After winning the championship in the 2020-2021 season, the Milwaukee Bucks have remained as one of the most competitive teams in the eastern conference and the NBA as a whole during the regular season. However, their performance in the Playoffs has clearly declined: the Wisconsinite side have not managed to reach the conference finals since they won it all after taking down the Phoenix Suns.
Their toughest elimination came last year, as they got gentleman swept by the Miami Heat (4-1) in the first round after winning 58 games and achieving the best record in the league. Although, if we are talking about the seriousness of the matter, their defeat was overshadowed by one of its direct consequences: the statements made by the undisputed star of the team, Giannis Antetokounmpo, regarding the renewal of his contract.
The Greek forward showed his desire to keep on playing for what has been his only NBA team to date as long as one condition was met, he needed to perceive that the franchise as a whole was actively working towards the same goal: winning another championship. These takes resulted in scaremongering surrounding the Bucks and Antetokounmpo, who began to see his name linked to destinations away from the Fiserv Forum.
With his words, the two-time MVP portrayed himself as anything but a conformist and hinted that he would pursue other options to compete at the highest level if Milwaukee did not seek reinforcements. Giannis would return the Bucks the confidence they deposited in him when he got drafted and would not request a trade, but he would also not re-sign if the deers lacked the ambition he desired, thus leaving the door open for him to leave for any team he wanted as a free agent.
The rumors began to spread quickly and the franchise took them very seriously, as only a few weeks after, they would acquire one of the best guards in all of basketball: Damian Lillard.
The Bucks are making their intentions clear:
Although the signing of ‘Dame’ has clear implications beyond his impact on the court (as his arrival is a great incentive to keep Giannis around), the fit between both superstars is, without a doubt, the most significant part of the trade. The skillsets of both of the talents barely overlap at all (in fact, they complement each other to perfection), meaning they have the potential to be the most perfect pairing since ‘Shaq’ and Kobe.
Slowing Antetokounmpo down (or at least trying to do it) requires filling the paint with at least three big men and, inevitably, weakening perimeter defense. A formula that somewhat worked right until this point, but has become useless with the arrival of Lillard, who has the deepest range in the NBA (with the exception of Stephen Curry). Preparing to guard Giannis means that ‘Dame’ will go off and vice versa.
In addition, the former Blazer has never had such a dominant force on the pick and roll by his side. As a result, we could see the most prolific version of his career when it comes to passing. Even though Lillard is a solid playmaker, it has never been his main strength or his first option (as he has always prioritized scoring), but things could be different this year.
If that was not enough and despite the departure of one of the staples of the team like Jrue Holiday, the Bucks’ roster is not limited to just their two stars. They possess fantastic complementary pieces like Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez, both essential to provide Antetokounmpo with the spacing he needs on offense and, in the case of the center, also a defensive anchor.
If we take all of that and add some other quality ‘ingredients’ like Malik Beasley, Cameron Payne, Pat Connaughton and, above all, Bobby Portis (who averaged nearly 15 points and nine rebounds per game last season) we are left with a very good-looking recipe. Milwaukee were on a hurry to prove they wanted to win now and they have not wasted any time.
The Boston Celtics as the main rival in the eastern conference:
On first sight, one would think that it is impossible to find the bad side to a trade in which you acquire Damine Lillard. But in the case of the Bucks, the loss of Holiday is a dramatic blow not only as a result of his departure, but because only a few days after trading him, he would reinforce their main competitor to come out of the eastern conference.
With the additions of Jrue and Porzingis, the Celtics have put together one of the most fearsome rosters in the current picture of the NBA. The Massachusettan franchise has sacrificed depth in return for talent compared to previous years.
Led by Jayson Tatum and (as the second option) Jaylen Brown, they can match up against anybody. Without removing teams like the Miami Heat from the equation, they will be the main obstacle in Milwaukee’s path to the finals and the chance at another championship.
Main image: @Bucks.