Basketball

Bucks Begin Prepping for Another Title Push

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The 2021 Milwaukee Bucks were one of the most rewarding teams to follow last season. After years of slowly building experience, the Giannis Antetokounmpo-led squad had a few top-tier teammates to help him push the Bucks to their first NBA title since 1971. Throw in a 2-0 series comeback against the Phoenix Suns, and the Bucks’ dynamism and spirit highlight all the best in the NBA.

This season, things took a turn in the playoffs. Though the team managed to finish first in the Central Division, then go on to nab a third-place finish to clinch a playoff run in the Eastern Conference, an injury to Khris Middleton stopped the squad’s momentum during their first playoff series against the Bulls.

Though the team rallied to win the five-game series in Chicago, the loss of Middleton left a tangible absence on the court. After a grueling seven-game series against the Celtics, the Bucks headed home empty-handed.

For fans, it was a disappointing end to what could have been a Finals battle against the Golden State Warriors—and in general for NBA fans who hoped to see a Steph Curry-Antetokounmpo faceoff. However, the Bucks have started focusing on the incoming season, providing fans a few peeks into the team’s 2022-23 roster.

Front Office Prepping

For the most part, the Bucks’ don’t need to worry about leadership. Last year, head coach Mike Budenholzer (known often as ‘Bud’) proved a savvy replacement for Gregg Popovich. Instead, the Bucks’ front office has been focused on business.

Off the court, the Bucks also signed a multi-year partnership with the sports betting group Betway. The company launched in the US in 2021, though they’ve been active in other countries since 2006.

In addition to specialized in-arena branding for the Fiserv Forum, Bucks fans can anticipate a ‘Betway Game Rewind’, which includes the biggest highlight from major games. But not all the franchise’s front office considerations will be so exciting. For the most part, the team needs to focus on budget and its ample salary considerations. The Bucks have a star lineup between Antetokounmpo (who earns $42 million per year), Middleton ($37 million per year), Jrue Holiday ($32 million per year), and Brook Lopez ($13 million). The NBA’s new salary cap is set at $122 million with luxury taxes beginning at $149 million. As such, the Bucks don’t have much wiggle room.

Free Agency Pursuits

With limited draft options and worrying salary cap considerations, the Bucks’ best option moving toward the 2022-23 season is to retain its best players heading into free agency. Obviously, fans would love to see Antetokounmpo, Middleton, Holiday, and Brook take another swing at a Finals run. However, it places the Bucks in an interesting position in terms of bench and reserve talent.

It’s likely that general manager Jon Horst will target free agents Pat Connaughton, Wesley Matthews, and Bobby Portis to stay on the team. Connaughton and Portis both have special player options, which makes retaining them a bit more feasible. Matthews, on the other hand, is an unrestricted free agent.

The (Big Money) Dream Team

One of the main focuses for the Bucks during the offseason will be finding secure reserves for their star lineup. One of their targets will be a shooting guard; if the team finds a way to retain Matthews, then Grayson Allen will likely take his spot on the bench.

Along with reserves for Brook and Middleton, finding a shooting guard reserve will take top priority. This will be to avoid future disasters like the team’s shooting woes following Middleton’s absence from the semi-finals. In other words, the Bucks need solid backups to step up in case of injury.

As mentioned above, the Bucks’ have limited draft power after being penalized by the NBA for a failed Bogdan Bogdanovic trade. Similarly, Horst and Buds’ desire to keep the team’s lineup limits their trading capacity. So, what does this mean for the Bucks? As outlined above, it likely means going over the salary cap… and also passing the luxury tax ceiling.

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