Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Believe It or Not, the Bucks Need Marcus Landry

The Bucks signed Milwaukeean Marcus Landry yesterday, and it's a great story.  Landry grew up rooting for the Bucks, starred at Milwaukee Vincent in high school and played as a Badgirl ("Badger", for those non-UW haters out there) in the late double-ohs.  He's a local guy, through and through.

Unfortunately, Landry's contract is non-guaranteed and the Bucks already have fifteen players (the NBA maximum for a regular season roster) under guaranteed contracts.  Ordinarily, signing a local guy to a non-guaranteed deal when the roster is already full would be a non-news item, even during the summer months.

In Landry's case, however, there is a solid chance that the Bucks actually need him.

The Bucks' current roster is guard-heavy and thin up front.  While Vazquez, Carter-Williams (why?!), Bayless, Mayo, Gutierrez (why?!???) and Middleton are all trusted by Coach Kidd to play notable minutes at the Point or Wing positions (and that's not even counting rookie Rashad Vaughn, who may or may not end up being trusted, but will definitely not be cut), the rotation of Bigs is, ahem, lacking. Monroe and Greek will start and Henson will get solid minutes, but beyond that it's spare.

Consider the Bucks' options up front beyond Monroe, Greek and Henson: Jabari is out until mid-season (and, in my opinion, should be relegated to spot duty until he proves that he's capable of playing the pro game).  Copeland is an NBA benchwarmer who should only be playing in the event of an injury.  Plumlee would likely be out of the NBA were it not for Phoenix having picked up his contract option last summer.  O'Bryant appears to be a guy who simply doesn't have the quickness or coordination to contribute at this level (which pains me to say, because I loved O'Bryant in college and thought he'd translate to the pro game).  And Inglis... (how do I say this without sounding reactionary?)  It appears that Inglis stinks.  His summer league was so woeful that it had to have the Bucks wondering if their evil plan to lock in Inglis to a Rockets/Sixers-style second-round contract (three years at sub-$1 million salaries, with the third year being a team option) has backfired.

Until Jabari comes back (and even after he comes back, if he continues to drag down the quality of the team's overall play, as he did last season), there is an open spot for a Big in the Bucks' rotation.  They have four or five Guards/Wings ready to go, but only three reliable Bigs.  The Cavs made the Finals (and should have won, were it not for YET ANOTHER mental meltdown by LeBron once the Dubs suctioned Igoudala to him) with three Bigs, but it'd be nice to have four.  The Big man rotation of Zaza, Big Ers, Henson and the Greek worked great last season.  There were games where other Bigs got minutes and times where one of the four rotation Bigs sat, but overall it worked well.

Marcus Landry could be the fourth Big that the Bucks need.  He'll likely compete with Copeland (who fell out of the Pacers' rotation last season due to ineptitude) and O'Bryant for that spot.  Landry is a smallish Big man, but if he can hit some jump shots and show better toughness and rebounding than he has in the past, he could fill a need in the Bucks' rotation.

Monday, August 17, 2015

The New York Times Does a Number on the Bucks' Arena Deal (and the Bucks Did a Number on Milwaukee)

An interesting part about following the Bucks' push for a new arena (actually, not so much for a "new arena"; more like for "$450 million or so in government subsidies and preferential tax treatment under the guise of needing a new arena") was the fact that many of my politically left friends who are Bucks fans felt surprised by Democrats' opposition to the deal.  I follow sports arena financing (an odd hobby, I know), primarily through a left leaning blog called Field of Schemes, and so I was WELL aware that people on the political right tend to believe in the economic power of successful sports arenas, while people on the political left do not.  It's a big reason why states like California, New York and Massachusetts so rarely provide significant government subsidies for new stadiums and arenas, while politicians in places like Indiana and Ohio practically fall over themselves rushing to hand public money to big time sports teams (and even little time sports teams, given the recent trend of certain cities helping get soccer stadiums built).

The New York Times is a virulent left wing publication, so it was no surprise when they sent out prose fetishist Michael Powell to assail the Bucks, Wisconsin politicians and, really, anyone from the area that supports the Bucks' arena deal.  (I mean, just look at that headline: "Bucks' Owners Win, at Wisconsin's Expense".  "The horror," Powell and the Times' editors surely hope their readership thinks, mere seconds before they scoop out the first bite from their Quinoa bowl at the local brunch spot.)  

