Monday, October 20, 2014

It Has Always Been a Shakedown

Common Ground, the group of Milwaukee area religious organizations with an ostensible goal of improving recreation facilities, revealed itself as a group of shakedown artists over the last several days.  After initially offering for a new Bucks arena if it were paired with $150 in tax money for Common Ground, the organization announced yesterday that it will be opposing tax money for a new arena.  

Details were fuzzy, but it appears that the change was due to the fact that Common Ground realized that there was no earthly chance that Milwaukee was going to waste spend invest $150 million in recreation facilities.  

Common Ground's attack on the Bucks and their new owners was predictable, but the force with which they changed their tact was jarring nonetheless.  They are now in attack mode.  Yours truly isn't all that familiar with Common Ground, so I can't say whether they are worrisome, or a mere nuisance.  

Hopefully, all of the complaints about new taxes for a Bucks arena will be moot.  If Milwaukee politicians can find the political will to tear down the old MECCA Arena and Milwaukee Theater, then the tax money being eaten up by those buildings will likely be enough to cover whatever tax kickbacks are needed for the Alvin Robertson Center (or whatever a new arena is called).

***

The Bucks are in New York city for an exhibition game against the Knicks.  With Brandon Knight still out I would expect that The Grecian Formula will be handling point guard duties again.  More on that tomorrow.

Friday, October 17, 2014

"Economists" Are Just Economics Professors (and Other Bucks Arena News)

The Bucks play the Timberwolves in Iowa tonight, which means it's the first of (probably) many Wiggins vs. Parker matchups.  There's no major news that I'm aware of coming into the game.  I would expect Brandon Knight to sit as he recovers from his groin injury and it seems likely that Jason Kidd will tinker with floor combinations again.

The bigger notes of the day come from off the court.  The New York Times ran an article decrying Milwaukee's arena push while parks & recreation facilities need repair and Urban Milwaukee ran an article floating the idea of building a new arena on the North Side instead of downtown.  The author is much more sympathetic to the second notion than the first.

#BucksForest is all for building an arena on the downtrodden North Side.  The Chicago Bulls' arena is located in the Near West Side neighborhood of Chicago, which is a similar distance from Chicago's downtown as the old A.O. Smith site proposed by Reverend Willie Brisco.  While the Bulls' arena certainly has not turned the Chicago ghettos into a utopian paradise, the arena has brought economic activity to the area.  Chicago's arena placement is also nice because parking is easy.  Some of the proposed locations for a new Bucks' arena would require parking in structures, which would be enough of a hassle that I would likely cancel my season tickets.  A new Bucks arena on 27th & Capitol Drive would allow for street level parking within a short walk of the arena.

Even in the Urban Milwaukee article that discusses the idea of an arena on the North Side, Rev. Brisco is pessimistic.  He and the author of the article mentioned that the Bucks have not shown and are unlikely to show any interest in building an arena outside of downtown.  And there is something to that.  In the mid-00's the arena's location was cited as one reason that the Blackhawks were unable to draw fans in Chicago (boy, how things have changed) and the city of Miami famously built the old Miami Arena in a downtrodden area when the Heat started up in 1988, only to see the team leave for the much tonier locale of the Biscayne Bay area of the city only eleven years later.  Still, the author is all for both retaining the Bucks and improving the North Side, so I'd love to see the Bucks give Rev Brisco's idea a look.

The New York Times article on the Bucks arena was mainly a recycling of anti-arena tropes, but it did come from a big time paper.  The Times pointed out the fact that the city seems content to let play spaces for poor citizens become unkempt, while giving plenty of attention to the complaints that a couple of hedge fund billionaires (or, at least a hundred millionaire in Marc Lasry's case) have about a pretty well-appointed arena.  Economics professors (the majority of whom are both politically left-wing and fond of calling themselves "economists") were also cited in the article; playing their typical role of casting doubt upon the wisdom of using tax money for big time sports arenas.

