The bidding war for the Milwaukee Bucks seems to be nearing an end--but that doesn't mean the identity or origin of the Bucks' next owners is becoming any clearer. While talk over the last week has largely focused on out-of-town interests from New York and Chicago, Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News suggested in a column Saturday afternoon that Herb Kohl may be leaning back towards "local" interests:
Two West Coast groups based in L.A. had interest in becoming investors in the Bucks. One was headed by the agent Arn Tellem, the other included former Bucks executive and coach Mike Dunleavy. But a local group of investors is finalizing a deal to come in with owner Herb Kohl
Considering the zig-zag route this story has taken over recent weeks, Lawrence's story raises as many questions as answers. The obvious ones:
Does this build on the narrative we've heard over the past weeks, or contradict it?
The first obvious question is how to reconcile this with Bill Simmons' report on Friday that New York financial titans Marc Lasry and Wes Edens thought they had a $550 million deal in place for the Bucks as recently as early last week. But Simmons' piece also clearly stated that the Lasry/Edens bid had possibly been trumped only a couple days ago, throwing the whole process back into doubt.
So to recap, the most recent and specific report we'd had on the bidding process as of Friday (the Simmons story) also said that we basically didn't know which way things would ultimately go. Not the most satisfying answer, but also not inconsistent with Lawrence's suggestion that local interests may have swooped back in to win Kohl's preference. After all, you'd think Kohl would want local bidders if at all possible, right?
If there's a contradiction between the Simmons and Lawrence stories it is in the identity of the outsiders: in Lawrence's story it's the two West Coast groups (Tellem's been mentioned by Gery Woelfel a number of times as well), while with Simmons it's the New York group. But that may simply be an artifact of how these stories are slowly trickling out. With as many as three to four rival groups being reported and as many as a dozen names having been volleyed around over the past month, there's no shortage of people who know something about what's going on. However, the number who know the full story is presumably far less, with Kohl and his bankers at Allen & Company the only ones who would definitely have the full picture. Of course, they're also unlikely to be gossiping much about the process, so it wouldn't be surprising for the media reports we're hearing to offer an incomplete--if not inaccurate--view of the bidding process.
So what does "local" mean, and who might that imply?
If we take Lawrence's story at face value and assume "local" investors are in fact back in the driver's seat, the obvious follow-up question will be whom that might include. And on that front we'd be back to our old laundry list of Wisconsin-based (or Wisconsin-friendly) rich guys: Mark Attanasio, Jon Hammes, Ted Kellner, and Junior Bridgeman to name the most prominent. None of them can individually match the check-writing clout of the New York group, but their intention and ability to keep the Bucks in Milwaukee obviously makes them attractive to involve in some capacity.
"Local" doesn't mean out-of-town money would be precluded of course, and for all we know Lawrence may consider Chicago money as "local" too. As a fan, I'd like to think there's some ideal combination of local connections, big money and NBA savvy that will eventually win out, so it's only natural to be rooting for certain guys to be involved in the final investor group. Among the Milwaukee-connected names, Hammes and Kellner might offer the best hope for navigating the local power structure, Attanasio can boast of already having turned around one troubled local franchise, and Bridgeman offers a completely unique blend of NBA experience, Milwaukee ties and self-made executive savvy. As a Bucks fan, you would have reason to be excited about any of them being involved, though I'd emphasize that at this point it's impossible to predict which groups or individuals would ultimately make for the best owners. It's obviously fun to speculate either way, but any group could go very right or very wrong.
So does this mean Herb Kohl would still be involved as part owner?
Taken literally, Lawrence's report implies as much, though all indications of late have suggested Kohl is not just looking for some minority investors. Still, it would also seem more logical for Kohl to keep at least a minority share if the new investors are locally-based, right? Those are the types who would presumably have an existing relationship with Kohl, not to mention that the locals mentioned would seemingly have a harder time buying out the whole team immediately.
It's not to say some New York billionaires wouldn't benefit from keeping Kohl on in some capacity--out of towners would most definitely need someone to give their group a local face. But they'd presumably also be looking for a cleaner break from the not-so-pleasant past and present.
Bottom line: Lawrence's report is encouraging to those of us hoping for local involvement and not necessarily contradictory with what we've heard to date. It's also unlikely to be the final word in the process, which will presumably still involve a few more twists and turns before the Bucks' next owners go public--which will hopefully happen sooner rather than later.