The Miami Heat, dark horses in this National Basketball Association “bubble” season, have eliminated the league leading Milwaukee Bucks 4 games to 1 in their best of seven eastern conference semi final on September 8 behind the series long brilliance of Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic. After being labelled a heavy favourite to make it to the NBA finals this season, the Bucks got outplayed in the first 3 games of the series. In the aftermath of a disappointing early playoff exit, the big question of WHAT IS NEXT for the Bucks will definitely take the front end in the days and weeks to come.
Keeping Giannis Antetokounmpo happy would be a major factor in whatever decision the Bucks leadership will do in the offseason. They need to give the reigning, and perhaps back to back, NBA Most Valuable Player a glimpse of things to look forward to next season and this should happen as early as the exit interview process before heading to the break. The Greek Freak’s contract with the Bucks is through the end of next season but if they fail to convince Giannis that Milwaukee is still his best option, they run the risk of losing him for nothing … and teams will definitely be all in trying to secure the services of this young player.
Milwaukee has the capability to give Giannis the supermax and can outbid any other team on a longer term and higher pay contract (max of 5 seasons vs 4 seasons that other teams can offer) but considering an extra season doesn’t matter much when a 4 year deal can potentially yield 160 Million USD anyway, do the Bucks even have an advantage in the summer of 2021 to retain Antetokounmpo’s services? I honestly believe the Bucks are not that bad a team. I just think they need to retool a bit given the changing landscape of the NBA:
- Adjust to small ball: Brook Lopez became somewhat of a liability in the current game of space and speed. A small ball center will help the Bucks’ campaign more than sticking to a traditional 5 at the starting unit. Brook can still be a serviceable big coming off the bench
- Add guard depth. Eric Bledsoe needs a fellow playmaker with playoff experience and a good percentage 3 to join him in the backcourt. Wes Matthews did not shine too much in the playoffs this season
- A couple more shooters won’t hurt
Presenting these ideas to Giannis during the exit interview may increase their chances of at least getting him to reconsider a renewal in Milwaukee. Will he end up elsewhere in due time? A lot of that hinges on the Bucks ability to manoeuvre well in the offseason. I am sure Bucks ownership will pull all stops to retain a generational talent like this in Wisconsin.
The Miami Heat Wave
Who would have expected Miami to go this far in the offseason? Yes they got Jimmy Butler in the offseason of 2019 but many experts thought they are 1-2 pieces away from making a difference this season. Butler’s first season was meant to integrate him to Miami with a plan for a major upgrade this coming offseason but it seems like coach Erik Spoelstra and team president Pat Riley have sped up the plans one season ahead. Miami is waiting for the winner of the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors series but either way, the Heat have the roster, determination and grit to match well with either team.
Bam Adebayo is having a sensational season. He may not have shown as brightly vs the Bucks but he is bound for some success against either the Celtics or the Raptors. I like Miami’s chances against here. They also have Goran Dragic who is playing his best season in his NBA career. Jimmy Butler remains as the team’s prized go to guy. They have their own version of a big 3 that can pull some surprises in the end game.
The biggest factor why the Heat remain competitive is still Pat Riley. His winning culture and mindset continue to guide the franchise to consistent playoff performances throughout the years. Erik Spoelstra has been a very good disciple to Riley and if Miami makes it to the finals this year, they have a good chance to make it all the way.
The Competitive Western Conference
In the West, it seems that the Los Angeles Clippers have one step inside the door of the western conference finals leading the Denver Nuggets 3-1 in their semi final pairing. Kawhi Leonard continues to dominate and lead the team, even stopping a Jamal Murray dunk attempt in game 3 that sealed that game for the Clippers (watch the middle finger block in youtube).
It seems like the bubble is working magic for the Clippers whose 12 man deep line up is working well to their favour in the playoffs.
In the other western conference semis match, the LA Lakers lead the terrible but effective small ball crew of the Houston Rockets 2-1. After getting caught off guard by the intricacies of coach Mike D’Antoni’s speed and space system, it seems like LA coach Frank Vogel made adjustments by letting loose the playoff version of Rajon Rondo which enabled the Lakers to take games 2 and 3.
If it’s going to be an ALL LA western final, I expect this to go all the way to a game 7. It’s a lot more exciting times in Orlando as the NBA goes full gear to a season ending finale. I am glad that the NBA is able to launch a system that is healthy, covid free and a prototype for other sports to follow in our new normal.
(The writer is a senior leader in the Business Process Outsourcing industry managing Philippine countryside operations)