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Kohl's Cronies

In his latest mailbag,'s Ian Thomsen throws out some hilariously depressing anecdotes about Herb Kohl and the legal team that has been guiding the team through the past 20 years of mediocrity. The whole thing's worth reading, but here are the highlights:

The impression I get from several executives is that it's going to be hard to win so long as owner Sen. Herb Kohl doesn't change the way he runs the franchise. At the moment, most of the business of the team is channeled through a couple of attorneys who know little about basketball. But it's common knowledge around the league that former GM Larry Harris, who was let go last month, was forced to run trade proposals through the attorneys, who also offered trade suggestions of their own.

This is exactly what serious fans have been complaining about for some time. And this is also why VP Ron Walter is so regularly vilified by hardcore fans, even though he's rarely mentioned publicly and most casual fans have never heard of him. Among other things, the Bucks have been known to use their lawyers rather just their GM to negotiate contracts, and while that might have helped them with the Yi Jianlian negotiations, it also turned ugly with Charlie Bell. Thomsen continues:

Last year the Bucks had Mike Conley in for an impressive predraft workout. "I can't believe this kid shoots the ball so well with his left hand,'' one of the attorneys said to Sen. Kohl.

"It's because he's left-handed,'' Harris said.

Oh dear.

"My understanding is that the senator has people around him who have the power to make decisions but are not held accountable for those decisions,'' says a rival Eastern conference executive.

Given how little success Kohl has enjoyed despite his honest and fervent efforts, it stands to reason that the revolving door of GMs and coaches aren't the only ones to blame. Thomsen's source pretty succinctly summarizes what's been most frustrating about the Bucks as an organization--and echoes what we said a month ago. With the bag revolt looming, we noted that "a transparent chain of command and accountability for everyone involved in personnel decisions would be a good start" to turning the Bucks around. So either other teams' executives are just repeating what they read on Brew Hoop (highly unlikely, but rather flattering), or it's as bad as we thought it was (far more likely, but rather distressing).

Walter could have very reasonable opinions on most issues, but we really don't know. His resume suggests he's had a rather exceptional legal career, but in basketball terms the only thing we know for sure is that he's been with the team since 1992--which makes him one of the few constants during the worst 16 years in Bucks history. Still, new GM John Hammond thanked Walter and the rest of "Kohl's Cronies" by name in his press conference, so don't think Kohl has purged his most trusted advisors. Should Bucks fans panic? Will it just be more of the same? Probably not, but fans would be excused for adding a dose of caution to their newfound optimism.

Still, let's give the Bucks the benefit of the doubt--for now. Just as Hammond wouldn't have come to Milwaukee to let the team's lawyers run the show, Kohl would be more than foolish to hand Hammond a $8 million simply to make him a puppet. And while we're unlikely to hear Kohl publicly admit his past mistakes in this regard, an honest effort to let Hammond rebuild the team the way he sees fit would go a long way towards earning back fans' trust.