Friday, April 18, 2014


The Bucks announced they are being sold to a couple of New York investment guys who have tons of cash and a love of basketball. I have not been a big fan of Herb Kohl, in his capacity as owner of the Bucks. Kohl bought the Bucks in 1985, and at the time they were a perennial playoff team and occasional conference finals threat in an era dominated by Bird and Magic. The team’s success faded in the years after Kohl bought it. The Vin Baker era was painful. Big Dog and Ray Allen brought some hope, but limited playoff appearances and one conference finals appearance was the best they could do. There was some promise before Bogut destroyed his elbow, but that quickly faded. After that, there have been a bunch of bad teams and few wins. It would be hard from a basketball watcher's perspective to say the past 30 years are anything but an overall failure. Not as bad as being the Clippers, but still just not very good.

Kohl will leave ownership with 2 major achievements. He made a ton of money, and he kept the team in Milwaukee. He bought the Bucks for $18 million, and sold for $550 million, minus $100 million he is donating to a fund to build a new arena in downtown Milwaukee. A 2500% increase in value over 30 years is pretty good, and makes all the whines about Milwaukee as a small market team that loses money sound a bit hollow. As a fan, I don’t really care how much money Kohl makes, but I do like that he insured the team will stay in Milwaukee for the near future. With another $100 million from the new owners there will be a new arena, and likely a lease for 20 years or so. Beyond that, the Bucks success during those 20 years will determine if they stay in Milwaukee or not.

The Bucks will never be among the NBAs elite franchises. The NBA is just fine with LA, NY, and the other big cities maintaining their advantages to keep the ratings high. In order for a team like Milwaukee to be successful they need a few things: good owners, good management, and good luck. They need an owner who is willing to spend, but smart enough not to meddle. Despite the financial disadvantages of Milwaukee (less money from local TV contracts, less money from the arena) Kohl was willing to spend when the Bucks were winning. The Bucks were over the cap during part of the Allen, Big Dog, Cassell era, and Kohl paid handsomely to have an elite coach in George Karl during that time too. He doesn’t do so well when it comes to the meddling. Despite his low profile with the team, his fingerprints were on a lot of the moves they made. Not as bad as a Mark Cuban, but more than you want. Good management is another issue. I’m OK with John Hammond, but it’s hard to call his era a success. Larry Harris and others before him would definitely not be called a success. Being considered good management has a lot to do with good luck. San Antonio (another small market) is widely considered to have some of the best management, but they also had the good fortune to draft Tim Duncan who makes a lot of coaches and GMs look good. A lucky draft at the right time can make a huge difference.

Time will tell what this new ownership group brings to Milwaukee. They should have a high pick in a good draft to get them started. A new arena in a few years should help with revenues and keeping players. There is very little talent to build with, but outside of Larry Sanders there are also no massive long term contracts (beyond 2 more years) that will be major problems. The new salary cap should help teams like Milwaukee remain competitive. Lets hope the next 30 years are more successful.

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