Hello folks, it's been a while. Have you missed me? I've missed you.
I must confess I've lost track of some things over the last month as law school voraciously consumed every last morsel of time I've had (Steve did not warn me sufficiently, I blame him entirely). So returning now, a few things have caught me a bit by surprise. Thus, I now present, the Insider's Guide to an Outsider's View of the Milwaukee Bucks at the All-Star Break (TM).
(I totally know what "TM" means because we talked about intellectual property for like one day in one of my classes a few weeks ago)
(it totally doesn't belong there I mean seriously didn't I learn anything)
(I asked Steve to send me his outline but he was like "I have podcasts to record")
(come on Steve help me out here)
So, people are, uh, kinda worried about Jabari Parker, huh?
I've relied heavily on two sources of information to keep apprised of the various situations while I've been away: this site, and Twitter. And boy, Twitter has had some mood swings. If tweets on a computer screen can communicate nervous glances to the people standing next to you, as if to ask "Is...is anybody else seeing this?", that's been the picture from the darkest corners of Bucks Twitter lately.
It's hard to accurately characterize this little movement, partly because nobody really wants to be the person suggesting it's even a thing. It's a mixture of rational, prudent observations (Jabari Parker hasn't shown obvious superstar potential to date in his NBA career) and fair explanations (he's still very young, recovering from injury, and on a bad team), but all expressed in varying levels of hysteria.
Parker's naturally going to be a lightning rod for hysterics because he remains so important to the Bucks' future. But that just makes it all the more shocking to see denials--necessary denials--of trade rumors about the guy we were calling Major Cat just a month or two ago. I think it's fair to say that the first 73 games of Parker's career have demanded an adjusting of expectations, with all the obvious caveats that one can muster. That's a bummer in itself, but probably not cause for true alarm just yet.
But man, Khris Middleton is killing it.
Three-point shootout notwithstanding, Khris Middleton has been pretty swell. Greg Monroe has the team's best PER by a mile, but I wouldn't waste much energy arguing with somebody who suggested Middleton has been the Bucks' best player this season.
What's interesting is that his numbers are good, but not great, and yet it's almost universally agreed that he's an absolutely critical piece for Milwaukee going forward. Middleton's efficiency is down from a year ago, and his 2-point shooting percentage and rebounding rates are the lowest of his career. But he has become a far more complete player than I have to imagine the Bucks ever contemplated when they nabbed him from Detroit two and a half years ago. If nothing else, he gives the Bucks a relatively firm post in the ground, a swivel point around which Giannis Antetokounmpo and (presumably?) Jabari Parker can fall into place.
What's going to happen to Greg Monroe and Michael Carter-Williams?
At this point, there's so much smoke around MCW that it's hard to imagine there isn't a small fire somewhere. To whatever extent there was firm support from the organization and fanbase, it's just not there anymore. There's little in the way of public shows of support, and the default response to essentially any out-of-nowhere trade rumor or proposal is "Yeah, sure, whatever." People just don't care, and that's not a strong grounds for a continuing relationship.
Monroe is a very different case. The notion of whether the Bucks should even be exploring trade opportunities for their leading big man is probably the most polarizing issue I've seen in recent weeks. It drags in considerations Milwaukee doesn't usually have to deal with, like a concern over how other free agents will view the organization if they're just going to trade a guy (putting up monster numbers nearly every night, by the way) less than a year after signing him.
But owner and management loyalties are wisely advised to rest in the team first, players second. If the Bucks get blown away by an offer for Monroe (and I reject the notion that his value is exceptionally low--people know what they're getting from him), what real, tangible, logically-defensible reasoning do they have for turning it down? Some emotional attachment to a squad that's stumbled its way to the 8th-worst record in the NBA?
The Bucks are quietly angling their way toward a fairly nice draft pick.
Here's probably the most striking thing for me coming back after losing focus for a while: the Bucks are legitimately bad enough that there's a decent chance some good can come of it. It' partly a function of time, as pages of the calendar tear away and lottery standings go from volatile to profitable. "Catching" the Minnesota Timberwolves for the fifth spot in the lottery standings seems like a long shot at this point barring some strange run of success by the Wolves, but Milwaukee's got a pretty fair look at number six. It'll certainly depend on what the next grouping of teams (New Orleans, Milwaukee, Denver, Sacramento) looks like after the deadline, but if nothing else, the Bucks can pretty much stay the course and bank on a fairly good shot at sticking in the top eight.