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Where do things stand for the Milwaukee Bucks as the team heads toward an important offseason?

The 2015-16 Bucks season was disappointing. There is no disputing that fact.

Even if you carefully managed your expectations for this season and expected the Bucks to finish below .500, you never thought they would only win 33 games. It just didn’t seem possible.

The preseason was filled with the wide-eyed optimism of a fanbase that just saw their team sneak into the playoffs behind some great coaching, veteran savvy, and contributions from a number of promising, young players. The word “if” was found at the beginning of a number of sentences that predicted the Bucks success this season.

If Greg Monroe can be what Zaza Pachulia was last season defensively, the Bucks can…

If Jabari Parker was able to pick up on some of the tricks Jared Dudley used, the Bucks can…

If Michael Carter-Williams can use his first healthy offseason to improve his jumper, the Bucks can…

If Giannis Antetokounmpo is allowed to shoot threes, the Bucks can…

Unfortunately, none of those wishes came to fruition and the Bucks failed to play good basketball for much of the season…until something crazy happened after the All-Star Break.

The second half of the season showcased what many had hoped would become a reality: Giannis Antetokounmpo is a transcendent basketball talent. Not “could be.” Is.

After the All-Star Break, Antetokounmpo became the Bucks’ full-time point guard and unleashed a brand of basketball that has never been seen before. A 7-foot point guard is something that has literally never existed on an NBA floor.

Even if you are still skeptical of the long-term viability of his performance after the All-Star Break, the numbers he put up in the full season have only been matched by other young players 12 times in the history of basketball. Some of the players who have done it before include Charles Barkley, David Robinson, Scottie Pippen, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Michael Jordan.

Simply stated: he’s special. And he has the potential to be one of the league’s five best players. The Bucks are lucky to have him on their roster.

To go alongside him, Milwaukee has a potential 20-point-per-game scorer in Jabari Parker, who, much like Antetokounmpo, blossomed after the All-Star Break, and Khris Middleton, a do-it all-on-both-ends talent who can fit perfectly on any NBA roster.

It’s awfully tough to find a trio of players on any team in the league with a brighter future than these three, but that has now been the case for more than a year.

The real excitement this season came as the trio proved they can actually produce on the court, not just in the hypothetical NBA Finals games Bucks fans produce in their daydreams. Those daydreams, though, help bring us back to the expectations of this past offseason and the disappointments of the team’s actual performance.

While future wins seem to be piling up, they are nothing more than hypothetical. They are things that could happen, things Bucks fans feel should happen, but not things guaranteed in the future and that should make every Bucks fan very anxious.

The path to those wins and those NBA Finals appearances seems so simple now that the Bucks have found their big three. If you have a big three as talented as Antetokounmpo, Parker, and Middleton, how difficult could it be to find the players you need to fill the spots around them?

Well…

The Thunder have been looking for a wing player that can defend and shoot threes since they traded James Harden and still haven’t found that guy.

The Grizzlies have been looking for three-point shooting since they grit-and-grinded their way into the playoffs six seasons ago.

The Clippers still haven’t figured out who best to pair with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan.

The Cavaliers don’t really know if they surrounded their big three with the right role players.

That term, role player, is perhaps a bit derogatory in nature because the roles played by the guys outside of a team’s big two/three/four are so incredibly important to winning playoff games.

“Role” players have swung the last four NBA Finals.

Andre Igoudala’s defense and playmaking put the Warriors over the top of the Cavaliers. Boris Diaw’s insertion into the Spurs’ starting lineup and defense on LeBron James completely changed the 2014 NBA Finals. Ray Allen hit the biggest shot in the history of the NBA Finals in 2013. Shane Battier’s ability to play bigger than his size completely unlocked the Heat’s winning rotations in 2012.

Keep looking back and you’ll continue to find massive contributions from “role” players.

It is time for the Bucks to find the guys that can make a difference on the margins of their roster and it is time for Bucks fans to start anxiously questioning every move the team makes.

There will certainly be a range of emotions felt by Bucks fans in the coming years. Excitement and disappointment won’t disappear as we move forward, but both of those feelings will certainly be accompanied by the underlying anxiety of building a true contender.

Welcome back to the NBA, Milwaukee.

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