After years of falling short, the Milwaukee Bucks are NBA Champions. With this championship came significant praise for the Bucks, especially for superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Bucks won their championship “the right way” by not forming a super team. Optimistic fans appear to believe that more superstars will follow Giannis’ example, saving the NBA from its problem with parity. While Giannis deserves all the credit in the world for what he accomplished this season, he cannot “save” the NBA. This has nothing to do with Giannis and everything to do with the rest of the League.
Bad Management Makes Super Teams
As Bucks fans, we can sympathize with other small market teams. Until recently, the Bucks were in the same position. The Bucks, however, made the necessary changes to overcome the disadvantages of being in a small market. Meanwhile, other small market teams remain stagnant. This stagnation frustrates players and often drives them to leave for greener pastures.
Although most players that leave small market teams are painted as the villains, this is the wrong narrative. NBA players can only keep playing ball as long as their bodies allow it. No player knows when their career will end. Therefore, there is an understandable unwillingness to wait around while their front office figures things out. Ultimately, the key difference between the Milwaukee Bucks and most small market teams is Giannis. They made it clear to Giannis that they shared the goal of winning a championship. Jon Horst made the necessary high risk/high reward trades and acquisitions to make the team better. Moreover, the Bucks’ ownership paid their players, going so far as to enter the luxury tax. Until other teams in the NBA show that level of commitment, superstars will keep leaving to team up with other superstars in major markets.
Every move in the NBA carries some degree of risk. Unfortunately, small market teams lose gambles more often than they win them. Despite this, small market teams will never achieve anything until they take significant risks. Drafting Giannis was a significant risk for the Bucks. So was trading the future away for Jrue Holiday and PJ Tucker. Fortunately, these risks worked out for the Bucks.
AP Photo/Eric Gay
Large Markets Will Always Reassert Themselves
As we recently learned in free agency, the large markets will always find ways to reassert themselves. Whether it’s through market appeal or sheer spending power, teams like the Lakers, Nets, and Heat will always find ways to sign free agents. With the start of free agency, we’ve seen players get signed to highly lucrative deals in markets like Miami, L.A., and Brooklyn.
Even the Bucks, whose ownership spends more than the average small market team, won’t spend the type of money the large markets just spent. The NBA’s soft cap will always be a double edged sword. Without it, small market teams will never be able to compete, but with it large market teams flex their spending power to retain dominance.
Fans can debate the efficacy of these high dollar signings, but even if they don’t work on the court, they still serve to narrow the pool of available talent for other teams. The 2021 playoffs produced a rare super team free Finals, but in the end the traditional super team magnets proved they’re not going anywhere.
Ultimately, Giannis Antetokounmpo showed the other superstars of the NBA that it is possible to remain with a small market team and win a championship. That does not mean that every other small market team will follow Milwaukee’s example. Every team expresses a desire to win, but words are cheap. Although Giannis is loyal to the organization, it was the front office’s actions that ultimately secured his contract extension and this championship. Hope is a beautiful thing, but actions win championships. As long as other small market teams refuse to spend money and take intelligent risks, their stars will keep leaving for super teams and Giannis will remain the NBA’s unicorn.
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