MILWAUKEE (AP) – The Bucks set a franchise record for futility this season, though they aren’t dwelling on their failures.
With its 102-98 loss to the Toronto Raptors on Saturday night, Milwaukee established a dubious club record with its 63rd loss. It sealed the team’s fate as the biggest loser in the franchise’s 45-year history.
“I didn’t know that,” second-year forward John Henson said. “That’s not something you want to be associated with.”
The Bucks likely will have one of the four top choices in this year’s NBA draft, but team officials have said they didn’t go into the season with the purpose of intentionally “tanking” to improve their position. After claiming the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs last year, general manager John Hammond made a flurry of moves in hopes of remaining competitive.
Injuries and off-court issues quickly derailed any chance the team had of competing in the weak Eastern Conference. Some of the offseason moves were positive, but many others didn’t work out.
Most significantly, going into Saturday night’s loss, the Bucks had 14 players miss 247 games due to injuries. They’ve paid a steep price with an NBA-worst 14-63 record.
As the losses piled up early in the season, the team traded veterans Gary Neal and Ramon Sessions. Veteran forward Caron Butler’s contract was bought out. Other veterans had their minutes reduced while Milwaukee started focusing on the future by giving more time to young players like Henson, 23, Giannis Antetokounmpo, 19, and a trio of 22-year-olds in Nate Wolters, Brandon Knight and Khris Middleton.
Opponents have noted how hard the Bucks were playing. The effort just isn’t translating into victories.
“We want to win, but I think if we can play this competitive as a team every night, I think there are some better days to come,” Henson said after the close loss Saturday night.
Executives around the league have taken notice of the potential of Antetokounmpo, but the 19-year-old is still raw. He has difficulty finishing at the hoop and needs to develop much better instincts.
Coach Larry Drew has played Antetokounmpo 25 minutes a game, hoping to get the rookie experience that will pay off in future seasons. He is averaging 6.9 points and 4.4 rebounds in about 25 minutes per game.
“It’s a great chance for him,” Drew said. “With guys being hurt and guys being out, he’s getting an opportunity do some things from the 2-guard spot, from the 3-guard spot.”
Drew believes Antetokounmpo, who is still growing, eventually could play four positions.
“It depends on how much bigger and how much stronger he gets,” Drew said. “He has the ability to handle the basketball and seems to be pretty fluid when he’s at the top of the floor with the ball.”
This version of the Bucks topped the record for futility that the 1993-94 Bucks previously held, going 20-62 in Vin Baker’s rookie season. Milwaukee won the NBA draft lottery that spring, selected Glenn Robinson from Purdue and used that as a springboard to get to the Eastern Conference finals in the 2000-2001 season.
Henson hopes the struggles this year leads to better things for the franchise.
“Hopefully we can look back on this and say this was the turning point in what we did in this organization,” Henson said. “That’s all you can hope for.”
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