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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.

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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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