New Bucks owners bring buzz to Milwaukee

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By Charles F. Gardner
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Sunday, June 1, 2014

How quickly things have changed for the Milwaukee Bucks.

Suddenly there's a real buzz about the franchise again thanks to the energetic efforts of new owners Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry.

Their two-day trip to Milwaukee last week had a rock-star quality to it.

They mingled with a wall-to-wall crowd of enthusiastic fans at a Water Street bar Thursday night, and earlier in the day Lasry shot hoops in a friendly contest with Bucks forward Chris Wright at the team's practice facility.

They went on nearly every radio show in town to talk about their vision for the team, a new arena and a revitalized downtown.

And they thanked former Bucks owner Herb Kohl for trusting them and for his $100 million investment in a new arena, matching their own contribution.

It was a rousing start to their tenure as owners of a pro basketball franchise.

Now comes the tough part.

The New York-based investors know they are taking over a team that finished at the bottom of the NBA with a 15-67 record last season. They are taking over a franchise that ranked last in the league in attendance, averaging 13,487 fans.

“Our view is we're going to try to do this over the next five years,” Lasry said. “We've got the best 23-and-under team, but that's not the way it works.”

These young Bucks have to grow up fast to start competing with division foes such as Indiana and Chicago, even Detroit and Cleveland.

And it's an even longer way to challenging the teams at the league's top—Miami, San Antonio and Oklahoma City to name a few.

Lasry said he is sure he and Edens will make some mistakes as they learn more about their new business venture.

But the two come across as sincere, committed and totally excited about Milwaukee and the Bucks.

The co-owners are giving the Bucks basketball staff, led by general manager John Hammond and assistant general manager David Morway, a chance to execute their vision.

It's clear that the June 26 draft is vital for the franchise—Milwaukee has the No. 2 overall pick—and no mistakes can be made.

Whether the Bucks select Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid or Jabari Parker, they need that player to become an all-star performer.

They need 19-year-old forward Giannis Antetokounmpo to continue his growth and blossom into an impact player. They need young players Brandon Knight, Khris Middleton and John Henson to stay on an upward trend. They need renewed dedication from center Larry Sanders.

And they need the players to buy in to coach Larry Drew's system.

There still are plenty of rough times ahead, on the court and off.

But the partnership between Edens and Lasry is symbolized by their friendship, and it's a good place to start. They joked as they told of the way Edens became the team representative on the NBA Board of Governors—by a coin flip.

“It was a sad, sad day,” Lasry said. “Well, Wes can tell you.

“We ended up flipping a coin. Wes had told me the story of what happened when the Bucks flipped a coin and we got Lew Alcindor.”

On that day in 1969, the Phoenix Suns picked heads, but it came up tails and the Bucks won the right to select Alcindor, later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, with the top pick in the draft.

So this time Lasry did the opposite, but it came up heads and Edens won the coin flip.

“I was trying to help him out,” Edens said.

Edens said he knows a bit about Bucks history and was growing up as a basketball fan when coach Don Nelson's teams contended with the league's best in the 1980s.

“You look at all the banners on the wall there and you're like, 'What happened after 2001?' Because it was a pretty good run there for a long time,” Edens said.

“They were tough, gritty teams, the Sidney Moncrief teams. There are a lot of fans out there if they're still around.”

There's the rub.

Are those Bucks fans still around? Edens and Lasry are betting they are and that they will be back, buying tickets and Bucks gear and making “Fear the Deer” a proper slogan again.

The new guys on the block realize the magnitude of the challenge. But all signs indicate they are rolling up their sleeves to get the job done.

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