Bucks, Suns rose from rock bottom to NBA Finals

Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton for 2013-14 Bucks
Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images
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The Bucks were terrible in 2013-14.

They had the NBA’s worst defense and a bottom-five offense. The franchise was up for sale, chatter swirling about a move to Seattle. Milwaukee finished a horrendous 15-67 – five games worse than any other season in franchise history.

But Bucks fans were quite optimistic thanks to a long-striding, fast-improving, smoothie-drinking rookie.

“There is a benefit in losses,” Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “They are keeping us down to earth and help us to be focused on training. When you lose with a big point difference, then you don’t have other choice rather than work your socks off in training and becoming better and better until you start winning.”

Tonight, Milwaukee will play in the NBA Finals with Giannis Antetokounmpo (maybe available) and Khris Middleton – another 2013-14 bright spot – still on the roster. That makes the 2013-14 Bucks one of the worst teams ever to lead so directly to a Finals berth.

Here’s every time a team won fewer than a quarter of its games then reached the NBA Finals without completely turning over its roster (remaining players):

The Bucks didn’t even get any real return from the high draft pick that such a terrible season yielded, No. 2 pick Jabari Parker.

Antetokounmpo and Middleton just kept improving, becoming stars capable of leading a team this far. Milwaukee also added a couple high-level complementary players, plucking an overlooked Brook Lopez in free agency and trading a boatload of draft picks for Jrue Holiday.

The Suns – the Bucks’ Finals opponent – weren’t much better just a couple years ago, going 19-63 in 2018-19. Likewise, Phoenix didn’t hit huge in the next draft (though Cameron Johnson and Dario Saric, netted in a trade down, are at least solid reserves on this year’s team).

A key reason for the Suns’ ascension: Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges – members of that 19-win team – just improved. They’re still young, and they were even more raw two years ago.

Of course, Phoenix trading for Chris Paul was also essential. It’s nearly impossible to make such a big leap without key outside additions.

But multiple key players on the Bucks and Suns know what it’s like to lose and lose big lot with these teams. What an awesome story of determination that they’ve stayed put and gotten so far.