The Milwaukee Bucks have become a running joke over recent years in the state of Wisconsin, taking a back seat to the Packers, Badgers and Brewers, while regurgitating losing seasons and perennially finishing ninth in the Eastern Conference.
But it is the responsibility of Wisconsin sports fans to support this franchise whether they like it or not.
A new season brings optimism for all 30 NBA teams, and for the Bucks, it's no different. Do they have what it takes to make the playoffs? Absolutely. Will they make it? That's what we're here to find out.
It could be a make-or-break season for the Bucks, with their two biggest stars set to hit free agency after the season and the contracts of their head coach and general manager also ready to terminate.
A team with an undersized backcourt overstocked with power forwards, Milwaukee begins its push for the postseason on Friday in Boston. Here is a breakdown of the roster and what you can expect out of the 2012-13 Milwaukee Bucks.
The heart and soul of the Bucks franchise, Brandon Jennings is entering his fourth and final season of his rookie deal, and it does not appear Milwaukee will extend his contract prior to season's end. The former No. 10 overall pick will be a restricted free agent.
Jennings was up and down in the strike-shortened 2011-12 season, but he finished with career highs in points-per-game (19.1), field goal percentage (.418) and minutes-per-game (35.3), while slightly improving his three point shooting, steals and turnover rate from the previous season.
This shows that Jennings was able to rebound from a sophomore slump, and being just 23 years old, there should be plenty of upside and continued improvement in Jennings' game as his career progresses.
Unfortunately, he and the Bucks are having trouble working out an extension, and Milwaukee risks losing the young buck if another team is willing to overpay for Jennings following the campaign, especially if he has a breakout season.
For now, let's worry about how Jennings performs this upcoming season. He and Monta Ellis will likely alternate as leading scorers, and it will be interesting to see if this backcourt can work together, seeing how both have a shoot-first mentality and aren't exactly renowned for their defense.
In a contract year, expect Jennings to have the best season of his career in 2012-13, often deferring to Ellis to carry the scoring load while improving his assist total as a result.
Beno was a solid pickup to back up Jennings in Milwaukee, but the Slovenian saw his production drop along with his minutes last season.
His shooting percentage from three and in general took a hit, and sitting behind Jennings, Udrih appeared to force too many shots in an attempt to make an impact in his limited playing time.
It was an adjustment Udrih struggled to make after playing significant minutes in Sacramento the previous four seasons, so with a year under his belt as a reserve, Udrih may be more comfortable in his role coming off the bench, and his numbers could rise as a result.
He's no Luke Ridnour, but Udrih can spell Jennings and at times combine with Jennings and Ellis in three-guard lineups. He's historically better than Jennings from beyond the arc, and if he can get closer to his career average of .354 from three this season, he'll be a formidable backup point guard.
A lifer at Golden State prior to last season, Monta Ellis needed some time to get adjusted to his new surroundings in Milwaukee.
He came over in a trade that sent Andrew Bogut to the Warriors, and suddenly, the Bucks had an explosive backcourt with two 20-a-game scorers. Unfortunately, that combination failed to thrive at times and couldn't quite push Milwaukee over the top.
Now, hope is that Ellis and Jennings are able to coexist as shooting guards stuck in the bodies of point guards. Both are in a contract year, and with contract years often come increased production—and potentially increased selfishness.
Ellis' points-per-game average has slipped each year since averaging 25.5 PPG in 2009-10, but he has also stayed healthier since that time. Ellis also averages more assists a game than Jennings, who is labeled as the team's point guard, so although both are undersized, each can flex as a one-guard and two-guard.
Hopefully, lacking a traditional wing in the starting lineup doesn't hurt the Bucks too much and the quickness both Jennings and Ellis possess carries over to the defensive end to help make up for their size deficiency. It will either be a grand success, or an experiment gone horribly awry—or maybe just somewhere in between.
There's really no telling what will come of the Ellis-Jennings combo.
It's quite possible that Doron Lamb plays more minutes than fellow Bucks' rookie John Henson, simply because of Milwaukee's lack of depth at the 2-guard.
We'll see plenty Mike Dunleavy and some of Marquis Daniels at the two as well, but other than these two veterans, Lamb is the only true shooting guard on the roster, and he could possibly challenge Daniels for minutes.
Head coach Scott Skiles mentioned that Lamb could get into the season opener (via Charles F. Gardner of The Journal Sentinel) against the Celtics, and after suffering a torn left elbow ligament during training camp, Lamb came back to score 12 points in each of the team's final two preseason games.
He's an efficient scorer from outside, something Dunleavy also brings to the table, but Dunleavy will see his time split between the two and three, opening the door for Lamb to occasionally see the court.
Lamb was a great second round pickup for Milwaukee, and as long as he understands his role as a shooter and concentrates on getting open, he will be a solid fit for the Bucks.
With the backcourt sporting so much offense and so little defense thus far, enter free agent signing Marquis Daniels.
