Beware of the young Bucks — not this year, but next year

SHARE Beware of the young Bucks — not this year, but next year
SHARE Beware of the young Bucks — not this year, but next year

The general sense is that this Bulls-Bucks playoff series is over.

Yes, there are more games to be played, but the Bulls lead 2-0 and nobody really believes the upstart Bucks are going to win four of the next five games, or four straight.

The series moves to Milwaukee, and I have a feeling the Bulls might lose one up there. But I think we can agree that would be merely a speed bump en route to the next round, likely against the Cavaliers.

Yet there is a bigger lesson here than one team simply being better than the other.

It is about seizing the moment. And that moment is the Bulls’. And, in time, it won’t be. In fact, it could well be the Bucks’ some day soon.

With Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol, Jimmy Butler and Mike Dunleavy starting, and Taj Gibson, Aaron Brooks, Kirk Hinrich and Nikola Mirotic off the bench, the Bulls have a squad that has taken a long time to assemble and might not be together long.

You can’t wait for next year in the NBA. Next year is like a curtain opening on a whole new theatrical play. New actors, new set, new drama.

Let’s take Milwaukee.

The Bucks have been a pretty bad team for quite some time. And because of that, they have gotten high draft picks and even an eager new coach, Jason Kidd, whom the Bucks stole from the Nets last year with big money.

Nobody got too excited in Chicago about this first-round series because, honestly, nobody even knew who the Bucks were.

Anybody who even knew the names of the Bucks’ starters, let alone could spell them — Middleton, Carter-Williams, Ilyasova, Pachulia, Antetokounmpo — surely is in need of a new life.

Young, anonymous, unpronounceable. Yet talented.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, the skinny, long-armed, 6-11 forward nicknamed the ‘‘Greek Freak,’’ scored more than 1,000 points this season and averaged a block per game. The dude’s only 20. Other Bucks players are new to the team as Kidd plans his strategy for the future.

The lesson about seizing the moment, and that moment’s delicate existence in the fragility of time, can be seen from a quick examination of the Bucks.

You know who would be on this team right now were it not for fate? How about rookie phenom Jabari Parker, Chicago’s former high school star, who was taken first in the draft last year.

Parker played in only 25 games before having season-ending knee surgery. He was averaging 13 points and almost six rebounds. His star was in ascent. Almost like — dare we say it? — Rose’s was back in the day.

Then there’s this. Until last December, the Bucks had a truly phenomenal, intensely troubled center named Larry Sanders, a 6-11 octopus, who blocked shots and protected the rim like a guard dog. In 2012, Sanders finished second in the league in blocked shots. After not even playing basketball until he was a sophomore in high school, then growing 10 inches, Sanders kept learning the game and finished third in voting for the league’s most improved player.

Sanders was on his way to stardom. In 2013, the Bucks signed him to a four-year,

$44 million contract. But he was haunted by a horrible childhood that included abuse and homelessness which (he said in a Sports Illustrated story by Lee Jenkins) kept him from focusing on the game.

“I don’t get along with guys whose lives revolve totally around basketball,” Sanders said. “Some day that rubber ball will stop bouncing, and if you’ve built your whole identity around it, who will you be?”

That is a great question, but not one that superstars such as Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant ever wrestled with.

Sanders got so many technical fouls and was involved in so many off-court incidents, ranging from bar fights to marijuana use, that he and the team parted ways in the middle of this season, with Sanders, 26, walking away from the game to deal with a host of mental issues, including depression and anxiety.

The point here is that building a team is not an easy or predictable thing. Imagine a Bucks team with Parker and Sanders healthy and intense. But that’s all you can do: Imagine it. Because it likely will never happen.

Yet Parker will be back, and the Bucks will find new players and the Bulls had better be wary. Already, the Cavs and the Hawks look fearsome in the East.

The Bucks finished only 41-41 this year. The Bulls were 50-32. The Bulls’ time is now.

Next year is promised to no one.

Email: rtelander@suntimes.com

Twitter: @ricktelander

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