Graphic: Buck players Sean Rogers/The Olaf Messenger
There’s a new team to beat in the NBA’s eastern conference, and it may contain one of the best duos the league has ever seen. After a contentious back-and-forth battle with the Portland Trail Blazers’ front office, seven-time All-NBA point guard Damian Lillard was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks for Jrue Holiday, Deandre Ayton, Toumani Camara, an unprotected 2029 first-round draft pick, and a pair of unprotected swap rights in a three-team deal with the Phoenix Suns. Lillard had requested a trade to the Miami Heat at the beginning of the summer in an attempt to make a championship run with the runner-ups, but management couldn’t make it work — perhaps a blessing in disguise for Lillard.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, two-time MVP and 2021 NBA champion, has been lauded for years as one of the best players in the league. A dominant paint scorer and unstoppable two-way force, the Greek Freak’s skills perfectly complement Lillard’s eagle eye behind the arc. Though eliminated by the 8th-seeded Heat in the first round of the playoffs, the Bucks achieved the best record in the league last year — and that was without one of the greatest shooters of all time on their side. There have been passing concerns that the trade may have fractured the Bucks’ defensive capabilities with the loss of five-time All-Defensive guard Jrue Holiday, but most agree that the team’s raw offensive power and Antetokounmpo’s continued defensive prowess will lift the team to a new level of dominance in the new season.
The idea of loyalty has been on trial throughout the modern era of the NBA, as it’s been commonplace in the last 10 or 15 years for players to jump from team to team in hopes of winning a championship. The most prominent example of this is Kevin Durant’s 2016 move to the 73-9 Golden State Warriors, creating one of the greatest super-teams of all time that would wreak havoc on the NBA in the following years. Lillard and Antetokounmpo, however, were exceptions to this phenomenon, both committing to the teams that drafted them for a decade. This year was the first time that Lillard had ever requested a move from the small-market Trail Blazers, but most don’t blame him at all. A long-standing bastion of loyalty, the fans’ consensus is that Lillard earned this trade. Teaming up with Antetokounmpo and an already-superior Bucks squad is likely the best shot at a ring that Lillard will see in his career. As fans anticipate an explosive 2023-24 season beginning later this month, “Freak Time” — an amalgamation of “Dame Time” and “The Greek Freak” — is looking relentless and ready to deliver.