Posts Tagged ‘Milwakuee Bucks’

Milwaukee gets its night to shine


VIDEO: The Bucks nab arguably the 2014 Draft’s best player

ST. FRANCIS, Wis. – October belongs to everybody – no one’s lost a game yet, every team’s roster seems shiny and full. Springtime is owned by the big dogs, the contenders and the wannabes, established teams already or on their way up.

July is for the glamour markets and the legacy franchises, the destinations with tradition, night life or both. That’s where free agents want to play, those are the places media folks love to talk about and, maybe, even live.

But for one night in June, it was about – first and second, first and foremost – Cleveland and Milwaukee. A pair of small, largely unloved NBA towns were in no-lose situations early Thursday evening – it was going to be Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker, Parker or Wiggins, one or the other – and there was nothing the rest of the league or its followers could do about it.

That feeling was palpable at the Bucks’ draft headquarters in the moments after general manager John Hammond grabbed Parker with the No. 2 pick overall. And given how thick with emotion Hammond’s voice sounded as he talked about the pick, the player and the person, it was a feeling Milwaukee desperately wants to last.

Parker likes the Bucks. He likes Milwaukee. He really, really likes them.

“We’re really excited about the fact that he wants to be here,” Hammond said of the Duke forward, a 1-2, flip-a-coin certainty to wind up with the Cavaliers or the Bucks according to most draft projections. “I talked to him a couple moments ago and he’s thanking us for the opportunity. That’s something you really appreciate.

“I think he has a chance to be a great long-term fit for us.”

Lots of teams say that about lots of guys on Draft night, but it resonates a little more with Milwaukee. This is a team that spends most of the year, particularly during free agency, hearing all the snide stuff about Podunkville.

No one wants to play there. No one would choose to live there.  Even as the TV panelists coughed up a few kudos in the Bucks’ direction for the talented young man they’d just corralled, folks in Milwaukee were wise to them; given the chance, those suits would slit the franchise’s throat if a relocation could have gotten them a few business trips each year to Seattle.

But things are changing, whether the national media like it or not. The league’s collective bargaining agreement was remade in 2011 to spread talent around. The Bucks just got sold to a pair of hedge-fund impresarios, Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens, who pledged to keep them right where they are – eventually in a new arena. And now they have a prized young player thanking them and saying he wants to have a one-team career.

“They gave me the say-so right [away], and I didn’t get any conclusions from any other teams,” Parker said of the Bucks’ pledge they would take him if the Cavs didn’t. “I’m just so glad they were men of their words.”

As for being happy going to a place so many NBA veterans snub or scoff or sneer at, Parker – a Chicago native who gave a shout-out to Lake Michigan immediately after being selected – said: “That’s up to the player.”

Said Hammond: “You look at this and think, ‘Is there a perfect storm, a perfect synergy, where this all works together?’ [Lasry and Edens] purchase the team, a few months later we get the second pick in the draft and we get the chance to draft a guy like Jabari Parker.”

Everyone knows about Parker the player, the NBA-ready scorer who can bookend with last year’s precocious prospect, Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Bucks are thrilled to have that guy, regardless of his preferred ZIP or area code.

“You hate to go with ‘comps,’ but we do that,” Hammond said. “We talk about a Paul Pierce comparison and a Carmelo [Anthony] comparison.”

The Bucks GM said he caught some SportsCenter the other day when the topic was Anthony’s opt-out from New York, and the stock footage they ran of Melo had Hammond thinking about Parker.

“The way he moved with the ball, the kinds of things he was doing, the way he was scoring,” he said. “We had a chance to spend part of the time with Jabari and watch him work out individually, and I’ve got to say there were some real similarities there as far as how he looked on the floor and the kind of things Melo was doing.”

That’s quite a comparison for any young player, Hammond conceded. But then he launched into another one, equally lofty, that fits the person he’d just drafted.

“You hope the next comp, as a person, might be a Kevin Durant going to a small-market team like Oklahoma City and obviously his feelings about being there,” Hammond said. “Those guys are special people. But [that organization has] done a special job, too, of putting [him] in position where [he] can be successful.

“Now it’s our job to put him in a position where he continues to feel good about this city and this organization.”


VIDEO: Relive Jabari Parker’s selection slow-mo style

Bridgeman’s Business Success, Lessons Could Keep Bucks In Milwaukee

Junior Bridgeman

Junior Bridgeman played in the NBA from 1975 to 1987.

