The Milwaukee Bucks have been using the ‘Own the Future’ slogan since the 2014-15 season. That was the second season in the NBA for forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, the first for oft-injured forward Jabari Parker, and the first with coach Jason Kidd at the helm. Milwaukee was coming off of a 15-win season the year before. The slogan was appropriate at the time with today’s core of Antetokounmpo, Parker, Khris Middleton, and John Henson having little experience.
That team went 41-41 and made the playoffs before losing to the Chicago Bulls in the first round. Milwaukee pushed the series to six games and that was an accomplishment against that Chicago squad. The Bucks had plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the future. They were ahead of schedule for competing in the playoffs.
Fast-forward to today and there are still reasons to be optimistic about the future of this team. Antetokounmpo is one of the best young players in the NBA, and likely one of the 10 best players in the world. He’s a superstar in the league and has the potential to one day be the league’s best.
While the reasons to be optimistic still exist, the team isn’t ahead of schedule anymore, rather they’re falling behind.
Antetokounmpo is in his fifth season in the NBA, Middleton and Henson are in their sixth, and newly acquired guard Eric Bledsoe is in his eighth. Sure, they can still be considered young to some degree with Antetokounmpo only 23, but they’ve been around. These guys are veterans. Add in other players like Matthew Dellavedova and Jason Terry that have championship experience and the team doesn’t look nearly as young as the slogan might suggest.
At this point, only reigning Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon, Thon Maker, and Sterling Brown can be considered true young guys in the rotation. When Parker returns from his second torn ACL the case can be made for him as well. He’s technically in his fourth season, but he’s already missed 138 games in his career.
This season was when the Bucks were expected to compete for a top-4 seed in the Eastern Conference. Last year they finished above .500 and took the Toronto Raptors to six games in the first round of the playoffs. This year was supposed to be the year that Milwaukee made that jump from the lovable young team to one that could win a playoff series and push teams like Cleveland, Boston, and Toronto at the top of the conference.
In spurts this team has shown just how good they can be. They’ve beaten Cleveland, Boston, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, and Minnesota this season. The Bucks have shown they can compete at a high level. They just haven’t shown the ability to be consistent in doing so.
A perfect example of this was the recent frustrating loss to Miami on Wednesday. The Bucks were leading the Heat heading into the fourth quarter. It was a game that they had every chance to win against a team that’s very similar to who they are. Miami is a team with less star power than Milwaukee, similar experience. In fact, the post LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh era Heat probably have less experience than the Bucks do.
“I think when you become 25 [years old] or on the 28 [years old] range you tend to think about the game,” said Kidd following the loss to Miami. “We’re talking about kids that are thinking about trying to put the ball in the basket and they all believe they can do it. Until we can think about being a team and making a play and being unselfish, bad things will happen. Good things can happen, we’ve seen it. When we’re selfish we are as bad as anybody. There’s no coaching, there isn’t anything you can do but go through it and learn. And we can keep telling them what’s coming, but the final decision is up to them and right now we have a hard time doing that.”
What Kidd said can be interpreted a number of different ways. It can be viewed as a coach becoming increasingly frustrated with the performance of his team, hiding behind the perception of being a young, inexperienced team, or a shot at Antetokounmpo.
Kidd’s frustrations would be warranted. There is growing angst among fans that Kidd is the problem with the Bucks and needs to go. One could speculate that his seat may be getting warm as the Bucks continue to underachieve. Whether or not Kidd’s job is on the line is up for debate and not the conversation this column is focusing on.
This being a shot at Antetokounmpo could make sense because of the players on the floor for the Bucks in the fourth quarter taking shots, he’s the only one that falls outside of the 25-28-year-old age range that Kidd mentioned. Middleton and Bledsoe were the other two players for Milwaukee to get multiple shots up in the final period. They’re 26 and 28, respectively.
In the fourth quarter, Antetokounmpo was 1-of-5 shooting, including 1-of-2 from behind the arc. He routinely settled for ill-advised mid-range jumpers instead of attacking the rim. He has yet to develop an effective outside shot, and relying on that down the stretch of a close game isn’t what the Bucks are looking for.
The last option, hiding behind the ‘Own the Future’ slogan, is one that is growing old. The Bucks have been ‘Owning the Future’ since 2014-15. When exactly does the future become the present?
“We are a young team, but we can’t use that as an excuse,” Middleton said. “That’s been an excuse for five years, since I’ve been here. I mean, getting better, it comes with experience. I mean, what we’re going through right now we’ve been through it for a long time. At some point that experience has to kick through, hopefully it will this season.”
Middleton is correct. The excuse of being a young team has grown stale. While it would make sense from a marketing standpoint for the Bucks to shed that slogan heading into next season when a new arena in downtown Milwaukee opens up, this team needs to start owning the present day instead of perpetually waiting for the future to arrive.