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  • Cody Kluge

Bucks Continuing to Make Moves for a Championship Push

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After a terrific month of February in which the Milwaukee Bucks lost just one game, they rang in the month of March with a bang. A win over the Los Angeles Lakers late last Friday night clinched a playoff berth for the Bucks, the first team to do so in the NBA this year; an incredible feat considering there is still over a month to go in the season.

However, the Bucks have bigger goals in mind for this season and beyond, made evident by the moves they made earlier that same day. While it was not made official until a couple days later, it was reported that six-time All-Star Pau Gasol would be joining the Bucks after being bought out by the San Antonio Spurs.

Gasol was drawn to the team by good friend Nikola Mirotic, and while he might not have much left in the tank after 18 NBA seasons, bringing him in can only help the Bucks. In a suddenly crowded frontcourt, Gasol will not have to log many minutes which will hopefully keep him fresh and effective.

When he does play, he should fit in to Mike Budenholzer’s system well. Gasol still shoots the three around 45 percent, works well in a pick and pop offense, and remains an interior presence on defense. Another big man who can shoot, rebound, and defend inside is a welcome sight to any team with championship aspirations; just ask the Lakers and Spurs.

Maybe most importantly, Gasol will bring this locker room some much needed experience. A two-time champion with the Lakers, Gasol has played in 136 career playoff games. To put that in perspective, if you take George Hill’s 102 postseason games away, the rest of the Bucks roster has a combined 192 games of playoff experience, just 56 more than Gasol himself.

He knows what it takes not only to win a championship, but just a series itself, which the Bucks have not done since 2001. Even more intriguing is he may now get the chance to do that against brother Marc and the Toronto Raptors. A veteran presence like Pau cannot be understated for a playoff team.

Not long after the Gasol news broke, the Bucks made it official they were extending the contract of guard Eric Bledsoe. The Bucks signed him to a four-year extension, worth $70 million.

With the Bucks having so many impending free agents once they hit the offseason, it was good to get one locked up early. Who to sign between Bledsoe, Khris Middleton, Malcolm Brogdon, and Brook Lopez has been a hot topic recently, as it is highly unlikely the Bucks will be able to pay all four players.

The debate will continue on into the summer, but retaining Bledsoe is not a surprise. Obviously, playing for the best team in the league can only help, but Bledsoe seems to genuinely like the city, culture, and team Milwaukee has in place. It’s not to be forgotten that at the beginning of last year he was sitting out games as a member of the Phoenix Suns, because he simply didn’t want to be there.

Winning seems to matter more than money for a guy like Bledsoe, so the odds of him resigning in Brew City seemed high. Bledsoe has a true appreciation for the Bucks and what is around him, and said as much after his terrific performance against the Lakers last Friday night.

While the contract is obviously a great thing for Bledsoe, the question will be was it worth it for the Bucks. If you have followed this team through the good times and the mostly bad over the last couple decades, you know the team has a history of giving out some bad contracts. Dan Gadzuric, Drew Gooden, and John Salmons are a few bad contracts from the past fans never want to think about again.

Could Bledsoe’s contract end up like one of those previous failed ones? There is always a chance. But right now, it certainly seems like a good deal. First of all, the price wasn’t too high. $17.5 million per year isn’t bad for one of the better point guards in the Eastern Conference. Bledsoe has figured out his role in coach Budenholzer’s system, and has played with an increased effort and energy; more noticeably on the defensive end, which wasn’t always seen last season.

Offensively, Bledsoe has been solid as well, averaging 16 points and five and a half assists per game. He has especially come on as of late with Giannis playing less minutes due to knee soreness. In his last five games, Bledsoe is averaging almost 20 points per game, to go along with seven assists and seven rebounds, headlined by an incredible 26/12/13 triple-double against the Kings last week.

His fit alongside Giannis has to be one of the major factors that led to his big payday, however. It was clear in Bledsoe’s first games with the Bucks he was an athletic and dynamic playmaker that could make Giannis better and allow the Bucks to run more. Now, with Budenholzer’s increased up tempo offense, the plan has come full circle.

At this point the only negative with the contract would be that it limits the flexibility to re-sign others in the offseason. It is becoming more and more likely Middleton is going to demand a near max contract. While the Bucks still could retain Middleton and keep their big three together, it will put them in a tight position to sign other valuable assets needed for a championship caliber roster.

On the other hand, it is possible the signing of Bledsoe is an indication the Bucks will move on from Middleton, and will look to keep the likes of Brogdon, Lopez, and even Nikola Mirotic alongside Giannis. Losing Middleton would hurt, but having several valuable pieces is important for a team trying to contend for a title.

Ultimately, the rest of these decisions will likely wait until the summer, and only time will tell what the right moves are. But for now, the Bucks have their point guard locked up, and a newly acquired playoff tested big man as they continue on their quest for a championship come June.

Statistics Courtesy of Basketball Reference

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