Yours truly is sympathetic to the Times' case that a new Bucks arena isn't really necessary.  The design of the seating bowl is the only significant thing that can't be solved with an extensive renovation of the Bradley Center.  Even with the current seating bowl, the franchise could be viable if the team was a consistent winner.

None of this is to say that the author is against kicking back tax money to a new arena.  Milwaukee already collects $25 million per year in tourist taxes (hotels, rental car and downtown bars/restaurants) and it's a good idea to stop using a large amount of that money to prop up the MECCA Arena (now UWM Arena) & Milwaukee Theater, and instead kick it back towards a new arena.  Though the Bradley Center is adequate, it was built on the cheap.  From the size of the seats to the layout of the concourses, it has always been clear that the original goal was to open a building in 1988 that could crap as many people into as inexpensive a place as possible.  Having a building built for fan comfort would be nice.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Too Many Players Spoils the Rotation (Again)

It's October, so 'tis the season for Bill and Jalen's NBA Preview on Grantland.  Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose's 2015 Bucks preview was released today (along with the Celtics'), and they have the Bucks ranked 28th in the League.  The number is low, but when you finish dead last in 2014, that's what you get for 2015.

The #BucksForest 2015 NBA Preview is forthcoming, so the author will hold off his more expansive thoughts until then, but the Bill & Jalen preview was especially notable in one way: Bill Simmons bringing up that the Bucks have too many players who believe they are rotation guys.

It has been a hallmark of the John Hammond era to have too many guys who need minutes.  It happened the summer after the Fear the Deer season of 2010 when John Salmons was re-signed after Corey Maggette and Chris Douglas-Roberts were brought in.  It happened in summer of 2012 when Drew Gooden was left without minutes in a crowded frontcourt.  It happened last summer when OJ Mayo and Gary Neal became disenchanted at the glut of wing players.

This year's glut is at multiple positions.  At point guard who sits: Nasty Nate or Kendall Marshall?  On the wing, two players out of the Bayless/Dudley/Mayo crew could be stuck to the bench.  And someone, be it Big Ers, Henson, Zaza or The Colonel, is going to be an unhappy, benched big man.

At this point nothing is going to be done about this overpopulation.  The team would be better with three or four more rookies or near-retirees who won't demand minutes.  But what is the front office going to do?  Only Brandon Knight, Giannis and Jabari Parker have tradable contracts, and none of them are likely to move.  For anyone else to move, they'd have to be cut.  The new owners are all about cost cutting at this point, so it's hard to imagine them paying a released player's salary just to make the team better.

The next few preseason games should provide some clarity as to who Jason Kidd wants in his rotation.  Most of the possible rotation players have sat out at least one game as the coaching staff tinkers with lineups.  Hopefully when a decision on a rotation is made, the staff can keep the more talented benchwarmers from spoiling the team's overall attitude.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

I'm Worried That I Was Right

It's hard not to overreact to last night's preseason loss to the Cavs.  Yes, the Bucks' two best players were held out.  Yes, the Grecian Formula at point guard was an experiment by design.  Yes, it was against longstanding Bucks preseason nemesis Kevin Love.  But, still.  That fourth quarter where the Cavs' scrubs pulled away from a crew of Bucks' rotation players was ugly.

Jason Kidd couldn't have been happy, and his comments at practice today indicating that every starting spot is up for grabs is evidence of that.  Larry Sanders, Brandon Knight and Jabari Parker have to be the three main targets of that message.  It almost leads one to the conclusion that the exclusion of The Colonel and Good Brandon from last night's game was more than just the coach tinkering with lineups.

Far beyond any other worries was the play of Jabari Parker.  Giannis struggled to the tune of 0 field goals and 0 assists in 23 minutes, but that was predictable.  Jabari Parker's inability to hit contested shots or create space, on the other hand, was disconcerting.  Yours truly was critical of the Jabari Parker pick before and after the draft, but in the months since that opinion had changed.  Parker showed flashes of being a versatile offensive force somewhere in the Larry Bird genealogy.  Last night, Parker showed the lack of elite athletic ability (something that Bird, Paul Pierce, Big Dog and others were able to overcome to great success), but little of the craftiness, touch or decision making that the best talents of his type use to become elite players.

