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Six Things the Bucks new Owners Need to Address

With new ownership taking over the Milwaukee Bucks recently, Basketball Insiders takes a look at the top six things for them to address.

John Zitzler

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On April 16 Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens purchased the Milwaukee Bucks for $550 million from Herb Kohl. This move has rejuvenated the franchise and provides a new found optimism that hasn’t surrounded the organization in quite some time. Lasry and Edens will have a massive undertaking ahead of them but if done right could build something very special here in Milwaukee.

New Arena

The first thing on the to-do list of new Bucks owners Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens is to secure funding to build a new home for the team. The Bucks current lease with the Bradley Center expires September 30, 2017, which for now is the deadline the team must adhere too. However it has been reported that the team may receive a two-year extension from the NBA if considerable progress is made towards the planning and construction of a new building. Also it was recently reported by Brian Windhorst and Marc Stein of ESPN that if progress isn’t made towards a new arena there is a provision in the sale of the team which allows the NBA the option to purchase the team back for $575 million from the new owners. This provision ensures that Lasry and Edens must push to build a new arena and not just sit by idly for a few years before attempting to resell to a higher bidder who could potentially relocate the franchise.

The biggest obstacle which Lasry and Edens must overcome will be just how exactly to finance the new arena. Herb Kohl very graciously pledged $100 million to the fund as a parting gift to the franchise, and the new owners have agreed to match that adding $100 million of their own to pot. The new arena will reportedly cost somewhere between $400 to $500 million when it’s all said and done. While $200 million down is a great start there is still a considerable amount of work left to be done. There has been some backlash from the local community over the possibility being taxed to help raise funds, many citing the tax that they are still paying to help finance Miller Park. The Miller Park tax is a 0.1% sales tax applied to purchases in Milwaukee County and four surrounding counties and was recently estimated to be in effect until 2020. It is certainly possibly that we may see something similar to help acquire funding for the new arena. If this is the case it will be up the new owners to present the benefits a new arena could provide the city and how appreciated taxpaying citizens would be.

“For a project of this size and one that is both a private transaction and also in this case a public-private transaction where there is a number of different constituents, I think getting something designed, financed and ready to come out of the ground in the next 12 months is a very aggressive but a very realistic timeline so long as there is engagement locally, which I believe there will be,” Edens said in a Q&A. “So as soon as we are mandated as the owners, we will jump into it with both feet and get after it. I think it’s a challenge, but it is a tremendous opportunity.”

Team Branding

Lasry and Edens need to find a way to get the people of Milwaukee and Wisconsin in general to get excited about the Bucks. For many the team is an afterthought behind the Green Bay Packers, Milwaukee Brewers, Marquette basketball and both the University of Wisconsin football and basketball teams. Lasry and Eden have the tall task of trying to bring the same enthusiasm associated with those teams to the Bucks. With a new arena potentially on the horizon it would be a great chance to completely revamp the organization and change the perception, whether it be new uniforms, increased media coverage and even something as simple as making more team merchandise available. Bucks fans out there know that even in Milwaukee getting your hands on some Bucks gear can be nearly impossible outside of the Bradley Center Pro Shop. The team right now seems to have a small but very knowledgeable and loyal fan base that couldn’t be happier to have Lasry and Edens at the helm going forward. The new owners need to focus on expanding the fan base and bringing back some of the casual fans the team has lost due to their lack of success.

Luckily for Lasry and Eden they already have one piece that they should be shoving down Wisconsin’s throats in Giannis Antetokounmpo and will have chance to land another in the draft. The young Antetokounmpo has shown in his short time in Milwaukee that he has a fantastic personality and is embracing the city whole heartedly. Right now Antetokounmpo has somewhat of a cult following in Milwaukee and throughout of the league because of his infectious demeanor and sky high potential on the court. The average Milwaukee resident would likely just give you a funny look if you brought up his name, though. It should a priority for Lasry and Eden to make Antetokounmpo as visible as possible and allow for others to see just why there is some much excitement in certain circles about future of Antetokounmpo.

