The Bucks introduced Larry Drew as their 13th head coach in franchise history Monday morning. The 40-minute press conference, which can be seen in full on Bucks.com, provided media and Bucks fans with plenty of insight on the franchise’s new coach and recycled philosophy. Without further ado, here are 11 key developments from the busy day in Milwaukee:
1. Bucks owner Herb Kohl was very involved in the pursuit of Drew, despite reports to the contrary.
It took Bucks GM John Hammond all of 20 seconds into the press conference before acknowledging owner Herb Kohl’s role in the hiring process. After a brief welcome message, Hammond began his prologue with the following:
As we go through this process of hiring a head coach – working with those in the organization, [and] of course working closely with Senator Kohl – we do our due diligence.
Drew was also quick to recognize Kohl:
Senator [Kohl], I just want to tell you that it was certainly a pleasure these last few weeks going through the process, sitting down, talking to you [and] giving you my views of basketball and who I was as a coach. I really appreciate your directness…You’re a brilliant basketball mind, and you know how this game is played – and how it should be played.
That’s probably the first time anyone has referred to Kohl as a “brilliant basketball mind,” but gaining some brownie points from your boss scarcely hurts.
Anyway, while Drew may have been Hammond’s call, as per reports, there is no doubt Kohl had some influence on the decision. An owner’s stamp of approval on a new head coach is understandable in isolation, but Kohl carries the reputation of a meddler and the Bucks still have an abundance of big decisions looming this summer.
2. Maybe the Bucks will rebuild? Drew raved, often unprompted, about Larry Sanders and John Henson.
When a reporter asked Drew about the front office’s expectations for the Bucks over the next three seasons, the coach averted the question entirely:
We didn’t really talk much about expectations. What I did talk about was what I was going to bring, and I take it a year at a time — I don’t look down the road…It starts this summer…I have my work cut out — I really do. I’m coming into a new situation. Chances are there are going to be a lot of new faces here… One thing that I can assure you [is that] every night we step out, we’re going to be a committed group. We’re going to be a group that plays hard and plays together. My job is to put together a team that this city can be proud of — that’s my goal, and I plan on doing that.
Perhaps the front office told Drew to avoid addressing the perpetual goal of simply making the playoffs, of which the fan base has surely grown tired. Alternatively, management could have told him to keep an impending rebuild under wraps. Or maybe Drew, Hammond and Kohl truly didn’t discuss the franchise’s future expectations. (Never mind the fact that it is literally impossible to conduct a job interview without addressing expectations).
Nonetheless, Drew also made it a refreshing priority to discuss about player development. In particular, Drew focused on two of the Bucks’ most young, talented players, John Henson and Larry Sanders:
This team has really good, young talent — young talent that I’m excited about developing. I think these big guys are going to be a big part of the future. I think the development is going to be very important, but you can’t teach height, and you can’t teach length. John [Henson] and Larry Sanders are two guys who can really affect a game, and I’m very excited about the chance to work with both guys.
Certainly you want to develop [young players'] skills. You want to make them better. We’ll be doing a lot of things from within my system — the way I play. I really see John [Henson], I really see Larry [Sanders], and I really see Ersan [Ilyasova] being a perfect fit.
One thing I can tell you about both guys (Henson and Sanders) — they impact the game with their length. They always gave us (Hawks) problems…We avoided them at times, because their length just really affects the game.
With John [Henson], with Larry [Sanders], with Ersan [Ilyasova], with [Luc] Mbah a Moute — with those guys under contract — I have all the confidence in the world that these guys will excel.
Drew seemed genuinely energized and excited about developing the future Bucks frontcourt, and that’s definitely a positive development. Now about that potential rebuild…
3. Yeah, no, JK.
Wow. So much optimism, so little space. Back to realism. A couple hours after the press conference, Charles Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published a post on Kohl’s steadfast unwillingness to fully rebuild the team. It was aptly titled, “Bucks owner total rebuild not an option.” So, that’s pretty straightforward. Here are the highlights, with some helpful translations:
‘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.’
- Read: “Some small market teams wisely rebuild to achieve a higher ceiling than what was previously feasible. We like to go after eighth seed every season, because playoffs. And the false allure of competitiveness.”
‘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.’
