A new Milwaukee Bucks season, with the same Milwaukee Bucks goals

Carlos Delfino gets reacquainted with Bucks owner Herb Kohl
Carlos Delfino gets reacquainted with Bucks owner Herb Kohl

From the players’ faces to the general atmosphere, Bucks Media Day was hardly recognizable from last year.

Gone were the questions of whether a team could win with two undersized, high-usage guards and whether a team could stay together given the lame-duck statuses of its players, coaching staff and general manager.

Instead, those were replaced by ones on the meaning of leadership, the meaning of team chemistry and the meaning of team basketball — all of the intangible things that doomed Milwaukee last season.

The things that left a coach reportedly “hating his team.” The things that erupted into a near-physical altercation during the playoffs. The things that general manager John Hammond spent an entire summer attempting to fix. The things that spurred the hiring of a player-friendly head coach, Larry Drew. The things that led to 11 new faces on the roster. The things that prompted the returns of Zaza Pachulia, Carlos Delfino and Luke Ridnour, as well as homecoming of Caron Butler.

But perhaps there was no greater indicator of this new atmosphere — one filled with optimism, hope, rejuvenation and refreshment — than when Bucks owner Herb Kohl, who attended the event last year but didn’t speak, willingly strode to the podium and fielded questions for 15 minutes.

His messages were familiar; they were likely all too familiar for Bucks fans who are hungry for a true rebuild.

But that’s not the point.

Despite the team’s embarrassing playoff sweep at the hands of the Miami Heat — a scenario that was only made possible by Milwaukee’s incessant desire to shoot for the eighth rather than rebuild — Kohl felt comfortable enough to stand in front of the media and repeat his philosophy on running an NBA franchise. That alone speaks volumes to the level of confidence he must have in the revamped roster and new coaching staff.

“We’re not a team we need to look at without enthusiasm, without expectation [and] without hope,” Kohl said. “We have a lot of athletic ability on this team. We have many, many good players. We have players with outstanding character – without exception.”

Last year, “playoffs” was the staple word at Media Day. Along with a handful of players, Hammond explicitly stated that the goal and expectation for the Bucks was to reach the postseason.

This year, surely with some lessons learned, the team’s goal doesn’t sound so concrete.

“We think we are ready to go out there and compete, which is what you want to do every year,” Kohl said. “We don’t want to stand here and talk silly and talk about [that we are] for sure going to win a championship. We want to be realistic and honest about who we are. We’re experienced. We have talent. We have good character. We want to be a good team. We expect to be a good team.”

And what should fans expect?

“We want them to come to the games hoping and expecting that they will see a team that will entertain, play hard, play 48 minutes, win games and send them home feeling good about the experience of coming to see a Bucks game,” Kohl said. “That’s our hope for this year, and I think we will achieve that.”

This doesn’t mean the franchise’s philosophy has changed. Perhaps it is more malleable — maybe the Bucks are willing to embrace a slight youth movement this season at the price of a win here and there — but that remains to be seen with minute distribution. Will second-year players John Henson and Khris Middleton find consistent playing time, or will veterans Caron Butler, Carlos Delfino and Ersan Ilyasova dominate the rotation? (Delfino, as pictured above, suffered a setback while rehabbing a fracture in his right foot and is in a walking boot; he will at least miss training camp.) Will rookies Nate Wolters and Giannis Antetokounmpo see the court, or will they be relegated to observing on the bench?

Regardless of those answers, one thing is certain: The Bucks will not purposefully lose games in aspirations of a higher draft pick.

“I’ve never been a person to use the word ‘tank’ – maybe there’s a different word,” Kohl said. “But I’ve owned the team for 20-some years and never once did I go into a year saying, ‘Let’s not try and be a good team.’  I’ve always felt that way, so this year is no different.

“We want to be as good a team as we can be. There are some teams that buy into one kind of philosophy, but I’m not commenting on what other teams do. I don’t believe in not competing and doing everything you can to be as competitive as you can. And then [you are] looking for the breaks along the way that will give you a chance, maybe, to elevate to a high standard.”

Kohl then pointed — literally — to new assistant general manager David Morway, who was listening behind the gathered media.

“I know David Morway is standing there,” Kohl said. “He came here from Indiana. Indiana is a really good team this year. Indiana never tanked. Is that right, David?”

After Morway’s affirmation, Kohl added, “They’ve done it adding pieces here and there, and getting some breaks and so on. All of a sudden, here they are competing for the Eastern Conference championship.

“And they did it without using that word.”

That word, of course, is “tanking.”

Indeed, as general manager of the Pacers from 2008 to 2012, Morway played a big part in raising the franchise out of mediocrity without bottoming out. (Morway resigned amid a deteriorating relationship with team president Larry Bird, which was reportedly exacerbated by Morway’s inability to acquire current Bucks guard O.J. Mayo.) He struck gold in the middle parts of the draft, selecting Paul George at the 10th slot in 2010 and acquiring Roy Hibbert, the 17th pick, on draft night in 2008. He also added a vital piece — as both a player and leader — in former All-Star David West, who signed a two-year, $20 million deal in 2011.

