MILWAUKEE — It was the one question Milwaukee Bucks owner Senator Herb Kohl didn’t answer, but his facial expression said it all.
Kohl clearly wasn’t happy with the way last season ended. Relationships between head coach Jim Boylan and different players waned down the stretch, as did Milwaukee’s performance on the court. The Bucks limped their way into the playoffs and were swept by Miami in the first round.
Because of this, a player’s coach was a priority in the team’s search, but the Bucks were also looking for a coach who demands respect, as well. Like general manager John Hammond, Kohl believes they’ve found the perfect match in Larry Drew.
“We want to be a good team,” Kohl said. “We want to get to the playoffs. We want to win in the playoffs. Our goals are, we think, reasonable, and we think Larry Drew is the person who can lead us there.
“We (thought) 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.”
Milwaukee hasn’t won a playoff series since reaching the Eastern Conference Finals in 2001, and the Bucks are often caught in the trap of being one of the last seeds in the playoffs or one of the teams left out.
Many feel the Bucks will never become a true contender unless they completely rebuild, something Kohl doesn’t see as an option for the franchise.
“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.
“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.”
Kohl’s concern lies in the fact that it’s not automatic a team becomes a championship contender after tearing things down. For example, the Charlotte Bobcats have not had the same success rebuilding as the Oklahoma City Thunder have had.
“Often times teams that are really bad and losing find a bottom that they can’t get out of,” Kohl said. “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.
“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.”
In addition to discussing the product on the court, Kohl talked at length about the Bucks need for a new arena in the coming years. The team’s lease with the BMO Harris Bradley Center ends in 2017, and the team likely needs a plan for a new arena in place by then to secure the franchise’s longevity in the city.
“We have to find a way, and we will find a way,” Kohl said. “We know we have to find a way to get 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, (but also) Milwaukee and Wisconsin need a 21st-century sports and entertainment complex.”
Kohl stressed over and over that the Bucks are only part of the reason why the city needs a new arena. He said an arena, unlike Miller Park in Milwaukee or Lambeau Field in Green Bay, can be utilized a great deal by other groups or events.
He referenced how much of a difference the Kohl Center made to the Madison community when it was built.
“The Bucks are part of it, and they are a key part of it, one of the anchor tenants,” Kohl said. “But we take 40 or 41 or 42 dates a year. And a facility holds upwards of 200 events in a year. So it’s really important not just for basketball but for the community, for economic development, to get a 21st-century facility that is comparable to what is found in many, many other medium and large cities in this country. 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.
“Getting a facility built is a big challenge. We are into it now, in the beginning stages. There are many elements to it. We hope people understand how important it is for the community and the state, a 21st-century facility. And in order to have that we need the Bucks as an anchor tenant. I think it is a mistake to see the facility as (solely) for the Bucks. That’s not really true.”
Kohl was asked if the Bucks need to become a true contender for the people of Wisconsin to truly get behind a new arena.
“I wouldn’t like to hope that it all depends on having quote a LeBron (James) or a Kobe (Bryant) or a Derrick Rose (unquote), although I understand how important it is to have a good, winning team on the floor,” Kohl said. “But I wouldn’t like to think that is the determinant of whether or not we get to a new facility. Because again, it’s not only for the Bucks.”
The 78-year-old Kohl, who recently retired from the U.S. Senate, was asked by a reporter how long he plans to continue to own the franchise.
“For the foreseeable future,” Kohl said. “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.”