I'm going to level with the readers. I chose to preview the Milwaukee Bucks so I could mercilessly make fun of them, but something changed in me once I started actually thinking about this team. Or maybe something didn't change in me. Once I start to think about the Bucks, things become confusing and hazy because they might be the league's oddest and most mysterious team.
Perhaps it would be helpful if I highlighted what I was originally going to say about this team. It's relevant to my confusion, so it's relevant to why this team is so weird.
I went into this preview expecting to rip on a dysfunctional team that will be terrible two years in a row. I believe this is the consensus on the team right now, and rightfully so. The Bucks have made a lot of moves since they last made the playoffs in the 2012-13 season. These moves were bad or were long term moves that led to short term losing or backfired on them in unexpected ways.
The Bucks were clearly going for it last season, so it was almost surprising that they were one of the worst teams in the NBA. This offseason doesn't appear to inspire a lot of confidence in this team either. At least not in the short term.
Just for fun, let's look at some of the moves that led to last year's disaster of a season (then we'll look at some of this Summer's moves):
1. Signed OJ Mayo, who had his worst season to date and derailed team chemistry on a team greatly needing chemistry. (Okay, tied with his 2011-12 season, which was almost identically terrible.)
2. Extended noted dog-abuser Larry Sanders with a big contract, who proceeded to have his worst season to date and derailed team chemistry on a team greatly needing chemistry. (Worst season relative to expectations, that is.)
3. Signed Milwaukee native Caron Butler as the vet, locker room, chemistry guy. He had his worst season to date and derailed team chemistry on a team greatly needing chemistry. They bought him out mid-season, and he signed with the Oklahoma City Thunder, instantly having a better season.
4. Signed Zaza Pachulia, who is best known for being an actual person who really exists.
5. Signed Gary Neal, who you can Wikipedia about my issues with him. He was traded midseason.
6. Traded Brandon Jennings for Brandon Knight. Prior to last season, Brandon Jennings had better Per 36 Minutes stats and helped lead the Bucks to the playoffs. Last season, Knight appeared to have a better season but on a worse team and better spacing. Knight effectively replaced Jennings production.
One shocking thing is that Jennings is known for being a cutter and not a great 3 point shooter for his position, but he out-shot Knight from behind the arc last year. Too bad Knight's TS% was mmmmucccchhh better (Jennings: .486/Knight: .523).
7. Let Mike Dunleavy go, who was an excellent off the bench shooter and glue guy. He could have been good for chemistry, but whatever. They also let Monta Ellis go (or Monta chose to leave), who wasn't a great fit but had an awesome season with the Dallas Mavericks.
8. Drafted Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has a lot of potential, but he averaged 6.8 PPG, 1.9 APG and 4.4 RPG on some pretty low shooting.
This offseason, the team hired Jason Kidd as their head coach BEFORE firing Larry Drew, which was a bold move. Wait. Did I say "bold move"? I meant to say that it was an unprecedented case of unprofessionalism that will forever leave an ugly taste in my mouth regarding this franchise.
The worst part about subverting the usual head coach firing/hiring process was they did it for Jason Kidd. Yes, Kidd may be a great coach some day, but he underachieved in Brooklyn last season and tried to pull a power-move on the Nets for more control before moving on to the Bucks. He can't be trusted. The Bucks can't be trusted. Neither sides have proven they can truly be competent in either coaching or making smart front office decisions. What a match.
Their big move this off-season was drafting Jabari Parker with the second overall pick. Most people smarter than me think Parker is going to be a future All-Star and will be good fairly quickly. It's rare, though, for even future superstars to be good in their rookie season -- especially on defense.
Of course, those are standard disclaimers for any rookie that is expected to be a franchise player down the road. I had planned on spending most of this article making fun of the Bucks for drafting a guy who said he likes Milwaukee because it's close to Chicago. Even though it would be unlikely, I was going to joke about how Parker would one day take the qualifying offer and force his way to Chicago, laughing all the way.
This article was going to be about 1500 words of me making fun of the Bucks for losing their future superstar. I wanted to start the misery already because I didn't like the underhanded things Milwaukee did during the Jason Kidd saga. I was going to talk about all the dumb moves they made like I already did above. Then I was going to point out how Milwaukee is probably heading to Seattle once the new owners figure out they can flip the team for a billion dollar profit. That was going to be a lot of fun -- especially since there's a modicum of truth in it.
I changed my mind about all that, though, because I kind of think this team could pull it all together and make the playoffs. I don't think it's probable, but I think it is possible. That's where my confusion over this team rests. I have no idea how good they are going to be. This team is unpreviewable, so how am I supposed to preview them?
Think of a number between 16 and 42. Any number, I don't care. Is it in your head? Doesn't matter what that number is, I think it's totally possible that's how many games the Bucks will win this season. So much went wrong last year. So much went weird. I have no idea what parts of last year's team was real and what parts were single season anomalies.
The chemistry on that team was so messed up last year. I don't know what it was like in the locker room, but watching games was an exercise in becoming familiar with complete ineptitude. With so many vets, that shouldn't have been the case. It doesn't seem possible that should have been the case. Furthermore, it doesn't seem possible that so many vet players could have their worst season ever.
That's why I think there might be some cause for optimism with this team. Maybe everything breaks the wrong way again. Fine. Or maybe some things break the right way. Maybe everything breaks the right way. Bledsoe injury aside, that's what happened to a Suns team last season we all expected to be one of the worst in the league.
I can imagine a situation where Mayo and Sanders both bounce back to something close to their excellent 2012-13 seasons. I can imagine Antetokounmpo figuring things out as the season goes on and delivering on at least some of his promise -- similar to how 2012-13 Lance Stephenson started to come into his own. I can imagine Jabari Parker proving those Carmelo Anthony comparisons correct and being an offensive force this team needs from the start. Brandon Knight improving on his relatively successful 2013-14 season by settling into a more manageable role. Same with John Henson.
I can imagine Jason Kidd taking some of the creativity how showed as a player and making the next step as a coach with ingenious coaching moves. Now that he has a team with no expectations, maybe he he will have room to truly try things he never could have tried in Brooklyn. I could see him leveraging the pure athleticism into something special.
Maybe. Maybe. I imagine. I know, I'm hedging on every point. If I had to guess, I would say the Bucks are going to be awful but occasionally brilliant when everyone figures things out on the same day. That's my guess, but I'm hedging against that, too. This team is a weird mix of promising youth and veterans coming off of horrible years. It's hard to project into the future when I don't know what parts of the past are true.
Not that any of it matters because both Parker and the Bucks will be gone from Milwaukee by 2018.