The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Hinske Huddle: Bucks’ season ends plagued with injury, future in jeopardy

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Milwaukee Bucks forward Khris Middleton (22) watches from the bench with teammate Giannis Antetokounmpo, right, during the second half against the Indiana Pacers in Game 6 in an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Thursday, May 2, 2024, in Indianapolis.

Just three seasons after winning their first NBA championship in fifty years, the Milwaukee Bucks might be falling back into league irrelevancy.

A brutal series against the Indiana Pacers saw superstars Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard out with injuries, remaining star Khris Middleton limping his way through the series and starter Bobby Portis getting ejected just 10 minutes into game four. As a result, the Bucks lost in six games and have dropped out in the first round of the playoffs for the second year in a row.

Three years ago, the Bucks sat on top of the league. 65,000 fans packed every corner of Milwaukee’s “Deer District” outside Fiserv Forum just to be close to where their beloved Bucks won the coveted 2021 NBA championship. 2019 Coach of the Year, Mike Budenholzer, proved his worth after being labeled as a coach who came up short when it mattered most. Antetokounmpo became the first player in franchise history to win multiple MVPs and a championship since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

The Bucks also proved a “small market” team could succeed. Milwaukee is ranked 20th out of 28 NBA cities in population size and has the third-smallest NBA arena in terms of capacity. Yet, they built a championship team in a league whose victors tend to be larger cities. The key to their success was retaining their stars, as Antetokounmpo and Middleton had proven their loyalty (despite handsome offers from other teams) since they first arrived in Milwaukee in 2013.

“Oh yeah. I want to be here,” Antetokounmpo told TIME in 2017. “There are not a lot of players that have (spent their entire career with one team). Kobe (Bryant), Tim Duncan and Dirk (Nowitzki). I want to be one of them. I think I can do it.”

The fan base thrived on this loyalty, buying into the small market narrative while their players competed with a chip on their shoulder, using their underdog label as fuel to reach new heights. Finally, the players, coaches and fans were rewarded with the franchise’s first NBA championship after a half-century drought.

Since the Bucks reached their pinnacle, however, things have gone awry. In the 2022 conference semifinals, they lost to the Boston Celtics in a seven-game thriller. In the first round last season, they were quickly shut down by the Miami Heat in five games after Antetokounmpo was injured in game one. Shortly after, Budenholzer was fired and replaced by rookie head coach Adrian Griffin. Antetokounmpo was eligible for an extension with the team but did not move forward with it.

“I would not be the best version of myself if I don’t know that everybody’s on the same page, everybody’s going for a championship, everybody’s going to sacrifice time away from their family like I do,” Antetokounmpo told the New York Times after electing not to sign the extension. “And if I don’t feel that, I’m not signing.”

After just 43 games this season, when the Bucks possessed the second-best record in the league, Griffin was shockingly fired after Chris Mannix reported that several Bucks veterans had lost faith in the coach, including Antetokounmpo.

Griffin was immediately replaced by veteran head coach and 2008 NBA champion Doc Rivers. Unlike the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers who fired head coach David Blatt midseason despite having the conference’s best record and went on to win the championship with their replacement head coach, the Bucks have been sent packing in the first round of the playoffs for the second straight year.

The coaching change made no difference. The Bucks are stuck, and they are now at risk of losing arguably their greatest player in franchise history and starting from square one; a long way down from championship pandemonium at the Deer District, now a distant memory.”


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