As a lifelong Milwaukee Bucks fan, I was in a state of euphoria early last week.
Bucks GM John Horst knew he had to shake up his roster if the world’s best player and two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo was going to sign an extension to stay with the team or bid out his services to 29 other very eager suitors. On Sunday, the Greek Freak became eligible to sign a supermax extension worth as much as $250 million.
Milwaukee rolled to the best record in the NBA the past two regular seasons but floundered as the top seed in back-to-back playoff appearances. Horst knew he couldn’t stand pat, and if he did, Giannis was as good as gone.
Last Monday, Horst made a major move and a significant upgrade at point guard by trading for Jrue Holiday of the New Orleans Pelicans.
Holiday, 30, averaged 19.1 points and 6.7 assists per game in 2019-20. The 6-foot-3 point guard takes over for Eric Bledsoe in directing the show, and that’s a welcome relief for Bucks fans. Bledsoe was serviceable in the regular season but disappeared in the playoffs.
I’m so relieved I no longer have to watch him put his head down, drive to the basket, realize he doesn’t have a shot and then throw one up anyway. The Bledshow jumped the shark two years ago.
Then, on top of the Holiday trade, came news that the Bucks had made a sign-and-trade deal with the Sacramento Kings for Bogdan Bogdanovic, a sniper who would’ve fit perfectly into a starting lineup that would’ve featured Giannis, Holiday, Brook Lopez and Khris Middleton.
Many pundits, myself included, believed that would’ve been the best starting five in the NBA.
Unfortunately, that deal fell apart apart Wednesday night and is now being investigated by the NBA for potential tampering violations since the Bucks technically were unable to negotiate a sign-and-trade with Bogdanovic until he officially became a restricted free agent Friday.
If only the Bucks and Horst had waited until Friday to release details of the trade. It also might’ve helped that at some point Bodganovic was a.) made aware that he was actually on the trading block and b.) had any real interest in coming to Milwaukee.
When the Bogdanovic deal fell through and the Bucks became the laughingstock of the league for tampering—even though LeBron James has been doing it for years (think Anthony Davis)—Horst was forced to try and save face with the start of free agency Friday. Milwaukee was silent on Friday except for re-signing reserve Pat Connaughton to a one-year deal with an option for a second year. Connaughton had his moments last season but certainly not enough for the Greek Freak to say, “OK, now I’ll stay.”
So when Saturday morning rolled around and I delved into Twitter world, I was pleasantly surprised to see the Bucks had made not one but two free agent moves. First up was power forward Bobby Portis—most recently with the New York Knicks. The 6-10 Portis was originally drafted by the Chicago Bulls, and I loved his game coming out of Arkansas. He plays hard on both ends of the court, rebounds well and is a decent outside shooter. He should be a perfect fit for the Bucks’ second unit.
Following the signing of Portis, the Bucks announced a three-year deal with point guard D.J. Augustin. The 12-year veteran averaged 10.5 points and nearly five assists a game last season for the Orlando Magic. He’ll fill George Hill’s role from the last two seasons—running the point with the second unit.
Like most Bucks fans, losing Bogdanovic to a silly tampering rule that so many players and organizations abuse stings, but at least Horst didn’t sit and cry over spilled milk. He knows what’s at stake.
Giannis can’t do it on his own, despite winning both the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards last season. Middleton is a nice player, but he’s not in the elite category yet. Lopez and Holiday are both great defensively and adequate enough on the offensive end. Maybe Donte DiVincenzo—who was clearly miffed at being part of the original Bogdanovic trade deal—steps into a starting role.
Whatever happens between now and the start of the season, one thing is clear. The Bucks appear to be a better team than the one that exited the playoffs with a whimper last season. Let’s hope it’s enough to keep the Greek Freak where he belongs. A Milwaukee Buck for life!