The winner in the LeBron James sweepstakes is: the Milwaukee Bucks

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Lebron James

Everyone knows Lebron James’ decision to forge a new Eastern Conference Big Three in South Beach will have a profound ripple effect on the whole conference.

But as the Knicks, Bulls, Clippers, Nets, and Cavaliers try to move on like a recently dumped high schooler, one team clearly emerged as a winner in the LBJ sweepstakes: the Milwaukee Bucks.

By Jake McCormick

Brandon JenningsCleveland fans may be torching James’ jersey in an ironic effigy, but it’s not just a signal of Lebron’s place as public enemy No. 2 in Ohio (behind Art Modell). It’s a sign that Milwaukee, and the rest of the Central Division, are free from the monopolistic grip on the conference at the hands of Lebron and the Cavs.

With the King out of Cleveland, the Bucks should be considered the favorite for a divisional crown in 2010-11, barring any injuries, chemistry issues, or overall regression. On paper (which is all we have to go off of until the season starts), they’ve made the most improvements over any team in the division, have the deepest bench, and the best coach-front office combination able to keep the team grounded now that they are a known commodity.

During Thursday’s John Salmons and Drew Gooden introductory press conference, Bucks GM John Hammond said luck has a big part in any team’s trek to and through the NBA playoffs. That’s no more apparent right now than in the power structure of the Central Division, where the Bucks look like the most complete team on the court and in the front office.

Thanks to Lebron’s defection, Antwan Jamison is now the Cavs best player. The Bulls plucked Carlos Boozer off the shelves, but the team has no depth and two of their best players (Boozer, Deng) are constant injury risks.

The Pacers have been in basketball limbo since the days of Reggie Miller, and the Pistons are financially handcuffed and aging faster than Trevor Hoffman. Almost by default, Milwaukee becomes the frontrunner in the Central as the rest of the division toils in the rebuilding process or scrambles to sign less than stellar players with the money they reserved for the King.

In a funny twist, it seems as though the Bucks were fortunate not to have the money to chase a $10 million+ free agent. Milwaukee had a good amount to spend on free agents and potential trade acquisitions this offseason, but not enough to enter in the roulette wheel that is courting a maximum deal player.

Corey MaggetteThe Bucks would still be facing heightened expectations if Lebron had opted to stay in the Central, and the team expects nothing less than another step forward as an organization. But now that he’s moved south, Milwaukee has a golden opportunity to hang a Central Division title banner in the Bradley Center rafters for the first time since 2000-01.

Of course, on-court chemistry and winning are never guaranteed in the NBA, but the fact remains that the Central is the Bucks for the taking as long as the egos stay in check and the team continues to work hard and play hard under coach Scott Skiles.

Fate has dealt Miami a golden opportunity to bring home multiple NBA championships with two of the top five players in the league taking the floor together. But the same hand that has left a few Eastern Conference teams settling for lesser players has also rewarded those that planned accordingly to not swim in the deepest waters of the 2010 summer free agent flood.

The Fear the Deer movement is alive and well in Milwaukee, and fans should get the bandwagon moving early.

Comments

  1. David K. says

    very well written article Jake… still think the Bulls will be right up there with the Bucks… of course the health as you mentioned is an issue… as well as what Chicago does with all that remaining cap space…

  2. paulmbanks says

    Right now I woudl agree that Mil looks like the favorite in the division, which is certainly an interesting turn of events. But that all changes if Chicago lands a real two-guard like Kyle Korver or someone like that.

    I know Korver is not a star, just a decent role player, but if they get Chi has the best starting 5 in the divison.

  3. jmccormick says

    The Bulls probably are the least affected by Lebron’s choice, because they do have a respectable starting five that already has experience playing together. I think they’ll definitely get better depending on who they sign. I’m actually really excited at the potential for a Chicago-Milwaukee battle for the division. It helps both teams, and the NBA as a whole.

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