who we're going to be in the future.

Aside from two straight road losses over the weekend, the Bucks have put together a solid stretch of play that has increased their playoff chances and might make the coaching staff question how to manage the roster during the remainder of the season. With the playoffs in sight, will vets like Jerryd Bayless and eventually O.J. Mayo and Greivis Vasquez reclaim crucial rotation minutes? Or will Jason Kidd and company continue to play youngsters like Rashad Vaughn and live with their mistakes?

The Bucks' improved recent play makes the trade deadline more interesting as well, but mainly because of that underlying duality. Last season, the Bucks were playing their best basketball of the season when they decided to trade Brandon Knight, a move that the team acknowledged at the time could have short-term repercussions. In the Kohl era, the team regularly made moves that mortgaged the future in some way to have a better chance at the playoffs -- a perception that current ownership seems wary of replicating. So, what does that mean they will do this trade deadline? A move to get a future asset? Something that can help them become a playoff team? A little bit of both?

Finally, the Bucks may have stumbled into something special with the recent play of Khris Middleton. I detailed the startling improvements Middleton has made to his game in the last season as he's gone from a limited 3-and-D guy to a player that now finds himself in the 93rd percentile in a pick and roll playmaking category! Middleton's playmaking has been a wonderful development, and may force the Bucks some questions about his fit with their young stars. How does he fit? Can he do the same things as a complementary player? Can the Bucks even make him be a complementary player if he is able to sustain this type of playmaking ability for the rest of the season?

During our podcasting session last Thursday night, Steve, Frank, and I devoted some time to each of the topics laid out above. Listen below or subscribe on iTunes here.

January 27: Part 2

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January 25: Part 1

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