- Read: “That doesn’t mean I’m satisfied with mediocrity, per se. I always want more wins, but I will settle with a mediocre amount of wins, as long X wins equals a playoff appearance in Y season.”
‘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. And there are a lot of good players in this league.’
- Read: “Sure, you can throw the ‘Oklahoma City Model’ in my face, but take a nice, long look at the ‘
BobcatsHornets Model.’ We want to be a good team, and there is always a John Salmons, Drew Gooden, Corey Maggette, Chris Douglas-Roberts or Stephen Jackson lurking around the corner.”
‘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.’
- Read: “Said players aren’t always going to be all-stars, especially when S-Jax is annually snubbed. But let’s take a gander at the Denver Nuggets, shall we? How many all-stars did they have this season? That’s right, zero. How many wins did they have this season? Correct, 57, which was good enough for third in the Western Conference! How many playoff series did they win this season? Oh, wait. What’s that? OK, Moving on…”
‘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.’
- Read: “We have a ‘win-now’ mandate, a boatload of cash, and three soon-to-be grossly overpaid wings (likely) entering free agency.
‘Larry Drew felt from the beginning we have the potential to be a really nice team this year, so I’m hopeful.’
- Read: “Welcome, Larry Drew! Win or else.”
4. Drew did not rave about Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis. This is probably a result of their impending free agency, but
maybe hopefully not.
While Drew endlessly praised Sanders and Henson, he didn’t provide out much support for the Bucks’ starting backcourt last season. Maybe this is a sign that the Bucks won’t feverishly pursue and overpay the two undersized, inefficient guards this summer. Or maybe it was simply because they aren’t officially under contract next season.
In fact, Drew even pointed out that the current NBA landscape requires a big two guard, which couldn’t have made the man to his left — Hammond, who rolled with a 6’3, 185 lbs shooting guard the past one and a half seasons — feel very comfortable:
We (Hawks) didn’t have a true two guard. Today’s two guards — they’ve got size.
Drew only discussed Jennings and Ellis once, when prompted by a reporter. Here’s what he had to say about the duo:
There is uncertainty, and this is part of the NBA — players become free agents. There’s possibilities they could be back. There’s possibilities they could be elsewhere. I will be sitting down with John [Hammond] and the rest of the management, and we will be talking about direction as far as the draft and free agency. Obviously, with the three guys (Jennings, Ellis and J.J. Redick) who are not under contract with the team right now, you have three pretty good ball players. These guys are certainly solid NBA backcourt players, and we’ll just make a decision on that.
This past season, many coaches around the league would call Jennings and Ellis “explosive” and “dynamic.” Drew used “pretty good” and “solid” as descriptors, which are way more accurate. Kudos.
5. Drew may or may not preach efficiency.
Basketball analytics have taken the league by storm. This trend is currently encapsulated in Memphis with the contract battle between the analytics-friendly Grizzlies front office, led by VP of Basketball Operations John Hollinger, and the more “old-school” Lionel Hollins. Drew didn’t drop too many hints in his press conference as to which side of the debate he resides. He did, however, mention that his system will improve Milwaukee’s field goal percentage, which was alarmingly low last season (43.5 percent; T-27th in NBA; worst among playoff teams). That’s not quite the same as referencing pace, offensive rating, true shooting percentage and the like, but it is something.
6. So much for that John Henson – Larry Drew family “drama.”
After the Bucks hired Drew, there was some murmuring about an existing tension between Henson and Drew’s son, Larry Drew II, from their time together at the University of North Carolina. Drew II, who just finished his senior season at UCLA, left UNC midseason in 2011 — much to the chagrin of his teammates.
After the Bucks hired Drew, Suns guard Kendall Marshall, who replaced Drew as the starting point guard at UNC, tweeted at Henson in jest:
Soo @_john_henson_, this is awkward.
— Kendall Marshall (@KButter5) May 31, 2013
However, It didn’t take long for Drew and Henson to indirectly address this “problem.” Henson altered his flight time out of Milwaukee in order to attend the press conference, and Drew took notice:
I’d also like to acknowledge John Henson, who to my understanding changed some plans to be here for my press conference, so [he] gets on the coach’s side right away.
Henson also took the initiative to tweet his approval of his new head coach shortly after Drew’s hire:
— John Henson(@_John_Henson_) June 1, 2013
They should get along just fine after all.