The worrisome stretch of play came in the last half of the fourth quarter.  The Cavs' unit of likely benchwarmers/non-roster players (AJ Price, Chris Crawford, Alex Kirk, Shane Edwards and Joe Harris) tore through five Bucks rotation/possible rotation players (Parker, Greek, Nate Wolters, Middleton and John Henson) in turning an 89-91 deficit into a 106-97 lead.  It was a five minute stretch where the Cavs' scrubs outscored the Bucks' contributors 17-6.

Again, it's only preseason.  And, to be fair, Wolters is a likely benchwarmer, the Greek belongs on the bench and Middleton & Henson are on the borderline between the rotation and the bench.

But, Parker.  Parker is the one that worries me.  It is unfair to expect a rookie to be a great player right away and blah, blah, blah.  But he needs to be great.  He needs to be great to get Milwaukee excited about the NBA again and he needs to be great to justify picking him in a draft where Joel Embiid and Elfrid Payton (among others) were still on the board.  Hopefully this was just an off game that everyone will eventually forget.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The #BucksForest Plan for a Healthier NBA Schedule (with Math!!)

The author has been critical of the NBA since Adam Silver became commissioner.  The new TV contract looks like a recipe for overexposure, Donald Sterling was branded a racist unfairly and Silver has yet to make a compelling case to the Milwaukee public on why a new arena is necessary.

Today brought some good news: the NBA is getting concerned about the health of its players.  For as long as the league has had an eighty-two game season, players and coaches have complained that there are too many games.  The NBA has yet to float the idea of shortening the schedule, but they are trying out a forty-four minute game.  That's good!  More healthy players and fewer burned out coaches is good for everyone.

As usual, the author thinks that this change could be pushed further.  Specifically, that the NBA schedule could be shorter without losing significant revenue.

Here is the #BucksForest idea for a healthier NBA schedule:

-58 game schedule

-Home-and-home vs. each team

-Best 14 teams make the playoffs

-Bottom 16 teams enter Bill Simmons's "Entertaining as Hell Tournament" for the last two playoff spots

-Season starts in early October; three to four weeks earlier

-Two games per week, either Thursday/Saturday or Friday/Sunday

-Either two home games or two road games in a given week (no home/road splits)

-No games Monday through Wednesday

-No games the week of the All-Star game

-Season ends in mid-April, same as now

-Eliminate divisions and conferences

How is that possible, asks the reader?  How can the NBA go from the current 82 game schedule to the #BucksForest proposed 58 game schedule ?  Watch and learn, he says:

A 58 game schedule would not affect the current or upcoming national TV contract.  58 games per team would be more than enough games to fill the League's commitments to ABC, ESPN, TNT and NBA TV.  In fact, the goal would be to allow the 58 game season to catalyze ratings growth.  The national TV contract that would start in 2025 would be closer to the NFL's rather than MLB's, as it is now.

A 58 game schedule would affect local TV contracts and gate revenue.  NBA teams average between $500,000 (our beloved, downtrodden Bucks) and $3,000,000 (the similarly downtrodden Knicks) per game at the gate.  A 58 game schedule would mean that between $6 million and $36 million per team would be lost, assuming that ticket prices and attendance stay the same (which they wouldn't, but we're trying to have conservative projections here).  Local TV contracts could also see a monetary loss, but it's unclear if it would be on a direct ratio of 58 to 82 games, like gate revenue would.  Current local TV contracts for NBA teams may have provisions built in allowing the team to have a shorter season.  Even if teams don't have those provisions, local sports cable channels (where almost all local telecasts originate nowadays) would likely continue to be willing to pay huge amounts with the guarantee of more weekend games.  (Television ad rates are highest on Thursdays and Sundays, and both would be protected under the #BucksForest proposed schedule.)

Those are the negatives of the shortened season: $6 million to $36 million in lost gate revenue per team (again, assuming that ticket prices stay the same and attendance stays flat) and a possible drop in local TV revenues.