Brought into the organization in September, Daniels brings size and length to a backcourt that lacks heavily in those departments. He can be considered the defensive specialist of the guards—he can also guard at the small forward position—which will automatically steal the heart of the defensive-minded Scott Skiles.
This is turn will lead to Daniels receiving more minutes than many may prefer, but that being said, Daniels can probably expect to see anywhere between five and 15 minutes a game based on the players he will fight with for playing time.
It all depends on how Jennings and Ellis can lock down on the defensive side of the ball. The Bucks sacrifice some offense with Daniels on the floor, but he was a good signing for a team with many question marks regarding defense and size in the backcourt.
A sneaky good pickup for the Bucks last season, Mike Dunleavy holds the title of top shooter on Milwaukee.
Head coach Scott Skiles would prefer Dunleavy come off the bench, so that's exactly what the 32-year-old will do this upcoming season. It makes sense, as it will already be difficult to share the basketball between starters Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis and Ersan Ilyasova.
Off the pine, Dunleavy has the ability to string baskets together as well as dish the rock, so he will facilitate the second unit and likely be on the court at the end of games. He shot .474 from the field and 40 percent from beyond the arc last season.
Dunleavy brings great leadership to Milwaukee and although his defense is sub-par, he will usually be on the court at the same time as plus defenders who can pick up the slack (see: Samuel Dalembert, Ekpe Udoh, and eventually, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute).
With players just mentioned coming off the bench, there's no question the Bucks have plenty of depth, but is it quality depth? In Dunleavy's case, yes.
After a monster Summer League, Tobias Harris fumbled around a bit during the preseason, but he will get the nod at starting small forward.
A second-year player out of Tennessee, Harris played sparingly in his rookie season, and he will be learning on the fly as a 20-year-old playing defense against some of the top talent in the NBA.
His minutes will increase, but he won't log nearly as many minutes as Jennings, Ellis and Ilyasova, unquestionably the top three players on Milwaukee. Although that could change if he lives up to the comparisons to Carmelo Anthony, as the two have similar body types and styles of play.
Harris is strong around the basket and has a decent jump shot, but his strength is down low in the post, both offensively and defensively. Whether Harris can defend on the perimeter will be something to watch this season, but he is an exciting young talent for the Bucks.
Earning the title of the team's best defender over the years, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute had surgery in May because of a right patella tendon injury. It's hard to say when the prince will be back in action, as there is no timetable on his return.
He will figure to see increased playing time in games where the Bucks face an elite forward, such as LeBron James or Kevin Durant, but Milwaukee wants to make sure he is healthy enough to play at a level where he is capable of guarding such players.
Offensively, Mbah a Moute has always been challenged. He is often left alone to shoot 18-foot jumpers, simply because he rarely knocks them down. Around the basket, cleaning up missed baskets is where he thrives, and to his credit, Mbah a Moute shot over 50 percent last season in 43 games.
When healthy, it will be interesting to see where he fits in amongst all the clutter at forward, but he will certainly make the Bucks better defensively upon his return.
"Turkish Thunder" (Ersan Ilyasova) replaces "The Thunder from Down Under" (Andrew Bogut) not only by having "thunder" in his nickname but also as the proprietor of Squad Six, which will soon have a new name as a result.
Aside from that, Ilyasova is now making bank, signing a 5 year, $40 million deal in the offseason to stay in Milwaukee. Ersan is coming off a career year in which he averaged 13 PPG and 8.8 RPG, including 3.3 offensive boards a game—all of that in only 27.6 minutes of play a night.
With more money hopefully doesn't come more problems for the Bucks. Was last season a mirage, or is the 25-year-old just getting started?
Let's hope it's the latter, but there is reason to believe Ilyasova could take a step back this season. His 3-point shooting was off the charts, hitting 45.5 percent of his shots from deep. However, you can't take away his motor, and Ilyasova will continue to do the dirty work down low for Milwaukee.
While Ilyasova may not match his crazy three-point mark, he should improve around the basket. He is good at drawing fouls after hauling in an offensive rebound, but he shoots a disappointing 48.2 percent following said rebounds (H/T Ian Segovia of bucksketball.com).
That number is affected by how often Ilyasova tips the ball at the basket, but still, that number needs to be higher. How much the Turkey native can build on his 2011-12 numbers—or at least come close to them—will be crucial to Milwaukee's success.
Drew Gooden—he's one of a kind.
He's also a player coming off the bench in the third year of his five year, $32 million deal who is against everything the Milwaukee Bucks are trying to do.
Gooden doesn't bring much to the table defensively, but he finds ways to score. He averaged 13.7 PPG last season and was the primary starter at center with Andrew Bogut's ankle keeping him out for most of the season.
Gooden didn't sign up to play center in Milwaukee, and he will primarily back up Ilyasova at the 4, although his minutes will diminish due to the crowded frontcourt for the Bucks.
There are moments where you wonder why Gooden can't always play at a high level and have nights like this, but we have to accept Drew for who he is—a jack of all trades and a master of none. If Gooden can stave from unleashing three-bombs and show off his passing ability instead, he will save the Milwaukee fan base a lot of headaches.
