Backing Up The Bucks: The Trades That Helped Bring A Championship Back To Milwaukee

The Bucks have been playoff-hardened for years now, but what made 2021 their year?
Milwaukee Bucks Giannis
Image Source: The Independent

Backing Up The Bucks

We are all aware of the skilled star players on the Milwaukee Bucks. Of course, there is a two-time MVP and the league's most dominant big man, Giannis Antetokounmpo. He dropped 50 points in Game 6 alone, sealing the deal for Milwaukee to take their second NBA Championship

The Milwaukee Bucks won the 2021 NBA Championship on July 20th, 2021. Utilizing their newly acquired players Jrue Holiday and PJ Tucker, they were able to finally come together for their first title in 50 years. 

Likewise, the team's best shooter, Khris Middleton, has been an integral part of the team's competitive performance for some time now. His play in the 2021 NBA Playoffs had been exceptional up to this point. In fact, on nights when Giannis did not show up, Middleton took over and kept the team scoring.

However, what the layman might not have noticed about the Bucks' first title win in 50 years was the support of the men around these stars. This not only goes for the bench players on the team. There were two main acquisitions this year that allowed the team to go deeper.

PJ vs Durant
Image Source: Reuters

PJ Tucker Brings His Toughness To The Cheese State

For years, PJ Tucker was a defensive anchor and tough locker room leader for the Houston Rockets. When the landmark trade for James Harden was made in early 2021, Tucker knew that Houston was going for a total rebuild. Debating about his future, Tucker was soon traded to the Milwaukee Bucks. This was an effort to put a tough guy around Giannis, as well as a leader who can protect his teammates and play harassing defense.

The Tucker trade was a simple one. Houston traded P.J. Tucker and Rodions Kurucs to Milwaukee in exchange for guard D.J. Augustin, forward D.J. Wilson, and the Bucks' first-round pick in 2023. The only team this meant immediate effect for was Milwaukee, and they began to feel it right away. While his minutes and scoring went down, the intimidation he brought to his opponents was an extremely valuable intangible.

He averaged 4 rebounds a game in the playoffs, but his real claim to fame as a Buck came in his confrontation with Kevin Durant in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals. During the third quarter, after an ugly, low-scoring game, Kevin Durant and PJ Tucker got involved in an altercation.

While it started as a routine foul during a closely contested game, it soon escalated. Tucker was called for a foul and appeared displeased. Durant began talking trash, Tucker stepped to him, and a slight skirmish broke out. This kind of contact is not uncommon for closely-contested playoff games, but what was strange was when a bodyguard stepped on the floor to personally break up the fight.

Kevin Durant's personal bodyguard, because of Durant's antagonistic nature on social media, is absolutely required at all games and events. The fight was broken up, but it only served to add to the animosity between Durant and Tucker. This kind of psychological edge is what gave Tucker the ability to hold off Durant's offensive onslaught and help his team get past the favorited Brooklyn Nets to make it to the NBA Finals.

Jrue Holiday of the Milwaukee Bucks
Image Source: Sky Sports

Building The Bucks' Big Three

The 2020 playoffs were sort of depressing for Milwaukee. After Giannis won his first MVP, expectations were high. They ended up being bounced out of the second round, which was quite a disappointing run for the team. In the off-season, they made it their duty to find another star player to put around Giannis and Khris Middleton. They were lucky enough to find one in New Orleans All-Star guard Jrue Holiday.

In a rather large, four-team trade, Holiday found his way onto Milwaukee's starting roster. Previously, a large amount of stress was placed on All-Star shooter Khris Middleton. Since Giannis is only truly reliable in the paint, it made it hard for Khris to rest on the perimeter. Jrue was able to bring his exceptional shooting to the team and take some pressure off of the team's stars.

Indeed, it was a win-win for Jrue too. He was now on a competitive team and would be in more of a support role than he had ever been before. He excelled in this position, scoring 18 points per game for the year while also reaching a career-high 40% from three. While there isn't anyone thing Jrue brought to the team that won them a title, it was his shooting acumen, confidence, and team leadership that helped make the Bucks an actual title contender this year.

When added together with PJ Tucker's toughness, Khris' sniper abilities and Giannis’ utter dominance of the paint, Jrue's accurate three-pointers gave the Bucks a huge edge in the 2021 NBA Finals.

Bucks Win Title
Image Source: Inside Sport

Building a Legacy For The Bucks

All of these additions pushed the Bucks from contenders to bona fide winners. They now have the skill and the confidence to continue their success. Looking forward to the 2021-2022 NBA Season, we can be sure that the Bucks will continue to dominate the Eastern Conference.

With guys like Brook Lopez, who is an effective two-way player, the roster is rounded out quite nicely. Perhaps the Bucks will continue to tinker and add to their championship team with some more signings this off-season.

One thing is for sure: the Milwaukee Bucks aren't going anywhere. They will be ready to defend their title against anyone this coming year, and their NBA Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo will be the anchor that holds it all together. 

Joseph Poulos is a freelance writer from Michigan.

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