It’s the hope of cities like Minneapolis, Charlotte, and New Orleans last year. Those cities are hoping for their guy to become a top star in the Association. Let’s face it, the franchises mentioned above are not go to destinations when it comes to long term partnership with superstar players.
2 players come to mind when staying with a franchise that is not a traditional free agent spot. Tim Duncan, the Hall of Famer and 5 time champion and the current Portland all star point guard Damian Lilliard.
Let us take a look at what the Milwaukee Bucks did to secure their top 5 talent. Where other teams went with more known commodities, the Milwaukee Bucks selected a skinny kid from Greece, who’s name we couldn’t pronounce. There were no questions about Giannis Antetokounpo’s stature or amazing physical gifts. What no one knew is Giannis was going to develop into one of the most electrifying players in the game and basically must see TV. There is a player development piece here that Coach Mike Budenholzer and his staff press upon Antetokounpo’s competitive spirit and his almost manic obsession of improving his game. Statistic do not lie, here are Antetokounpo’s yearly stats.
The Bucks front office deserves some love in this perfect storm as well. General Manager Jon Horst for putting the pieces that surround Giannis Antetokounpo together. Disclaimer, I was very hard on the Bucks organization for letting Malcom Brogdon go, two off seasons ago when Brogdon bolted for greener pastures in Indiana (Division Rival). Horst bounced back, 10 games into the 2018 season Horst trades for point guard Eric Bledsoe and traded away plodding center Greg Monroe, to unclogged the lane for Antetokounpo, Horst then fired Jason Kidd as head coach and replaces Kidd with Budenholzer that next off season. Horst really made inroads with the roster by selecting pieces that would start to be the building blocks of a high level contender in the Eastern Conference by selecting Donte DiVinceinzo out of Villanova in 2018, received G/F Tony Snell for 30th overall selection, Kevin Porter Jr. in 2019, and then fearlessly selecting rookie guard R.J. Hampton 24th overall, and a sneaky good selection of Jordan Nwora, forward out of Louisville in 2020. Hampton was one of the top players in the country coming out of high school in 2019 and then played in Australia for a year. If the Milwaukee Bucks sprinkle some of their development dust on Hampton and he reverts to the top 10 player on ESPN’s Top 100, the Bucks will be in fine form for years to come.
The last piece is ownership and their willingness to spend. It is a no brainer to commit to Giannis but committing to the core pieces around Giannis? That was the question. Last year they signed Khrys Middleton to a 5 year 177.5 million dollar contract but let go of Malcom Brogdon. It did raise the eye of their superstar. Not really having that consistent 3rd option or someone who could give you 16 points a game, was the Bucks downfall in the bubble against the Heat. This past off season, the organization pivoted and picked up a high ticket item in the form of Jrue Holiday, point guard from New Orleans. Holiday is going to give the Bucks that consistent nearly 20 points a game they sorely lacked last season.
Other franchises can look towards the Milwaukee Bucks as a beacon of hope that if you build a solid organization, and do not whiff on draft picks, and spend money to surround your talented super-max player with the “right” pieces, your star will shine. Don’t give all the credit to the Milwaukee Bucks though, give some credit to the superstar who wants to blaze his own trail and lead his franchise to championship glory. What I would say to New Orleans, Charlotte, and Memphis, the clock is ticking. Look at your guy and line him up with a coach that will appeal to his competitive side and who will partner up with him philosophically wise to maximize his style of play.