Milwaukee Bucks owner Herb Kohl announced in a statement Monday morning that he is in the process of finding new investors to join an ownership group of the team:
Over the next several months I will be considering broadening the ownership of the Bucks as a way to strengthen the franchise and keep it in Milwaukee. I have retained Steve Greenberg, Managing Director of Allen & Company, as my advisor. I have done business with Allen & Co. for over thirty years and they are a great organization. In the event new investor partners are added, they will need to be as committed to keeping the team in Milwaukee as I am.
Kohl's statement lacked any absolute commitment to expanding team ownership, but every expectation is that this is the first step in the eventual handover of ownership from Kohl to his successor, be it an individual or ownership group. Kohl has owned the Bucks since 1985, when he purchased them from Jim Fitzgerald with the express purpose of keeping the team in Milwaukee. Kohl considered an offer to sell the team to a group led by former NBA star Michael Jordan in 2003 but ultimately chose to remain.
Kohl remains stalwart in his demands that any future owner should commit to keeping the team in Milwaukee for the foreseeable future, a task that has moved to the forefront of the franchise's long-term plan in recent years. The failure of a relocation plan for the Sacramento Kings led by the team's former owners and investors in Seattle, combined with the ongoing debate over the future of the BMO Harris Bradley Center, have left many questioning the future viability of professional basketball in Wisconsin. As long as Kohl was in charge, relocation always seemed unlikely, but incoming NBA Commissioner Adam Silver made it clear during a visit last September that finalizing a plan and securing financial backing for a new arena was critical. The writing was on the wall and the clock was ticking, and even Herb Kohl wouldn't be able to stem the tide forever.
Adding additional local investors would seem to be a significant step for the franchise as it grapples with the new reality of the NBA. While changes in the NBA's Collective Bargaining Agreement have expanded revenue sharing and presumably slapped a Band-Aid on fiscally-wounded small-market owners, the ability to maximize the value of a team's venue is now paramount. Most modern arenas contain year-round attractions, from restaurants to commercial space to additional event facilities. Many function as part of larger entertainment complexes, a la the L.A. Live complex surrounding the Staples Center. Even a substantial investment from other members of the Milwaukee community wouldn't eliminate the need for public financing to some degree, but it would allow Kohl to devote more of his attention--and money--to finding the Bucks a new home.
As Kohl made today's announcement, his team finds itself at a crossroads of sorts. A commitment to putting together a competitive team year after year has always been a hallmark of Kohl's ownership, but the Bucks have gotten off to an extremely poor start on the court this season under new head coach Larry Drew. Massive roster turnover introduced a number of new veteran players who were expected to lead another chase for a low playoff seed, but a swathe of injuries and ineffective play has sent the Bucks tumbling down the standings; As of Monday, they own the worst record in the NBA. This has given the team's youth a chance to earn major minutes, and the results have been...encouraging, at the very least. John Henson has played well in the absence of starting center Larry Sanders, and newcomer Khris Middleton has surprised many with his consistent production. But nobody has impressed more than first-round pick Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has exceeded every expectation and captured the attention of every fan the Bucks have left. With the makings of a young core seemingly falling into place, there has been added pressure from the fanbase to put an injunction on the annual win-now approach in favor of a rebuilding year, the intent being to secure a top pick in the highly-regarded 2014 Draft. This movement is perhaps best symbolized by the Save Our Bucks website, run by a collection of fans eager to see a change in approach.
It's too early to say that any change in ownership structure will be reflected by a corresponding change in team direction, but it would certainly open the door to new opinions. For a team that hasn't won a playoff series since the dawn of the new millennium, any change would seem to be a good one. The Milwaukee Bucks still have a lot of work to do before their collective seat cools off, but today's announcement at least shows that plans for the future continue to move forward. For now, that's enough to be excited about.