Bad. Really bad. By 1991 the players and coaches that had guided the team to significant success in the 1980’s had either aged or moved on. In the subsequent twenty-two years, the team posted a collective regular season record of 761-995 (43.3% winning percentage) This record on the surface seems poor but not terrible. However for most NBA teams there are three measures of success.
* Championships Won
* 50-win seasons
* Playoff series wins
Let’s analyze how the Bucks have fared under these measures of success. In doing so, let’s throw out the first metric. While every organization’s goal should be to win a championship, we do not hold it against Bucks management for failure to win a title in the past twenty years. The path to an NBA championship is a narrow one. In the past 22 years, only eight teams have won a title. And most of those titles were driven by superstars such as Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.
But the lack of a championship should not let the organization off the hook for poor performance. Hall of Fame superstars as the primary component of a championship also held true in the 1980’s when the majority of titles were driven by Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. Even though the Bucks didn’t win a championship in the 1980’s, they experienced tremendous success and regularly sold out many of their games. NBA basketball in Milwaukee was a “must-see” social event.
From 1979 to 1987 the Bucks won 50 games seven straight years and appeared in eight Conference Semi-Finals and three Conference Finals. We still talk about those teams today as do many national NBA writers. The jerseys of those players hang in the rafters of the BMO Bradley Center.
However those markers of success have been few and far between during the past two decades. Since the 1991 season, the Bucks have won 50 games only once (2001). In that time frame, only the Washington Wizards (0), expansion Charlotte Bobcats (0) and expansion Toronto Raptors (0) have had fewer 50-win seasons than the Bucks.
30. Washington Wizards (0)
29. Toronto Raptors (expansion team in 1995) (0)
28. Charlotte Bobcats (expansion team in 2004) (0)
27. (T) MIlwaukee Bucks (1)
27. (T) New Jersey Nets (1)
27. (T) Philadelphia 76’ers (1)
27. (T) Los Angeles Clippers (1)
While the Bucks are “tied” with a few teams with only one 50-win season, Nets fans had the luxury of two Finals appearances in that time frame and are a potential title contender this season. The Clippers also appear to be contenders this season. Philadelphia did at least make the Finals in 2001 while having an extremely exciting All NBA player in Allen Iverson for a decade. This places Milwaukee along with Charlotte, Toronto and Washington as the bottom four teams that have given their fans the least to cheer about the past two decades, and Charlotte and Toronto have played fewer seasons than the Bucks due to their expansion team status.
Playoff Series Wins
Playoff series wins are the same story. Since 1991, the Bucks have won only two playoff series, both in 2001. Again, measured by this metric, the Bucks are close to the bottom in that time frame. Only the expansion Charlotte Bobcats, who were founded in 2004, have no playoff series wins. Toronto and Washington each have one playoff series win. The Bucks, with two series wins, are tied with Golden State (2), the Los Angeles Clippers (2) and the Minnesota Timberwolves (2). The small market Spurs tie the Lakers for the lead in this category with 34 playoff series wins in this time frame. Additionally, small market Utah has won 18 playoff series in the stretch and small market Indiana has won 17 playoff series.
30. Charlotte (expansion 2004) (0)
29. (T) Toronto (expansion 1995) (1)
29. (T) Washington (1)
28. (T) Milwaukee (2)
28. (T) Minnesota (2)
28. (T) Los Angeles Clippers (2)
28. (T) Golden State (2)
Some defenders of the Bucks current approach of trying to be competitive will point out that the Bucks are better than the perennial “tankers” in the league. However, if we just look at won-loss records, the Bucks don’t fare well under that metric either. Over the time period measured, the Bucks have the only the 23rd best winning percentage in the league at 43.3%
So by all statistical accounts, the Bucks have performed as a bottom five franchise for the better part of the past 22 years, especially in the metrics that define success such as 50-win seasons and playoff series wins.
People don’t consider the Bucks track record to be in the bottom five of NBA franchises because they usually don’t finish with one of the five-worst records in the league. Yet, attendance and fan interest are at all-time lows. This is because the Bucks are always in the dreaded “no man’s land” as coined by Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. The Bucks aren’t good enough to win 50 games or a playoff series, nor are they bad enough to be in the running for one of the top-five draft picks each season. Thus, Milwaukee fans have no chance at experiencing winning, nor the hope of looking forward to a top draft prospect joining the team the following season.
Before we can propose a solution, fans need to understand the problem. Read on to learn why the team’s on-court performance has been so poor the past two decades.