From LeBron James’ superteam machinations to James Harden forcing his way into a Big 3 in Brooklyn, there has been a widely held belief there’s only one way to build a winner in the new NBA.
The Bucks are bidding to blow up that narrative.
“There’s a lot of good fortune there for both Khris [Middleton] and Giannis [Antetokounmpo] to end up here. And now being together for seven, eight years that they’ve been teammates and building this together and trying to get to this point,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “It speaks to being able to build championship-level teams different ways. There’s not just one way to make it to the NBA Finals.”
Budenholzer credited general manager Jon Horst — who started as director of basketball operations in 2008 — for finding the likes of two-time NBA MVP Antetokounmpo with the 15th pick in 2013 and trading for Middleton in 2013, a year after the little-used rookie had been drafted in the second round by the Pistons. And Budenholzer praised ownership for a slow rebuilding so rarely seen in the league.
“Jon Horst and our ownership and Giannis and Khris, the stick-to-itiveness, the belief to build around those two guys, along with a lot of good fortune,” Budenholzer said.
That goes in direct contrast to the way Heat president Pat Riley landed James and Chris Bosh in one summer to turn Miami into a superteam, or James getting Anthony Davis to join him on the Lakers. Or how player empowerment got Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to team up, then to lure Harden to Brooklyn.
Milwaukee is showing a winning team doesn’t have to be built by single free-agent splash or trade in a big-market coastal city, but can be put together with a slow burn in a small market. Or at least they’re trying.
“You’ve got to give credit to Jon Horst over the years, adding in pieces that could be great building blocks for us going forward. It started five, six years ago,” Middleton said. “We’ve been in the conversation for three, four years now with the pieces that he’s brought in to help us keep working and growing our game.”
The Suns acknowledged the Bucks were simply the more aggressive team in Game 3, getting to loose balls and running their shooters off the line.
“They took it to us. No other way to look at it. They played with a great deal of force, 50/50 balls, attacking the paint. We had spurts of playing the way that we play, but certainly not as consistent as we needed to,” said Suns coach Monty Williams, who shouldered the blame for not getting his team prepared for what was coming.
“Yeah, more at myself, because the messaging wasn’t where it needed to be to get our guys to do it. Our guys know it, but I was thinking about me, my messaging to the team and was that adequate enough. … On my part, when I look at how we prepared to get ready for this game, I was like, man, I have to do better.”
Chris Paul praised Suns assistant Willie Green, who is expected to get the Pelicans’ head-coaching job.
“I’m a little biased, man. That’s my guy right there,” Paul said. “Not just my teammate, that’s a brother to me. I know he deserves it. He’ll be the most humble, prepared coach you’ve ever seen in your life.”