As the leader of Washington High’s basketball team 43 years ago in East Chicago, Ind., Ulysses Lee (Junior) Bridgeman helped the Senators to a perfect 29-0 record and the Indiana state championship. His teammates included Pete Trgovich, who would win two NCAA titles at UCLA; Tim Stoddard, who went on to North Carolina State and an MLB pitching career, and Bridgeman’s brother Sam.

Fifteen years later, Washington High closed its doors for the last time. Due to declining enrollments and aging buildings there and at East Chicago’s other school, Roosevelt, the two were merged in 1986 on a new campus with a new name: Central.

The Cardinals were born. The Senators and the Roughriders were dead.

“Shot in the heart,” is how Bridgeman felt about it. “You think you’re going to take your kids there and your grandkids to see your picture, and they tear down the high school. So there’s nothing left.”

Bridgeman, a valuable swingman who spent most of his 12 NBA seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks (and still holds the franchise record for games played, 711), knows he could face the same sort of erasure to his professional basketball career if the Bucks ultimately get sold to outside interests and are relocated out of Milwaukee.

“It would almost be the same thing for me personally – it would be devastating,” he said. “Because you’re tied to the history. I’m tied to the history of the game in Milwaukee.”

Bridgeman was at the BMO Harris Bradley Center Saturday in part to make sure that does not happen. He was honored as a popular Bucks alumnus with his own bobblehead night, speaking briefly and waving to the fans during a break in the Bucks’ game against Brooklyn. The banner featuring Bridgeman’s retired No. 2 jersey hung overhead.

He was there as a familiar face and voice, too, to support the Bucks’ place in the hearts and wallets of southeastern Wisconsin sports fans. And most intriguingly, Bridgeman was in the house Saturday as a possible Bucks investor who could share some of the fiscal responsibility and provide continuity for former U.S. Senator Herb Kohl, the team’s 79-year-old principal owner.

Bridgeman, after all, is one of the NBA’s proudest, post-playing days success story. Learning and investing in the fast-food industry before his career ended in 1987, the former Louisville star and No. 8 pick in the 1975 Draft has built a business empire of more than 160 Wendy’s outlets, an estimated 100 Chili’s restaurants and several Fazoli’s locations. In 2012, Forbes estimated Bridgeman’s net worth to be more than $200 million, ranking him No. 18 among the nation’s most wealthy African-Americans.

Kohl announced earlier this season that he was seeking a majority or minority partner to keep the Bucks in Milwaukee and help realize his ambition of a new arena, publicly and privately financed to replace the Bradley Center. Bridgeman already is part of a group that bought into the Sacramento Kings last May to achieve the same results – he is friendly with Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson, a former all-NBA point guard.

That involvement required Bridgeman to disclose little Saturday about his discussions with Kohl – NBA bylaws would require him to divest himself of the Kings’ stake if he were to buy into the Bucks – but it was evident the possibilities appeal both to Bridgeman’s head and his heart.

“You always hope you make good business decisions, but obviously there’s a lot of emotion in this one,” Bridgeman said. “You just hope that doesn’t lead you to do things that aren’t prudent. I still think this is a very good situation. Over the next few years, some things have to happen but I think it’ll prove itself out.”

At 11-47, the Bucks rank last in the NBA standings, not a horrible thing given the depth and quality of talent in this year’s draft but still no fun through the 82-game regular season. At $405 million, they rank last on Forbes’ 2014 list of franchise valuations. And with an average attendance of 13,442, they rank last in that category too. Some of that is due to their arena, which opened in 1988 and lacks amenities common in newer NBA venues. Some of that is due to the Bucks’ traditions.

Milwaukee got spoiled early, landing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in a lucky draft coin-flip after just one expansion season, acquiring legend Oscar Robertson and winning its only NBA championship in 1971, the end of Year 3. Bridgeman arrived three weeks after he was drafted, packaged by the Lakers in the mega-deal that brought Abdul-Jabbar to L.A.

The Bucks went from a “Green and Growing” slogan meant to instill optimism (they were 30-52 in 1976-77) to a top Eastern Conference contender through much of the 1980s. With a new coach, Don Nelson, and eventually players such as Sidney Moncrief, Marques Johnson and Bob Lanier, only some dominant Boston and Philadelphia teams stood between them and another trip to the Finals. Later, Jack Sikma, Terry Cummings, Ricky Pierce and others butted heads with Detroit and Chicago.

