Milwaukee Bucks: Imagining a documentary on the early 2010s Bucks

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 05: (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 05: (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /
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Milwaukee Bucks
MILWAUKEE, WI – APRIL 25: (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images) /

Shape of the Bucks’ roster

In many ways, the Bucks had simply been trying to tread the needle for years. Speaking ahead of the 2013-14 season, then owner Herb Kohl explained:

"“I’ve never been a person who uh … to use the word, ‘tank?’ Maybe there’s a different word.”"

Kohl will likely be remembered, in time, as an owner who always did his best to serve the Bucks as a core part of the Milwaukee community, ultimately ensuring the team’s long-term stay with his sale of the team and donation toward the construction of a new arena. In the moment, though, Kohl ran an organization that was relentlessly committed to not being bad, which in turn meant they could never be particularly good.

As a small market franchise that was by no means guaranteed to sell an arena out from night to night, maintaining competitiveness was key for Kohl. As ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz laid out in 2013, for Kohl, putting out a competitive team every night, and every season, was almost viewed as a civic duty:

"“A sports owner like Kohl (and similarly Simon) who lives in an older city that has struggled to join the growth economies of the sun belt or tech corridors often sees his franchise as a public trust. The team has an accountability to the city. And part of that is delivering a competitive product, to let those making the trip to an aging arena know that there’s a better than 50 percent chance they’ll see a win for the home team. Unlike so many of the newer owners who live out of town and have only a passing relationship with the cities of their teams, Kohl sees Milwaukeeans as neighbors. When you invite your neighbors over to your place, you owe them your hospitality.”"

That kind of thinking is how a roster such as the Bucks of 2012-13 came to exist. A squad of capable players, who could be even better than that in the right situations, but who weren’t presently in that kind of spot or even necessarily surrounded by the right mix of personalities.

The headliners were Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, the latter of which was acquired in the trade that sent Bogut to the Golden State Warriors. In other words, two immensely undersized but very skilled offensive guards, who often failed to muster even a passing interest in the defensive side of the game.

Center Larry Sanders offered the team a great young hope too, as a prodigiously gifted defensive center with phenomenal length and instincts. Sanders’ potential was clear for all to see, but as would become clear over the course of 2013 with two cruelty to animal citations, and a thumb injury from a nightclub incident that eventually led to assault and battery charges, he needed the right kind of guidance, support, and nurturing, and was unable to find it in Milwaukee.

Ersan Ilyasova was also growing in importance having just signed a new four-year deal valued at just under $32 million, and any meaningful Bucks success would undoubtedly require him to step up a level in his age 25 season.

The Bucks also had a promising if rarely used second year player called Tobias Harris, but we’ll talk more about him later…

All in all, what’s important to know is that the Bucks’ situation in 2012-13 was later described by a long-time NBA employee as “the worst locker room” they had ever observed.