For the next 10 days, we’ll be answering one key question surrounding the 2021-22 NBA season. Here’s question one:
What will be the biggest challenge for the Bucks as they attempt to repeat?
This is one of those big, bigger and biggest things, with multiple challenges to Milwaukee’s hopes for back-to-back titles trying to top each other. And we’re not even counting sheer statistical improbability, which shows only three of the past 19 NBA champions winning again the next year (the Lakers did it in 2010, the Heat did it in 2013 and the Warriors did it in 2018).
The Bucks’ roster will look different and as a result, so will their play on the court. No, don’t worry – Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday are locked in and “Bob-BY! Bob-BY!” Portis is back. But swapping out P.J. Tucker, Bryn Forbes and Jeff Teague with George Hill, Semi Ojeleye, Rodney Hood and Grayson Allen changes up performances, tactics and chemistry.
That’s big. Even bigger is what the impact of winning the franchise’s first title in 50 years – taking care of the business the Bucks began in earnest in 2018-19 – will have now that they reached that ultimate goal. Oh, they’ll talk about holding themselves accountable and finding the same edge with which they pushed through the 2021 playoffs. But human nature is powerful, and Milwaukee might miss the urgency it had pushing them last time.
The biggest challenge, though, will come from the competition, most of whom got better in the offseason. Brooklyn and Miami dialed up a Finals-or-bust approach to 2021-22. Atlanta and Boston should be better as well, with their best players developing as they head toward their prime. Then there is Philadelphia, which could take a big step if it plays the Ben Simmons trade imperative right. And we’re not even addressing the teams out West that could block them in the championship round.
Know this, too: Getting as “lucky” as the Buck did against the Nets – James Harden’s and Kyrie Irving’s injuries, Kevin Durant’s shoe size on that Game 7 not-quite-3-pointer – will motivate their foes, not intimidate them.
• Can the Suns put together a return trip to The Finals? (Sept. 16)
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