Milwaukee Bucks: The Future is Getting Further Away

After Jabari Parker sustained a second torn ACL, it was hard not to feel as if the Milwaukee Bucks’ future has been put on hold.

February 8, 2017 will forever be a day of infamy in the hearts of Milwaukee Bucks fans everywhere. In a game against the Miami Heat, Jabari Parker looked to plant on his left knee, and it all went wrong. The knee jerked back before he fell to the floor, and a day later an MRI confirmed the news that nobody wanted to hear.

Jabari had torn his ACL. Again.

With Parker looking at a 12-month recovery, the Bucks face a journey ahead of them with the potential to further derail the franchise from achieving their ultimate goal; winning a championship.

Since the 2014-15 season, the Milwaukee Bucks have been going with the slogan of “Own the Future.” Coming into that season, there was a massive overhaul for the franchise. Senator Herb Kohl had sold the team to a new ownership group, Jason Kidd arrived from Brooklyn amidst a wave of controversy, and Jabari was drafted with the second overall pick to be the cornerstone of the franchise.

Own the Future was a slogan that was meant to rejuvenate Milwaukee basketball. After facing season after season of, at best, getting a low seed in the playoffs and being booted after the first round, the city was ready for a new way of doing things. However, the Bucks were at the bottom of the league in attendance, and had just come off of a 15-win season. Getting the city excited about basketball would be a hard task to accomplish.

Creating a slogan that would make the focus on the long-term goals of the team led to the term “Future.” “Own” was a term that would help to show that Bucks fans could be involved. Buying season tickets, and tickets in general, would let the fans experience the organization’s attempt to build a championship contender from the ground-up. In other words, a part of this future could be yours.

More than a simple slogan, Own the Future became the moniker for the entire organization. Whenever sports media would reference the Bucks, they would reference how bright the future was.

Even the brightest of futures also remain uncertain, though.

The original plan for this team was to build around Jabari. When you draft a player with the second overall pick in a draft, it is usually for the purpose of starting over. Unless you come into the pick via trade, a team earns that positioning by being terrible in the previous season. In the case of the 2014 NBA draft, the Bucks had the second overall pick because they had won only 15 games the season prior.

Building a team from scratch is a very daunting task, but the Bucks’ organization found their centerpiece in Parker. Heralded as the next LeBron James in high school, putting pieces around Parker would be the fastest way for the Bucks to get to the upper echelon of the league. However, an ACL injury in his rookie season would set the franchise back.

Losing Parker against Phoenix on that night in December of 2014 put the fluid and unpredictable nature of even the best made plans into clear focus for the Bucks.

Parker may have been drafted to be the team’s primary option, but it’s a 14th overall pick, Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has flourished even more. The Bucks could never have fully anticipated the rise of their Greek star, just as Parker’s ACL injuries and Khris Middleton‘s hamstring tear couldn’t have been accounted for in the grander scheme of the team’s journey.

That is what made watching Parker’s face as his teammates helped him off the court so emotional. Seeing a young man who has already been through the grueling process of coming back from an ACL injury, now being faced with that same challenge again hits hard. In fact, it hits even harder for Bucks fans having gone along this journey with Parker once already.

In terms of the franchise, this was an immeasurable blow to the idyllic future that everyone has been working toward. Tearing the same anterior cruciate ligament for a second time makes it a mental recovery, as well as a physical recovery. Medically speaking, is it very possible to come back as strong from the second injury. But mentally, it seems inevitable will be tougher. Planting on a knee that has sustained two ACL tears must be difficult for Parker to even think about doing, even after rehab.

Delay after delay keeps arising for this Bucks team, and this newest Parker injury would seem to add a further delay to the franchise’s timeline for becoming a title contender. Jabari’s first ACL tear set them back one year, his recovery and Giannis’ emergence set them back one year, Khris Middleton’s injury set them back one year, and it looks like Parker’s second ACL tear will set them back yet another year.

The Bucks are still relying on Jabari Parker to be great. Sure, they might have Giannis and Khris, but Parker playing at an elite level consistently is absolutely necessary for the Bucks to have a chance of reaching their peak and contending for a title.

Looking back at recent champions, the comment theme has been at least three stars on the winning team. The 2011-12 and 2012-13 Heat had Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, and LeBron James. The 2013-14 Spurs had Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Kawhi Leonard. The 2014-15 Warriors had Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, and Stephen Curry. The 2015-16 Cavaliers had Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, and LeBron James.

It’s clear that in order to be a champion in this era, you need to be at least three-deep in terms of stars. Antetokounmpo and Middleton are already there, but unless Thon Maker or Malcolm Brogdon develop into equivalent talents, it’s crucial that Parker returns to All-Star form for Milwaukee.

Whether he comes back in his full explosive form, or evolves into a more cerebral player, the Bucks still need Jabari to be something more than just a run of the mill rotation cog.

The Bucks and their fans have no choice but to keep the faith, but even though they can still see the faint light at the end of the tunnel that represents the future, it seems to be edging further and further away.

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