The Bucks' surprising playoff appearance offers something to build on, but championship contention is more than one offseason away.
“It was an accident. It’s not a good team. It’s a team that tried to be bad and then found something. And in that mix, because they were in the Eastern Conference, they were good enough to make the playoffs. I call them the Suns of the East. Do they have some pieces that could be interesting? Sure. Are they really a good team? Not really. If you’re in those organizations, you can’t trick yourself into having these expectations that are unfounded.”
That was an excerpt from a recent podcast with Zach Lowe and Amin Elhassan. Though this quote from Elhassan was a description of the Toronto Raptors, no one could blame you if you thought they were talking about the Bucks.
For this offseason, it is important for Milwaukeeans to keep the above message in mind. The Bucks were not trying to be good this season; it just sort of happened. Although much of this had to do with the Bucks’ great defense and, well, playing in the Eastern Conference, no one can take away the success the Bucks had this season.
Though the Bucks will need to build on last season’s success, it’s important to remember that they are not one, or two, or even three years away from being a championship-caliber team. The team has likely just started a multi-year process to becoming a true contender and that can only happen if everything goes right.
True contenders are teams that win 55 or more games in a season and have home court advantage for multiple rounds in the playoffs, not teams that sneak into the third or fourth spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs. 55 wins is a bit of a magic number as every NBA Finals Winner in the last 10 years has won 55 games, except for the 2006 Miami Heat. There have also been just 48 teams that have won 55 games in the last decade.
Winning in the NBA is extremely difficult. The odds are stacked against you, especially if you were once bad. Teams that won 34 or fewer games in a season only won 55 games in any of the next 10 seasons about 10 percent of the time.
With their success this season, the Bucks have started to create an outline for building a team that might one day win 55 games, but even the outline for that dream squad is incomplete. Here’s what we know about the vision for this team thus far: It will be long and athletic. It will play aggressive defense. And it will try to push the tempo.
Head coach Jason Kidd has commented publicly on the team’s need to “pass the ball with Spurs-like precision” and add more shooters, but at this point, both of those things are more theoretical than practical. The Bucks will also hope for continued development from Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker, but, for now, both players personify hope and potential more than concrete reasons the Bucks can become a championship team.
Make no mistake, there is a lot to be excited about in Milwaukee. But this team is not a move — or even a summer full of moves — away from becoming a contender in 2016. There is nothing they could realistically do this summer that could catapult them to the top of the Eastern Conference.
This season represents a very exciting, first step on an extremely long and precarious path that could lead to a NBA championship. Unfortunately, this offseason represents the first of many opportunities the Bucks will have to potentially veer off that path.