30 Teams in 30 Days: Bucks look to take next step in East

NBA.com Global on Oct 01, 2019 08:27 AM
30 Teams in 30 Days: Bucks look to take next step in East
FILE - MILWAUKEE, WI - APRIL 30: Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks goes to the basket against the Boston Celtics during Game Two of the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2019 NBA Playoffs on April 30, 2019 at the Fiserv Forum Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images).

Like most summers in the NBA, the 2019 edition was chock full of trades, free agent news and player movement. From the defending-champion Toronto Raptors to just about every other team in the league, change was the most applicable word when it came to describing team rosters for the 2019-20 season.

With the opening of training camps just around the corner, NBA.com's Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise as it sits today -- in order of regular-season finish from 2018-19 -- as we look at 30 teams in 30 days.

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Today's team: Milwaukee Bucks

2018-19 Record: 60-22, lost in Eastern Conference finals

Key additions: Robin Lopez (free agency), Wesley Matthews (free agency), Kyle Korver (free agency), Dragan Bender (free agency)

Key departures: Malcolm Brogdon, Tony Snell, Nikola Mirotic

The lowdown: Not since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar teamed up with Oscar Robertson did the Bucks register on the NBA radar quite like 2018-19, when they did everything except win a championship. They won a league-high 60 games, claiming the top seed in the East along the way. Giannis Antetokounmpo earned Kia MVP honors for a dominant season during which he averaged 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists per game and carried the club almost every night.

They flipped the switch on 3-point shooting, transforming from a team that ranked 25th and 27th, respectively, in 3-pointers taken to second in both categories last season. That was led by Brook Lopez, a skilled post-up center suddenly making an unlikely living beyond the arc. Defensively, they were effective as Antetokounmpo set the tone there. Khris Middleton blossomed into a solid No. 2 option and was an All-Star.

It was a triumphant first season with the Bucks for Mike Budenholzer, who sold the players on his philosophy of 3-point shooting and defense to win his second career Coach of the Year award. It was also the club’s inaugural season at Fiserv Forum, which quickly became the city’s main attraction. Milwaukee broke fast from the gate, winning seven straight to start the season, then going 19-2 during a midseason stretch to assume the driver’s seat in the conference. The good times extended to the postseason as the Bucks won 10 of their first 11 playoff games. They took a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals before collapsing against the eventual NBA-champion Toronto Raptors.

Summer summary: The biggest boost to the Bucks’ offseason wasn’t generated within the franchise itself. Instead, the Bucks were curious witnesses to the events in Toronto, where Kawhi Leonard bolted to the LA Clippers and made Milwaukee’s summer. For the second straight summer, a major figure from an opposing contender went West, making Milwaukee’s path a bit less complicated -- if not easier -- with Leonard following LeBron James to Los Angeles.

It’s not true that the Bucks sent Leonard a limo to Toronto’s Pearson Airport, but they didn’t exactly weep when he left, either. He was mainly responsible for keeping the Bucks out of The Finals. Given the injuries the Golden State Warriors suffered in that series, Leonard possibly cost Milwaukee a title as well.

And so, with the Raptors weakened by the loss of the Finals MVP, it’s quite possible that the only team standing between Milwaukee and June is the Philadelphia 76ers.

Given their cap restrictions and need to address their own contract matters, the Bucks didn’t and couldn’t improve much this offseason. Instead, they gave extensions to maintain the status quo and added a few pieces that should figure into the rotation. In truth, that’s probably all they needed to do.

Middleton was an unrestricted free agent, but the chance to stay next to Giannis was too compelling to surrender. That, and $178 million over the next five years, was apparently enough to keep the shooter in Milwaukee.  It’s the perfect situation for Middleton: he gets open looks off Antetokounmpo's double teams, he should get at least one crack at a title under this contract and will make upwards of $35 million a season.

The next goal was retaining Brogdon, which proved a lot trickier. That’s because, during the season, the Bucks extended Eric Bledsoe, which sent conflicting signals to Brogdon. How much was Milwaukee willing to tie up in two point guards, both of whom are starter-quality? Brogdon found riches, and another contender, via a sign-and-trade deal with the Indiana Pacers for $85 million over four years.

The Bucks did, however, keep Brook Lopez for $52 million over the next four years. Lopez was a bargain last season, making $3.4 million while notching career highs as a 3-point shooter and shot-blocker (2.2 blocks per game).

Then the Bucks did the Lopez family one better by signing his brother, Robin. It should be a rollicking and productive ride with the twins, who haven’t played together since their salad days at Stanford more than a decade ago. They regularly needle each other, as brothers often do, though Robin can still generate rebounds, is a decent rim protector and ranked 15th in screen assists last season.

As insurance for their emphasis on 3-point shooting, the Bucks added Matthews from the bargain bin. A career 38.2% 3-point shooter, Matthews can spread the floor and gobble rotational minutes and may be a better option than Korver -- one of the NBA's best-ever 3-point shooters who is starting to show his age. Korver is being reunited with Budenholzer, though, who made him an All-Star in 2015.

Both Matthews and Korver will replace Snell, who had been a disappointment with the Bucks ever since they traded for him from Chicago and gave him an extension. Meanwhile, Mirotic left the NBA altogether in favor of returning overseas.

As a result of this year's extensions, with a fat one (hopefully) soon to come for Giannis, the Bucks are essentially saying this is their team for the next three to four seasons. These are big times in Milwaukee as the organization rides with the current core to see what transpires. In a conference without James -- and now Leonard -- and with Brooklyn’s title dreams on hold until Kevin Durant heals, the Bucks have their window.

They're anxious and fully equipped to throw a basketball through it.

Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here, and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting. 

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