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.
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.”
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.
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, 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.
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.
PODCAST: Breaking Down The Western Conference Playoff Race
Basketball Insiders Deputy Editor Jesse Blancarte and Writer James Blancarte break down the Western Conference playoff race and check in on the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers.
NBA Daily: The Cleveland Cavaliers Need Tyronn Lue
The Cleveland Cavaliers have faced injury adversity and a roster shakeup, and now face uncertainty regarding coach Tyronn Lue’s health.
The most enduring image of Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue came moments after his team sealed the 2016 NBA Finals with a third consecutive win after trailing the Golden State Warriors 3-1. As the team celebrated its historic comeback and readied to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy, one camera focused on Lue, who sat on the bench with his face buried in his hands.
— Buddy Grizzard (@BuddyGrizzard) June 20, 2016
The image tells a thousand words about the pressure Lue was under as Cleveland teetered on the brink of elimination for three games. Rather than sharing the euphoria of his players, it seemed that Lue’s emotions centered around the massive weight that had been lifted from his shoulders. Almost two years later, it appears that burden has caught back up with Lue, whose leave of absence for health reasons complicates things for Cleveland with the playoffs just around the corner.
“It’s like losing one of your best players,” said Cavaliers forward LeBron James after Cleveland’s 124-117 win at home over the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday.
Kevin Love returned from a six-week injury absence to post 18 points, seven rebounds and four assists against the Bucks. James likened Lue’s absence to the burden of trying to replace Love’s output while he was unavailable.
“We’ve got to have guys step up, just like guys trying to step up in Kev’s absence,” said James. “We have to do the same as a collective group as long as Ty needs to get himself back healthy.”
There’s optimism that Lue could return before the playoffs, but there’s a great deal of uncertainty given the seriousness of his symptoms, which reportedly included coughing up blood. Lead assistant Larry Drew, a former head coach with the Bucks and Hawks, will handle head coaching responsibilities until Lue is ready to return.
Kyle Korver played under Drew in Atlanta and said he’s confident in his ability to fill in.
“We’d love to have Ty here and healthy,” said Korver after the Bucks win. “Coach Drew has done this for a long time as well. He coached me for a full year in Atlanta. We know he’s fully capable.”
Korver also doubted Drew would introduce any major stylistic changes.
“I think LD’s been Ty’s top assistant for a reason,” said Korver. “They really think a lot alike. They coach very similarly. We miss Ty, but I think the style of what we do is going to be very similar.”
While style and approach should remain unchanged, what could an extended absence for Lue mean for the Cavaliers? Lue cemented his legacy as a leader by keeping the Cavaliers together as they fought back from a 3-1 deficit to the Warriors, but Drew hasn’t had that kind of success as a head coach.
In 2012, the Hawks had a real opportunity to reach the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in Atlanta history. The Hawks faced an aging Boston Celtics squad in the first round. The eighth-seed Philadelphia 76ers awaited in the second round after defeating the top-seeded Chicago Bulls.
After splitting the first two games in Atlanta, the Hawks faced a pivotal Game 3 in Boston with the opportunity to retake home court advantage. Atlanta Journal-Constitution beat writer Michael Cunningham used Synergy Sports to break down every offensive possession for Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo. His conclusion? For three quarters, Rondo did not score a single basket while guarded by Hawks combo guard Kirk Hinrich.
The Hawks traded a package that included a former and a future first-round pick to obtain Hinrich from the Wizards in 2011. But in Game 3, Hinrich failed to score a point despite his effective defense. Apparently feeling the need for an offensive spark, Drew left Hinrich on the bench in the fourth quarter and turned to career journeyman Jannero Pargo.
With Hinrich out of the game, Rondo’s offense came to life as he slashed to the basket at will. Boston opened the fourth with a 13-7 run before Pargo went to the bench and Atlanta closed on a 15-7 run to force overtime. The NBA did not publish net rating data at the time, but we can now see via historical data that the Hawks were outscored by nearly 52 points per 100 possessions in Pargo’s minutes in Game 3. Rather than entrust Atlanta’s season and his own legacy to a player the Hawks traded two first-round picks to obtain, Drew went with Pargo, a career end-of-bench player.
What does this mean for the Cavaliers? It means the team needs to get Lue back. Drew and Lue are both former NBA players who have received mixed reviews as head coaches. But when his legacy was on the line, Lue pushed the right buttons.
For Drew’s part, in his first postgame press conference since Lue’s absence was announced, he remained publicly deferential.
“Coach Lue is the one who makes that decision,” said Drew when asked about lineup combinations. “That’s not my call. We look at a lot of different combinations — whether guys are starting or whether they are coming off the bench — and we assess everything.”
On the critical question of how lineups will be fine-tuned as the Cavaliers prepare for the playoffs, Drew once again emphasized Lue’s active role even as he steps away from the bench.