Now, for the positives.

Gate revenue per game would almost assuredly climb with a 58 game season.  Many season ticket holders budget based on the full season price.  When I sent the Bucks my electronic signature last spring, the number on my mind is $2,756 per season, not $33 per ticket.  If the Bucks charged, say, $40 per ticket, I would feel like I'm getting a deal at $2,460 per season.  For people who only attend a few games per season, there would be less overall ticket inventory.  Less supply usually means higher prices to match demand.

I project that gate revenue would climb around 10-20% per game if the NBA went to a 58 game season.  That would mean a loss of $3 million to $27 million per team instead of $6 million to $36 million per team.  So, still a loss, but less of one.  (And my honest opinion is that gate revenue would climb more than 20% per game, but I want to keep projections more in line with mainstream thinking here.)

An increase in merchandise sales is another potential positive, and it is huge.  Merchandise sales -- especially jersey sales -- tend to be driven by the passionate embrace of the athlete or team.  It's the reason why Washington Redskins jersey sales have fallen so dramatically since RGIII's injury.  The player went from superstar to marginally employable and the team went from a division champion to one of the worst in the NFL.  The NBA offers more proof of this phenomenon.  Superstar players tend to grab a higher percentage of non-local jersey sales in the NBA than in other sports.  For example, LeBron sold Heat jerseys all over the place, but Russell Wilson basically just sells to Pacific Northwest residents and expats.

A 58 game schedule is designed to make fans more passionate by making following the team easier.  Monday through Wednesday would be the time to talk Bucks.  Fans wouldn't have to check the daily schedule to see if there was a game on.  Anticipation would be built for the weekend.  With increased anticipation comes increased passion, which would lead to more merchandise being sold.

The more structured nature of a 58 game schedule would have other benefits as well.  Hardcore fans would know that Thursdays are for TNT, Fridays are for ESPN, Saturdays are for NBA TV and Sundays are for ABC.  That regular scheduling would likely lead to more hardcore fans, higher ratings and, ultimately a larger national TV contract in 2025.  And that's the big argument for a 58 game season.  The League could lose up to $300 million or so in combined local TV and gate revenue initially, but the boost it could give to television viewership could see the national TV contract make up for it and then some.  The NFL receives $1.9 billion/year for 16 exclusive regular season game windows on cable/satellite television.  The NBA is getting about the same amount or less (and probably significantly less, as the per-year average for regular season + Playoffs + NBA TV + streaming is $2.66 billion) for 164 exclusive regular season game windows on cable/satellite.  So, an NBA regular season game is worth less than 10% the value of an NFL game to cable/satellite channels.  If a 58 game schedule would deliver a bump to even just 15% of the value of an NFL regular season game, it would mean about a $900 million per season bump; easily making up for $300 million in lost local TV and gate revenue.

And that's the ultimate #BucksForest argument for a 58 game NBA season: $900 million is more than $300 million.  Or, more broadly, the number one thing the NBA can do to grow the League is to increase how much regular season games mean to national television viewers.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

A Six-Pack of Coors Light® Cold Hard Facts

The author's favorite ESPN weekday afternoon gimmick is Coors Light® Cold Hard Facts.  An ESPN personality asks an ex-jock six questions, and the ex-jock responds with "Fact" or "Fiction".  The responses are, of course, neither fact or fiction.  They are opinion.  But I love it anyway and I'm going to add it to #BucksForest.

We now present to you a six pack of Coors Light® Cold Hard Facts on the Bucks as they enter the exhibition pre-season.

1. Fact or Fiction: Brandon Knight is the Bucks' starting point guard.

Fact.

It's a fact because Brandon Knight says it's a fact.  And when your best player (and yes, Bucks fans, your best player this season is Good Brandon) says something is a fact, then it is a fact.

Good Brandon is a very good NBA player.  I hope the Bucks re-sign him and I hope they realize that strong guards who can stop penetration are a golden commodity in this League.

