Herb Kohl opens up about the lockout, franchise tags, competitive balance and the Milwaukee Bucks

Kohl arrives at owners meetings before the lockout (Photo: AP/LM Otero).

Chris Paul is going to the Los Angeles Lakers. And then he isn’t. And then Dwight Howard is. And then Howard is going to the New Jersey (soon to be Brooklyn) Nets. And then Paul is going to the Los Angeles Clippers. And big markets across the NBA are all salivating over an all-you-can-afford buffet of small market stars.

That’s been the NBA this past week. At least that’s the scene that’s been unfolding before the eyes of the small market NBA fan.

So maybe competitive balance wasn’t achieved with one fell swoop. But, maybe it can’t work like that. Maybe it isn’t a system issue that can be solved with one lockout and a few rule changes. Maybe the impetus is on franchises to make smart decisions, over and over and accept that there is less room for error in a small market.

Maybe I should let someone more qualified to discuss the matter discuss it.

“Because your resources are not unlimited, for every dollar you spend you need to get value,” Herb Kohl said at media day Saturday. “And that depends on expertise  and the value you get has to be able to get out there and play well together.”

“It is true, the day after we signed you had the situation down in New Orleans, the situation down in Orlando so you might say, well, the more things change, the more things stay the same,” Kohl said of competitive balance. “So there is an issue and a problem in the NBA that maybe baseball and football don’t share to the same extent.”

He wouldn’t accept that there was nothing the owners could do on a systematical level that could nudge the league a bit closer to that competitive balance the owners have been seeking though.

“The players if given their options tend to migrate to the big markets, the more glamourous markets,” Kohl went on.  “And this (the lockout) addressed it partially. Because there are clear advantages to the team that has the rights to a player to offer him a better contract than what another team in a big market can offer.”

But those advantages, more money and longer contracts can be offered to free agents by the team that has their rights, have quickly proven to hardly be the barrier the owners hoped they would be. Demanding trades has been all the rage this week. Howard, reportedly fed up with his lack of input on organizational decisions, and Paul, tired of missing or getting bounced from the playoffs early on a team that hasn’t surrounded him with much talent, have shown that demanding a trade can be just as effective as the old sign and trade methods.

That’s why Kohl saw fit to push for stronger methods. A long time representation of Wisconsin, Kohl was a fierce fighter for the small markets and more control over the futures of players.

“And I’ll say, some of us lobbied heavily for a franchise designation,” Kohl said. “We didn’t get there, but we got partially there. You have to look at the thing in the sweep of it and not try and micromanage it, every line, every dot and tittle in the agreement there are things to like more, there are things to like less.”

Beyond the franchise tag, Kohl was disappointed that a hard cap was not implemented, but happy that a harder cap was.

“We tightened it up,” said Kohl. “We made it harder for teams to exceed the salary cap, we made it more expensive when teams get into the luxury tax area. Made it much more difficult for them to exceed the luxury tax cap.”

If competitive balance is still a work in progress, or possibly a dream never destined to become reality in the NBA because of the structure of the game of basketball itself, what good was the lockout for the Milwaukee Bucks, for small market teams in general?

The Senator acknowledged that under the new revenue sharing system, the Bucks would receive somewhere between $15 and $17 million. Revenue sharing, the saving grace of Milwaukee sports will be more aggressive than ever in professional basketball. And not a moment too soon, according to Senator Kohl. Kohl said the larger market owners understood that if the league was going to move forward for all 30 teams, there would have to be a more aggressive revenue sharing model. One that includes sharing local revenue.

“It’s been a, obviously an existential issue for the Milwaukee Bucks,” he said. “I wasn’t alone, there were many smaller market teams that were involved along with myself. And there was a willingness on the part of the league and the larger market teams to entertain the prospect of robust revenue sharing and I think we’re now moving in that direction and I’m very happy about it.”

Even if a lockout wasn’t needed for the revenue sharing situation to be figured out, Kohl said losing 16 games isn’t “the be all end all” to have gained traction on what he saw as competitive balance issues. He and the other owners were willing to give on the competitive balance issues to achieve what they wanted in terms of revenue sharing.

“Because without the revenue sharing, we weren’t, maybe too far away from some teams just not being able to hack it anymore,” he said. “Most important thing was to get the businesses, all 30 of the businesses on a sound business basis, on a sound financial basis. And I believe it’s fair to say, going forward, without events unforeseen, that every team will have a chance to make a decent profit.”

“I feel good about where we are and where we’re going,” he said. “We’ve come through a tough period financially in terms of the imbalance that had developed in the league between the large markets and the small markets may have been addressed, not perfectly, but considerably. So I feel good about where we’re going and I feel good about Milwaukee’s future in the NBA.”

Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. Follow him on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.

Categories: The Off Season



  1. I think that the franchise tag goes too far. I like Kohl the person, but Kohl the owner is blaming the structure for problems that go far deeper. Players are choosing less money to play on better teams where they want and it is dramatically changing the league. The owners, especially those who feel they have lost players or even worse overpaid for middling stars want something back. It’s hard to side with them when many of their arguments have an almost slaveowner mentality when it comes to players (ex: Dan Gilbert’s endless rage, Sterling in general, Sarver selling players outright for cash) and when their arguments are so childish (Gilbert). They have the draft, rookie contracts that underpay production and lock in players for nearly half a decade. They have a rule banning 18 year olds that can vote and fight overseas. To create a franchise player tag is too much (it also sets the league back to the sixties, essentially before Robinson v. the NBA). Adults ought to be able to choose their employer. Though we the fans may abhor their decisions, we should fight for their right to make them.

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  6. @Sylvan

    I agree with your thoughts on the franchise tag. I hate it in the NFL and I wouldn’t want to see it in any other league. A free agent (as in, any one not serving a contract at that time) should be able to go anywhere a team would have him.

    However, one thing I like that the lockout and labor negotiations did was raise awareness of the disparity between the large and small markets in the league. I would die of a heart attack in a year if I was the owner or GM of a small market NBA team like in Milwaukee, Utah or Charlotte. I think some fans still can’t see it from the owner’s side though.

    Everyone says the owners wanted more rules in place to protect them from themselves. I say they wanted more rules in place to protect them from each other. Sports is an industry where no matter how intelligent you make your moves, how well you play your cards, how smart you conduct your business, you suffer when your peers do stupid moves, like say, sign Rashard Lewis to a $120 million contract. Now that the market has been set, you have to drastically overpay your quasi-All-Star guy if you want to stay competitive and have any hopes for playoffs/rings, or let him walk and get branded a cheap owner like Jordan, Sterling or Shin. You think the Hawks didn’t know they gave Joe Johnson too much money? It was either that or go back to sucking it up in the lottery every year.

    It becomes even harder when you’re trying to do this in a city that doesn’t sound attractive to a 20-something year old party-loving millionaire building his “brand.”

    The rebuttal to those things is usually “make smart moves, be efficient like San Antonio, OKC and Houston.” San Antonio and OKC were blessed with phenomenal, yet humble players that only come around the draft every few years, and Houston either can’t make the playoffs or get far in it from year-to-year, and suffers a serious lack of attention from not having a star on the roster. Because the NBA is a star-driven league. Any team that tries to follow the Houston model suffers a national attention drought and booties-in-seats problem.

    Unfortunately, I must cut this short because my girlfriend is finally finished with her hair and makeup and ready to go, so I apologize about this abrupt end.