Is a small-market, slow-build dynasty even possible in this era of basketball?

Is a small-market, slow-build dynasty even possible in this era of basketball?


Giannis Antetokounmpo
Photo: Getty Images

A single championship does not a dynasty make, despite Kevin Durant’s comment this summer that the Bucks were “forming somewhat of a dynasty.”

Durant walked his statement back a bit after the Nets’ loss to the Bucks in the 2021 season opener last week — “maybe I was reaching a little bit” — but acknowledging the fact that the current roster in Milwaukee has worked through some tough losses throughout the years as a team, saying “I just look at it as it’s hard in the league for four or five guys to stay together as long as the Bucks did, through the ups and downs of losing in the first or second round, almost going to the Finals in 2019. They’ve been through a lot together.”

That they have. When Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton arrived in Milwaukee in 2013, they suffered through a 15-win season. That began a steady climb upwards (with nowhere else to go, really) to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2019 under current head coach Mike Budenholzer, and, of course, becoming NBA Champions in 2021.

Sure, Durant probably spoke too soon, or used the wrong phrasing, although the Bucks are off to a strong start (minus that horrific showing against the Heat), and are currently holding the title for the most regular season wins in the NBA for the past three years, despite some postseason woes along the way.

But the question remains — is this kind of dynasty still possible in the current era? Can you build one from the ground up, in a small market, in a league where organizations unapologetically work toward building superteams by collecting All-Stars left and right? While they’re hardly a team of nobodies, their roster is not as impressive on paper as, say, the Nets’ or the Lakers’ lineups coming into this season.

To even try to begin to answer these questions, we look toward Giannis, an enigma in the NBA simply because of what appears to be a complete lack of egotism. It feels like every other week these days, we’re covering the self-centered concerns of Kyrie Irving or Ben Simmons or even James Harden. We live in an era where LeBron James has set the standard for basketball greatness for the past two decades — and while he did eventually come back to Cleveland and bring one home, he had to join the Big Three in Miami to get his first ring. Great players jump ship frequently — and with good reason. As annoying as it may be to some fans, who wouldn’t want to win the big one? And if that means joining the team with the best chance of doing so, far be it from me to begrudge them a championship, however they want to come by it.

But Giannis, a two-time MVP and five-time All-Star, does not appear to be leaving Milwaukee anytime soon. We’re talking about a guy who stuck himself to the Bucks with no room for questions and waited patiently for eight years, with only Middleton by his side, for his time to come as the team built around him. If — and that’s a big if — Giannis and the Bucks can pull it off again this year, it still doesn’t necessarily mean that the slow and steady build is the better option. But it means that it’s an option. Even if it’s not this year, if the playoff run is cut short or if they have to wait until 2023 or 2024, this Bucks team forces us to consider the merits of the slow-build commitment in reaching greatness.

And, sure, it may be somewhat easier in a smaller market like Milwaukee, with less expectations and a little more patience from much of the fanbase. Giannis and Middleton are hardly the Jordan and Scottie of this decade (for one, Giannis lacks Jordan’s slightly unhinged outlook on life that propelled him to greatness), but they’re building a name in their own right in a way that no one who comes to mind has done in a long time. Is it the Giannis effect? Or could we see this replicated by more small- and mid-market organizations in the coming decade?



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About the Author

Anthony Barnett
Anthony is the author of the Science & Technology section of ANH.