BY SAM AMICO
When the Milwaukee Bucks take the floor this season, they’ll be a different team.
Yes, Jason Kidd returns as coach.
Yes, the roster largely remains the same.
And yes, the Bucks will still be a mostly young group that is trying to find its way.
But the vibe will be different.
Kidd is entering his second season with the team, his third as a coach. The main players have gotten a taste of the playoffs — and anyone in any NBA capacity will tell you that alone counts for a lot. And the Bucks are no longer just athletic. Experience has made them smarter.
Last season, the Bucks were the surprise of the league. They jumped from 15 wins in 2013-14 to finish a respectable 41-41. They moved the ball on offense, bent their knees and shuffled their feet on defense, and much to the delight of highlight shows everywhere, occasionally glided through the air with the greatest of ease.
Now, they get Jabari Parker back.
The second-year forward and No. 2 overall pick in the 2014 draft averaged 12.3 points on 49 percent shooting in just 25 games — before tearing his ACL and being stuck on the sidelines for the rest of the season.
Now, they’ve added Greg Monroe — and the free-agent signee from Detroit is likely to start and bring sturdiness to the center position right away.
The Bucks will also have starting point guard Michael Carter-Williams from the beginning. That’s something they couldn’t say last season — as Carter-Williams wasn’t part of the team until a deadline-day trade at the end of February.
Along with Carter-Williams, Monroe and Parker, the Bucks boast the forever-energetic Giannis Antetokounmpo and forever-underrated Khris Middleton on the wings.
It’s true that this is a lineup devoid of true-blue superstars, or the type of players that will make the media circus long to set up shop in Milwaukee.
But suddenly, this is a team worthy of everyone’s attention.
“They’re not a secret anymore,” Kidd said of his team.
Of course, he said that following a disaster of a 120-66 defeat to the Chicago Bulls — a game that eliminated the Bucks from the first round of the playoffs and sent them into the offseason with a whimper.
But that, of course, followed the Bucks winning two straight and staying alive after a 3-0 series hole.
Basically, the Bucks behaved like the young, talented and fairly inconsistent team they were.
Still, as mentioned previously, merely tasting the postseason tends to make guys feel better, and more confident, when training camp gets going.
“We got better,” Kidd said. “The whole experience of being in the playoffs, you can’t take that away from those guys, no matter if you lose by 40 or you lose by one.”
Off the bench come the likes of big men John Henson, Johnny O’Bryant and Miles Plumlee, along with veteran guards O.J. Mayo and Greivis Vasquez (obtained in a June trade with the Raptors), as well as free agent signee Chris Copeland at forward.
The Bucks are also excited about the potential of first-round pick Rashad Vaughn — a fairly athletic shooting guard and former McDonald’s All-American who spent one season at UNLV.
Do the Bucks having the makings of a champion? Not yet. Not in this league, where veteran teams with playoff savvy are always the ones playing at the end.
But these Bucks are climbing, they’re exciting, and they will enter the season with a better idea of how to get to where they need to go.
They will be different, for sure. But that’s OK. It will most likely be in a good way.
More Bucks stuff
1. ESPN began its summer forecast and projected the Bucks to win 44 games and finish seventh in the Eastern Conference. That’s three more victories than last season, but one less spot – as the Bucks were the East’s No. 6 seed this past spring.
2. With new owners promising a new arena, as long as public funding is finalized, it appears the Bucks are in Milwaukee for the long haul. That said, here’s an interesting story from Michael Powell in The New York Times that uses Milwaukee as an example of “all that is wrong with our arena-shakedown age.”
3. Finally, the Bucks signed hometown guy Marcus Landry, a 29-year old forward. Landry has spent most of his career overseas or in the D-League. He played his high school ball in Milwaukee and his college ball at the University of Wisconsin. He is also the brother of NBA forward Carl Landry, a member of the Sixers who has spent eight years in the league. It would seem Marcus will have a difficult time sticking on a roster that’s deep and basically set. But if there’s one thing this team could use, it’s an older guy.