Smaller market. Cold Midwestern city. Homegrown league MVP who was drafted with the No. 15 overall pick. League's best record despite the obstacles.

The Milwaukee Bucks are everything the Cavaliers hope to become. 

Not long ago, the Bucks were like the Cavs, a younger team in need of some development and direction. There was a lot of roster turnover, some coaching changes and even a shakeup in the front office.

The Bucks weren't awful, finishing 41-41 and reaching the playoffs in Giannis Antetokounmpo's second season. But they had to take a step back to get better.

In 2015-16, they finished 33-49. Antetokounmpo showed lots of promise that season, but the team around him was younger (and a little more clueless) than the year before. Their future could best be described as murky.

They lost small forward Khris Middleton to a torn ACL early in 2016-17, and other than Antetokounmpo, Middleton was the Bucks' best player. They were also counting on Jabari Parker that season, but he too was lost to an ACL tear. never to be the same.

Like the Cavs, the Bucks have had their share of bad luck.

Eventually, they replaced Jason Kidd as coach, first with interim man (and former Cavs assistant) Joe Prunty, and eventually with Mike Budenholzer, formerly of the Atlanta Hawks.

Along the way, the Bucks landed point guard Eric Bledsoe, center Brook Lopez, and a bunch of role players who fit the system -- and off they went. Last season, the Bucks finished 60-22 for the league's best record. Antetokounmpo was named league MVP.

Today, the Bucks also boast a pair of former Cavs in guard George Hill and shooting star Kyle Korver, who signed as a free agent in the offseason.


The Bucks are hardly what you consider a "Super Team." They weren't built with a bunch of high-profile signings in free agency. And no one will ever accuse them of tampering.  

Antetokounmpo has even said he prefers not to talk to opposing superstars, much less recruit them. That's probably a good thing. They probably wouldn't come.

The Cavs (1-1) can relate.

General manager Koby Altman understands Cleveland isn't likely to appeal to the game's biggest names. He knows the Cavs will need to get it done mostly via the draft and trades. Much like the Bucks (1-1) have done.

Altman and the Cavs think they're off to a decent start. New coach John Beilein is their Budenholzer, a strong tactician who specializes in offense the old-fashioned way. That means, as Tristan Thompson likes to say, "the ball has energy," zipping from player to player, never sticking in one spot for too long.

At least, that's the idea. The Cavs aren't there yet. They have some nice veteran players, such as veteran big men Thompson and Kevin Love. They have high hopes for the extremely young backcourt of Collin Sexton and rookie Darius Garland

They also know LeBron James in his prime won't fall into their laps again. For one, James is on the other side of his prime. For another, players such as James come into the league once every couple decades. Players such as James who are also from Akron come along about once every 100 years.

Nor do the Cavs have anyone on their roster like Antetokounmpo. He's 6-foot-11 and is a center and small forward and point guard rolled into one.

Right now, the Cavs are just starting out, setting the foundation for that one big trade or more likely, that diamond in the draft.

The Bucks are the standard. No one ever expected them to be this good, this fast, and certainly not while playing in what has seemed like one of the NBA's forgotten cities.

Don't misunderstand. Altman has his own plan. But the Cavs admire what the Bucks have done and how they've gone about their business of building a winner. 

Mostly, the Cavs appreciate how the Bucks have risen from a very similar situation, and believe they can eventually do the same.