Bucks still taking chemistry class

The Milwaukee Bucks brought in an entirely different coaching staff and 11 new players this season, which has strained team chemistry at times.

Tom Szczerbowski/Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sport

ST. FRANCIS, Wis. — The Milwaukee Bucks completely tore apart their roster this past offseason for a variety of reasons, but the lack of team chemistry and a toxic locker room were major ones.

An entirely different coaching staff and 11 new players were brought in to fix the problem, but the Bucks still haven’t solved their chemistry problems or established an identity as this season nears the halfway point.

"I still think we’re searching, I really do," Bucks coach Larry Drew said. "It has not been an ideal first part looking at the team and the pieces. I think our record indicates that we’re still in a desperate search for the good mix or the right mix."

Drew and the veterans brought in were tasked with changing the culture, something that is still a work in progress. Veterans Caron Butler, O.J. Mayo, Gary Neal, Luke Ridnour, Carlos Delfino and Zaza Pachulia were brought in not only to contribute on the court, but also in the locker room.

But Milwaukee’s focus has changed as the losses have piled up. Instead of focusing on competing for the playoffs, the Bucks are developing young players for the future.

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Because of that shifting focus and not living up to performance expectations, a few of the veterans have lost playing time or have played less than they expected. That has resulted in a few of them expressing their unhappiness in recent interviews.

While none of the veterans have been negative influences in the locker room, they are speaking out about on their concerns with Drew’s constant changing of the lineup and rotation. The Bucks have used 18 different starting lineups in 40 games. Milwaukee hasn’t had the same starting lineup for more than eight games.

Drew and the Bucks are looking to find a mix that works, and the first-year Bucks coach admitted he understands the players know they don’t have any sort of identity.

"Dealing with the reality of this process, I think the fun and team camaraderie stuff has been secondary because guys are trying to figure it out," Butler said.

Training camp is the time where newly assembled teams get used to playing together, especially when a new coaching staff is thrown into the mix. Drew couldn’t use that time to establish his system and the players couldn’t get accustomed to one another because of countless injuries.

Those injuries have lingered into the regular season, and while the Bucks are as healthy as they will be all year, it’s way too late to make up for lost time.

"We’ve dealt with injury, but I think this is beyond injury," Drew said. "Injuries have played a big part in it, but chemistry, you either have it or you don’t. Hopefully with 15 guys you can more some things around and search for it and find it. But when you don’t, you don’t see it.

"We’re not at a point where we can say we don’t have it. We’ve shown that we haven’t found it. Until we get all of our guys and really see what we have, we’ll never know. Maybe this year we will never know because we won’t get everybody back healthy. But again, we have to continue to move some pieces around and see what works and see what doesn’t work."

This isn’t Drew’s first experience with having to implement a good chunk of new faces on the fly, as he faced the same challenge last season as the head coach in Atlanta. But those players came together much more seamlessly than the group he currently has in Milwaukee.

"I’ve never experienced anything like this before," Drew said. "Down in Atlanta, last year in particular, bringing in all those new faces, they were pieces that fit. We made the big move to move Joe Johnson and we brought in a lot of pieces for him, they weren’t of Joe’s caliber, but they were pieces that fit with what we had."

Gallery

Changes could be made at the deadline to move some of the unhappy veterans at the trade deadline, but at least a few of them will be here when Feb. 20 comes and goes. Drew will be tasked with keeping control of the locker room, even as losses continue to come.

"Our identity is trying to win games," Butler said. "We’re still trying to figure it out still, at this point. Guys need to continue to play hard and chip away at it and most importantly stay together.

"All the guys that were down are back now. It would be great to play and see that group out there that was predicted to be out there and play together. Obviously with Giannis so-called emerging and stuff, it would be great to put the group out there with an emerging Giannis and see what happens. We just want to win."

But to Drew, the problem facing the Bucks needs more than just one win or a few wins to fix. There’s much more to it than that.

"A victory helps, but does that solve it? No, I don’t think so," Drew said. "That doesn’t solve it. I think at this point we’re searching for that identity, we’re searching for the chemistry of this group. Among these 15 guys, do we have a good chemistry?

"Our record indicates that these pieces that we have right now haven’t fit together. It’s something we have to continue to try to solve and try to get them to fit as close as we can."

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