Even though the Kansas product is an incredible talent well worth the top overall selection in the stacked 2014 NBA draft, the downtrodden Bucks knew that their premier target was still on the board for the next pick—and they took Jabari Parker with joy.
"When the announcement came that Andrew Wiggins was the first pick by Cleveland, I looked around the room and looked at the faces, and I could see guys were really trying to hold their composure," explained former head coach Larry Drew to Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
"When it came to our pick, faces just changed because we knew we got the man we really wanted."
The Bucks had reason to be excited.
This is an organization that hasn't experienced too much success over the past few years. Going back even further than that, Milwaukee hasn't advanced past the first round of the playoffs since the 2000-01 season, when Ray Allen led the squad into the Eastern Conference Finals.
Since then, there have been five postseason berths and five quick exits.
Last year, things went miserably. Between the constant injuries, the disappointing roster and Larry Sanders' off-court trouble, the Bucks sunk all the way to the basement of the NBA, finishing with a league-worst 15-67 record.
Even though the Philadelphia 76ers reeled off 26 losses in a row during the second half of the campaign, they still couldn't supplant Milwaukee as the team with the best lottery odds.
However, Parker is set to change that in 2014-15. This team still won't be competitive from the get-go, but the former Duke standout's presence will start these Bucks on an upward trajectory.
After all, the way a player handles himself on and off the court matters.
Far too often, franchises fail to recognize this, employing low-character players who aren't going to work hard or make the necessary changes to their games. Off-court issues plague the team until the organization in question gets fed up and decides to start placing an emphasis on mental makeup.
The Wizards have been dysfunctional on the court this season, but may also have some disharmony off it. Multiple league sources have confirmed that teammates Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee were involved in an altercation outside an area club early Friday
Witnesses have said that the players were screaming expletives at each other, but two league sources added that Blatche and McGee also exchanged several punches at the Shadow Room in Northwest Washington.
That altercation took place in late December.
Things wouldn't look up for a while, as both players involved continued to be rostered, failing to live up to the expectations. Blatche submitted a quality season that year, but he'd drop off in a big way the next.
In 2012, Blatche was waived, and McGee was traded to the Denver Nuggets as part of the deal that brought Nene to town. All of a sudden, there was a culture change in with the team.
The Washington Post's Mike Wise explains:
The Wizards were unsure McGee would stop goaltending when the ball was on an obvious downward arc. They were tired of waiting for him to routinely grab a meaningful defensive rebound instead of gloating over a meaningless triple-double. They were tired of his mother, Pamela McGee, berating their coaches from her seat behind the basket near the Wizards' bench at Verizon Center. For all McGee's shot-blocking prowess and catch-and-slam forays above the rim, the Wizards were really worried he might never eliminate the brain freezes that manifested themselves in some of the most no, he didn't bloopers that played on national cable shows.
Lee even had another article out at that time, one chock-full of quotes about the Wizards' overall dysfunction. It's rife with testimonies from anonymous league figures insisting that you can't win with such a negative culture in place.
Since McGee, Blatche and Nick Young left, the Wizards have managed to rebound into the playoffs and now loom as one of the more imposing young teams in the Association. Coincidence? I think not.
Now, the Bucks are at a similar crossroads.
During the 2013-14 season, Sanders was a problematic presence on the roster. Fresh off inking a massive contract extension, the big man couldn't remain healthy while staying out of trouble.
He played in only 23 games, limited by a torn ligament in his thumb—one that he suffered during an altercation at a nightclub. You know, the same one that led to citations for disorderly conduct and assault and battery.
Sanders would later return to the court but was subsequently knocked out by a fractured right orbital bone. While he was sitting on the bench game after game, he was suspended for five contests for the use of marijuana, the legality of which he would later argue for.
However, let's not just pick on Sanders.
"He's had a bad season, but he's still a good player. He's a little overweight, hasn't played a lot this season, but he's still O.J. Mayo in there and I've seen him do things like that all the time," Rudy Gay told Jonathan Santiago and James Ham of Cowbell Kingdom about his former teammate.
"O.J. is a real pro. The one thing I tell him is just 'You've got to stay ready.' He missed a stretch of games due to illness," former coach Larry Drew explained to Gardner when Mayo was missing games in March. "He got out of rhythm; he lost conditioning. We've been trying to work with him as far as getting it back."
So to recap, the Bucks' two highest-paid players—if you factor in Sanders' extension, which kicks in this year and sees his salary jump from $3 million to $11 million—spent parts of the 2013-14 season in legal trouble and out of shape.
Seems promising, right?
A culture change is needed, and Parker is just the man to lead that charge.
General manager John Hammond spoke with Gardner about Parker after the 2014 NBA draft:
The player part is easy. You can see his skill set and what he's capable of doing on the floor. When you have a chance to really get to know him as a person, you fell in love with him. In the direction we want to go, to eventually be a championship caliber team, "This is the guy."
This is not a GM waxing poetic about a player who's now on his roster. By all accounts, Parker is a high-quality individual who consistently says and does the right things.
Remember the exit message he posted when he declared for the draft?
Most incoming prospects thank people for getting them to this stage of their careers, but this was a particularly heartfelt message to Duke Nation—one that went above and beyond the typical expressions of gratitude.
When I spoke with Tommy Balcetis, the Denver Nuggets' manager of basketball analytics, I asked him who he'd take with the No. 1 pick if he were running his own franchise.
He chose Parker, using the following reasoning: "All that talent can go out the window if you don't have the right mentality, and I feel like he has the right mentality. He seems to be extremely well-spoken, understands the value of hard work."
Use your favorite search engine to look up draft grades and descriptions for the man who spent a year being molded by Mike Krzyzewski.
Even though he was technically a devil—of the blue variety—he seems to draw praise as a high-character person in virtually every write-up.
This is what the Bucks need.
Will his offensive abilities help? Absolutely.
Milwaukee sorely needs a No. 1 scorer to help fix its offense. Basketball-Reference.com indicates that it ranked No. 26 in points per 100 possessions last year. Parker's all-around scoring game—comprised of pure shooting from the perimeter, creativity in the post and enough athleticism to excel as a slasher or transition threat—will absolutely aid the on-court product.
In fact, he should be considered the early favorite for Rookie of the Year.
Not only is he an NBA-ready talent who posts glamorous stats, but he's going to fit in right next to Sanders, Brandon Knight, Ersan Ilyasova and Giannis Antetokounmpo in the starting lineup. The opportunity and per-minute production will both be there.
Plus, his tweener status and limited defensive abilities will be aided by the Greek Freak's massive wingspan and prowess on the less-glamorous end of the floor.
But at this stage of the Brewtown rebuild, the on-court product is a secondary concern. The transition from the bottom of the standings to a more respectable portion won't be complete until the Bucks are surrounded by—and actively promoting—a winning culture.
Even more so than the offense, that starts with Parker.
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