Basketball is global, and it is growing. The National Basketball Association has made it a priority to stay in the spotlight as much as possible. For years – decades, really – the NBA cultivated an image focused on its most powerful engine: its stars. With that personalization grew a sort of personality the league still maintains; coverage of the NBA is as energetic and (at times) erratic as the news being covered, and the league garners plenty of attention for it. Nowadays, the regular season is often considered the most boring part of the basketball calendar, despite being the largest portion. Award shows, the NBA Draft, free agency, rumors and intrigue, and drama (sometimes great, sometimes not) are all just as closely followed by fans as the games that count, while only the postseason are held at a higher level.
The Milwaukee Bucks are reigning NBA champions...and nobody seems to care.
Perhaps “nobody cares” is a tad strong, but there is also a distinct sense across NBA media that the Bucks’ reward for proving it in the playoffs is...apathy. Exhibit A: The Brooklyn Nets are widely considered to be the favorite to make it out of the East, despite having fallen to Milwaukee in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals just a few months ago and making only marginal improvements to their roster...and this is before the whole Kyrie Irving Thing. Exhibit B: The Los Angeles Lakers are (as always) the darling of casual fans who fell victim to the siren song of Big Names that surrounds Year 19 LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Part of this is the annual offseason hype machine that builds everyone up indiscriminately, but in my view the biggest thing working against Milwaukee is the absence of a compelling narrative.
Think about it: the Bucks won the Finals, and they’re returning 80% of their Finals rotation. Not only that, most of the main rotation is under contract for at least two more seasons, meaning there’s no real drama about whether or not they can keep their championship core together. Their most significant roster losses this summer were PJ Tucker, Bryn Forbes, and Jeff Teague, and while the loss of Tucker hurts in ways that can’t be measured, the acquisitions of Grayson Allen, George Hill, Semi Ojeleye, and Rodney Hood should make up the bulk of what the Bucks lost. The thing is, none of these acquisitions are “sexy,” unlike the PJ Tucker midseason acquisition last year, so they’ve largely flown under the radar.
Milwaukee is also remarkably stable at the highest levels of the franchise. Giannis Antetokounmpo? Locked in. Mike Budenholzer? Locked in. General manager Jon Horst? Locked in! There is very little friction visible to outsiders for the Bucks, which bodes well for basketball but simply doesn’t drive interest.
The Bucks aren’t flashy. Giannis’ highlight plays aside, the majority of the team is not made up of guys who bring exciting clips to SportsCenter. Even the Greek Freak has detractors who still maintain that he just runs and dunks. r/mkebucks might get excited about a Jrue Holiday bully-ball layup, but r/NBA won’t. Bucks fans have of course grown fond of Khris Middleton’s tips on the Tough Shot Express, and more dedicated basketball fans can appreciate the stout paint defense of Brook Lopez...but that doesn’t generate buzz.
So Milwaukee remains an underdog for this season, despite having just won the title. That’s fine, there’s nothing wrong with that…it’s just difficult to play the “nobody believes in us!” card when you just won the title. The Bucks themselves don’t need help with the motivation, but it’s had the odd effect of dampening interest from Bucks fans about the upcoming season. Why is that?
In having mulled it over during the offseason, my answer is this: the Bucks don’t have anything to prove, to anyone, until the playoffs come around again. That makes the regular season…boring.
Of course, we want Milwaukee to win as many games as possible to secure as high a seed as possible…for the postseason. Absolutely we want players on our roster to get appropriate recognition, whether it’s Giannis for MVP, Khris for All Star, or Jrue for All Defense…for their legacies. But in terms of the actual games of the regular season, what real consequence do they have? We learned what we needed to learn against Miami, and Brooklyn, and Atlanta, and Phoenix in those respective series; what is there to learn about a mid-March road game against Sacramento? Or a stretch of preseason games? Or even a home opener against the Nets?
The truth of it is that the Bucks are not boring, but the perceived lack of stakes casts a pall over the upcoming season, at least for me. There is simply nowhere for this team elevate; they’re already at the top! But they’ve not been consistently shown their due respect at a wide scale, and the absolute best they could do is maintain their current standing...which is simply meeting expectations and still somehow considered to be “on par” with their counterparts in Brooklyn, at best. If they don’t burst out of the gates and pile up Ws to start the season, everyone who has been falling over themselves to find a favorite outside of Milwaukee will take the Bucks’ struggles (real or manufactured) as proof that They Were Right, and that the Bucks Aren’t For Real. And that will be...annoying.
But it’s pointless. Meaningless! Playoff seeds are won during the regular season, but hearts and minds are won during the playoffs. The Bucks’ best chance to garner the respect they deserve is then, not now. So for now, things are relatively boring...for us.
For them, the actual members of the team? They probably aren’t even aware of it, because of how they carry themselves and the culture they’ve built, starting with this guy.
The Bucks are going to go into this season focusing on one thing: controlling what they can control. The team’s dominant mantra is “get better, every day.” That might be boring, now. But in six months? In June? We’ll see just how boring the Bucks are then.