“And then one day you find ten years have got behind you;
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun”
– Pink Floyd “Time“
We do not plan on providing commentary after individual games, and prefer to leave that to the good people at sites such as BrewHoop and Bucksketball, who do a fine job providing daily coverage. Nonetheless, we felt the need to briefly opine on last night’s loss to the Phoenix Suns, given that it illustrated many of the recurring themes we have discussed over the past month.
The Pink Floyd lyrics quoted above, seem appropriate, as ten years have slipped away for all of us, a period in which the Bucks have had very little success. As we tweeted (@saveourbucks) last night, the Phoenix Suns moved to eight games over .500 (20-12), with their victory over the Bucks. Since the collapse of the “Big Three” squad in 2002, the Bucks have been eight games above .500 only once in the past twelve-years. That occurred on March 28, 2010, when they ran their record to 40-32, en route to a 46-36 season.
A Tale of Two Rebuilding Projects
Suns beat writer Paul Coro summarized things well in his story on last night’s game:
“The Suns won Saturday night’s game in the off-season.
Phoenix and Milwaukee were two teams supposedly headed for nowhere this season and flipped their rosters in hopes of being on the right path.
Each team had the fewest number of returnees from the previous season. The Bucks got a makeover that is easily wiped away. The Suns had reconstructive roster surgery, resulting in a look that emphasized the difference between their status as Western Conference contender and the Bucks’ NBA-worst record.”
We could provide detailed commentary on the various off-season moves each team made, but will try for brevity: One team committed to a youth movement, hired a promising young coach, traded veterans for young players, and was able to maneuver themselves into a position to acquire up-and-coming guard Eric Bledsoe from the Los Angeles Clippers, via trade last summer. The other team hired an old-school veteran coach, acquired numerous veteran journeyman players, and facilitated the trade of Eric Bledsoe to the Suns.
The success of the Suns may be a mirage in the Arizona desert, but they appear to have their front office in order. The front office is where things start for successful NBA franchises.
What About That Locker Room Incident?
A number of parties reported a locker room dust up last night between certain Bucks players including Gary Neal and Larry Sanders.
Having tempers flare isn’t unusual. This type of thing is commonplace across professional sports, and many incidents never make headlines. That said the Bucks have had more than their share of these incidents over the years. The names involved change from year-to-year, but the common denominators are a losing team and lack of leadership.
One Bucks insider told us that the reason the Bucks signed so many veterans in the off-season was a desire to create a strong locker room culture for the younger players. This was a result of problems in the locker room at the end of last season. (Hint: Click on the links for details regarding just a few of these prior locker-room flare ups, going back to the Vin Baker era)
In our opinion one of the reasons the locker-room culture is always a challenge for the Bucks is due to the fact there is no “Alpha Dog” within the organization. No player, coach or general manager who everyone knows is clearly in charge, and who demands respect.
Finding “Alpha Dogs” is not easy but the Bucks begin each season with one hand tied behind their back due to the lack of clear front office hierarchy. As we have discussed previously we aren’t sure who is in charge in the front office.
If you look back over the time Senator Kohl has run the organization the only two periods where some level of success occurred were during the Don Nelson and George Karl eras, when it was clear that Nelson and Karl were in charge of most things. We do not think that was a coincidence. Until the Bucks appoint someone as Team President or General Manager who has a clear mandate to run all basketball operations the team will continue to struggle. In an environment of dysfunction events such as last night’s locker room incident will continue to occur more often than not.
We understand that some will bristle at the topics addressed in this piece however we believe that these “elephants” in the room need to be discussed, with the end goal being a successful franchise in Milwaukee. The Bucks organization has a number of high quality individuals on the payroll including the players themselves. They have a committed owner who has shown a willingness to spend resources for a winning team. What they lack is an organizational structure that allows them to succeed. If the front office and media choose to focus on “Larry Sanders” or “Gary Neal” as the specific reason for last night’s incident we think they are focusing on a symptom and not the problem.
We have noted on many occasions that top-five draft picks are critical to NBA success, but the culture of the front office is of equal, if not greater importance. So while there are significant potential benefits to the Bucks having the #1 lotto seeding at this moment, we aren’t naive enough to think that an “Andrew Wiggins” is going to turn things around all by himself. Solutions need to be implemented on multiple fronts for true sustainable achievement.