There's still plenty of basketball left to be played, but the fate of this year's iteration of the Milwaukee Bucks seems to be mostly written with only a short stretch of the regular season ahead of them.
They've got their superstar leading the way: young, eager, and with talent unlike any seen in Milwaukee for decades. The record isn't phenomenal, but if getting into the playoffs is the goal, you at least have some hope there. Thon Maker looks to be a puzzle worth putting together heading into the future.
When you look around the NBA and at other (eternally) struggling franchises, you'd think that, 25-31 record notwithstanding, things should be looking up in Milwaukee.
And yet, there has been so much that has been troubling this year. The most obvious being the injuries to cornerstones Jabari Parker and Khris Middleton. Middleton's absence handicapped expectations for the season before it got underway, and now Parker's once bright prospects after his first ACL tear are in extreme doubt. Free agent acquisitions like Matthew Dellevadova and Mirza Teletovic have either been close to complete disasters or haven’t seen the court meaningfully in weeks.
If the Bucks don't make it to the playoffs, they'll be in the (self-inflicted) position of having to draft in the early teens instead of higher up in the lottery. Head coach Jason Kidd appears unable or unwilling to adjust a defensive scheme that seems custom-built to give opponents as many open three-pointers as they're willing to put the effort into finding, and the offense hasn’t seemingly worked in a long time. The list continues on.
Perhaps my feeling of malaise is recognition that the team has somehow found its way back to a frustratingly familiar position: The NBA's middle-of-the-pack. The downsides to this position have been discussed ad nauseam, but this year it feels that much more frustrating simply because of the talented player making his way back from his first appearance in the NBA All-Star Game in New Orleans. In a league where true difference makers are few and far between, to see his skill wasted feels criminal.
A further feeling of despair creeps in when you consider the stature of this basketball team in the Wisconsin sports hierarchy. It is no secret that the Bucks annually rank somewhere beneath Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball and slightly above the Milwaukee Admirals and Wisconsin Timber Rattlers of the world. Yet we’ve seen it time and again that a spark of hope and excitement can rally support in a heartbeat. Having Giannis as a nationwide-star brought a buzz to the team that appeared sustainable, but we find the team once more at the bottom of the local sports broadcast.
The biggest question in a forest full of them for the Milwaukee Bucks is not a new one: How do they plan on getting out of this morass? There are no easy solutions, and no option will make everyone happy. Regardless, a change in strategy is once again long-overdue, and the longer this team’s ownership and front office delude themselves into thinking that a championship is all but guaranteed with the current roster and coaching staff, the guiltier they are of the familiar crimes that have plagued this franchise for decades.
I can’t pretend to have all the answers, or that a new direction guarantees success, but I do know the current path more than likely leads to just another dustbin year. We’re already treading into the dangerous (if a bit premature) possibility of wasting Giannis’s time in Milwaukee. Things have to change; the key component of being a team worth a damn is there, but it has to be utilized properly.
For now, though, one thing can be safely declared.
Your 2016-2017 Milwaukee Bucks - Just another season of the forgettable.