This Milwaukee Bucks season has been a revelation. The turnaround seems almost biblical, with Coach Bud baptizing this team in the calming waters of efficiency he came surfing in on from San Antonio and Atlanta. Starting this season as the lone remaining undefeated team. Knocking off the reigning champs on their own floor. Refusing to lose back-to-back games until March. Every new milestone felt like another “pinch me” moment. At some point, we had to stop the theoretical self-flagellation and recognize the reality in front of us: this Bucks team broke the wheel.
Bucks fandom carries a muted nature. Years of deflated expectations will do that. Even our superstar, Giannis Antetokounmpo, reflects that understated nature with his lax demeanor and spotlight-shirking attitude among the press. Sure, there are outsized opinions and personalities among the ever-growing #BucksTwitter universe. We’re also protective, prone to point and laugh at takes from the uninformed Ryan Bollins of the world, but by and large, I’d say the Bucks modest success (or lack thereof) has created a general “We’re just happy to be here” vibe. This year, I find myself grappling with that identity and the ushering in of vaulted expectations and genuine belief in this franchise. This Milwaukee Bucks team is hitting historic benchmarks indicative of championship teams of yesteryear.
Should we just be happy to be here?
I find the sense of complacency most pronounced in the MVP discussion as I struggle to lather myself up over Giannis winning or losing. It’s old hat at this point, but both Harden and Giannis have worthwhile candidacies. Harden has statistical tidal waves, even when you bump Giannis into equivalent per-36 levels and anecdotally, I’ve felt like I’ve seen far more of those gaudy numbers flaunted by Harden stans than equivalent banter from Giannis defenders.
A Rockets fan I know has thrown plenty my way, but rather than find the energy to counterattack, I prefer to parry. He’s mentioned feeling jilted by Harden’s MVP losses in the past, particularly to Westbrook, which I get. If Giannis goes several more years with a cobwebbed MVP cabinet, I’ll probably feel the same. At this point though, individual accolades feel ancillary. Outwardly, Giannis seems to feel the same.
It’d be grand to say we have one of the few players to ever win MVP and DPOY in the same year, but tacking on these types of hardware are just window dressing for this season. Same with coach of the year and executive of the year. This all-encompassing overhaul doesn’t feel properly reflected by any individual award. The fact Milwaukee is in a position to sweep is emblematic enough of that. I just feel happy to be here.
The postseason, though, feels different.
I was lowest among the entire staff on this Bucks team coming into the season. I didn’t even predict 50 wins! Ridicule is welcome and deserved for my pessimism. It felt easier to me; years of wading into the muck with no belief this team would reach its theoretical pinnacle seemed rational. It seemed in keeping with Bucks tradition. I believed in Bud, but not like this. How could anyone have guessed a $3.3 million dollar giant would become a hyper-accurate trebuchet and impenetrable castle at the rim? How could anyone have guessed Jon Horst would suddenly be portrayed as the GM with the Midas Touch? How could anyone have guessed a ridiculed rookie left for dead would become a defensive dynamo and decent shooter?
This is a team, a season, of upending the status quo. At some point this season, I had to shed the protective shell I used to expect the worst. Maybe it was when Giannis kept dominating the MVP discussion? Perhaps it was when Malcolm Brogdon continued sinking clutch bucket after clutch bucket? It might’ve been the insane 21-4 record from Christmas Day to the All-Star Break. Who’s to say. All I know is this, at some point this Bucks squad turned from a team where I hoped for things to one where I finally expected things.
I don’t think that’s entitled fandom either, it’s just reality. Some have been here for awhile (shout out Hype Train conductor Kyle Carr). Others, like myself, are probably new to this land. I, a frugal man who re-uses sandwich bags for a week at a time, bet money on this team to win the NBA championship. And not just to have some extra skin in the game or because it seemed like fun (although it sure is), but because I genuinely believe it’s possible. That might be more true this year than any year we’ll have from now on.
This postseason, I don’t think I’ll just be happy to be there.
For the past two years, my season-ending Bucks column following the Bucks season settled on one thing: raising expectations and holding them to it. It feels too early in Bud and Giannis’s era to get overly fixated on accountability, but expectations have finally, thankfully been raised in Milwaukee. Regular season success may not always portend postseason breakthroughs, but the Bucks are performing at such a historic level, it seems foolhardy not to believe the hype. The proverbial first round monkey on their back feels more like a nagging mosquito these days.
Even a lengthy foray into the second round, with potentially a perpetually squabbling Boston squad forecasted for greatness before the season, doesn’t feel like it would be satisfying. I’m not sure if the third round will satiate either, unless it’s some knock-down, drag-out seven game series.
This season’s process led Milwaukee to its best season in ages, a historic net rating on par with past champions and a bona fide shot at reaching, and potentially winning, its first Finals since the 1970’s. Giannis’ brilliance will always maintain a level of quality with this team, but there’s a unique influx of talent and personalities this year made possible by this final year of deflated contracts. The bevy of dollars that will flood their books this summer may make safety blankets like George Hill, Ersan Ilyasova and Nikola Mirotic far harder to afford. Brook Lopez’s affordability this year is, ironically, the same reason Milwaukee may have difficulty keeping him around. We can all believe these guys will stick around, but that’s all it is at this point, belief.
On Howard Beck’s The Full 48 podcast, Marc Lasry discussed this very topic. Beck asked him about potentially paying the luxury tax and the prospect of keeping this in-flux roster intact going into next year.
“Life is simple and what I mean by that is, if we win the NBA championship, the decision’s already made for us. Right, I mean we’re gonna have to do whatever it takes. If you lose in the first round, the decision is made for you, right, because then you’re gonna go okay what went wrong? What do we need to do? That’s different, that’s why I’ve told everybody, look it’ll all be fine; you want to be here, we want you here, we’ll all figure it out.”
It’s about the results with these guys. Perhaps we, as fans, can be more lenient in our reading of the results. But to what degree?
Seven years ago, Oklahoma City fans were licking their wounds, just waiting in anticipation of their youthful juggernaut one day claiming a championship crown. Three years ago, San Antonio fans watched Kawhi lead a statistically dominant Spurs team and get steamrolled by the Thunder, steadfast in their belief Leonard would extend Pop’s prime by a dozen years. Two years ago, Boston fans prepped for a decade-plus of dominance. Now, their team has as tenuous a grasp on the conference as their point guard does on common sense. One year ago, Rockets fans carried a historically great net rating into the postseason, only to see their chances of unseating the champions crumple with Chris Paul.
I have savored every second of this wonderful, beautiful, truly unbelievable Milwaukee Bucks season. There’s no time like the present. This year has felt special, cohesive and checkbox-marking with a team chemistry I think remains an underrated part of their bid for a championship.
“Happy to be here” is great. The Bucks belong here, though, and I don’t think I’ll feel happy unless “here” ends with a trip to the NBA Finals.
What are your expectations to feel satisfied with this Milwaukee Bucks season? Vote and voice your opinion in the comments below, as there’s always context to be added for a simplified poll.
I’ll feel satisfied with this Bucks season if they...
This poll is closed
Advance to the second round
Advance to the third round
Advance to the NBA Finals
Win the NBA Finals