Monday, June 30, 2014

The Bucks situation- from the sports side

As I allow myself a few minutes between heading down to the basement for another severe weather warning, I must say that it's been an interesting week surrounding the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks. And I'll keep this post limited to the basketball side, although there's been interesting movement on the arena issue as well.

If you haven't heard, the Bucks apparently are going to fire head coach Larry Drew and trade two second-round picks to the Brooklyn Nets to get head coach (and probable Hall of Fame point guard) Jason Kidd to coach the team. This has developed very quickly, and it's gotten a lot of national news, with some of that angle seeming to be because the East Coast-based media is shocked to see someone want to go from the Big Apple to Milwaukee for any reason. But apparently past relations between Kidd and one of Bucks' new co-owners played a role.
Sources said Bucks co-owners Wes Edens and Marc Lasry met with Kidd on Friday in New York City after asking for and receiving permission to talk to Kidd a few days before Thursday's NBA draft.

Lasry had a previous relationship with Kidd, but Edens did not. The source said Kidd told the owners that he would like to have the job. He was intrigued by the challenge of coaching a young, rebuilding team that just added the No. 2 pick in the draft in Duke's Jabari Parker, the source said.

The source said the Bucks' ownership wanted Kidd because he handled pressure and a number of egos on the Nets in his first head-coaching stint and guided them into the playoffs.
ESPN's Zach Lowe has a long, in-depth article on the website's Grantland section that brings up another reason the Nets were willing to part with Kidd- they may lose up to $144 million this year, and weren't willing to pay Kidd the big money and added player personnel responsibilities that he wanted.
This is all unfolding within the broader context of the Nets’ organization. Bruce Ratner, a longtime Nets higher-up, is open to selling his minority stake in the team, and the New York Post reported last week that Mikhail Prokhorov, the team’s principal owner, would like to cut costs and scale back spending to make that minority stake more appealing.

That’s a valid concern. The basketball side of the Nets’ business is projected to have lost $144 million over the 2013-14 season, according to a confidential memo the league sent to all 30 teams in early June. (Grantland has reviewed and verified the memo with a half-dozen sources.) If that strikes you as out of whack, that’s because it is.

The NBA expects nine teams will end up having lost money once luxury-tax distribution and revenue-sharing payments are finalized. The Nets, with that monster $144 million figure, are the biggest losers. Next in line? The Wizards, with projected losses of about $13 million. That’s right: The Nets lost $131 million more than any other NBA team last season. This is what happens when you pay $90 million in luxury tax for an aging roster and play in a market so large you are ineligible to receive any revenue-sharing help.
So Kidd decided to jump ship and go somewhere he would be wanted, but he still won't have player-personnel duties with the Bucks, something I find to be a huge positive, as I think giving Kidd both roles was a recipe for disaster form both the coaching and player personnel sides. Lowe also is skeptical of such an arrangement, noting that it only recently has worked for the Spurs (who have had Gregg Popovich as coach and GM for 5 titles and nearly 20 years), with the jury still out on many other coach-GM's. That being said, Lowe notes that the decision to hire Kidd was one made by the Bucks' new owners, and not Bucks GM John Hammond or Deputy GM David Morway.
The Bucks are also banking on Kidd as a draw for free agents. Milwaukee’s new ownership group, led by Wes Edens and Marc Lasry, two private-equity giants, wants to win big. The days of competing for profits and the no. 8 seed under Senator Herb Kohl are done, and that change had everyone in Milwaukee’s front office excited to work within new parameters. That front office — GM John Hammond and David Morway, his top deputy — is safe for now, per sources familiar with the situation. The Bucks swear up and down they want Kidd only as coach, and not in the dual role he pursued at the last minute in Brooklyn.

Maybe that’s true. But Hammond and Morway had no clue the Kidd talks were happening, per sources and published reports, and that’s not exactly a great indicator of the organization’s investment in them. It’s also not in the best-practices manual to leave your top two basketball decision-makers out of the loop on a massive decision like this.
No it is not in the manual, Zach, and it certainly seems to be a potential set-up for another power-play for Kidd if he wants to acquire certian players and Hammond and Morway might not, which you might want to keep an eye on as free agency starts tomorrow. The Bucks should have some money to spend in this off-season, as taking on Kidd's estimated $2.5 million salary is doable because Lowe points out that the Bucks made a profit last year, despite having the lowest home attendance in the league last year.
The finances matter for the Bucks, too. They are not thrilled about paying two coaches at once. (they still have to pay Drew what's remaining on his contract). Milwaukee is projected to make $14.8 million in basketball-related net profit for the 2013-14 season, according to that league memo, but they’re one of several small- and mid-market teams propped up almost entirely by revenue sharing. Milwaukee will get about $18 million from revenue sharing and $3 million more from luxury tax payouts, easily eclipsing the $6.5 million the team lost on its own account.
Ironically, that payout is from the same luxury tax that Kidd's former team, the Nets, were paying into.

I agree that Lasry and Edens wanted to make a big splash, and certainly this hiring of Kidd has done that. It at least gets the rest of the basketball world talking about the Bucks, which isn't something that's happened often in the last decade-plus. But they'd better get off to a good start next year, because the back-stabbing nature of this move has knocked down some of the very good vibes that had come from the Bucks with the recent ownership change, Lasry and Edens' outreach to the Milwaukee committee (including hanging out with fans at a downtown bar last month), and the drafting of the 19-year-old Parker to rebuild around.

For the record, I felt Drew should have been replaced after last year's 15-67 disaster. It wasn't all Drew's fault, and I think he's no better or worse than probably half the coaches in the league, but you can't stay in the same direction when you have the NBA's worst record in the league, as effort alone should win 20-25 games. That being said, I can't guarantee Jason Kidd is much better, as he was on the hot seat early halfway through his first year with the Nets, until the team turned it around and got into the playoffs in the weak Eastern Conference. This isn't exactly Popovich or Phil Jackson taking over, Kidd is still an unknown quantity when it comes to how good (or bad) a coach he is.

That said, Lasry and Edens are at least trying to pump up interest in the Bucks into being "something worth seeing", and that's an upgrade over what we've seen in the recent past. And it has the extra advantage of possibly encouraging some people that a new arena is a good investment (and yes, I think this is a factor). But I also think those efforts and today's hiring of Jason Kidd something that could turn against them if the team has a bad year in 2014-15, because this is kind of a seamy deal, and it won't take much losing to make the average Wisconsin sports fan sigh and say "Same old Bucks. Screw 'em."

1 comment:

  1. I was a big fan of the Bucks as a kid (heh) and would love to see them become worthwhile again. As you say, SEPARATE from the arena issues.