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Out of the Woods: Who Are the 2018-19 Milwaukee Bucks?

The Bucks have a new coach, but have they found a new direction?

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at Milwaukee Brewers Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

With the signing of Christian Wood, the Bucks seem to be rounding into the offseason’s home stretch, moving into “training camp fodder acquisition” mode. Barring the kind of late summer blockbuster involving picks, assets, and more than a few tears that NBA offseason fever dreams are made of, the active roster that will define next season is set. The ink is cooling on the schedule, so we can start to parse out just what sort of squad the Bucks will be.

It’s not so simple as saying that we know our coach. Some coaches plug in with their askew view on culture intact. Scott Skiles might not be able to survive five years at a pitstop, but he came and changed the culture with his abrasive obstinance. It was a process of taking ourselves seriously again that lead us all to here, to the potential for it all to crystallize into something real. Screw Game Six. The culture yearns for Round Two and beyond.

Mike Budenholzer has been around the NBA long enough for us to know who he was. In Atlanta, he was the coach that got the most out of guys by adapting his system to their strengths. It was what he learned from Gregg Popovich as one of the grizzled legend’s brightest young proteges. It’s a phenomenal asset to have as a coach, the ability to be what your team needs using what you already have.

Yet it gives us little to glean, a few press conferences full of talk of special moments, special players, and gosh being picked is just so gosh darned special. It’s all hard work, getting better, and coming together as a team, great bullet points for the summer camp bulletin before trust falls. We all know there will be pick and rolls. It’s too early to grab the truth from PR, everybody needs to stop playing nice before they get real.

We could look to the morass at HQ for leadership & identity:

“Mike has demonstrated the ability to lead and communicate, and understands what it takes to build a winning culture. This move puts our organization in a terrific position as we work together toward our collective goal of sustained success and winning championships.”

Right. Owners speak in board room gobbledegibble. Mikey Boy is just the guy to shift our paradigm into proactive organizational self-actualization. No luck there.

Everybody wants to win. The wise visualize the path to get there. You don’t win by wanting it real bad, the promised land is for those who planned ahead, packed a spare, and left Timmy for dead at Soda Flats because he should have kept an eye out for rattlesnakes like I told him to dammit. Has this offseason indicated the Bucks know what they want to be?

The Bucks snapped so hard on Ersan Ilyasova it gave LeBron James whiplash. First news of the new summer and the Ill Subliminal was headed to the rocky shores and creamy brews of home. Add that to our rook and a Brook and you must have a trend, the Bucks are ready to explore the uncharted regions beyond the arc, but think on it and the picture muddles.

Did we sign Ersan because we wanted his shooting or his loyalty? Did Bud want a guy that he knew and trusted? Was Jon Horst playing the homer? Was Brook Lopez about shooting or a more immediate need? If we are going four shooters and Giannis, then what is Eric Bledsoe doing here? If a team signs Shabazz Muhammad, does that mean anything at all?

Should the Bucks embrace the triangle? It’s always such a disaster, but it might work for us!

Oh, the mind can reel for days on an empty stomach. The modern NBA runs on information, information, information, and our moves just haven’t been enough to make a statement. A blockbuster trade or signing results in a clear change of direction, but these moves are all murmurs in a crowd.

So we get to the rawest form of assessment. We look at the personnel and feel out their strengths, and folks I have some news for you. The dream team schematics might be en route to the assembly line, but the product is not functional enough to run at optimal efficiency. So if we can’t be Golden State, what should we be?

Everything begins and ends with Giannis Antetokounmpo. He’s the Coltrane of this jazz outfit, the steady wildcard superstar that enables every NBA fan’s fantasy because he will produce in any given format. Figuring the best format, now that’s tricky business. Throw Giannis on a roster with Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe and the mad scientist is drawn to positionless basketball, the future an improvisational whorl that confounds the opponent through constant adaptation. Kidd’s mad defense relied on constant switching, under Bud our whole personality could switch on a night-to-night basis.

Giannis and Khris seem game, but constant adaptation is AP stuff. This season will be defined by how roleplayers who slowly chafed and disappeared under Kidd respond to the new system. New guys like Ersan and Brook Lopez are established veterans with known skillsets. Ersan will pumpfake three times and flop like he’s running a house of ill repute. Brook will bring a post presence and a game that somehow stretches to the outer limits while fanboying out over Disney princesses. No surprises there.

What Tony Snell or Thon Maker or Sterling Brown or even D.J. Wilson and Matthew Dellavedova will be under Bud, now those are the true X factors.

Budenholzer was a Pop man for twenty years, then he had the luxury of Al Horford for another chunk of change. My concern is that his viewpoint may be skewed by having a player of that caliber when the Bucks haven’t adequately covered the paint since Larry Sanders. Tim Duncan was an edifice, and we’ve seen how the Spurs have struggled to maintain their identity without that Hall of Fame bound foundational rock. Bud similarly struggled to find consistency in his final seasons without Horford.

The Bucks have the stuff up top, but there’s a rapid decline in quality that will be defined by how our scrubs respond in training camp. It’s somewhat reassuring that we will soon know what we have, though mystique is its own form of value. If there’s any chance of Tony Snell transmogrifying into that three and D legend we need, it will happen by December. Younger, less defined players we can wait on, and it will take time for an empathic coach to get to know the needs of his squad, but I have more confidence than I have in a long time that we have the staff to get the job done.

Dawn rises on a new era. The 2018-19 Milwaukee Bucks will be our first full seated effort to build a contender. The Forum will soon be packed with fans eager to see if we have the right stuff.

62 days, 8 hours, and 30 minutes to Bucks basketball. I can’t freaking wait.


What will be the core identity of this year’s Bucks squad?

This poll is closed

  • 31%
    Positionless Basketball - Wave of the Future
    (208 votes)
  • 10%
    The Wisconsin Way - Hardnosed Defense
    (72 votes)
  • 23%
    Old School - Pass First Fundamental Ball
    (155 votes)
  • 34%
    Just Give the Ball to Giannis!
    (230 votes)
665 votes total Vote Now