The dust has finally settled a bit following the disheartening and flat-out gut-wrenching exit to the postseason by the league's best team during the regular season. The Milwaukee Bucks won 60 games, and were not just the top overall seed in the East, but in the entire league. Giannis Antetokounmpo will more-than-likely be named NBA MVP, and a plethora of players enjoyed great seasons and in some cases (Brook Lopez) a bit of a career resurgence. All of that made Milwaukee's exit from the Eastern Conference Finals all the more difficult to swallow for a fanbase starving for a shot at a championship.
It was especially difficult to watch this team jump out to a 10-1 start to the postseason and go up 2-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals, only to lose 4 straight and have the season end abruptly, and from the Bucks' perspective a bit too soon. Let's not forget this team was a hair within "stealing" game 3 in Toronto, only to have a Lopez layup blocked with about 30 seconds to go in the second OT of that game. A couple of free throws later and the Raptors dodged a massive bullet and got the win that allowed them to go on and win this series.
For all of the reports about how this needs to happen, or that needs to happen for Giannis to stay in a Bucks' uniform, & who should be brought back? Who shouldn't be? The biggest thing is this team was easily ahead of expectations. Giannis is only 24, and the first season of the post-LeBron Eastern Conference, went very well for Milwaukee. No matter what Toronto does against the Warriors in the Finals (probably get thrashed), Kawhi Leonard is gone. If you don't think so just dig up the clip of his sister going live at the end of game 6 and it can be heard in the background that his family certainly doesn't think he will be back in Toronto next season, so Drake better make the most of his opportunities to dance around on the court and give shoulder-rubs because I don't see it happening again in Toronto next season (at least with Kawhi).
He will be able to go anywhere he wants and I'm still pretty sure the sunshine of southern California will trump the ice cold of Toronto. Leonard was born in LA, went to high school in Riverside, and played his college ball at San Diego State. Sorry Raptors fans, but Kawhi is going back to southern Cali, it just makes the most sense. If not in a Lakers uniform, I wouldn't be at all shocked to see him in a Clippers uni come the fall.
Back to Milwaukee - yes they have decisions to make on guys like Lopez, Brogdon, George Hill, and sharp-shooter Khris Middleton. After the season the Bucks had, these decisions are looming much larger than originally anticipated. Nobody said much when Lopez was brought in for $3 million. Nobody thought George Hill would be much of a contributor, he was brought in as much for his expiring contract as anything else, and nobody was clamoring when the Bucks drafted Brogdon in the first round a couple of years ago. My point? Those moves were glanced completely over by the rest of the league, and Milwaukee's front office could have cared less. GM Jon Horst did an exceptional job of putting this roster together and playing to the team's strengths - surround Giannis with shooters who can play solid defense, and then turn them all loose - it worked beautifully. Yes, those shooters faulterd against Toronto - especially in the 4th quarter and second half in general of game 6.
Since Milwaukee seemed to come out of nowhere, and one could easily say were ahead of schedule (no one saw a 60-win, best record in the league season coming - no one!), considering how young the roster was this season overall, Malika Andrews' report seems to be trying to drum something up in the immediate aftermath of an excruciating loss, and trying to grab some headlines. How is it now that all of a sudden the Bucks need to make the Finals next year for him to stay?
Yes, if Milwaukee's system that they've built completely around Giannis, somehow implodes next season, than perhaps. But to go where? Yes he wants to win, and Milwaukee has certainly shown they are more-than willing to & capable of building a winning roster around him and his talents. For a team so far ahead of schedule, everyone probably just needs to sit back and relax a moment and not jump to hasty conclusions and reports. Even if Durant comes east and joins the Knicks (like many are predicting), and Kyrie stays in the East, who is going to be the contender to challenge Giannis's dominance next season? The Sixers have several key decisions to make, the Celtics are about to get blown up, and as previously noted, Kawhi is gone. Seems like the team that was built entirely around Giannis, that just won 60 games, and was eliminated just as much because of the herculean effort turned in by Kawhi Leonard, than anything else, is still the best fit and best bet to get him to the Finals.
A walk through NBA history might just suggest that staying put with this young, extremely talented team would be in Giannis's best interest. He has not showed in anyway a desire to leave the Bucks, and just as importantly has shown nothing but faith in his coaches & front office.
The NBA annals are filled with examples of young, very good basketball teams, who were very good during the regular season, but went on to falter against more experienced squads in the playoffs. Maybe the best example is from perhaps the greatest to ever lace em up'.
Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls had to take their lumps - both figuratively & literally - as the Detroit Pistons beat the hell out them two years straight in the playoffs on their way to back-to-back championships in 1989' & 90'. After dropping game 7 to Detroit in a 93-74 rout, MJ vowed to come back stronger than ever and this time would be ready for the Pistons the following season. This time he & the Bulls swept Detroit 4-0 in the 1990-91 East Finals on their way to their first Championship. Jordan was his best to that point of his career in the series - averaging just under 30 points, 5.3 rebounds, 7 assist, and 2.3 steals. They went on to win the next three straight before MJ retired abruptly for the first time - which leads to the next prime example.
The 93-94' Seattle Supersonics had their breakthrough season after surprisingly reaching the Western Conference Finals the year prior as a rather young & inexperienced team. They ended up succumbing to Charles Barkley & the Suns, but came back strong. Following it up by finishing with one of the best records in NBA history with 63 wins against only 19 losses, they were the top overall seed, and the heavy favorites to take home the title heading into the playoffs.
Seattle won the first two games to open the postseason & take a commanding 2-0 lead (at the time the 1st round was still a best of 5 format). They went on to drop the next two in Denver to the 8th-seeded Nuggets led by Dikembe Mutombo. Despite the Nuggets only winning 42 games in the regular season, they went into Seattle, who had an incredible 37-4 record at home (39-4 including the first two wins in the series) and took game 5 & the series from the Sonics in one of the great upsets in NBA playoff history.
They went on to win 57 games the following year before bowing out in the 1st round again, this time as a 4-seed to the Lakers. The heartbreak was finally put to rest a bit the following season, as Seattle was even better than their 93-94' team, by going 64-18, but incredibly were not the top overall seed, thanks to the 72-10 campaign turned in by the Bulls. This time, Seattle had seemingly learned from their previous playoff setbacks, however and took care of the Kings and then the two-time defending Champs in the Rockets with ease - 4-1. They finally took that last step and defeated a very good Utah Jazz team led by Karl Malone & John Stockton - 4 games to 3 - winning a deciding game 7 at home to finally reach the Finals.
The Dallas Mavericks turned themselves into prominent contenders in the early 2000s after years of failure and won 55+ games every season from 2000-01 through 2006-07. That 06-07' season culminated in one of the greatest records in NBA history as the Mavs went 67-15. After years of playoff failures, including falling to the Heat in the Finals the year prior after jumping out to a 2-0 series lead, they went on to lose to the 8th-seeded Warriors in the first round. It was incredibly difficult for the fans and the players to digest, but Dirk Nowitzki stayed with the team. The breakthough finally happened in 2010-11, this time as underdogs as they went on to defeat the LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh super trio 4-2 in the Finals.
Of course these same Raptors are a great example - losing three seasons ago in the East Finals to the Cavs, and then losing to those same Cavs in each of the past two years prior, getting swept each time.
Even the Lakers suffered a big upset back in the 1980-81 playoffs to the last-seed Houston Rockets. Even the "showtime" era had to go through a bit of a learning curve before taking off on their epic run.
Point is, let's all just relax a moment, give this fanbase a chance to enjoy what was a banner year for the franchise, and see how free agency unfolds this summer before jumping to all kinds of conclusions. In an era of 'superteams' in large markets, the fact that a small market team could hang on to one of the best players in the league through his prime would be a huge plus for the league going forward.
For every big-time market, with Title aspirations every season, there is an Oklahoma City, Milwaukee, Memphis, New Orleans, and Charlotte, etc. For years, it has been LeBron vs the Warriors, before it was Kobe and the Celtics, what Milwaukee did this season actually gives hope to the rest of the league - not just the big-time brand-name markets - that their team can ACTUALLY make a turnaround, and have a chance to reach the Finals. Before the 2018-19 Milwaukee Bucks, that just wasn't the case.
So, let's sit back now, and before we jump to hasty conclusions about Giannis' future, let's enjoy the Finals matchup between Toronto and Golden State and enjoy what Milwaukee accomplished this season in the era of 'superteams' instead of taking a shot at the guy and whether he will stay with his team. Now, are you really that surprised that Giannis hastily walked out of his last press conference as abruptly as his season ended? I know I'm not. Maybe we could write a report on what the Bucks need to do to reach the Finals, instead of demanding that they need to by 2020. Afterall, nobody predicted a 60-win season and trip to the Eastern Conference Finals for this year.