NBA

What is Jabari Parker’s Milwaukee Legacy?

jabari parker in white bucks jersey

Jabari Parker is no longer a member of the Milwaukee Bucks. Parker and the Bulls agreed to a two-year contract reportedly worth $40 million on Saturday. Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Bucks rescinded Parker’s qualifying offer, allowing the Bulls to offer him a larger contract the Bucks knew they wouldn’t match.

It’s a rare moment of good-faith from an organization towards a player on his way out. Parker, who grew up in Chicago, is heading to his hometown team with a chance to restart his career on a rebuilding team. The Bucks helped one of their former franchise players get a larger contract with a rival team within their division. That doesn’t happen often, if ever in professional sports. The two parties separate with no hard feelings.

It’s not wholly surprising, though, for those who have followed Parker’s brief career with Milwaukee. As a lifelong Milwaukee fan, I can tell you Parker will hold a special place in Bucks history. But, when his departure was announced I found myself thinking about Parker’s time in Milwaukee and came the question, what exactly will Parker’s legacy be?

From a purely on-court basketball sense, Parker could be seen as a bust, never living up to the franchise-changing potential that usually accompanies a #2 draft pick.

I’ll never think of Parker as a bust. In a lot of ways, he did change the Bucks for the better, just not in the way we expected. To understand Parker’s effect on Milwaukee, you have to understand where the Bucks were as a franchise before his arrival.

Heading into the 2014 draft, the Bucks had the #2 selection, the highest they’d picked since 2005 when they drafted Andrew Bogut with the #1 pick (ahead of Chris Paul). After the Bogut miss, things didn’t get any better. Between 2005 and 2014, the Bucks didn’t exactly nail their picks. Despite being in the lottery every year the Bucks’ first round picks range from comically bad to just a bummer. From 2006 on, their first round picks included Yi Jianlian (lol), Joe Alexander (sigh), Brandon Jennings (Bucks in 6), Jimmer Fredette (traded for Tobias Harris, Shaun Livingston and Stephen Jackson), John Henson and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Looking back, Giannis might be the draft steal of the century nabbing him at #15 but we wouldn’t know that for some years. Giannis was little more than a benchwarmer with some intriguing potential on a terrible team. The Bucks had just finished their worst season in franchise history, a 15-67 record. Despite that, Bucks fans, like myself, were more optimistic than ever.

Finally, a rebuild! After years of suffering mediocrity from signing washed-up free agents in order to claw to a .500 record and 8th playoff seed in the East just to get swept, there finally seemed to be a plan to actually try to be good. The unintentionally disastrous season forced the Bucks’ hand, they finally had to reset and begin anew, starting with a franchise player they expected to nab at #2.

As the draft neared, something interesting happened. Joel Embiid broke his foot, essentially putting him out of the running for the #1 pick by Cleveland. It had come down to Andrew Wiggins and Parker. Rumors actually began to come out that Parker, being Chicago-born and wanting to be close to his family, actually preferred to go #2 to Milwaukee.

To a Bucks fan, this was one of the most incredible things to ever cross my ears. A top prospect actually would PREFER to come to Milwaukee? He’d actually rather go #2 to the Bucks? What?! Rumors even came out that Parker tanked his workout with Cleveland to help him drop to #2. (I highly doubt this, but the fact it was even a rumor is astonishing.)

The Bucks drafted Parker and it was a happy marriage from the start. Parker talked about being happy to be the face of a rebuilding franchise and embraced the city as well as any prospect I’ve seen come through Milwaukee.

On the court, Parker’s rookie season went well. 25 games in, the Bucks were exceeding expectations and Parker was averaging 12.2 points per game and 5.5 rebounds while shooting 49% from the field. Then he went down with an injury in a game against the Phoenix Suns that turned out to be a torn ACL.

The Bucks went on to make the playoffs before losing the Bulls in six games. Despite the loss, hopes were high. The Bucks had gone from a 15-win team to a 41-win team behind new coach Jason Kidd (remember when we thought Jason Kidd was good?), a young freak named Giannis had started to show some eye-popping potential, and there was still hope for Parker.

jabari parker farewell bucks graphic

In fact, I remember leaving game three of the series against the Bulls, the Bucks had lost in overtime and my buddy and I were kind of surrounded by Chicago fans. It was a great game though and as we were leaving there were a couple Bulls fans who were being gracious and saying the Bucks were a young team with a bright future. My friend said something along the lines of, “Just wait until next year when Jabari comes back.”

I remember the Chicago fan’s eyes light up at the mention of Jabari. He gushed about how Parker was a Chicago kid and he was going to be a star. Between Bucks and Bulls fans, bitter rivals in the midst of a playoff series, there was common ground in our excitement for Parker’s future.