An Honest Timeline

One way which Lasry and Eden could win over some of the good folks of Milwaukee who may be skeptical about a new arena and the franchise in general is by being as transparent as possible. Let the city see that progress is being made and make it known that there is a master plan in place to bring the team back to prominence.

Lasry and Edens recently took part in a Q & A with Don Walker of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel where they discussed the future. When asked about his business philosophy Lasry said:

“For me, when we look at it, you need to have excellent management. When I look at companies like this, especially owning the Bucks, I think we have an obligation to the city, to the fans, to everyone. But at the same time I think our view is we want to build a world-class organization. And to do that, that’s how you succeed. That’s how we succeeded at businesses having exceptional people doing exceptional things.

“First of all, I love underdogs, and I think Marc loves underdogs. The notion of buying into a team at this time in some respects is perfect. There is no doubt there is a tremendous fan base in Milwaukee and in the Wisconsin area for sports. All you have to do is look at the attendance figures for the Brewers. Go to a Packers game. There is no doubt there is a huge fan interest for it. We just have to create a product that everybody is excited about…In the NBA you can become competitive in a very short time if you get the right people in charge and you get the right players on the court playing the right way. I think it’s a great opportunity.”

Both Lasry and Edens seemed poised and ready to take some big plans for the franchise, however this isn’t going to happen overnight and will require some patience from the both the city of Milwaukee and the fan base throughout the state. It will be important for Lasry and Edens to continue to be open about the progress of the organization going forward.

John Hammond

Current Bucks general manager John Hammond signed a three-year extension worth $5.5 million in January 2013. Hammond seemed to have a positive relationship with former owner Herb Kohl, but is now left in limbo with the sale of the team. Lasry and Edens will have to decide whether or not they will honor that contract or choose to go in a different direction and bring in their own guy.

Hammond has been criticized in the past for some of the moves he has made, particularly some of the win-now deadline deals of the past few seasons. Herb Kohl was always one to push for the playoffs and was never afraid to move younger players in favor of veterans who could have an immediate impact. When evaluating Hammond, Kohl’s agenda must be taken into account as it certainly had influence over many of the roster decisions made while Hammond has been GM. With Kohl and his presumed playoffs or bust mandate out of the picture it very possible that we could see a different approach taken from Hammond going forward.

Hammond has been relatively strong in terms of drafting, landing numerous serviceable players in the second round and of course most recently hitting a home run with 15th pick of 2013 draft in Giannis Antetokounmpo. The 2014 draft will obviously be a pivotal point for the franchise and is just couple months down the road, the new owners will have decide relatively soon if Hammond will be the one making what could be one of most important picks in franchise history.

Larry Drew

Larry Drew, like Hammond, will be sweating out the next few weeks with his future being very uncertain. Drew signed a four-year, $10 million dollar deal to coach the team last offseason after coaching the Atlanta Hawks the previous three seasons and reaching the playoffs in each of them. While Drew was able to make the playoffs with the Hawks every year, only once during his tenure did the team have an offensive rating higher that the league average. The team never had a defensive rating above the league average, showing that even during his most successful seasons his teams weren’t really exceptional on either end of the court.

This season was long one for Coach Drew as the team struggled to compete on a nightly basis and ended the season with the worst record in the league (15-67); yes, even worse than the tanking Philadelphia 76ers that at one point this season recorded an NBA record-tying 26 straight losses. The team was riddled with injuries and incidents that left them shorthanded for much of the season, forcing Drew to piece together lineups throughout the year. Like Hammond a decision on Drew’s fate should come relatively soon as the team prepares for the offseason.

Larry Sanders

After signing a four-year, $44 million dollar extension prior to start of season it was expected Larry Sanders would continue to grow as a player and develop into a leader in the locker room. Well that didn’t happen – not even close. It seemed for Sanders everything that could wrong, did, both on and off the court.

