The Milwaukee Bucks came into the NBA bubble in Orlando with lofty expectations. As the No.1 team in the league, they were a favorite to win it all.
But the hopes and dreams of the organization ended in the second round with a 4-1 series loss to the Miami Heat.
However, the story following the Bucks around was never about what the team needed to do to improve the roster and find playoff success. Rather, even before the series was over and the Bucks went home, the talk was centered around Giannis Antetokounmpo and where the MVP will play next.
Will he play for the Lakers? Maybe the Warriors? How about the Heat? They are a wildcard to grab him, right?
All eyes are on where The Greek Freak could play next, and that narrative is not only disrespectful to Giannis and the Bucks, it's disrespectful to every small market team in the NBA.
First of all, Giannis is still under contract through next season. He's not even on the market, yet here we are wondering where could play as soon as next season.
Second, every small market team hurts when this narrative is pushed.
For years here in Portland the talk has always been about how hard it is to lure free agents to town. How Portland can't compete with the big lights of New York, the party life of South Beach, or the glitz and glamour of Hollywood.
It's not just Portland, it's (insert any small market team here) that deals with this narrative ad nauseam.
In Portland, you have Damian Lillard. A true superstar in the league and a player that has expressed his desire to bring a title to the Northwest.
In Milwaukee, you have Giannis Antetokounmpo. A true superstar in the league, an MVP, and a player that has expressed his desire to bring a title to Wisconsin.
Lillard and Antetokounmpo - Two stars playing for teams that we always argue struggle to obtain stars. Yet, at the first sign of a bump in the road, we try to find the best way for those stars to get out of town.
We have heard for years in Portland about how if Lillard wants to win, he just needs to ask for a trade. Just type "Lillard, Lakers" into a Google search to see the plethora of home office photoshops of Lillard in purple and gold.
What makes this even more disrespectful is that both Lillard and Antetokounmpo are cut from the same cloth, having both expressed their desire to win in their small markets. To do whatever it takes to bring a title to them rather than bolt for the perceived easier route.
In an interview with Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, Antetokounmpo was asked about his offseason and the potential of teams lining up in hopes that he requests a trade. He didn't mince words. "That’s not happening. Some see a wall and go in [another direction]. I plow through it."
Lillard is much the same.
In an interview with the Athletic last summer, Lillard said "There has been a lot of time invested, a lot of hard work, a lot of losses, just a lot of stuff I’ve been a part of and I want to finish the job. I want to be here for my career so I can make sure I finish the things I’ve started.”
Lillard didn't back down from that stance later that same summer in an interview with Complex. “To leave, what did I invest all this time for just to leave, you know?” Lillard continued. “If I go play with three other stars, I don’t think that many people would doubt that I could win it. We would win it, but what is the challenge or the fun in that?”
When a star lands in a small market and professes their desire to remain loyal to that small market, we still find a way to force them out.
Numerous small markets have been fortunate enough to draft well over the years and have stars of their own, Devin Booker in Phoenix and Donovan Mitchell in Utah for example, or small markets like Indiana have traded one star to land another in Victor Oladipo.
Can Devin Booker win in Phoenix? Can Donovan Mitchell really bring a title to Utah? Should Victor Oladipo stay in Indiana?
All-stars. All playing in small markets. All floated at one point or another as a target for a big market team. The story is less often about how they can win with their current team and more about what super team they need to go join.
Taking about trade targets and potential deals is one thing. Forcing a story that makes it sound as if a player's only chance of success is to leave a small market is another.
If Giannis requests a trade, it doesn't just hurt the Bucks, it hurts every small market team in the NBA. It feeds the narrative monster, it helps add fuel to the fire for those that say stars can't succeed in certain locations.
The Spurs built a dynasty from a small town in the middle of Texas. They missed the playoffs this season for the first time in more than two decades. They didn't build a dynasty by trading every star that came to town. They built it by never giving that star a reason to want to leave.
Portland, Milwaukee, and other small-market teams have built that same culture over the years, and now they have the stars to take them to the next level... large markets be damned.
[Listen to the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon].