There are plenty of things that make the Milwaukee Bucks charming. It could be their small market/city appeal. Milwaukee might be a bustling metropolis now but it'll always have that small-town identity. This is a state that's named its sports teams after cheese, the guys that make beer, and the cute animals that cross their roads sometimes.
You can also call it a small-town veil since it's the same thing that's allowed the Bucks to avoid intense scrutiny. They were, after all, the defending champs and didn't even make it out of the second round despite putting up a good fight against the Boston Celtics. Some of that’s because there was a clear handicap – Khris Middleton sprained an MCL before the Celtics series began. Some of that’s because their superstar, Giannis Antetokounmpo, is so damn lovable that he’s become Teflon to anything the media throws at him.
But were the Bucks disappointing? Did they need to be more scrutinized for letting a peak Giannis season go to waste? After all, the Bucks didn’t really go all out to keep some of the pieces that helped them win the 2021 title. They let PJ Tucker walk in free agency. It’s no coincidence that Tucker’s Miami Heat have thrived in the playoffs this year with him in tow.
They didn't add anyone who made an impact, whether in free agency or through the trade deadline. They managed to skate in the tough upper half of the Eastern Conference throughout the regular season, weathering some early injuries to Jrue Holiday, Antetokounmpo, and Middleton to still finish third in the conference.
Forcing the Celtics to seven games should be considered an accomplishment—given Middleton’s absence—but they got thoroughly exposed in their last two games of the season. Giannis was playing like Shaquille O’Neal, only he didn’t have a Kobe. Not that Middleton would have been Kobe, it’s that it became painfully obvious how shallow the Bucks get after Antetokounmpo and Holiday. Their shooters all of a sudden couldn’t make their shots. Bobby Portis couldn’t bully guys down low and Brook Lopez looked very washed.
Giannis turns 28 next season. The Bucks have him under contract until he's 32 and the Greek Freak has genuinely shown zero signs of wanting to leave Milwaukee. That, however, shouldn’t mean the Bucks’ front office can get complacent. This offseason could decide how much the Bucks can compete for the rest of Giannis’ prime. They have some tough decisions to make regarding upcoming free agents Pat Connaughton, Lopez, and Portis. They aren’t in danger of losing a superstar, but they could lose big pieces that dictate the ethos of their team. If they don’t bring those guys back, who do they bring in? How do they replace the size and production those guys bring to their position?
This is one of the trappings of playing in a small market. One championship means so much to the city that winning just one often leads to complacency. This is exactly what happened to Dallas after winning the 2011 NBA Finals. For most fanbases, staying good after winning it all is enough of a reprieve, given how grueling the grind for a title is. Being good is, after all, better than bottoming out and collapsing immediately.
But a star as young and gifted as Giannis shouldn’t be relegated to just carrying a team to the middle rounds of the playoffs. The expectations of someone like him are similar to that of Michael Jordan or LeBron James. He’s special. And the Bucks would be wasting so much by not swinging for the fences to get him enough help every season.