Bucks

Bucks Fight for Cutting Down Empowered Nets

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“You never know what you’ll see coming in the future of the NBA.”

This statement may seem like a lame bromide from a sleepy announcer. However, it’s a wisdom nugget from supposed grump Kevin Durant. Athletes act more sensibly in real life than on Twitter, and KD brings a sober mentality to his new team. With the addition of James Harden, some fans expected a Nets runaway to the Finals. However, the Bucks fought to a near-miss Tuesday in Brooklyn. By examining the teams’ paths to May 2021, fans will understand how the Bucks have a pair of antlers on a Finals coin’s flip.

Irving, Durant Stake Eastern Ownership

The whirlwind 2019 offseason permanently altered the NBA’s power balance. Kawhi Leonard sabotaged Toronto to the Clippers’ benefit, and Anthony Davis bolstered the Lakers while demolishing New Orleans. The most significant move, however, was KD and Kyrie Irving jointly deciding on Brooklyn.

Experts viewed 2019-2020 as a trial heat, as Durant faced a probable rehab season. Irving struggled with a shoulder impairment before a January return, seemingly setting up a delectable run. Unfortunately, his shoulder still ached, so he decided on season-ending surgery.

Brooklyn slumped to 30-34 entering the pandemic suspension, then faced seemingly insurmountable obstacles in Orlando. With numerous injuries, Brooklyn was a 19-point dog to Milwaukee. Somehow, the Nets clawed to a halftime lead, and coach Mike Budenholzer quickly conceded defeat to save starter minutes. Realistically, though, Brooklyn didn’t have enough talent for more than a feel-good, modest run. The defending champion Raptors quickly swept the Nets, ending a challenging campaign.

Parallel Disappointment

It’s easy to dismiss the Nets’ previous struggles as irrelevant to Milwaukee. Consider, though, how frustratingly the Bucks’ 2020 season ended. Milwaukee blitzed hapless foes repeatedly, only to lose any mojo with the virus.

Before the restart, a seemingly foolish channel 12 reporter challenged coach Bud about momentum. Our coach shrugged off the comment, but casual fans have insight insiders can’t see. The Bucks, who hadn’t clinched the top seed, played poorly. Giannis’s ejection ruined any good feelings, and a stunning game-one loss to Orlando shattered any invincibility illusion.

Milwaukee eventually defeated the Magic, but a superiorly focused Heat franchise ended their season. Before Tuesday’s meeting, Brooklyn bolstered roster talent. Meanwhile, Giannis Antetokounmpo focused on elevating his MVP form.

Durant, Harden Serve Warnings

Often, fans laugh at Durant for social media mistakes. However, in his preseason comments, he expressed himself professionally. When a reporter asked about promotions, a common concern for moving stars, he stated, “if I play well on the court, that stuff will follow.” Perhaps not the bulletin-board junk fans expected.

When another scribe asked a leading question about Durant needing a new challenge (because winning two titles must be so easy), KD didn’t bite. He calmly explained, “every day is a challenge to stay at this level.” Durant’s comments reflect well on the NBA but cause Milwaukee concern. The Longhorn is no narcissistic mercenary but rather a talented player comfortable in his chosen environment.

Similarly, James Harden has an uneven reputation. Some fans detest his alleged womanizing and temperament. Consider, though, his Nets press conference. He wanted “a fresh start with unbelievable talent.” That thought makes sense with the Rockets’ disarray. Now, “it’s not about money, it’s not about anything except winning at the highest level.”

After 11 years of championship failure, one can understand his thinking. Also, the Sun Devil claimed, “we’re [the Nets] all unselfish, all willing players; we play basketball the right way.” Just coach-talk? With his relaxed body language and even voice, Harden expressed himself sincerely. If Durant and Harden find comfort in a new home, the Nets will be challenging to defeat four of seven times.

Giannis’s Poise

How does the new Nets’ situation compare to today’s Bucks? The 26-year-old (and two-time MVP!) youth speaks softly. He leads by example and still may be too deferential to teammates to win games. Before his current excellence, he discussed making his peers better while dominating individually.

His comments about being a life MVP seem hokey now that he’s won the basketball awards. However, note the respect he gives Bud. “I think Mike is a great coach, and he’s the right guy for us; he’s one of the best coaches in the league…he take [sic] a team that didn’t have enough talent and got them to 60 wins. So I can’t wait and see what he can do with our team.” Frustrations occurred, however.

Bud has difficulty making adjustments for the playoffs, but he won’t lose his job with the owners tied up with mega-contracts. Giannis, however, has genuine respect for authority that’s uncommon for players of his talent. Still, as seen by the Bucks’ whirlwind offseason, there’s a bit of LeEgo in him. Consider how Jon Horst traded two important teammates for Jrue Holiday and almost landed Bogdan Bogdanović in another mega-trade.

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Is Giannis micromanaging? Hopefully! When a star becomes an integral part of making moves, it’s a sign of respect from the front office. The Freak’s insistence on more playing time for brother Thanasis, true, led to inconsistent and controversial results on the wood. Notably, the elder Greek God didn’t play a second Tuesday, indicating Bud maintains control of the team.

Uncertain, but Entertaining, Future

Worries about the Nets may be overblown. While fans criticize KD for Twitter uh-ohs, he’s a sensible player with complex motivations. Bucks Lead won’t speculate on the reasons behind Kyrie Irving’s struggles, but thankfully for basketball, he nears a return. Despite Brooklyn’s talent, Khris Middleton arrived within inches of a spectacular upset in an empty Brooklyn arena (3:43).

With New York in favor of more restrictive quarantine measures, Nets supporters may not help their team in May. Durant and Harden are ready. Khris and Giannis found comfort in Wisconsin. If Middleton can make the tiniest adjustment next time, the Bucks will cut down the Nets, conquering an exemplar of player empowerment.

Follow us on Twitter @BucksLead for the latest Bucks news and insight. 

About Jeffrey Newholm

"Jammin Jeff" Newholm had been a basketball fanatic since his high school days, and remained a casual fan as a student in Whitewater. Wishing to check in as an active participant, he also completed a writing certificate program at UWM. He loves seeing Bucks games more than any other activity in hometown Milwaukee and especially screaming really really loudly to get someone to miss a free throw. Twitter: @JeffreyNewholm

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