The Milwaukee Bucks scheduled a news conference on Monday to convince you things have changed, but in the end the biggest news of the day reinforced the notion that it's pretty much business-as-usual for the franchise. They introduced Larry Drew as the team's new head coach (change!), which could be a move in the right direction, but things will depend a lot more on how they choose to reshape the roster over the next few seasons. We simply don't know what Drew will mean to the organization at this point.
However, we do know that a multitude of depressing factors brought the franchise to the point where they needed to hire a new head coach (business-as-usual!). Far-sighted fans see a team that has missed the postseason 14 of the last 22 years, gone without a playoff series win for 13 seasons and has failed to present an all-star player since Michael Redd in 2003-04. Near-sighted supporters are stuck staring at the husk of a 38-44 team that finished with the fourth-worst regular season record for a playoff team in the last 16 years. It's safe to say head coaching isn't the problem in Milwaukee.
So what's really changed with the Bucks? Team owner Heb Kohl actually provided some interesting (?) thoughts on the past, present and future of the franchise in a post-presser interview with Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. In short, don't expect the Bucks to strip down the roster and rebuild with a premium pick in the loaded 2014 NBA Draft. There will be no tanking in Milwaukee (via JS-Online):
"We want to be a good team. We want to get to the playoffs; we want to win in the playoffs. Our goals are we think reasonable, and we think Larry Drew is the person who can lead us there."
"There are different ways teams conduct their business in the sports leagues," Kohl said. "And I like to see that we put a competitive product on the floor every season.
"It doesn't mean, as some people have thought, that maybe I'm satisfied with mediocrity. I'm not. We want to get X number of wins, and when we get there I want more wins. And then after that, you want more wins. Teams that are winning find a way to win some more.
"Oftentimes teams that are really bad and losing find a bottom that they can't get out of. It works both ways. I don't have any disrespect for teams that do it in different ways. But we want to be good."
The good news is that Herb Kohl wants the Bucks to be good. I don't think his desire makes him unique in the world of NBA owners, but I do think his approach to "put[ting] a competitive product on the floor every season" has made the franchise very ordinary. Both the far-sighted and near-sighted Bucks can certainly agree that Kohl's desire to be good hasn't meant much of anything to the actual product on the floor. That's just the truth of the matter.
But those all are vanilla statements. He didn't even set an actual win total goal for the team -- "X number of wins" could technically land you the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft. It's sobering to know that tanking is off the table for a team that disappointed everyone in 2012-13, but we pretty much knew that anyways. That dream was probably dead a long time ago.
It's one thing to steal the pillow from the dreamers hanging around as hardcore fans, but it's quite another to load the pillowcase up with bad basketball thoughts and start swinging it around just to scare people. That's what it feels like Kohl did during the remainder of his chat.
Remember the Bobby Simmons signing? Michael Redd's max deal? The Mo Williams pact? Dan Gadzuric's big contract? The Charlie Bell offer sheet? The John Salmons deal? The Drew Gooden contract? The Andrew Bogut trade? The Tobias Harris trade? Of course you do, which is why your blood pressure is on the rise at the moment. The Bucks have a history of backing themselves into a corner and then spending big on sub-all-star talent in free agency to meet Kohl's goal of putting a "competitive" team on the court. Now what if I told you they are primed to do it all over again?
Here's what we know:
(1) this crop of free agents is considered weak behind the superstar talent that isn't headed to Milwaukee anyways,
(2) the Bucks only have Ersan Ilyasova, Drew Gooden, Luc Mbah a Moute, Ekpe Udoh, Larry Sanders, John Henson, Gustavo Ayon and Ish Smith under contract for 2013-14,
(3) they have money to spend and a win-now-esque mandate to fulfill, and
(4) Josh Smith, Monta Ellis, J.J. Redick, Brandon Jennings, Paul Millsap, etc. could be had for the right price, but those guys have never made an NBA All-Star team. Ever.
But Herb Kohl is STILL excited about the idea of spending money this offseason, even after being burned so many times in the past. Behold:
"[W]e want to be good. And there are a lot of good players in this league."
"They're not necessarily all all-stars. If you can get them, as Larry Drew said, to work together, compete together, respect each other, play the game the right way, defend and rebound, value possession, get good shots every time down the floor, you can be really good. There are examples of that every year.
Bobby Simmons and Dan Gadzuric can become greater than the sum of their parts if you just wish hard enough. We should all feel bad for not wishing hard enough, I guess. To top it all off, he decided to suggest that the 2012-13 team was on the brink of being "pretty good." That thought offends my basketball sensibilities, and I'm disappointed that Kohl chose to do anything other than apologize for doubling down on that fraud of a squad with a deal at the deadline. Here's what Kohl had to say:
"We think we had a chance to be pretty good this year until we sort of cratered at the end. We want to be very good this coming year. We have a roster to put together; we have money to spend. We have our own free agents to deal with. We have our established players who are going to be with us this year."
The Bucks built a team that could come anywhere close to being respectable, let alone "pretty good," last year, and that was true even after they maimed their long-term prospects by dealing away Tobias Harris and Doron Lamb for 30-some games of J.J. Redick. A team Vegas pegged to win 36.5 games wasn't a few bad breaks away from a good season. Kill that noise.
The good news is that more things than the coach are primed to change in the offseason. Monta Ellis is expected to opt out, Brandon Jennings will shop for offer sheets from other teams and Mike Dunleavy and J.J. Redick should receive competitive offers from contenders. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean things can't stay the same for the Bucks. If you were listening closely, that was the real message from the press conference on Monday.