Bucks Lead

Leave Our Core Alone

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Summertime in the NBA is a lot of fun as teams reshuffle their decks, hoping to improve from the previous season. Take the Houston Rockets for example. They added Chris Paul, and rumors are flying fast and furiously about a deal to acquire Carmelo Anthony. Deals like these are the cornerstones of the NBA offseason. Fans enjoy it because everyone turns into a GM, speculating about blockbuster trades and trying to sign free agents to the best deals.

But what if your team doesn’t have cap space?

Well, you have a few options. You could say “screw it” and pay the luxury tax. Not an attractive option for owners with an eye on the margins. You could try to shed some salaries through trades that would probably yield lower talent to free up some cap space to enter into the chase for big talents looking for greener pastures or a change of scenery. Thus the most attractive option for teams that want to improve by jettisoning their dead weight. Unfortunately, there isn’t much of a market for under-producing players. And the riskiest option is to bet the farm, and trade away some solid players in pursuit of another superstar.

I’m a Milwaukee Bucks fan that started following the team with renewed interest after the team was sold to the current owners. Hiring Jason Kidd as head coach only added to my excitement. This guy knows the game inside and out, having played at the highest level as one of the greatest point guards in NBA history. He knows how to win, and how to do so consistently. It takes a team effort, which requires high team chemistry. Since coming to Milwaukee, Kidd has focused on defense and chemistry (and offense too, of course).

Defensive effectiveness is easy to measure. There are dozens of analytics that pundits love to examine: defensive efficiency, Plus/Minus, etc. Team chemistry, however, isn’t such an easy factor to quantify, so it often gets overlooked, or shrugged off as unimportant. After all, these guys are paid millions of dollars to produce, They don’t need to get along, right? Wrong!

Team culture and team chemistry are deeply intertwined, and it’s important to look closely at both. Culture is easier to observe. When one player hits the deck, every Buck comes running over to help him up. It may look nice, but it also sends a message to opponents. It shows that they stand together as one, and have each other’s back. And it doesn’t happen once in a while. It’s every time a player goes down. And it’s taught. Team culture. Another observable example of team culture is the post-game interview. To a man, the Bucks never grab the spotlight. The focus is always redirected to “my teammates”. It’s never about me, myself, or I. Kidd does the same thing in his post-game interviews. He’s reluctant to shine the spotlight on one guy. It’s always about the team as a whole.

So why is team culture a big deal? Replace the word “culture” with “identity” and the picture comes into focus a little more. These are things we do as a member of the Bucks team. We help each other, and we speak with one voice. One common message. A team message. Little things add up. Plus you can’t have good team chemistry without a common unifying identity. It gets everyone on the same page. Consistency is a habit.

Team chemistry is harder to define, but at its core it’s about trust, and trust doesn’t happen overnight. During one post-game interview, a reporter observed that it seems the team is starting to gel. Without missing a beat, Coach Kidd said something like “everyone thinks you can just put these guys into the microwave. It takes time.” The importance of playing together over time cannot be overstated.

It’s also important for team leaders to step up and recognize they’re surrounded by lots of talented guys that can get the job done. My favorite quote from Giannis this season was his warning to Thon Maker, “If you hesitate, I’m gonna punch you!”. Thon can bomb threes, and just needed encouragement from our All-Star to shoot. Giannis trusted him, and Thon got it done. Similarly, in a tense battle against the Celtics, Malcolm Brogdon was the “go to” guy down the stretch. A rookie. Talk about trust! And he got the job done, scoring three baskets and picking up a couple dimes too. This exceptional gameplay led the Bucks to a 103-100 victory over the Boston Celtics.

So what’s my point? Why all this talk about culture, chemistry, and trust? Simple. The Bucks have a strong core. Don’t forget the Bucks defeated the almighty Spurs back in January without Giannis. Oh yeah, and how about those sweet victories against the Cavs and Rockets? Those were gutty, no quit efforts from a talented core.

The only way the Bucks are going to acquire a guy like Kyrie Irving is to gut their core group of guys. A group that came together after Jabari Parker went down for the rest of the season with a second ACL tear the same night Khris Middleton returned. That team went on a remarkable run and found their way into the playoffs. They shocked the league when they pounded the Raptors twice in the playoffs. You want to bust up that core group to bring in a player that wants to leave the Cavs because he wants to be “The Guy”? Someone that’s tired of playing in someone else’s shadow? Really? Do you think a player with that mindset is a good fit here in Milwaukee, where selfless play is the order of the day? I don’t think we should bet the farm that one more superstar is good for the long term future of the Bucks. The Bucks slogan is “own the future”. Bringing in a guy that may not want to stick around if things don’t go his way doesn’t seem like a good decision.

No, leave our core alone. We have good chemistry here, and momentum to build on.

About Bob Holland

Bob was born & raised in Milwaukee, and has been following the Bucks since their first season. He’s the father of two teenage boys that are also diehard basketball fans. Bob predicts the Bucks will win 50 games this year, and make it into the second round of the playoffs.

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