NBA basketball returns on October 24. We’re counting down the days like seconds on a shot clock — literally, that’s what we’re doing. Starting today, our writers will list 24 storylines leading up to the 2023-24 NBA season.
A new story line drops every day. Here is the No. 24:
The Bucks made a big trade for Damian Lillard. Here’s why the NBA is on notice:
Lillard’s desire to compete for a championship prompted him to inquire from Portland. Giannis Antetokounmpo’s determination to chase titles has led him to publicly challenge Milwaukee’s management to continue upgrading. Now the two Top 75 players are teammates, set to lead the rest of the Bucks as favorites to capture the 2024 Larry O’Brien trophy.
There are other contenders, of course. But Milwaukee was one of them even before the trade. Now they have the league’s top tandem, a pair of All-Stars whose strengths complement each other. Antetokounmpo is as freakish as ever, capable of dominating defenses for three and a half quarters. Lillard is one of the NBA’s best closers ever, eager to take over late in games. Each averaged more than 30 points last season, which isn’t necessary now with so much help from each other and the opportunities their dual presence has opened up for Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez and others.
There is no guarantee. The addition of Lillard requires serious reduction, sending Jrue Holiday two-way efficiency and importance of team chemistry. It’s possible that Holiday could stop troubling Milwaukee if, as expected, the Trail Blazers trade him to an East rival like Boston, Miami or Philadelphia.
Also, the Bucks will try to pull it off with a new coach, Adrian Griffin, who is going to navigate his own learning curve under high scrutiny. Having assistant Terry Stotts, Lillard’s coach for nine seasons in Portland, next to Griffin should ease the transition around.
The trade immediately turned it into a no-excuses season for Lillard and Antetokounmpo. Neither is a perfect player, so both need to continue to work – better defense from the former and a go-to mid-range shot for the latter is a reasonable question. They need to have fun this time, each with a new toy, but they also need to accept expectations. They are the stars. They have the most responsibility.
Lillard and Antetokounmpo also have a new level of help, which the Bucks think is screaming for other opponents. As in, help!