A completely different team, same results: Milwaukee Bucks Season Preview

Starting five: PG Brandon Knight, SG Ovinton J’Anthony Mayo, SF Caron Butler, PF Ersan Ilyasova, C Larry Sanders
Key bench players: PG Luke Ridnour, SG Gary Neal, SG Giannis Antetokounmpo, SF Carlos Delfino, PF John Henson, PF/C Ekpe Udoh, C Zaza Pachulia
Offseason additions: Ovinton J’Anthony Mayo, Gary Neal, Caron Butler, Brandon Knight, Luke Ridnour, Giannis Antetokounmpo (15th overall pick), Zaza Pachulia
Offseason subtractions: PG Brandon Jennings, G Monta Ellis, C Samuel Dalembert, PF/C Drew Gooden, SF Mike Dunleavy, Jr., SG JJ Redick
FACT OR FICTION: The Bucks from The Good Land turned over their entire team in the offseason for the better.
FACT. Milwaukee made a ton of decisions on key players this offseason with acquisitions and trades that made the team vacillate between rebuilding and reloading. In the basketball-free darkness of August, I spent 2,000 words describing these schizophrenic developments, including these paragraphs that sums up the entire offseason:

It was clear from the moment when Monta Ellis opted out of his $11 million dollar salary for next season that he was on his way out of town. Likewise, Jennings appeared set to depart, as he’d hilariously been talking for years about his eventual exit from The Good Land. Morever, it appeared as if Drew Gooden as his impossible $13 million dollars (and Bad NBA Contract of the Week fodder!) over two years would be amnestied.

And in the end, all of that happened. Ellis eventually signed with the Dallas Mavericks, Gooden was amnestied and Jennings was sign and traded to the Detroit Pistons for 21 year-old point guard project Brandon Knight. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute was traded for a second round pick. That…looks like rebuilding.

But simultaneously, the Bucks seem to try in vain to remain mediocre. OJ Mayo was signed for three years and $24 million. Gary Neal, formerly of the Spurs, inked a deal for two years and $6 million. Zaza Pachulia, a first ballot Bad NBA Contract of the Weeker, was brought on for a staggering three years and $15 million. Luke Ridnour, a very solid back-up point guard, was picked up via trade. And finally, for the price of two players that looked like training camp cuts, the Bucks scooped up a still competent Caron Butler. These are all legitimate NBA rotation players that certainly shouldn’t be in starring roles for any team, but helps the Bucks field a more solid rotation than say, the Bobcats or the Utah Jazz this year.

The Bucks have made their bed of mediocrity, or more accurately, owner Sen. Herb Kohl has arranged for it. These Bucks are good enough that if everything were to break right, they’d certainly be good enough to finish with the 7th seed amongst a crowded field of equally flawed Eastern Conference squads (Detroit, Cleveland, Washington, Atlanta and Toronto come to mind). However, if nothing were to go right? This could damn well be one of the three worst teams in the NBA.

Milwaukee has the least valuable franchise in the league. They have some of the worst attendance, and perhaps rightfully so–they haven’t won more than 46 games since 2001. The Bucks do not have the finances to overpay for players, nor do they have any big city advantages that would want to make a major free agent want to sign with them. In order for the franchise to ever get better, they’d have to either bottom out and rebuild with consecutive high draft picks or strike gold in the middle of the first round like Indiana (with 2010 10th overal pick Paul George). Unbeknownst to the Bucks, they may have set themselves up for the former, in the best way possible with their mysteriously wonderful offseason.

The Bucks have reloaded, but have disposed of many low upside, high priced veterans. Gone are Drew Gooden, Monta Ellis, Mike Dunleavy, Jr. and JJ Redick. In their places are guys like Knight and Giannis ctrl+C, adding to incumbents like John Henson and Larry Sanders. Even Ovinton J’Anthony Mayo, still 25 years old but soon starting his sixth professional season, has room to grow. These players are still young and relatively untapped, and Bucks fans should be fired up to see how good they can be. But as they come into their own and develop, there’s really no telling how inconsistent they’ll be night to night.

Unfortunately (or fortunately) for Milwaukee, the team doesn’t have good enough veterans to carry their youngsters to the 38-44 win plateau. Luke Ridnour, Ersan Ilyasova, Caron Butler, Gary Neal and Zaza Pachulia are nice rotation players, but certainly won’t be able to anchor any nightly production needed to keep the team afloat.

And thus, Milwaukee is in an interesting predicament here. For the team’s best interests long term, they’ll need to strike the difficult balancing act of playing poor enough to nab a high lottery pick, but seeing enough positive signs from their youngsters that they’ll have a direction going forward. The Bucks have put themselves in a solid position, but a future that could easily tip in a horrible direction either way.

And such is life in The Good Land.

Best case scenario: This team absolutely, positively sucks. Gary Neal can’t survive outside of the San Antonio ecosystem, while guys like Butler and Delfino are washed up. The team is full of solid defenders, but ultimately cannot put together enough consistent runs on either end of the floor to win more than 25 games. There are some promising signs with development from Knight, ctrl+, Henson and an otherwise All-Star season from Sanders, but the Bucks are headed to the draft lottery telecast. Excellent!

Absolute apocalypse: The Bucks do what they’ve done for the past dozen years and swim between that 12th spot in the conference and the 7th/8th seed doldrums. Knight is serviceable, but doesn’t look like he’ll be the point guard of the future as Ridnour takes the starting reps. Henson, Udoh, ctrl+C and Knight all look like draft busts, much to the detriment of Milwaukee’s future. Still, the team is good enough to nab a playoff spot in the weak lower half of the Eastern Conference. Mediocrity continues.

Expected outcome: 5th in the Central, 12th in the Eastern Conference


Do you smell what MAMBINO is cooking? Check out the rest (so far) of our 2013-2014 NBA Season Preview series:

Central Division

Detroit Pistons

Southeast Division

Atlanta Hawks
Charlotte Bobcats

Miami Heat
Orlando Magic
Washington Wizards

Northwest Division

Denver Nuggets
Minnesota Timberwolves
Oklahoma City Thunder
Portland Trailblazers
Utah Jazz


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