Ekpe Udoh is a third-year player out of Baylor who came over from Golden State along with Monta Ellis last season, and he is also a bona fide member of the SWAT team the Bucks have assembled over the past calendar year.
Udoh and the three players coming up are on this team for one reason and one reason only—to block shots. Udoh is no exception, as his freakish athleticism makes him an excellent shot blocker.
He's constantly active on the floor, boxing out his man and making it easier for his teammates to grab the rebound. He's the ideal defender, but his deficiencies on offense make Udoh fairly one-dimensional, and that along with his lack of rebounding is what will keep him from playing any more than 20 minutes a game.
Udoh does all the little things, and he's good for an emphatic dunk now and then, so he should be appreciated for what he brings to the table.
Just look at that smile.
John Henson is the second rookie to make the squad this season and the Bucks' first round draft pick in 2012. He received a scare when he went down with a knee injury against Chicago in preseason, but fortunately, the injury wasn't serious and he should be close to returning.
The second member of the SWAT team, Henson has an insane 7-foot-5 wingspan and will block anything within his zip code. Along with Tobias Harris, Henson had a very impressive Summer League, but the ridiculous depth Milwaukee has at power forward will probably keep Henson from seeing much of the court this season.
It's really a shame, because Henson appears NBA ready and has more of an offensive skill set than other guys at his position, but Skiles typically doesn't give rookies much time due to the inexperience factor.
He needs to polish his defense, even with that awesome blocking ability, and once that happens, we should see more of Henson. Here's to hoping that occurs.
Will his third year in the league be a charm?
The uneven-tempered Sanders has the potential to make the biggest leap of any Milwaukee Buck from last season, but that's only if he doesn't let his emotions get the best of him.
Sanders was already suspended this season, missing a preseason game against the Toronto Raptors, and then there was this whole dealio against Indiana last season. Despite the attitude, Sanders has drastically improved from his rookie season, and he joins the quartet of SWATers on Milwaukee this season.
He may have earned himself the starting job at center after earning some starts in the preseason and excelling, even though the team brought in Samuel Dalembert in the offseason. Either way, both will see similar playing time and bring similar qualities to the floor.
Sanders needs to stay away from the jump shots like Mbah a Moute and use his athleticism around the basket to have success—and keep that temper under wraps.
The Haitian sensation was brought in during the offseason because the Bucks lacked a true center, and he was also expected to come in and be the starter.
Even as a starter, Dalembert doesn't play many minutes. He only played 22.2 MPG in 2011-12, but Dalembert can defend around the rim, thus rounding out the SWAT team for Milwaukee.
His rather limited minutes for a starter won't necessarily be a bad thing for the Bucks, a team that features several big men vying for playing time. His 7.5 PPG and 7.0 RPG last season give him a solid per-36 minute average, and the hope is that an offensive-minded backcourt will be balanced out by a defensive-minded frontcourt.
He isn't flashy and he isn't going to "wow" people on a nightly basis, but he gives the Bucks some stability at center and is someone young players like Henson, Udoh and Sanders can look up to this season as they form one of the greatest quartet of shot-blockers in NBA history—maybe.
Finally, we've reached the 15th and final player on the Milwaukee roster. And thank goodness, because there isn't much that needs to be said about the Vanilla Gorilla.
The once-former Buck is essentially a safety valve who will be brought in once in a while to rebound or hack. On most nights, barring injury, Przybilla will be inactive, and that's the way it should be for an aging, injury-prone big man.
That's his role. Enough said.
Projected Starting Lineup/Depth Chart:
PG: Brandon Jennings — Beno Udrih
SG: Monta Ellis — Marquis Daniels — Doron Lamb
SF: Tobias Harris — Mike Dunleavy — Luc Richard Mbah a Moute*
PF: Ersan Ilyasova — Ekpe Udoh — Drew Gooden — John Henson*
C: Samuel Dalembert — Larry Sanders — Joel Przybilla
* = Inactive
Projected Final Record/Playoff Spot:
42-40, 8th seed in the Eastern Conference
Even though the Bucks have made some nice additions to their roster, the East is becoming stronger and stronger, and Milwaukee lacks a true star player.
Slowly, the balance of power is swinging from the West to the East, with teams like the Miami Heat, New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets and Boston Celtics loading up on superstars. The Indiana Pacers are making a bid to join the Eastern Conference elite, and the Philadelphia 76ers added an elite big-man in Andrew Bynum.
That doesn't bode well for the Bucks, who will have to fight for their lives to reach the postseason.
Milwaukee will benefit from playing a Derrick Rose-less Chicago Bulls team (perhaps four times—all games against Chicago are before February), but with six teams almost assured to finish ahead of Milwaukee, and the Bulls expected to get Rose back for a second half push, it's going to be a battle for that eight seed.
The Bucks have enough depth and a strong enough balance of scorers and defenders to break out of their No. 9-seed slump, but too much parody on the roster will prevent any sort of playoff run.