With the lack of basketball available at the moment, I’ve been re-watching old Milwaukee Bucks games on Fox Sports Wisconsin and YouTube. Granted, FS Wisconsin has only shown the good stuff (not the games that caused great heartbreak). One of the games I watched was from the 2010 Eastern Conference first round playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks. It was Game 5, in which Milwaukee pulled off in a shocking upset and won on the road with a swaggerrific rookie point guard, a midseason sharpshooter pickup, and a couple of vets anchoring the team. However, there was one slight hitch: the team was missing its best player.
Welcome to “What If...” a new series I hope to keep going during the COVID-19 quarantine. I will be going through notable Milwaukee Bucks moments and wonder, what if the opposite happened? Most of these will reverse painful moments in Milwaukee Bucks history, but sometimes the “what if” takes away the good and leaves us with a darker timeline. But first, a quick note to explain my logic: the future is entirely fictional and is rarely based on statistics, facts, or reason.
So sit back, have a drink, and let’s ponder how Fear the Deer could have concluded.
Heading into the 2009-2010 season, the Milwaukee Bucks had pretty low expectations after going 34-48 the prior year. Head coach Scott Skiles was grouchily establishing himself with the team. Milwaukee’s best player, Michael Redd, was recovering from a torn ACL. The second best player, Andrew Bogut, was becoming a reliable yet slightly injury-prone NBA player, though still falling below the expectations that a #1 overall pick carry (particularly painful considering two point guards, Chris Paul and Deron Williams, drafted after him would establish themselves as perennial All-Star and All-NBA players). All the time hoping its rookie, Brandon Jennings, along with some other young players, would catch up to the speed of the NBA with its veterans.
Despite all of that, it was a good start for the Bucks as they raced out to a 8-3 start with the now memorable Brandon Jennings 55-point game as a highlight. A tough December had the Bucks fall below .500 and it stayed that way up until the All-Star break. A mid-season trade for John Salmons gave the Bucks a spark going from 24-28 at the end of February to 41-33 at the beginning of April and boasting one of the best defenses in the league. “Fear The Deer” was the team rally call and things looked optimistic for the Bucks.
A big reason for the turnaround, along with Salmons and Jennings, was center Andrew Bogut who was finally showing all the reasons for why the Bucks drafted him 5 years prior. Bogut was a rim-protecting big, registering 175 blocks and averaging 2.5 blocks per game, second only to Dwight Howard. Bogut also contributed 15.9 points per game and 10.2 rebounds per game as he progressed toward an All-NBA team and potentially an All-Defensive team along with the Most Improved Player award to boot. Things were looking great for Bogut and the Bucks and they became the hottest team heading into the playoffs before a certain night in April.
April 3rd, 2010, saw the Bucks host the Phoenix Suns, which pitted a Western Conference favorite against the young upstart team. Milwaukee jumped out to a 22-18 first quarter lead and continued to increase their lead as the second quarter went by. With 4:28 seconds left in the half Milwaukee, who was leading 44-32 at this point, got a fast break opportunity. Carlos Delfino got the rebound and hit Bogut with an outlet pass. Bogut went up for a dunk but trailing defender Amar’e Stoudemire made contact with him; Bogut lost his balance and fell awkwardly onto his right arm. (Editor’s note: no, we’re not linking the video.) The arena went silent and while Milwaukee went on to win the game 107-98, we found out that Bogut broke his right hand, dislocated his elbow, and sprained his wrist which would keep him out of the remainder of the season. The Bucks would still make the playoffs, but would lose in a seven game series in the first round to the Atlanta Hawks.
So what if Bogut didn’t land awkwardly that night? Milwaukee finishes the season strong winning five of their last six games and ends the season with a 47-35 record which puts them in a tie with the Miami Heat for the 5th seed. Milwaukee wins the tiebreaker based off of winning the head to head 3-1; this pits them against the Boston Celtics who are the 4th seed in the east with a 50-32 record. The Celtics boast their Big 3 of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett and add a young Rajon Rondo. Milwaukee gives Boston a good fight in the series as Andrew Bogut battles it out with Kendrick Perkins and Rasheed Wallace, but the inexperience of Jennings and the talent gap is too much and the Bucks lose the series 4-2.
Despite the shortcomings against the eventual Eastern Conference champion and league runner up, Milwaukee comes back with a good portion of players from last year’s squad. Bogut’s ensured health prevents Milwaukee from signing Earl Barron and Drew Gooden (sorry Aaron Rodgers). Seeing his value as a backup veteran center, Kurt Thomas returns to the squad and LARRY SANDERS (!) is still drafted as a project for Milwaukee. John Salmons still gets his new contract and his shooting regression still happens, but he still manages to right the ship after getting benched for Chris Douglas Roberts.
Milwaukee players gel together again and Herb Kohl’s goal of getting at least an 8th seed is fulfilled as Milwaukee finishes with a still underwhelming 38-44 record. Bogut fresh off of his All-NBA third team and 2nd team All-Defense, leads the league in blocks with 2.6 per game and once again makes All-Defense second team and just misses out on the All-Star game. Bogut still gets traded, but with higher value. Stephen Jackson still goes with Bogut, and Milwaukee gets Monta Ellis and Kwame Brown but also nabs a first round pick. Milwaukee uses that pick to draft Terrence Ross, needing guard help. What happens when a Buck killer becomes a Buck? Who knows?!
So that is What If... Feel free to let me know what other scenarios you want me to analyze. It can be a massive moment in Bucks lore, or a small detail; either way I will try my best to rehash history.