It’s clear the Bucks will now try to emulate the “Indiana Model.” In reality, this model is scarcely different from the 2004 “Detroit Model” that made Hammond, who helped assemble the Pistons’ championship team, an attractive hire in 2008. Both models function on the premise of building around a talented, selfless core — and then adding other pieces that fit — instead of one superstar.

By bringing in highly regarded veterans like Butler, Delfino, Pachulia and Ridnour, the Bucks are trying to create a locker room atmosphere in which their younger players can thrive. Hammond said the young front court of Sanders, Henson and Antetokounmpo “could be a championship-caliber front line someday.” For the first time in recent memory, most of the players appear legitimately excited to play in Milwaukee. Only three players — Butler, Ridnour and Ekpe Udoh — will enter the season with contract uncertainties looming next summer.

Of course, everything will have to come together perfectly for the current iteration of the Bucks to make significant noise this year or even in the near future. It’s a long shot, but forging team chemistry is a good place to start. Kohl, Hammond and returning players took a few passive-aggressive shots at last year’s team (or in Larry Sanders’ case, not so passive), all of which centered on its self-serving nature. But now they are ready to move forward.

“We’re excited about having a coaching staff love the group of players,” Hammond said. “We love having Larry Drew here as coach. We love the staff that he has put together.”

The front office is hoping an infusion of high character players will offset the loss of pure talent this summer. 

“When you have teams that have good chemistry and guys who are legitimately wanting to play together, work together and win – and not be thinking about personal accomplishments – that makes a difference,” Kohl said. “I think we all feel, almost without exception, that this is a team compose of those kind of people, and that’s going to make a big difference on the team.”

Yet, here’s the million-dollar question: Do wins lead to team chemistry, or does team chemistry lead to wins?

“Ultimately, you need good character to be a really good team,” Kohl said. “You always try to accomplish that, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. When it doesn’t work out quite the way you want it, then you have to be willing to make changes, and that’s what we did.”

We will soon find out.

Categories: Media Day!

Twitter: @pdschmitt1

14 Comments

  1. I am very optimistic about this team. Front court should take a big leap forward and in my opinion the back court has improved significantly in terms of potential to execute within the team framework.

    If Giannis can become a scorer (or if we would have kept Tobias smh) the future should be very promising.

  2. Optimism, hope, rejuvenation, refreshment.
    I’m not buying that kind of hype. Bringing in 11 new guys is a formula for chaos rather than cohesion, especially without a true point guard. I like the idea of finding good players in the middle of the draft, but it doesn’t work if you trade them before giving them a decent chance to develop (Tobias#15) or if you draft guys so young and obscure that there is little hope that they will contribute significantly before moving on to another team (Giannis#15). I hate the idea of tanking if it means not putting out maximum effort, but that doesn’t mean playing mediocre or fading veterans at the expense of minutes for young talent.
    I wonder how many years the front office will get away with duping fans in October while producing 35-win teams in April.
    Having said all this, I sincerely hope I am wrong. Maybe I’m missing something here, and I’ll be glad if I am. Or maybe the Bucks will just get lucky. I will say that the players on this team do seem to be good guys, and there does seem to be some promising talent if it is handled well. There could be breakout seasons for Larry, John, Brandon and O.J., with even possibilities for Khris and Ekpe. I’m hoping these guys will be the focus of the season, with others like Caron and Zaza and Ersan playing significant but complementary roles.
    Personally, I’d trade any three of our players not named Larry or John for a point guard, and then bring in Scott Suggs and Mike Bruesewitz from summer league. But, hey, I’m just that crazy guy that nobobdy pays much attention to, and we’ve been doing so well as it is…

    • Why are you assuming Brandon Knight cannot be a good point guard? He has all of the required skills and now is in an environment with a coach who gets good play out of his pgs and a fundamentally roster. I think you will be surprised, he will do just fine.

      You woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning Fisch, you’re already assuming that Giannis will be ‘obscured’ before he has suited up for the team once. Everything that Hammond has said says that Giannis will see the floor a fair amount for a player that doesn’t even shave yet.

      “Maybe I’m missing something here”

      You are missing something here:
      OJ Mayo is 25 and was a number 3 pick
      Brandon knight is 21 and was a number 8 pick

      The Pistons core that Hammond helped assemble and see play in two NBA finals acquired two former high draft pick players (Wallace 4th pick, Billups 3rd pick) in Free Agency/trade for little. Both Billups and Wallace played below expectations of their high draft position before joining the pistons, but the pistons realized they still had talent and the players thrived in the system. Both guys were team players. I believe Mayo and Knight can be similar acquisitions.

      Then we have Larry Sanders and John Henson who would both find themselves much closer to the top of their draft class if we re-rank the selections today rather than at the middle where they were chosen.

      Then there is Giannis. Knowing that he can in fact shoot and dribble like a wing and then seeing his size in pictures next to Caron Butler one can only conclude that the odds of him being a solid contributor at the wing position are very high. Basement for Giannis seems to be a solid starter, ceiling is a top player in the league.

      We could use Tobias, but your bitterness about the idiocy of that trade is causing you to see past all of the pragmatic moves Hammond has made since.