It didn’t take long into the 2013 season for things to take a turn for the worse. In early November he was involved in bar fight where video shows him swinging champagne bottles while struggling to maintain his balance on a slippery dance floor as he fights off his assailants. This fight resulted in Sanders tearing ligaments in his thumb that would require surgery to repair. The injury sidelined Sanders for nearly two months early in the season and by the time he returned the team was already buried in the standings. A month or so after returning from the thumb injury in a game against the Rockets, Sanders caught and elbow to the eye fracturing his orbital bone, which would also require surgery, keeping Sanders out for the remainder of the season. However, even just sitting on the sideline Sanders was unable to keep his name out of the news. On April 4 Sanders was suspend five games for violating the league’s anti-drug policy testing positive for marijuana. Fortunately for the team and Sanders he was able to be activated April 9 and served his five game suspension during the last five games of this season, meaning he will not miss time to start 2014 season. In Sanders limited time on the court he regressed from the immense progress he had made the previous season, his per 36 numbers are down across the board.

Lasry and Edens need to make sure that Sanders is committed to the team and understand that his actions not only reflect poorly on him but bring negative light to the franchise. When he is right he can be difference maker in the paint protecting the rim but the new owners will have to decide whether his potential on the court outweighs his potential as overpaid distraction.

This is John's second year with Basketball Insiders, after spending last season working as an intern. Based out of Milwaukee, he covers the NBA with a focus on the Milwaukee Bucks and the Central Division.

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NBA AM: Is It Smart To Bet On Yourself In This Market?

Many extension-eligible players opted to bet on themselves and a questionable free agent marketplace next summer.

Steve Kyler

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No Big Surprises On Draft Extensions

The big news yesterday wasn’t a new extension for a 2014 first round draft pick, it was the news that the San Antonio Spurs reached a three-year, $72 million extension with veteran LaMarcus Aldridge.

The news was surprising for a couple of reasons. The biggest being the Spurs had shopped Aldridge in trade scenarios this offseason under the idea that he was a problematic fit for the Spurs.

Ultimately, Aldridge and the Spurs ended up in the same place on his deal. The Spurs were not going to be big free agent players and locking Aldridge in now gives them some security as well as trade leverage later. In Aldridge’s case, his camp saw the marketplace this past summer and all of the mouths that need to be fed in July and realized he wasn’t likely getting more money on the open market come free agency.

One of the things the Spurs found out was that trading a player with a player option is not an easy task as teams that would give up value want to know what comes next, either way. Over the past few years, player options have become almost toxic in trade, mainly because there are two classes of trade partners, one that wants the ending contract and a player for a stretch run in the postseason and teams that want the player for next season. The options make valuing the player sticky at best.

In doing a deal for Aldridge, the Spurs basically lock him into their roster for this season but give themselves a trade chip next summer, if they need it. This was smart for both sides. The Spurs locked in the player and the trade asset, Aldridge locked in money he likely wouldn’t have gotten in the open market.

For those players drafted in the first round of the 2014 NBA Draft, yesterday closed the window on the “Early Extension Period.” While there were talks all the way to the wire on several players, the bulk of the deals that didn’t get done didn’t get close enough to seal the deal.

The Boston Celtics and Marcus Smart frequently talked about an extension, and his camp labeled the talks as getting “close” but ultimately, future luxury tax concerns killed a possible deal before the extension deadline, meaning Smart will hit free agency in July.

The Celtics will have a couple of months to see if Smart continues to evolve before they have to make decisions, and they now know what a deal would take for Smart to sign outright. Given the Celtics tax concerns, there is a window for a team with cap space to poach him in July if they come with the right kind of offer sheet. While the Celtics can obtain the right to match Smart with a $6.53 million qualifying offer, the tax issues won’t go away without a cap dump of a trade. Equally, the Celtics roster is loaded with point guards, so the C’s have the luxury of seeing what unfolds in the next three months before the February 8 trade deadline.

The Orlando Magic and their pair of 2014 draftees, Aaron Gordon and Elfird Payton, talked about extensions, mostly out of courtesy. The Magic would have done deals if it favored the team, but the new front office in Orlando has been open and honest that they are still very much in evaluation mode on the roster and were not going to pay a premium at this point.