Brandon has his flaws.  He lacks vision and his passes lack accuracy.  But screw it.  Nobody's perfect and he is a damn good player in just about every other area.  He wants to be the starting point guard? He's the starting point guard.

2. Fact or Fiction: The Greek Freak will play some point guard.

Fiction.

The Bucks are making the playoffs this season.  At least, they'd better.  They may need a new arena to stay in town, and a rousing run to the playoffs would do wonders in helping a new arena happen.  And if the Bucks are going to make the playoffs, the Bucks can't be doing dumb shit like letting the Greek Freak play point guard.

3. Fact or Fiction: The Greek Freak will play shooting guard.

Fact.

The guy can't shoot.  Giannis Antetokounmpo seems like a nice guy and it's great that he likes Milwaukee, but his shot is ugly and it's not getting better any time soon.

The thing is, you don't need to be a great shooter to be a great shooting guard in the NBA.  Dwyane Wade, for example, has always been a streaky shooter.  He has relied on his defense, smarts, athleticism and his ability to score on the move.  The Greek Freak can do that, and he can do it this season.

4. Fact or Fiction: Jabari Parker will play power forward.

Fact.

This ain't the 1980s.  For the sake of Bucks fans, it'd be nice if it was, but it isn't.  Lilliputian is in and that means that 6'9" guys with average (as NBA players go) athleticism play power forward.

It's a shame, though.  Jabari Parker is (in the author's estimation) the modern Larry Bird.  He can score in a variety of ways, he has excellent vision and instincts and he just has an inate feel for the game that few have had before or since.  Larry Bird was an all-time great small forward and he excelled playing alongside two bigs (usually Kevin McHale and Robert Parish).  Jabari Parker could do the same if the Bucks ever found their McHale (i.e. a post presence who can pass).

If the original Larry Bird played in the NBA today, he'd probably play power forward.  Conventional wisdom would be that he's not athletic enough to guard the wing, and the basketball world would be deprived of the beautiful basketball that Bird and McHale played together.  The same will probably happen with Jabari Parker, at least initially.  Yours truly just hopes that at some point the Bucks will take a chance with Jabari and two Bigs.

5. Fact or Fiction: Larry Sanders is back!

Fact.

I hope.

In 2013, Larry Sanders became my favorite Bucks player since Big Dog.  The season ended on a sour note, but he was still great.

In 2014, Larry Sanders became the first player in NBA history to have the worst contract in the league before the extension even kicks in.  He did everything wrong that a player of his makeup could do wrong.

There are certainly doubts about The Colonel as he enters the 2015 seasons, but it says here that he'll be back.  He'll patrol the paint, help neutralize penetration and, perhaps most importantly, forget about offense entirely.  The Rock doesn't need a drop kick and Larry Sanders doesn't need a jump hook.

6. Fact or Fiction: John Henson is in the rotation.

Fiction.

John Henson seems like a nice guy, but right now he appears to be the odd man out.

A good NBA rotation has nine or nine-and-a-half players.  Of those nine or nine-and-a-half players, only three or four are Bigs.  If Larry is right, he's going to play.  Jabari is classified as a Big, apparently, so that's two.  Big Ers and Zaza are veterans who can contribute in a consistent, positive way.  And there's your four.

It is possible that Big Ers will be traded or that Larry will be 2014 Larry or that Jabari is really a Wing or that Zaza has gotten old.  Any of those occurrences would get Henson in to the regular rotation.  At the moment, however, it appears that Henson is the benchwarming Big.


Monday, August 25, 2014

The Untradeables

There has been quite a bit of talk about the Bucks trading Juice Mayo, Big Ers and Larry.  It ain't happening.  Those three players are untradeable and the Bucks might as well deal with it.  Here's why, along with some expectations on what can be done with each player.

OJ Mayo




Untradeable because... he was injured or out of shape last season.

Juice Mayo has two years totaling $16 million left on his contract.  If he was a free agent he probably wouldn't even get a guaranteed contract for the veteran's minimum of about $1 million.