      • I appreciate the back-and-forth, Sillybilly, but please see above that I did point out some positives for the Bucks in terms of character and talent, and that we could see breakout seasons for the guys you mentioned in your comments.
        From what I’ve read on Bucksketball, Brandon is more or less of a project at the point, and may take some time to mature in that role. There’s also the possibilty he just may not have the ability to see the floor all that well or the instincts to create consistently for his teammates. Past a certain point, these skills can’t be taught. If Brandon can grow into an excellent point, then great, but I hope the Bucks don’t force him into a role that doesn’t fit his skills and frustrates him. I’m excited to see him excel in some role with the Bucks, however.
        I don’t know that I’m bitter about the Tobias trade. What upsets me is that no one in the front office has taken responsibility for it; for all I know, they’d do it again. As you’ve said elsewhere of late, the Spurs have a track record of making good personnel moves; however, as I see it, when it comes to the Bucks, not so much. If mistakes aren’t owned up to, then I’m afraid they’ll be repeated. The dismal record for the Bucks for the past dozen years doesn’t inspire much confidence that they’re learning from the past — and I, for one, am tired of the futility.
        Also in that vain, I hope that Giannis doesn’t become the next Yi. I truly, sincerely, really hope he becomes a star and stays with the Bucks. If Giannis does succeed, I don’t know if that will be a result of diligent and skillful scouting or mostly dumb luck. In any case, I’m wishing and praying the best for Giannis, and for that matter, John Hammond and Herb Kohl, as well.

        • Hammond should own up to the mistakes, but on the other hand he deserves some credit for his recently stellar draft selection with the Bucks (Jennings, Sanders, Tobias, Henson, Giannis). Each of those guys was a steal at their draft position.

          Yi is not comparable to Giannis in terms of athleticism, length, or pure potential. Don’t worry, be happy.

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  4. Ok guys…can’t we all get along?

    Simple truth is: Revamped team, training camp just started, in a month we get the true look at what we have this year.

    Negativity will not help our situation… I choose to be positive

    GO BUCKS GO

    • Hi, happyfeethustle, I like to think that Sillybilly and I are getting along pretty well, just some friendly disagreements, and maybe more in common than what first meets the eye.
      Maybe this is the time of the year to put concerns about the Bucks mostly to the side and just see what happens for a month or more. I agree with the simple truth that what’s done is done. I don’t want to be positive to the point where we fans settle for 35-win seasons year after year without raising a few questions at least. However, that being said, and though I’m still struggling with things (our situation at point guard, for example), I’ll try to emphasize the positive and enjoy the ride.
      The great thing about a new season is that from now until early December, probably, and possibly longer, we can hope for a good team. Even if not wildly successful in terms of wins, we can hope for a good group of guys with good talent putting forth good effort and trying to be good teammates. I am really excited to see what Brandon and O.J. and Khris bring to the Bucks this year — along with my main guys, Larry and John — plus the possibility of a surprise or two from the rest, or at least solid play. Good wishes and prayers for players, management and fans, especially the long-suffering yet still-loyal fans like the ones on this site.

  5. I still don’t understand why people think this is a bad team. It’s better than the team they had last year lol

    • I think the point justifying that is that we don’t have a player like marquis daniels getting significant minutes for a period of time. The only move I disagree with in this off-season was not getting Dunleavy back. The guy can straight up ball. Everyone else was pretty dispensable and really wasn’t that big of a deal if they left, I’m content with what Hammond did with what he has available to him in the off-season and am pretty confident with draft/off-seasons upcoming he can really start to see some improvement. Also don’t listen to this sfisch guy, I really have no idea why he doesn’t have any confidence in Brandon Knight. The guy is only 21, he doesn’t chuck up shots anywhere close to as much as Jennings did and its a fresh locker room (I don’t think you understand that that’s a major factor in how the ball is distributed). There most likely will be a lot more chemistry between all of the players and at the very least, they all seem to like each other. Jennings clearly was not going to be the future for the bucks at the point, and you have to grasp that fact. You blame Hammond and Kohl for trading Tobias Harris, who was the one who could’ve distributed the ball to Harris and show his ability better? Jennings.

      • Personally I dont think this is a “bad” team, however I dont really see a whole lot of evidence to suggest this is a “good” team right now either. I like the way they are constructed for the future, but I dont really know how they are going to win games this season

      • I thought I was pretty postive about Brandon Knight in my comments above, and my questions about his ability at point guard are based on what I’ve read on this site. As I wrote above, if he excels at point guard, great; if not, I’m excited to see him excel in another role with the Bucks. C’mon Brandon, I make enough mistakes on my own without you taking me out of context (I say good-naturedly).
        Also, in my latest comment-box above, I tried really hard to be positive about the Bucks in general, probably my most positive comments ever on this site. Considering how much pain and affliction the team has caused me over the past decade or so — from the trade of Ray to the trade of Tobias — I thought I was making a good-faith gesture. Now that I’m a little past age 50, maybe it’s getting harder for me to bounce back from these heartaches. Plus, how many seasons does an old-timer like me have left? Please, a little compassion for the frail in body and mind.