More recently, the Bucks made six playoff appearances in eight seasons with players such as Ray Allen, Glenn Robinson, Sam Cassell and Michael Redd. No more rings, but fans in Milwaukee got accustomed to competitive games and victory totals in the 30s, not the 20s or the teens. That’s the pledge Kohl had for his customers again in October, which makes this season’s unofficial “tanking” so unappealing at the turnstiles.

But the empty seats don’t scare Bridgeman, any more than Milwaukee’s small market size or lack of sizzle as a free agent destination.

“Nothing is permanent,” he said. “You might not like the record where it’s at. But in my mind … it’s only a matter of time before you get that upward movement.”

As a businessman, Bridgeman – the president of the NBA players association when the average player salary reached $600,000 – termed the league’s growth phenomenal (average salary now: $5.7 million). He likes what he sees in the current collective-bargaining agreement, the revenue-sharing mechanism in place and the potential for the new TV contract in 2016, in their benefit to teams of modest market size.

As a possible owner, he focuses too on standards, practices and habits that have helped him employ an estimated 11,000 workers.

“It’s just like playing,” Bridgeman said. “You have to find what’s within you to make you the best player on the floor. It’s the same way in the business world. For me, it was mopping floors, being there at close, handing bags out the window. A lot of things where people’d say, ‘Why are you doing that? You shouldn’t be doing it.’

“Well, it was the same thing playing basketball when you were out running to get in shape at 5 in the morning or shooting an extra 1,000 shots. It’s really funny how the same principles in life apply to so many different things.”

Buying into the Bucks might be the next shot Bridgeman takes.

Better that than another one to the heart, seeing a part of his history close and move away.

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 5


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 4

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bynum-Gasol talk heats up | Rivers shoots down Griffin-‘Melo rumor | Sanders, Neal have postgame beef

No. 1: Bynum trade keys on Sunday — The on-then-off trade talks involving the L.A. Lakers’ Pau Gasol and their former big man Andrew Bynum, now on the outs with the Cleveland Cavaliers, might just be on again. And by on, we mean heating up big-time Sunday, since that represents the best last day to cross all t’s and dot all i’s by the end of business Tuesday. Trades of this nature typically take 48 hours to be finalized with NBA headquarters, and Jan. 7 is the date by which Bynum’s contract calls for another $6 million guaranteed for the balance of the season. The Cavaliers would prefer not to throw good money after bad, of course, and the Lakers are focused on the luxury-tax benefits of acquiring and then shedding Bynum to reduce payroll. ESPN.com reported the revival of talks that previously were said to be squelched, and USA Today offered a little more context of a deal that – despite the big names involved – is about as sexy as an investor culling stock losers from his portfolio with the IRS in mind:

The Los Angeles Lakers big man once again is the subject of trade talks, this time with the possibility that he’d swap spots with former teammate Andrew Bynum in a possible deal that is of very little relevance to this particular season when it comes to the competitive landscape. This is about failed ventures on both sides and mutually-beneficial attempts to fix bad teams.

… [According] to a person with knowledge of the talks between the two teams, the only asset Cleveland has offered as of Saturday night is a second-round pick, and that won’t be enough to get this deal done.

… By getting rid of Gasol in exchange for Bynum, the Lakers would escape the luxury tax territory this season while creating some badly-needed distance between them and the ‘repeater’ billing that is followed by such a huge, well, bill. …

… Whether it’s a first-round pick that the Lakers are pushing for or a young player who could be part of their cloudy future, the point of it all is that they want something besides the savings to hang their collective hat on. It’s a staring contest in that regard: the Cavs are well aware that the financial factor looms largest for the Lakers, and the Lakers are banking on Cleveland not wanting to cut Bynum for nothing in return and realizing that Gasol on a team that entered the season with playoff expectations but is now 11-22 would be a huge boon.