7. Larry Drew apparently talks in third person, and that is awesome.
Drew talked a bit about his awkward situation in Atlanta, in which he led the Hawks to three straight playoff appearances and a 128-102 record but was allowed to negotiate with other teams following their latest playoff exit. This topic spurred the following quote from Drew:
Larry Drew is a guy that, first of all, will take a negative and turn it into a positive.
Love the third person reference to Larry Drew by Larry Drew. I would’ve paid to hear Skiles talk in the third person.
— Jake McCormick (@Jake_BrewHoop) June 3, 2013
8. First impressions matter, and Larry Drew certainly delivered.
In short, Drew passed the first test. His press conference was extremely impressive. Hammond, who emphasized Drew’s character off the court, said the head coach received ringing endorsements — some unsolicited — from players and coaches around the league.
Critics of former head coach Scott Skiles, who struggled to keep an open line of communication with his players, should enjoy Drew’s vastly different approach to player-coach relations — one he likely developed during his 17 years as an assistant coach. The importance of a coach being “on the same page” as his players was something Drew reiterated throughout the press conference:
I will be meeting with each guy individually to make sure they understand what I see their roles being. It’s important for any team to come together. Guys have to be committed, and they have to understand their roles. And that’s one of the first things I do, so there [are] no questions of what I’m expecting from each guy.”
It’s important to understand today’s players. It’s important to recognize who the individual is. You’re dealing with these guys as individuals, and you have to approach it in that manner. For me, I’ve just seen how important it is to have a relationship with a player…You have to show that you care about him as an individual. I think you have to understand him. I think have to push buttons with him.
I’m going to get to know my guys…We’re going to become buddies. It’ll be more than just a coach-player relationship — we’re going to become buddies, and we’re going to become good friends. We’re going to make sure every time that we step out on that floor we’re all on the same page and we’re committed.
He also complimented the city of Milwaukee, which is always a savvy move.
I am absolutely shocked, amazed after getting around Milwaukee just seeing how beautiful this place is. My first interview here, John [Hammond] was just kind of driving me around…I saw Milwaukee, and it’s absolutely beautiful here. I’m really excited about being here.
(Note: I made sure to use “certainly” in this subheading, because Drew certainly used that word several dozen times in the press conference).
9. Expect Drew to bring his Atlanta coaching cast to Milwaukee.
While the Bucks announced shortly after the season that interim head coach Jim Boylan would not be returning, the statuses of assistant coaches Joe Wolf, Anthony Goldwire, Bill Peterson, Sidney Moncrief and Chris Gilmartin have remained murky. It appears that Drew’s lead assistant in Atlanta, Lester Conner, will rejoin Drew in Milwaukee, and it wouldn’t be surprising if more members of Atlanta’s old staff follow suit. This should be cleared up within the next two weeks:
Larry Drew says he plans to have his coaching staff in place within the next two weeks. #Bucks
— Andrew Gruman (@AndrewGruman) June 3, 2013
10. Kohl is as determined as ever to deliver a new arena in Milwaukee. For that, fans should be thankful.
For whatever his faults are as a professional basketball owner, one would be foolish to question Kohl’s loyalty to keeping the Bucks in Milwaukee. Year after year, Kohl reinforces the notion that he will only sell to an ownership group that is committed to keeping the team in town. He has also become increasingly vocal about the city’s need for a new state-of-the-art arena, which would make the Bucks a more viable NBA franchise. Everyone involved is circling the year 2017, when the team’s lease with BMO Harris Bradley Center expires, as the unofficial deadline for developing a new arena. Kohl offered some strong, encouraging words about the situation, per the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
‘We have to find a way and we will find a way,’ Kohl said. ‘We know we have to find a way to a new facility and we will. The question is when and how. But we will because that is the future of not only the Bucks … Milwaukee and Wisconsin need a 21st century sports and entertainment complex.’
‘We have to get there. It’s important for our community and our state to get there. And along with that, that will see to it that the Bucks stay here. They sort of need each other. A facility needs the Bucks, and the Bucks need a facility. We are determined to get there.’
‘I have always said I will own the team until it’s sold at some point to somebody or some group that … is dedicated to keeping it here in Wisconsin. So when the time comes and the right person or group appears, my mind will start moving in another direction. But they must stay here. That’s the bottom line.’