MILWAUKEE — The NBA offseason was a three-ring circus, full of blockbuster trades and stars taking their talents elsewhere as the league looks for ways to compete with the Golden State Warriors.
But while the Boston Celtics bolstered their lineup with the addition of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward; the Oklahoma City Thunder added Carmelo Anthony and Paul George; and the Houston Rockets acquired Chris Paul, the Milwaukee Bucks decided to bank on their existing roster with the hope one of the league’s youngest squads could take its next developmental step in the Eastern Conference.
“It’s intentional,” new Bucks general manager Jon Horst said. “We saw a team that was the youngest or second-youngest in the league last year. ... We knew we were going to come into this year with a top-10 type player on our team with a still extremely young core and said, ‘Why would we change this?’ ”
It could be argued the Bucks missed an opportunity to turn themselves into a legitimate powerhouse, but within the locker room, the players have embraced the stand-pat approach.
“I think that gives us an advantage as a team because we don’t need to take that step where we try to figure out things,” said All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo, who begins his fifth season. “The same players are back and I think the front office did a great job with that. That gives us an advantage because in the first game we play people we’re going to be ready.
“We’ve played together for a year now so we know what we’ve got to do.”
Antetokounmpo will again be the Bucks’ centerpiece heading into tonight’s season opener at Boston. He led the team in all five major statistical categories, earned Most Improved Player honors and is a candidate for the Most Valuable Player award.
He won’t be able to do it alone. He’ll need plenty of help from his supporting cast which will again feature Malcolm Brogdon running the point, Tony Snell and Khris Middleton on the wing and Thon Maker in the middle.
Maker and Brogdon could be the lynchpins to the team’s success this season. The two 2016 draft selections had strong rookie campaigns — Brogdon emerged as the starting point guard and was named Rookie of the Year while Maker played his way into the starting lineup for the stretch run — and if they can take the next logical steps in their growth, they could provide the push the Bucks need to surpass the 50-victory threshold for the first time since 2001.
Maker spent his offseason bulking up and will have 10 extra pounds of muscle as he bangs around down low against opposing big men.
“Playing this position, I’m going against bigger guys, stronger guys and, obviously, heavier guys,” Maker said. “So for me having to go against the weight that they hold, trying to hold my ground, it’s kind of putting a lot of pressure on my joints.”
Brogdon hopes to grow into more of the leadership role usually associated with point guards.
“I think it’s expected of me from coach Kidd and from my teammates,” Brogdon said. “As a point guard, you have to be able to command people a little bit. But you also have to be able to listen as well. Those are the ways I’m going to continue to learn and continue to build.”
Milwaukee likely won’t surprise anybody this season after it surged down the stretch and climbed into the sixth spot in the East before falling to Toronto in a six-game, first-round playoff series. Most experts have pegged them as one of the top teams in the East, behind the powerhouses in Boston and Cleveland, so expectations will be higher this time around.
“That’s just a part of the gig,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. “For us, we worked extremely hard to put ourselves in this position of (having) the expectations, but being the second-youngest team in the league we still have to take steps in the right direction.”
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