Can we finally write the 07/08 Bucks off? Were we hopelessly naive not to have done it two months ago? There have been plenty of performances this year that offered good arguments for Bucks fans to pack it up for the season, but three straight losses at home heading into the all-star break might look to have buried this team once and for all. After the Clips loss on Monday, Larry Krystkowiak changed course a bit and took the gloves off, alluding to a house divided. Tom Enlund quoted LK in the JS:
"It's happening and we need to put an end to it and we need to figure out which guys want to be a part of it, which guys are in, and we're going to go down swinging with guys that are going to play hard. Because at this point of the season, it's not about individuals. It's about us surviving. We've got a nucleus of guys in that room that are interested in doing that and some others I'm not so sure about."
"I'm not going to sugarcoat it," Krystkowiak said. "We've got some agendas creeping in and good teams don't have that. There's a lot of sacrifices that people make (on good teams). At this point . . . because we're not winning, it's really easy to second-guess what we're doing as a coaching staff offensively and defensively. Everything is under the microscope."
Basic logic tells you that a coach wouldn't call out his players publicly at the first sign of a problem, so this has probably been coming for a while. Either way, in spite of the boring (depressing?) product on the court and the seeming ambivalence by Herb Kohl towards doing anything about it, we're at least now getting some gossip. The rumors and murmurs that certain players didn't like each other or didn't respect Krystkowiak as a coach have been around for a while, but at the end of the day they're just that: whispers and heresay that people with first-hand knowledge will understandably be loathe to talk about. Any hardcore fan is aware of it, and in this space we've probably subconsciously alluded to it a fair amount, but at the same time we'd like to underscore that, like many aspects of the Bucks' front office and locker room, the real climate of the team is a tough thing to gather a long bibliography on.
So we'll go with the little bits of info that we have. Krystkowiak fired his very public salvo at unnamed factions within the team on Monday, and on Tuesday one of the respected Bucks posters at RealGM relayed information on a closed-door meeting that went, uh, poorly. More specifically, the claim is that Krystkowiak's attempts to whip the team into unity through war-metaphors did little but set the stage for Mo Williams to mock Andrew Bogut for still being on a rookie contract, while Michael Redd sat dejectedly in the corner. Then today we got another version of the story which seems to make much more sense: Krystkowiak solicited input on why guys don't trust their offensive strategies, and Mo Williams made the case that if they want to win they need to go back to the more free-flowing, guard-centric offense that had some decent offensive results last year. There's always tons of subjectivity in these sorts of second and third-hand stories--heck, we just introduced more uncertainty with that snide little summary. But it deserves a look if only because of a) the first poster's history suggests there's something here and b) the second poster's account makes some sense and c) if you want to be an informed Bucks fan, you should probably judge for yourself. Keep in mind the first poster provided plenty of detail on the Mo Williams/Tony Brown spat before the Journal-Sentinel confirmed that a confrontation did occur.
Yesterday the RealGM discussion got Steve "The Homer" True talking on his afternoon radio show, where he reiterated his questions about Larry Krystkowiak and the front office in general, but at this point there's enough blame for everyone. Ironically, earlier that day Tom Enlund had a long feature on Williams and how he's dealing with the losing. Not surprisingly, emasculating Andrew Bogut wasn't part of his stated gameplan, but he also wasn't backing up Krystkowiak's assault on player motivation:
"Like I said, everyone has a difference of opinion. He's entitled to his opinion. If that's the way he feels, that's the way he feels. That's his opinion and that's not necessarily true. That's an opinion and the way he sees things. He has a right to that opinion. Just like every other guy has the right to their own opinion. I'm not saying they're right and I'm not saying they're true. Some people's opinions are stronger than others, put it like that."
While we should probably be wary of labeling heroes and villains based on all this--some creative interpretation goes a long way in that regard--the bottom line is that we're now seeing the team crumble a bit on both the public and private fronts: whether it's the coach's press conference or the hushed whispers of the deep throats wearing trenchcoats, positivity isn't in high supply. In many ways that made last night's effort encouraging--they didn't play like a bunch of guys who hated each other, even if they again fell short. Of course, strife doesn't always have to shatter a team either. Indeed, a fight in a Blazers practice has given an almost mythic element to Portland's resurgent play following a rough start. Speaking about his late game miss against the Hornets, Redd sounded more exasperated than combative, however:
"The play was made to come off a pin-down by (Andrew Bogut) and go for the win. Obviously, we could have tied it but that was the plan. That's what coach wanted. That's what he said in the huddle. That was our train of thought and that's what we tried to do. We just do what coach asks. I can't question him. We have to roll with what he says, and that's it."
After a half season of changing strategies and consistently poor results, the players seem to wonder what the coaches want them to do, and the coaches seem frustrated at the players' inability to produce on the court. Chicken, meet egg. Maybe there is some truth in that patience could pay dividends. After all, rookie coaches and young teams do tend to get better over time, or at least that's what we've been told for the better part of two decades. But it's looking increasingly unlikely that the current roster and coaching staff are interested in having each other around long enough to find out, a sentiment shared by the dwindling number of fans who are still paying attention to another season of unfulfilled expectation. Which leaves one last question: what if anything is Herb Kohl willing to do about it?