The Magic’s reluctance to do a deal wasn’t about valuing either player as both are said to have been very good so far, this preseason. The Magic don’t have a clear-cut direction yet and inking a long-term deal with either would have been counter to their goal of flexibility. Equally, the Magic also know that both players are unlikely to get huge free agent offers unless they blossom this season, which would make matching an easier decision after seeing how they play this season.

Neither player entered the process expecting to reach a deal, so there is no ill-will about not getting an extension. Both players have said publicly and privately they knew they had to earn their next deal and came into camp with that mindset.

The Utah Jazz and guard Rodney Hood engaged on an extension most of the summer. The Jazz are very committed to Hood, but would not commit to a deal at this point for a bunch of reasons, the biggest being they don’t really know what the team is yet. Hood is going to get a big opportunity this year, and the Jazz want to see if he can handle the increased load and stay healthy. Injuries have ravaged the Jazz lately, and they were reluctant to lock in a big number to a player that hasn’t been durable.

Of the bunch, Hood is the most likely to get a deal without the restricted free agent offer sheet process next summer—the Jazz may simply pony up and pay him if he can fill the void they hope he can for the team.

The Milwaukee Bucks and injured forward Jabari Parker did talk about an extension despite him having torn his ACL for the second time. The Bucks looked at the idea of locking Parker in at a value, but ultimately, neither side got close enough for it to be realistic. Parker is expected to return to action sometime in February, meaning he may log enough games for a big deal in July to be realistic, especially if the Bucks are as good as they project to be this year and land home court in the postseason.

The big hurdle for all of the players that did not get an extension is that the free agent marketplace in July does not project to be as robust as it was even last year. A number of agents urged their clients to take the security of money on the table this summer, and many players opted to bet on themselves, which always sounds like a great idea until the reality of restricted free agency sets in.

Nerlens Noel and JaMychal Green were both causalities of a shrinking marketplace this past summer. It will be interesting to see if some of the players that got close this week get less in the open market in July.

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NBA PM: Hornets Rookies May Become Key Contributors

Some key injuries may force Charlotte’s rookies into becoming effective role players earlier than expected, writes James Blancarte.

James Blancarte

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As the NBA finally gets underway tomorrow evening, the 2017 rookie draft class will get their first taste of regular season action. Teams reliant on young rookie talent might produce an exciting brand of basketball but that rarely translates into a winning formula. Having rookies play a key role for a team hoping to make the playoffs can be a risky endeavor.

Out West, the Los Angeles Lakers are relying on both Lonzo Ball as well as Kyle Kuzma, who may have worked his way into the rotation with his surprising preseason play. However, the Lakers are, at this point, not realistic contenders in the competitive Western Conference. In the East, the Philadelphia 76ers have more realistic playoff hopes. The team is relying on this year’s top overall draft pick, Markelle Fultz, and 2016’s top pick, Ben Simmons, for meaningful production. Although Simmons has been in the league for over a year, he is still classified as a rookie for this season since he didn’t play last season.

The Charlotte Hornets are looking to return to the playoffs after narrowly missing the cut this past season. The team will likely feature not one, but two true rookies as a part of their regular rotation. Like the Lakers, the Hornets feature a highly touted rookie with the talent and poise to contribute right away in Malik Monk. The team also features Dwayne Bacon, a rookie that has flashed scoring potential as well as maturity — key attributes that will allow him to quickly contribute to the team.

Both players will be given the opportunity to contribute as a result of the unfortunate and untimely injury to forward Nicolas Batum. Batum tore a ligament in his left elbow in an October 4 preseason game against the Detroit Pistons. Initial speculation was that the injury would require surgery. However, it was announced on October 10 that surgery would not be necessary, and that he is projected to return in six to eight weeks. Assuming that there are no setbacks in Batum’s recovery, the Hornets will be looking to replace his perimeter scoring, playmaking abilities and perimeter defense. Enter Monk and Bacon.

Monk and Bacon have both shown the ability to score the ball, which is not exactly a common trait in Hornets rookies. Bacon, the 40th pick in the 2017 NBA draft, has made it a point to look for his shot from the outside, averaging 7.8 three-point shots per game while knocking down 33.3 percent of his attempts. As Bacon gains more experience, he presumably will learn how to get cleaner looks at the basket within the flow of the team’s offense. Doing so should help him increase his shooting percentage from beyond the arc, which would turn him into an even more effective contributor for Charlotte.

