Ever since the awful Ray Allen trade the Milwaukee Bucks were stuck in a loop of mediocrity. For over a decade they essentially floated on the brink of the playoff hunt. Year after year they seemed to find a way to never finish above the eighth seed in the East. Former owner Herb Kohl knew he could never pull in a super star through free agency. He also knew he needed people in the stands. So every season he would sign as many mediocre vets he could in order to keep the team afloat.
Something miraculous was going to have to happen for the Bucks to stay in Milwaukee. Adam Silver gave the team a deadline to either have a new stadium underway or relocate. At the same time, Kohl was looking to sell the team. The odds of him finding a bidder who was willing to both buy the team and pay for a new stadium was impossible. This is the tale of how the Milwaukee Bucks franchise was saved.
The Kohl-owned Bucks went into this season with higher hopes than usual. They had Monta Ellis on the roster with Brandon Jennings, a formidable back-court duo on offense. Despite the highlight plays, the Bucks would again finish with the lowly eighth seed. Matched up against Lebron and the Miami Heat, Jennings made the bold prediction that the Bucks would win the series in 6 games. Which then became the rally cry of Bucks fans everywhere. “Bucks in six!”
Despite the optimism, Milwaukee was swept in 4 games. It was at this point I believe Kohl finally saw that this team would never go far as it was currently constructed. That offseason, he let Ellis go, and traded Jennings to the Pistons. In return Milwaukee received young players Khris Middleton and Brandon Knight. For once Kohl opted to take the talented youth over the arguably better player at the time; essentially beginning a rebuild. The upcoming draft would be as important as ever to the Bucks’ history, despite only having the 15th pick.
Many executives viewed the 2013 class as the worst NBA draft class in a long time. No sure-fire stars to be found and not many known players with potential for greatness. It was then former GM John Hammond swung for the fences. Taking a shot on a little-known kid from Greece who played limited minutes in Greece’s second division. Almost no fan had heard of him (myself included) and many voiced their frustration with the pick on social media. Some wondered why we would take such a gamble on this scrawny player when Shane Larkin was still on the board (lol). The pick flew under the radar for the most part as the Bucks began their 2013-2014 season.
As one may have predicted, the Bucks were the worst in the league during this season. A combo of mediocre vets and young players nobody had ever heard of led to them being blown out most games. The only real bright spots were the decent play from Middleton and Knight, and some flashy plays from a kid with a hard to pronounce last name. Giannis only started 23 games that season but showed flashes of greatness throughout. He displayed potential for defensive greatness, and the overall drive to never give up on plays. He shot a respectable 34.7% from the 3 point line as well in his limited attempts. It was with this awful season the Bucks finally flipped the switch and built for the future.
The Big Sale
Prior to the draft, Herb Kohl sold the Bucks to Marc Lasry and Wes Edens. Kohl sold the team under the promise that they would do what they could to keep the team in Milwaukee and pledged $100 million of his own money to go towards the new stadium that Silver gave a deadline for. While this was all well and good, there was still much work to do to make that a reality. Lasry and Edens were only willing to put up $100 million of their own money for the stadium and needed $250 million from the state of WI. If they were not able to secure the public funding they would have to move the team. Being a mediocre franchise in a small market isn’t always the best investment; especially when they need a stadium.
Landing the second overall pick in the draft, the Bucks picked what seemed to be a sure super star in Jabari Parker. Finally the Bucks seemed to have some decent pieces for success in the future. With this new found excitement, the fans began to show up a bit more again. Even if the Bucks lost, fans knew the team was only going to get better from there.
25 games in however, bad luck struck the Bucks and Jabari Parker tore his ACL against the Suns. It was a back and forth game that ended in Middleton’s first ever buzzer beater. Despite the win, the game was over shadowed by Parker’s injury and he would never be the same since.
No Parker in the lineup meant that the rest of the young guys would have to step up big time. And that’s exactly what they did. Middleton and Giannis emerged as the two best players on the roster by the end of the year and the Bucks made the playoffs as the sixth seed. Middleton showcased how talented he was, while Giannis showed us just how good he could be. Giving fans even more optimism considering the Greek Freak was only 20 years old and was already contributing heavily. For once, fans went into the offseason feeling like their team could really become something. But it was also the offseason that would determine whether the Bucks would stay or not.
Now this was the moment of truth. Did the Bucks organization win over enough votes from the Wisconsin State Assembly and the Wisconsin Senate? Prior to the 2014-2015 season many people said that the state should just let the team walk away. They said they were going nowhere and didn’t deserve millions of state funded money. People from Seattle and Las Vegas were rooting for WI to turn it down so they’d have a chance at a franchise. I’d say that if the vote took place a year or two earlier they likely would’ve been voted down.
Instead, the basketball gods finally smiled upon Milwaukee and granted them a young and exciting player. Of which held the key to a potential dynasty if he reached his ceiling. The Bucks became appealing again to not only the hardcore fans, but casual fans who wanted to see this new kid dunk. Attendance grew, jerseys were sold, and the Bucks won back some of the state that gave up on them years ago. With this new wave of excitement spawned mainly by a young Giannis, the Bucks got the votes they needed. For once, they actually owned their future.