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Bucks are Back!

With one leg tied behind their backs, the Bucks won their second NBA title in franchise history and had a run at basketball immortality. That is, it is one of the three legs of the team-building stool. Most general managers and club presidents strive to build a squad using draughts, trades, and free agency, but the last of those isn’t an option for a team like Milwaukee. Never mind big revenues vs little revenues; Milwaukee, like many other smallish cities, doesn’t entice free players looking for the best on and off the court.

Players are forming lines to travel to Miami, Los Angeles, or New York (well, Brooklyn). But Sacramento, Indiana, Cleveland without LeBron, or Milwaukee? Much more difficult. That puts more pressure on those front offices to actively undertake the heavy lifting of uncovering gems in the Draft and efficiently managing assets to pounce at the trade deadline or throughout the summer. Remember that Pistons centre Greg Monroe was possibly the biggest free-agent signing in Milwaukee history. He inked a three-year, $50 million contract in the summer of 2015, just as the ground beneath NBA big men began to change. Monroe was traded only days into his third season with the Bucks, and he was no stretch five.

Brook Lopez is the finest free-agent signing on the current Bucks roster, but he was mostly an afterthought, a one-time Nets All-Star who spent one season with the Lakers in 2017-18. When he signed with the Bucks, his salary decreased from $22.6 million to $3.4 million, but the transformation in his game that he started in Brooklyn – re-inventing himself to shoot 3-pointers – matched nicely with coach Mike Budenholzer’s game plan. Bobby Portis, Pat Connaughton, Bryn Forbes, and Jeff Teague, for example, have all been considered used players at best and scrap-heap bound at worst.

Five of the Bucks’ top ten rotation players were low-level free agents when the playoffs began. Jrue Holiday, P.J. Tucker, and Khris Middleton all arrived via trades — Jrue Holiday in November, P.J. Tucker at the March deadline, and Khris Middleton in 2013. Instead, the organisation selected Antetokounmpo and Donte DiVincenzo. In addition, the first nine draught picks averaged 24. (From Lopez at No. 10 and Antetokounmpo at No. 15 in their respective classes to Middleton at No. 39 and Connaughton at No. 41). Forbes was not at all drafted. GM Jon Horst has mainly avoided the spotlight until now. When he took over for John Hammond, the man who created the foundation, he was viewed as too young and inexperienced by others.

This franchise has come a long way since it finished last in the league, going 15-67 in Antetokounmpo’s first season to acquire a high lottery choice. Jabari Parker, the No. 2 pick in 2014, was meant to be a cornerstone of the Bucks’ success. Injuries had their own voice. The Bucks’ previous owner, Herb Kohl, made it a condition of the franchise’s sale to Marc Lasry, Wes Edens, and the rest of the current partners to keep the Bucks in Milwaukee not long ago – 2014, to be exact. For years, there have been rumblings about the team being sold and relocated.

Can the Bucks turn this championship into a repeat or enough Finals appearances to qualify as the NBA’s newest dynasty? Was this a one-time occurrence? Because of how tough the league is and the 29 other franchises contending for first place, the odds are stacked against the former. Nevertheless, thousands of fans flooded the streets of downtown Milwaukee on Thursday to see their favourite Bucks in a parade commemorating the city’s first NBA title in half a century. The Bucks’ procession began at noon ET. It snaked through downtown Milwaukee in honour of the franchise’s first NBA championship since 1971.

With 35 seconds left in the championship drought, the sellout crowd inside Fiserv Forum began chanting Bucks in Six in perfect tone and unison, signalling the start of the 50-year countdown. Screams erupted outdoors, where half of Wisconsin had assembled, and the beer flowed. And on the court, Giannis Antetokounmpo waved his arms, signalling the start of the game. It’s time for Giannis to join a select group of players who have made history. Finally, after six tense games, it’s time for the NBA Finals to come to an end. It’s time for Khris Middleton and P.J. Tucker, Jrue Holiday and Mike Budenholzer to get emotional and hug someone.

It was well worth the wait to see how it evolved and advanced, especially how it concluded, with an electrifying Game 6 scripted by a player who became an instant legend. The Bucks came back from a 2-0 deficit in the series and never looked back — well, maybe a few times uncomfortably along the road — until putting the Suns away Tuesday night with a 105-98 triumph that sent shivers through the city. Giannis, who was a force on both ends of the floor throughout the series and kept his best for last, was primarily responsible for the victory and the title. Who’d have guessed Giannis would score 50 points on a made free throw – who’d have thought? Giannis’s endeavour was immortalised, and he undoubtedly earned a place among those who came before him.


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