ST. FRANCIS, Wis. – October belongs to everybody – no one’s lost a game yet, every team’s roster seems shiny and full. Springtime is owned by the big dogs, the contenders and the wannabes, established teams already or on their way up.
July is for the glamour markets and the legacy franchises, the destinations with tradition, night life or both. That’s where free agents want to play, those are the places media folks love to talk about and, maybe, even live.
But for one night in June, it was about – first and second, first and foremost – Cleveland and Milwaukee. A pair of small, largely unloved NBA towns were in no-lose situations early Thursday evening – it was going to be Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker, Parker or Wiggins, one or the other – and there was nothing the rest of the league or its followers could do about it.
That feeling was palpable at the Bucks’ draft headquarters in the moments after general manager John Hammond grabbed Parker with the No. 2 pick overall. And given how thick with emotion Hammond’s voice sounded as he talked about the pick, the player and the person, it was a feeling Milwaukee desperately wants to last.
Parker likes the Bucks. He likes Milwaukee. He really, really likes them.
“We’re really excited about the fact that he wants to be here,” Hammond said of the Duke forward, a 1-2, flip-a-coin certainty to wind up with the Cavaliers or the Bucks according to most draft projections. “I talked to him a couple moments ago and he’s thanking us for the opportunity. That’s something you really appreciate.
“I think he has a chance to be a great long-term fit for us.”
Lots of teams say that about lots of guys on Draft night, but it resonates a little more with Milwaukee. This is a team that spends most of the year, particularly during free agency, hearing all the snide stuff about Podunkville.
No one wants to play there. No one would choose to live there. Even as the TV panelists coughed up a few kudos in the Bucks’ direction for the talented young man they’d just corralled, folks in Milwaukee were wise to them; given the chance, those suits would slit the franchise’s throat if a relocation could have gotten them a few business trips each year to Seattle.
But things are changing, whether the national media like it or not. The league’s collective bargaining agreement was remade in 2011 to spread talent around. The Bucks just got sold to a pair of hedge-fund impresarios, Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens, who pledged to keep them right where they are – eventually in a new arena. And now they have a prized young player thanking them and saying he wants to have a one-team career.
“They gave me the say-so right [away], and I didn’t get any conclusions from any other teams,” Parker said of the Bucks’ pledge they would take him if the Cavs didn’t. “I’m just so glad they were men of their words.”
As for being happy going to a place so many NBA veterans snub or scoff or sneer at, Parker – a Chicago native who gave a shout-out to Lake Michigan immediately after being selected – said: “That’s up to the player.”
Said Hammond: “You look at this and think, ‘Is there a perfect storm, a perfect synergy, where this all works together?’ [Lasry and Edens] purchase the team, a few months later we get the second pick in the draft and we get the chance to draft a guy like Jabari Parker.”
Everyone knows about Parker the player, the NBA-ready scorer who can bookend with last year’s precocious prospect, Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Bucks are thrilled to have that guy, regardless of his preferred ZIP or area code.
“You hate to go with ‘comps,’ but we do that,” Hammond said. “We talk about a Paul Pierce comparison and a Carmelo [Anthony] comparison.”
The Bucks GM said he caught some SportsCenter the other day when the topic was Anthony’s opt-out from New York, and the stock footage they ran of Melo had Hammond thinking about Parker.
“The way he moved with the ball, the kinds of things he was doing, the way he was scoring,” he said. “We had a chance to spend part of the time with Jabari and watch him work out individually, and I’ve got to say there were some real similarities there as far as how he looked on the floor and the kind of things Melo was doing.”
That’s quite a comparison for any young player, Hammond conceded. But then he launched into another one, equally lofty, that fits the person he’d just drafted.
“You hope the next comp, as a person, might be a Kevin Durant going to a small-market team like Oklahoma City and obviously his feelings about being there,” Hammond said. “Those guys are special people. But [that organization has] done a special job, too, of putting [him] in position where [he] can be successful.
“Now it’s our job to put him in a position where he continues to feel good about this city and this organization.”