There are no guarantees in turning around a franchise. However, there are two key strategies the Bucks can employ that could change their fortunes drastically.
First: Hire and empower a “Renaissance Man” as general manager.
What do we mean by the term “Renaissance Man?” A candidate who is highly competent in all aspects of creating a successful NBA franchise. Gone are the days when a general manager only needed to concern themselves with scouting and drafting. Understanding how to navigate the collective bargaining agreement rules as it relates to player contracts and trades is essential, as is the ability to understand the modern analytics that are now employed to evaluate players on a statistical basis.
This new hire must have full power over all basketball operations. Some in the Bucks front office believe they have addressed things by the recent hiring of Assistant General Manager David Morway. Senator Kohl echoed this sentiment in a recent interview with NBA writer Howard Beck, telling Beck that he “stole” Morway from the Pacers due to the Pacers small market success.
Morway may be a very bright individual. But the problems with his hiring begin with his title of “Assistant General Manager.” The title implies that Morway has limited power because he’s not even the “General Manager.” John Hammond still retains that title. If Kohl believes so much in Morway, why not make him the “General Manager,” especially given the extremely poor five-year track record of current Bucks GM, John Hammond?
Rather than Morway being the solution, he likely is just another chapter in the long line of confusing Bucks operating hierarchy. An educated guess would be that a year or two from now, Morway will find his voice diminished, and only a small part of the entrenched long-time front office bureaucracy that exists within the organization. The only way the management culture changes is a complete house-cleaning, like Ron Wolf did with the Green Bay Packers in 1991-92.
If the Bucks were to empower a true General Manager what type of person should they hire? A good representative of the new breed of NBA GM is Daryl Morey of the Houston Rockets. Morey, a native of Baraboo, Wisconsin is a graduate of Northwestern and MIT. Despite the fact that his team lost all-star players Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady to injury, the Rockets are now positioned to challenge for an NBA title with their replacements James Harden and Dwight Howard. Morey did this through years of shrewd trading, drafting and financial management. However, most NBA observers might comment that there is no way that the Bucks could present an attractive enough situation to land a Dwight Howard-caliber player in free agency. This is why, in addition to hiring and empowering a highly competent GM, the Bucks must also focus on obtaining top draft picks.
Second: Obtain Top-Five Draft Picks
The great success the Bucks experienced from 1969 to 1987 was driven by players selected within the top five picks of the NBA draft. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (#1 overall), Marques Johnson (#3 overall), and Sidney Moncrief (#5 overall) were the building blocks for the two decades of success the team experienced in the 1970’s and 1980’s.
These top-five draft picks were also later used in important trades that helped stock the team with talent. Kareem was dealt for a group of top-tier players and prospects including Brian Winters, Junior Bridgeman and number #2 overall pick Dave Meyers. Marques Johnson was later traded for the younger Terry Cummings (#2 overall) who helped perpetuate team success into the mid-1980’s. And even though 1977 #1 overall pick Kent Benson was by all definitions a “bust,” the Bucks were able to wisely trade him for NBA Hall of Fame Center Bob Lanier in 1979 before the league caught on to the fact that Benson would never develop beyond being a journeyman.
Even in the Senator Kohl era, top-five draft picks are the sole source of providing the two seasons of relative success: 50 wins in 2001 and 46 wins in 2010. Glenn Robinson (#1 overall) and Ray Allen (#5 overall) drove the 2001 squad while Andrew Bogut (#1 overall) drove the success of the 2010 team.
Historically the Bucks have never been a good basketball team without having at least one of their own top-five picks on their roster. Their only periods of success the past forty years were a result of top-five picks. The Bucks and Senator Kohl argue that “bottoming out” through a complete rebuilding is no guarantee of success. Frequently they will cite “draft busts” that occur with picks made in the “high lotto.” While it is true that a number of top-five picks have been and will continue to be “busts”, we have no examples of the Bucks being competitive with a roster made up of players they selected outside of the top-five picks. The Bucks current front office has proven themselves incapable of creating a consistent competitive winning team without top-five picks.
Read on to learn about the importance of a top-five pick and their impact on a franchise: