Milwaukee Bucks: Considering an end date for current core’s contention window

MILWAUKEE, WI - MAY 23: (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WI - MAY 23: (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Milwaukee Bucks have ascended to the pinnacle of the NBA over the past two years, but how long can their current core be expected to stay there?

With the 2019-20 NBA season currently on pause, that allows all of us an opportunity to zoom out and assess the bigger picture of the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Bucks have undergone a phenomenal transformation since Mike Budenholzer was hired as head coach, jumping from first round playoff exits, to 60 wins and Conference Finals appearances.

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The fact that Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s game has reached new heights in that time, making him a likely soon-to-be back-to-back MVP winner looms large over everything too. Particularly as the prospect of a contract extension means there’s a very realistic path to imagining the Bucks being really good for a long time.

Even if Giannis opts to put pen to paper and cement a long-term stay in Milwaukee, though, the Bucks will find out sooner than later that contending teams have a definite shelf life.

When that day comes for the Bucks, they may well be in a fortunate position of rebuilding around an in his prime Antetokounmpo, but that will also bring incredible pressure, and it may prove to be true that the window to contend for a championship is open for a much shorter period of time than Milwaukee’s fans would like to imagine.

For precedent, they need look no further than the Bucks’ greatest team from back in the 1970s. From acquiring Oscar Robertson and going from challenger to champion in 1971, to losing the Finals and seeing it all start to crumble in 1974, that formidable Bucks squad really only had a four-year window. If Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had opted to stay, they could have built something new around him, but that proved not to be the case.

Therefore, for as much attention as is devoted to Giannis as the focal point of the Bucks’ prospects of success, the influence and timelines of those around him can’t be dismissed.

On that front, it seems safe to say that the window for this current iteration of the Bucks to contend is likely open for just a couple of seasons beyond whatever the current campaign ends up being.

In part, that’s because age isn’t necessarily on the side of many of Milwaukee’s most crucial cogs. Being one of the oldest teams in the NBA certainly has its downsides, even if success this season may well have been spurred on by experience and veteran know-how.

George Hill stands out as the most obvious key cog in the Bucks’ machine who may well find himself against the clock. Hill is now 34 years old, and his contract holds only a partial guarantee for the 2021-22 season. The Bucks know very well that they’ll have to monitor how his game ages over that span, but the best case would still likely be just two more seasons beyond the current campaign.

Shifting our focus to the starting lineup, Brook Lopez has been a key cog in how the Bucks have reworked their system on both ends under Budenholzer, yet he is 32 years old now. Lopez is under contract until 2022-23, but how his game ages may well be tied to whether he can rediscover some of the shooting touch that clearly abandoned him this season.

Eric Bledsoe also factors into this discussion. Bledsoe may well be 31 before the next season starts, and he enters his 11th pro campaign. Given how so much of his game is predicated on his physical attributes, there’s certainly reason to be wary about how he might look by the time his contract expires in 2022-23. Discovering a serviceable shot late in his career certainly wouldn’t hurt Bledsoe.

And then beyond those key cogs, there are the various role players who will move into different stages of their careers, if not even retire, in the not so distant future. Between Kyle Korver (39), Marvin Williams (almost 34), Wesley Matthews (almost 34), and Robin Lopez (32), there are multiple Bucks approaching or already in the home stretch.

It’s impossible to tell right now what will happen for the Bucks beyond this group. If Giannis stays, they’ll still have one of the NBA’s true top tier players, Khris Middleton could have another couple of serviceable seasons, and Donte DiVincenzo looks like an increasingly safe bet to be a key contributor in the long-term.

But Milwaukee doesn’t have a stash of high value assets or a group of high potential young players who are only waiting for their opportunity.

So much of the talk of ticking clocks surrounding the Bucks has centered on Antetokounmpo’s decision, but even if that works out for Milwaukee, they’ll be very much up against it if they’re to really make the most out of the team’s current core.

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It doesn’t have to spell a certain end if draft picks can be made to count, and the cap space that eventually opens up can be put to good use, but the ever-shrinking window for the current squad is something fans should be aware of. And something the front office needs to keep its eye on.