“I’ll talk to Ty,” said Drew. “He’s got the final say-so. Whatever he wants, then that’s what we’re going to go with. But if he tells me to make a decision, then I’ll have to make the decision.”
With Lue suffering acute symptoms, there’s no way of knowing when he will be ready to step back into the pressure cooker of a leading role for a team with championship aspirations. But the Cavaliers need him and need his steadying influence and instincts. Cleveland is a team that has battled through injuries and a major roster overhaul at the trade deadline. It also faces the pressure of James’ impending free agency decision this summer.
Now, with the playoffs just around the corner, the Cavaliers must endure uncertainty about Lue’s ability to return and lead the team. James has emphasized that Lue’s health overshadows any basketball concerns, but gave his most terse remark when asked about learning that Lue would step away on the same day Cleveland finally got Love back.
“If it’s not one thing, it’s another,” said James. “That was my reaction.”
A Breakout Season for Joe Harris
Brooklyn Nets swingman Joe Harris talks to Basketball Insiders about his second chance with the Nets.
The NBA is all about second chances. Sometimes players need a change of scenery, or a coach who believes in them, or just something different to reach their full potential. They may be cast aside by several teams, but eventually, they often find that right situation that allows them to flourish.
Such was the case for Joe Harris. Originally drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the 33rd overall pick in the 2014 draft, Harris rarely saw the court during his time in Cleveland. He averaged about 6.4 minutes per game over the course of about one and a half seasons with the Cavaliers.
During the 2015-16 season, his second in Cleveland, he underwent season-ending foot surgery. Almost immediately after, the Cavaliers traded him to the Orlando Magic in an attempt to cut payroll due to luxury tax penalties. He would never suit up for the Magic as they cut him as soon as they traded for him.
After using the rest of that season to recover from surgery, he would sign with the Brooklyn Nets in the summer of 2016. He had a very strong first season in Brooklyn, but this season he’s truly broken out.
“I think a lot of it has to do with just the right situation in terms of circumstances. It’s a young team where you don’t really have anybody on the team that’s going out and getting 20 a night,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a collective effort most nights and it can be any given person depending on the situation. It’s one of those things where we’re real unselfish with the ball. A lot of guys get a lot of good looks, so your production is bound to go up just because of the system now that we’re playing.”
Known primarily as a sharpshooter in college at the University of Virginia as well as his first stop in Cleveland, Harris has started developing more of an all-around game. He’s improved his ability to put the ball on the floor and make plays as well as crashing the glass and playing strong defense.
In a relatively forgettable season record-wise for the Nets, Harris has been one of their bright spots. He’s putting up 10.1 points per game on 47.3 percent shooting from the field while playing 25.4 minutes per game. He’s up to 40.3 percent from the three-point line and he’s pulling down 3.3 rebounds. All of those numbers are career-highs.
“My role, I think, is very similar to the way I would be anywhere that I was playing. I’m a shooter, I help space the floor for guys to facilitate,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “I’m opportunistic offensively with drives and such. I’m out there to try and space the floor, knock down shots, and then play tough defensively and make sure I’m doing my part in getting defensive rebounds and that sort of stuff.”
Although Harris didn’t play much in Cleveland, he did show glimpses and flashes of the player he has blossomed into in Brooklyn. He saw action in 51 games his rookie year while knocking down 36.9 percent of his three-point attempts.
He also saw action in six playoff games during the Cavaliers’ run to the 2015 Finals. But more importantly, it was the off the court things that Harris kept with him after leaving Cleveland. The valuable guidance passed down to him from the Cavaliers veteran guys. It’s all helped mold him into the indispensable contributor he’s become for the Nets.
“Even though I wasn’t necessarily playing as much, the experience was invaluable just in terms of learning how to be a professional,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “The approach, the preparation, that sort of stuff. That’s why I learned a lot while I was there. All those good players that have had great, great, and long careers and just being able to kind of individually pick their brains and learn from them.”
When Harris came to Brooklyn two years ago, he initially signed a two-year deal with a team option after the first year. When he turned in a promising 2016-17 season, it was a no-brainer for the Nets to pick up his option. Set to make about $1.5 million this season, Harris’ contract is a steal.
However, he’s headed for unrestricted free agency this upcoming summer. Although he dealt with being a free agent before when he first signed with the Nets, it’s a different situation now. He’s likely going to be one of the most coveted wings on the market. While there’s still a bit more of the regular season left, and free agency still several months away, it’s something Harris has already thought about. If all goes well, Brooklyn is a place he can see himself staying long-term.
“Yeah, it’s one of those things that I’ll worry about that sort of decision when the time comes. But I have really enjoyed my time in Brooklyn,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a great organization with a lot of good people, and they try and do stuff the right way. I enjoy being a part of that and trying to kind of rebuild and set a good foundation for where the future of the Brooklyn Nets is.”