***


VIDEO: Doc sounds off on trade rumors

No. 2: Rivers disses favorite sports network — So stupid. A non-story. And “that network.” If anyone had any doubts about how L.A. Clippers coach Doc Rivers felt about speculation on ESPN’s various outlets about a Carmelo Anthony-for-Blake Griffin trade, Rivers removed them prior to his team’s game against the Spurs in San Antonio Saturday. In fact, while Rivers always is quick with the comic line about “Doc” merely being a nickname, he deftly performed a little-known surgical process, a rumorectomy, for the assembled media who were poking and prodding, as noted by Broderick Turner of the L.A. Times. Let’s all remember, too, how Rivers reacted to comments by ESPN basketball guy Bill Simmons‘ analysis of the coach’s departure (“quit on” was the pivotal phrase) from the Boston Celtics last summer:

Rivers said the Clippers aren’t engaged in talks to trade Griffin for Anthony and aren’t going to trade their All-Star power forward.

“My whole issue with any of that … is that that network to me reports a story that they created and then they do reports on it for the next two days, on a story that they created,” Rivers said. “But it’s stupid.”

The ESPN report, which was attributed to unidentified league sources, said the Knicks have discussed proposing an Anthony-for-Griffin trade with the Clippers, and that Clippers management has discussed such a deal internally. But the report said the teams haven’t spoken to each other about a possible trade.

With Chris Paul out three to five weeks because of a separated right shoulder he suffered Friday night at Dallas, Griffin becomes even more key for the Clippers.
Griffin leads the Clippers in scoring (22.1) and minutes played (36.6), and he is second in rebounding (10.6) and assists (3.1).

Griffin, 24, is in the first year of a five-year, $95-million contract that pays him $16.4 million this season.

Rivers said he didn’t talk to Griffin about the ESPN report.

“I didn’t say a word about it,” said Rivers, who is also the Clippers’ vice president of basketball operations and has the last word on trades. “I just thought it was such a non-story.”

***

No. 3: Bucks’ Sanders, Neal squabble in locker roomBad things happen with bad teams, and based on the unseemly scene in the visitors’ locker room in Phoenix late Saturday, you could probably guess without a glimpse at the standings that the Milwaukee Bucks (7-26) lug around the NBA’s worst record. After a 116-100 loss at US Airways Center, Milwaukee’s Larry Sanders and Gary Neal got into what the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel termed a “bitter argument,” with Neal “going” where few in the fraternity of millionaire athletes dare to go: attacking Sanders’ new contract extension (which doesn’t even kick in till next season). “I earned my money. Why don’t you try it?” Neal said postgame in earshot of reporters, after Sanders questioned his attitude. Anyone paying attention to the Bucks this season could make a case that no one there – from the front office down – has been earning his salary, based on the results. Sanders’ notorious and YouTubed nightclub incident cost him 25 games with a hand injury, while Neal has underperformed and been criticized for selfish play since arriving as a free agent from San Antonio. Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel was there to chronicle some of the dreary ugliness:

It was the latest meltdown for a Bucks team that dropped to a 7-26 record as it lost for the second time in three games on its western swing.

And there were plenty of problems during the game as the Bucks committed a season-high 26 turnovers leading to 38 points by the Suns (20-12).

Bucks teammates did their best to downplay what was an ugly scene in the visitors’ locker room.

“Oh no, we’re good,” Bucks guard O.J. Mayo said. “A little team bonding, that’s all. A little kumbaya, man.

“It’s all good. When things aren’t going well, that’s when the real men reveal their true colors. Are you a grinder? Are you going to roll your sleeves up and get it done?

“People handle it different ways. We’re searching [for] ‘what do we need to do to get it going.’ “

.***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The downside of tanking (well, one more of the many downsides): Promising young players have to endure hard times. Pricey veterans often get shed by teams focused on the future, but a young desirable such as Philadelphia’s Thaddeus Young winds up waiting for the 76ers’ plan to kick into action. … Veteran big man Kurt Thomas would like to get back in, yet at age 41, even he is turning up his nose at his old team in New York. … We’ll leave the digit jokes to you, but can report that Portland’s Nicolas Batum has broken the middle finger on his non-shooting (left) hand. He might not miss any time. … Veteran Hedo Turkoglu, who has played just one more game than Derrick Rose since the end of the 2011-12 season, might be on the Lakers’ radar. Turkoglu, 34, was waived Friday by Orlando, with the Magic saving half of his $12 million by shedding him now. Turkoglu reportedly is eschewing opportunities in Europe for a chance to stay in the NBA.