Bacon spoke to reporters after a recent preseason game against the Boston Celtics. Bacon was placed in the starting lineup and went 4-4 from three-point range in 34 minutes of action.

When asked what are some of the things he wanted to work on, Bacon focused on one end of the court in particular.

“Definitely defense. I’m trying to perfect the defensive side, I want to be one of the best two-way players to ever play the game,” Bacon stated. “I feel like I got the offensive side so just keep getting better on defense, I’ll be fine.”

Lack of consistency and defense are key factors that prevent many rookies from playing and being successful on winning teams right away. Based on Bacon’s size (6-foot-6, 221 pounds with a long wingspan) and physicality, he has the physical tools necessary to play passable defense. Combine that with his ability to score (he led the team in scoring in three of its five preseason games) and the unfortunate injury to Batum, it’s apparent that Bacon will get an opportunity to make the rotation and contribute.

Reliable two-way players on the wing are crucially important, but are not always readily available and are even less common on cheap contracts. The Los Angeles Clippers went through the entire Chris Paul/Blake Griffin era swapping small forwards on a nearly annual basis, struggling to find this kind of contribution from the wing. With little cap flexibility, the Clippers were unable to acquire a forward that could effectively and consistently play both end of the court, which caused issues over the years. As a second round pick, Bacon is set to make $815,615 in his first year. If Bacon is able to contribute at even a league average level, that will be a major boost for the shorthanded Hornets. Bacon is smart to focus on improving as a defender as Steve Clifford is a defensive-minded coach who will leave talented players on the bench if they aren’t making a positive impact on the defensive end of the court.

In fact, Clifford offered some strong simultaneous praise and criticism of Monk when it came to his scoring and defense.

“He can score, he can score, he can score [speaking of Monk],” Clifford stated. “I think his defense will come because he’s willing, he’s a good guy. I think that being a good player is very important to him.”

It’s apparent in Clifford’s comment that he values scoring, but that defense is also extremely important and essential to any player that wants to be a “good player.”

“He knows and understands that the way he has played in the past [in college], he can’t play in this league if he wants to be a good player,” Clifford said about Monk. “The big thing is, I told him, when people say, ‘he’s a talented offensive player’ that is a lot different than somebody saying, ‘he’s a talented NBA player.’”

Point guard Michael Carter-Williams also suffered an injury (bone bruise in his left knee), which received less attention than Batum’s injury. While Carter-Williams is not the same caliber of player as Batum, the Hornets are alarmingly thing at backup point guard. Without Carter-Williams, the team was going to lean on Batum to act as a playmaker more than he has in the past, which would have, at least in part, addressed the lack of an established backup point guard. But with Batum sidelined, Coach Clifford has given Monk time at the point guard position. If Monk proves capable of playing both guard positions and playing alongside Walker, that could go a long way towards mitigating the loss of Batum and Carter-Williams. It’s not reasonable to expect Monk (or Bacon) to produce as consistently as a seasoned veteran, but having them contribute at a league average level would constitute a big win for a Charlotte team with serious playoff aspirations.

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Teams Refuse To Back Down To Stacked Warriors

Golden State got better over the summer, but that didn’t stop others from trying to stop them from repeating as champions

Spencer Davies

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Opening week is finally upon us.

Appropriately enough, the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics will kick off the 2017-18 NBA season tomorrow night, as will the defending champion Golden State Warriors when they host the improved Houston Rockets.

The clear-cut favorites to win the league title are the ones who have done so two out of the past three years, and rightfully so. Warriors general manager Bob Myers has done a masterful job of assembling a juggernaut. They’ve kept their insanely talented core intact and—aside from Ian Clark and Matt Barnes—haven’t lost any of their key bench pieces to free agency.

In fact, Golden State has added to that dangerous second unit. Jordan Bell was bought from the Chicago Bulls and will bring another Draymond Green-esque impact almost immediately. Nick Young and Omri Casspi were brought in to fill the void of backup wings, which is an improvement at the position anyway. With the same roster as last year and better reserves to give the starters a breather, there’s no reason Steve Kerr and company can’t repeat if they stay healthy.

