The circus is coming to Fiserv Forum on Friday night. Well, at least the NBA version, when the Milwaukee Bucks host the drama-plagued Minnesota Timberwolves at 7:30 p.m. Friday to close out the preseason.
In August, a trade demand by Timberwolves wing Jimmy Butler, a former Marquette standout, made his volatile situation in Minnesota one of the top headlines around the NBA. Then, on Wednesday after trade talks with the Miami Heat broke down, Butler returned to practice and injected a new jolt of life into the drama, reportedly leading a squad of third-stringers to a win over the starters while slinging verbal barbs at members of the team’s front office and coaching staff.
The situation has taken the NBA by storm. Unsurprisingly, members of the Bucks have taken notice.
“It’s crazy,” Bucks wing Khris Middleton said Thursday following practice. “That’s definitely something you don’t want to go through as a team. Luckily all our guys here are happy or seem happy so far, so we’ve just got to worry about us.
“Everybody goes through something at some point in the season, but we really have to just try to focus on us and not get caught up in that circus over there.”
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Milwaukee center John Henson had his own take.
“It’s funny actually, like the memes are pretty funny. I’ll give ‘em that,” he said. “But you know, that’s a tough situation. Obviously, Jimmy Butler’s a really good player. He wants to play, he wants to win. I think we all can respect that, so hopefully, things work out over there.”
As much as the Timberwolves are the talk of the NBA and will be the center of much attention Friday night, the Bucks plan to stay focused on their own development. With limited time to prepare for their season opener Wednesday in Charlotte, facing the Timberwolves represents a dress-rehearsal opportunity that they would be unwise to squander.
“Just approach it as a real game,” Middleton said. “This is the last test for us to see what we’ve been working on – the new system, the new style of play.”
Following a game in which five players, including four starters, sat out to rest, the Bucks should be back close to full strength. As opposed to evaluating those at the end of the bench or fighting for the team’s final roster spot, coach Mike Budenholzer will have more pressing matters to focus on in the last game before the wins and losses count.
“More approaching trying to get maybe a feel for what the rotations might be,” Budenholzer said of his plans for Friday. “When you look at practice and open gym and all those things, we’ve had a lot of time to evaluate guys. I think that will be on the lighter end of the priorities.”
The number of players for Budenholzer to evaluate dropped by one Thursday when the Bucks requested waivers on Shabazz Muhammad. Muhammad, who spent the final two months of last season with the Bucks before rejoining the team on a training-camp deal this fall, played in two of the team’s two preseason games and averaged 8.0 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.0 steal.
Muhammad’s waiver leaves center Tyler Zeller, guard Tim Frazier and forward Christian Wood as the remaining competitors for Milwaukee’s 15th roster spot.
That competition, though, is about as dramatic as the Bucks’ training camp has been — and even that has been rather subdued with each player working hard on the court and saying all the right things off it. Players have roundly praised Budenholzer’s system and approach to practices that involves less intense conditioning and more of a focus on efficiency and doses of catered development.
Compared to the Timberwolves’ tumultuous camp, the Bucks have enjoyed staying drama free and out of the spotlight and hope to stay that way as long as possible.
“It’s cool. Now it’s up to us to turn that into wins, turn that into success and we’ll stay drama free,” Henson said.