Parker came back next year and improved slightly while the Bucks as a team regressed. The next season, the 2016-17 season, is where it really seemed like Parker was able to shake off the torn ACL and begin to reach his dazzling offensive potential. He played 51 games, starting 50 and scored 20.1 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 2.8 assists per game while shooting 49% from the field and 36% from behind the arc.

But, in game 52, Parker tore his ACL again, in the same knee. It was brutally devastating for the franchise and fans. The dream of a core lineup of Giannis, Jabari and Khris Middleton together leading Milwaukee seemed to vanish. Since Parker was drafted and the team was formed behind those three franchise players, they had barely shared a court together thanks to Jabari’s two season-ending injuries and Middleton suffering a torn hamstring before the 2016 season, missing more than 50 games. (The game that Middleton returned in 2016 was actually the same game Parker suffered his second torn ACL. Literally. The. Exact. Same. Game.)

We know that Parker returned from his second ACL injury late in the season in 2018. I was in attendance for his first game back, and he got a standing ovation when he checked in. It was a special moment, the fans showing their appreciation for Parker fighting his way back to the court again. As impressive it was for Parker to return after two serious knee injuries, and even make some noise in the playoff series against Boston, it was clear he wasn’t the same.

No player would after the injuries Parker has suffered. But, his future in Milwaukee was the big question all throughout the 2017-2018 season. How much can you invest in a player with his injury history?

Reports came out during the season that the Bucks had offered Parker a multi-year deal worth roughly $18 million a year. That essentially was all the cap room Milwaukee had at the time, but Parker saw himself worth more and bet on himself.

It’s reasonable to question the Bucks decision-making leading up to Jabari’s contract negotiations, giving large contracts to players like Matthew Dellavedova, Mirza Teletovic and John Henson, but it’s worth noting that the Bucks were still willing to invest the remaining cap room they had left in Parker, despite his injuries. They clearly believed in him as a future core piece of their franchise, just not as much as Parker wanted.

Giannis, in Parker’s absence, has emerged as the true franchise player and potential MVP candidate. He’s probably the best player the Bucks have had since Lew Alcindor was donning the uniform, and he’s only 23. The Bucks sole focus moving forward is maximizing his skillset and potential.

The Bucks biggest weaknesses are outside shooting and defense, two areas that are also weaknesses for Parker. In a vacuum, Parker is still, I believe, going to be a good player. Unfortunately, his skills overlap too much with the rest of the roster, especially his weaknesses. For the cash-strapped Bucks to invest tons of money into a player with Parker’s skills and injuries could have been a serious waste of Giannis’ potential (and they probably don’t need any help in that regard).

Parker was going to be the focal point of the franchise, but in his absence, Giannis and Middleton passed him as better players with skillsets that better complimented each other.

The only possible way it seemed for Parker to return to Milwaukee would have been to accept their qualifying offer for a one year contract, prove he can play a full season efficiently, then hit the open market in 2019. That was only possible if no other team offered Parker anything more.

The Bulls eventually stepped up to bring the hometown kid home. It makes a lot of sense for both sides, the Bulls bring in a young player who still could have star potential if he stays healthy, but can get out of it pretty easily thanks to the second-year team option. For Parker, he gets the chance to prove he’s still a franchise player on a young team while also making $20 million a year. Win-win.

tweet of milwaukee bucks community thanking jabari

A tweet from the Bucks Community Twitter page thanking Jabari upon his departure. Jabari was consistently an active volunteer with multiple foundations and charities throughout Milwaukee

Regardless of Parker’s disappointing short career in Milwaukee, he still embraced the city like few players who come to the notoriously inept franchise do. Despite his injuries, he remained a face for the franchise off the court, constantly volunteering in the community. In fact, he’s a finalist for the NBA Cares Community Assist Award. Even with all his injuries, he always remained a proud face of the Milwaukee community

I’m going to miss Parker. He came along in a special time in Bucks history when they were at their lowest and a chance of relocation was legitimate. The Bucks came out on the other side with a brand-new arena, a rejuvenated fan base and an MVP-caliber player. It just wasn’t Parker.

Jabari is a good dude with a lot of talent who’s had crappy luck. Bucks fans will always wonder what could have been if he stayed healthy and developed alongside Middleton and Giannis. Regardless, the Bucks and Milwaukee were lucky to have him.

In his farewell to Milwaukee and the Bucks, Parker called Milwaukee his second-home. He’s completely right. Parker, even when playing for the rival Bulls, will always be a son to the city of Milwaukee.

Good luck going back home Jabari. Your second-home is rooting for you.

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