Why are we in this mess?

Two plus decades of poor performance isn’t bad luck. It is bad strategy and bad execution by team management.

As fans, we are grateful for the stewardship of Senator Kohl. He was the key local buyer that stepped up to purchase the team in 1985. During his ownership tenure, Senator Kohl has consistently provided the resources for the team to compete while ensuring that the team remains located in Milwaukee. Casual fans are surprised to learn that during certain stretches the Bucks ran payrolls that fell between the 5th and 10th highest in the league. Additionally, in 1992, Kohl lured Mike Dunleavy away from the Los Angeles Lakers with a then-unprecedented 8-year contract. Kohl made George Karl the highest paid coach in the league. Players have benefitted as well, including Glenn Robinson signing a then-rookie record 10-year, $68 million dollar contract. It isn’t about the money or financial commitment. Senator Kohl has provided that in abundance and the facts prove it.

The front office challenge is two-fold

A lack of a strategy.

The Bucks for decades now have failed to embrace a long-term strategy and stick with it. Every year the “plan” seems to change. The one constant is the continued effort to build around only a few “good” players and assume those players will turn into superstars even though they were not drafted in the top-five picks in their draft class. We are fearful that this is continuing this fall as the Bucks have now stated that their new “plan” is to build around Larry Sanders, John Henson and rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo. All three are fine prospects and hopefully will help turn things around. Nonetheless, they were drafted using the 15th, 14th and 15th selections in the NBA draft. The odds of players selected that low becoming all-stars is remote as we document later on.

No clear management structure.

Since Senator Kohl purchased the team, there has been a very ill-defined management hierarchy. In some years, the General Manager has significant power to run the team. In other years, the Head Coach has the power. Thrown into the mix are the cadre of longtime attorneys and front office people who advise Senator Kohl. That group of non-basketball people have been known to weigh in on basketball-related decisions from time to time.  Overlaying it all is Senator Kohl, who everyone understands makes the final decision on basketball matters. Kohl’s inclination to make final decisions is so well known that many times players will take their complaints directly to Senator Kohl, who provides a willing ear in contrast to player problems being dealt with at the coach or general manager level. In the end, the team has failed to employ and empower a “Ron Wolf” type as general manager. They need to hire someone extremely competent and knowledgeable on all aspects of the modern NBA, from player evaluation to salary cap management.

The Milwaukee Bucks do not exist without Senator Kohl.  It is that simple. There are numerous cities over the past twenty years who have desired an NBA franchise.  At any time, Senator Kohl could have sold the Bucks to an out-of-town interest and allowed the team to move.  Further, the group in Seattle that tried to purchase the Sacramento Kings is still actively seeking an NBA franchise for that city.  Based on published numbers, the offer for the Kings ran as high as $600 million dollars.  Senator Kohl could easily sell the Bucks to the Seattle group and pocket an extremely large profit.

For the Bucks to exist in the future in Milwaukee, Senator Kohl would need to sell the team to a buyer willing to keep the team here. A sale requirement that the Bucks remain in the Milwaukee market will likely mean the ultimate sale price is going to be lower than $600 million.  Even with a new arena to increase revenue, the Milwaukee market is not going to be able to support a sale price equivalent to the $600 million that the Seattle group is willing to pay to locate a franchise there.

A better guidepost for a sale price would be the New Orleans Hornets.  That small market equivalent franchise sold for published reports of $338 million in the spring of 2012.  Based on a floor of the Hornets sale price and a ceiling from the Seattle group, one could extrapolate that the Bucks franchise, with a sale contingency they remain in Milwaukee, might garner a sale price in the $350 to $400 million dollar range.  To keep the team in Milwaukee, Senator Kohl would likely forgo  at least $200 million dollars of additional potential profit he could make by selling the team to a group from Seattle.  Those who say that a new arena would be built only to “line the pockets of Kohl” are sadly mistaken.  The Bucks only remain in Milwaukee long-term if the Senator agrees to forgo a large profit on any future sale.

All of this is to say, we are grateful to Senator Kohl for his commitment to the Milwaukee marketplace and hope that he is able to secure the franchise’s future here for the long-term.  However, it must be pointed out that the management strategies and structures employed during his tenure have not been conducive to success on the basketball court.  Senator Kohl needs to “clean house,” as the Packers and Brewers did, and restructure the front office in order to create long-term success.

What other steps do the Bucks need to take?  Read on!