Knowing what the Warriors are capable of and how well they are set up to truly be a dynasty, there are some league executives out there who are hesitant to make significant moves that could potentially flop against such a powerhouse.

ESPN’s Zach Lowe reported back in middle June that select teams don’t want to risk a big play because of it. What that basically translates into is: We’re throwing in the white towel until that ball club disbands.

But luckily for fans and for parity’s sake, there was a handful of general managers that refused to take that path. Just looking down the list in the Western Conference, there were organizations that swung for the fences this summer.

The aforementioned Rockets are one of them.Daryl Morey pieced together multiple trades to allow him to land Chris Paul to play next to James Harden and form a dynamic backcourt tandem. Houston also signed a pair of veteran two-way players in Luc Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker to provide depth and defense.

What about the Oklahoma City Thunder? Just when we thought Russell Westbrook’s MVP season was enough to maybe build off, the unthinkable happened. Sam Presti unloaded Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis to Indiana after just one season with the team to add All-Star forward Paul George, who is in a contract year.

That blockbuster move was followed up with another two months later, as Presti decided to deal fan favorite Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott to the Knicks in exchange for Carmelo Anthony. The creation of a Westbrook-George-Anthony big three forms an elite trio that is determined to prove championship worthiness.

Top tier Eastern Conference counterparts did their due diligence as well. The Cavaliers and Celtics are essentially rivals and became trade partners in an attempt to re-tool their respective rosters, in addition to gaining important pieces outside of that.

Boston inked Gordon Hayward to a maximum contract to create a bolstered starting unit alongside Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, and Al Horford until madness happened.

Firstly, Bradley got moved in a swap with the Detroit Pistons for Marcus Morris to address the hole at power forward. After that—with reports of Kyrie Irving’s unhappiness in Cleveland swirling around the basketball universe—Celtics general manager Danny Ainge acted immediately and swung a deal for the All-Star point guard in exchange for his All-Star point guard, a vital member of his team in Jae Crowder and the coveted Brooklyn Nets first-round pick.

It’s almost a brand new squad, but Brad Stevens has a versatile group to work with to try and finally dethrone the conference champions of the last three years.

As for the East’s cream of the crop, the Cavaliers moves are well known because wherever LeBron James goes the spotlight follows. Thomas and Crowder were huge gets for first-time general manager Koby Altman, especially after the outside growing doubt in the franchise’s front office. The rookie executive was also instrumental in signing Derrick Rose, Jeff Green, and Dwyane Wade to veteran minimum contracts.

Rose and Green have plenty of motivation because their critics think they’re washed up, meaning Tyronn Lue won’t have to give them a reason to play their hearts out. Wade simply made the decision to come to Cleveland because he can play with his best friend and potentially add to his collection of championship rings.

Ante Zizic, Cedi Osman, and Jose Calderon are also now a part of the roster that all-of-a-sudden is now deep at almost every position. It’s a new flavor for a team that may have only one year left to compete for a title with James’ pending free agency next summer.

Those four teams feel great about their chances to get in the way of the Warriors. It doesn’t stop there though. The West in general loaded up.

The Minnesota Timberwolves executed the first big move of the year when they traded for Jimmy Butler. The Denver Nuggets signed Paul Millsap to provide leadership and a veteran voice in a young locker room full of talent. The San Antonio Spurs lost Jonathan Simmons but brought in a very capable Rudy Gay under-the-radar as Kawhi Leonard’s backup.

Nobody expected the league to completely fold and hand Golden State another championship, but it was surprising (and relieving) to see so many teams have the fortitude to pull off the moves that they did. There was definitely risk involved for some of them, however, one thing is for certain.

The Warriors will not have a cakewalk to the NBA Finals. They will have to go through a rigorous set of teams in the West throughout the regular season and the playoffs.

If any team is up to the task, it’s Golden State. But we’ll see how it plays out starting about 24 hours from now.

See you at tip-off.

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