What was surprising about the Times' hit piece -- and, credit where due to Powell for digging this up -- was that it revealed that the Bucks' owners are NOT EXTENDING THEIR LEASE as part of the deal.  Sounds unbelievable, right?  I'll say it again, just to be clear: the Bucks are NOT COMMITTING TO WISCONSIN for any additional amount of time in exchange for getting this ~$450 million kickback from the city, county and state.  (And if you're wondering why I keep writing $450 million instead of the conventionally reported $250 million, it's because the estimated value in escaping property taxes over the expected lifespan of the arena is $180 million, plus there are other ways the Bucks are being treated preferentially that aren't included in the $250 million number.)  According to Powell, city negotiators tried to get the Bucks' owners to agree to a 30-year lease (which, admittedly, would be on the long end of typical pro sports arena leases in mid-major markets), but Edens, Lasry & Dinan held firm and the local politicians caved.

In fairness, it should be pointed out that the Bucks' owners agreed to cover any arena bond debt if they move.  The new version of the Wisconsin Center District is going to offer $203 million in bonds for the new arena and if the Bucks leave the state before those bonds are paid off then the Bucks' owners have to cover whatever amount of bond debt remains (actually, the District is offering $223 million in bonds, but $20 million of that is to pay off debt on the Bradley Center, and I am unsure if the Bucks' owners are on the hook for that).  So, still a stiff penalty, right?  Construction debt tends to be backloaded, so even if the Bucks' owners wait ten years to move, they might still have to pay the Wisconsin Center District $180 million or so.  

The problem with holding the Bucks' owners to Milwaukee using a bond repayment promise rather than a lease is that it gives us ZERO leverage in preventing a Bucks' move.  In fact, even today -- before the first dollar of the first arena bond has been sold -- the Bucks' owners have no financial reason whatsoever to stay in Milwaukee.  What I'm saying is that the Bucks' owners could put a shovel in the ground in October, see that attendance and TV viewership is disappointing in December, announce that they're leaving Milwaukee in February AND STILL COME OUT AHEAD FINANCIALLY.  The reason is that NBA teams are worth way more money in big markets.  According to Forbes, the Bucks are worth $531 million (using the Forbes valuation of $600 million and subtracting 11.5% based on the fact that the fact that the Hawks sold for 88.5% of their Forbes valuation).  There are a whopping NINETEEN teams worth more than $734 million (which is the Bucks' estimated value plus the amount the Bucks would have to pay the Wisconsin Center District if they moved after NEXT season), including the Thunder, who reside in a market smaller than Virginia Beach (which is the most likely place the Bucks' owners would move without selling the team).  

There is also, of course, the threat of the Bucks' owners selling the team to a group that would move them.  Since the Bucks are unwilling to sign a lease, there is NOTHING that would prevent the Bucks' owners from selling the team in three or four years for $203 million more than it'd be worth in Milwaukee and then paying the District so that the team could move.

I don't actually think that the Bucks are going to move, but the impact of allowing the Bucks to stay without a long term lease is much worse than that.  What's going to happen is that the Bucks' owners are going to bleed Milwaukee dry.  Concert booking don't happen?  The Bucks' owners are going to demand that Milwaukee starts covering operating expenses for the new arena because of "revenues coming in below projections". Developers don't build on the areas around the new arena?  The Bucks' owners are going to ask for additional "tax incentives" to make it easier for them to lease or sell that property.  Bucks' attendance lags?  The Bucks' owners are going to ask that the county's 75% share of parking revenues be reduced in order to "keep the franchise viable in Milwaukee".

When a big time sports franchise is on a long term lease, they can't do these things as easily.  If the Wisconsin Center District says "no", the Bucks would still have to stay.  Since there is no lease and since the Bucks' owners have a viable option to either sell the team or move it themselves and pay off construction debt, the District will be under far more pressure to say "yes".

Here's the sad reality of all of this: the Bucks' owners are not committed to Milwaukee and they don't deserve Milwaukee's support.  The Brewers, for all of the extortion tactics they used to get a free ballpark, were at least willing to commit to Milwaukee for thirty years.  The Bucks won't even commit for five.  You can have nostalgia for when the Bucks were owned by Herb Kohl or you can like the fact that NBA players wear green and white and live in Milwaukee during the winter.  But this is not a partnership.  This is a marriage with an icon-clad pre-nup.  The Bucks have the right to keep a wandering eye towards other cities and ask the local government for more whenever they see fit.  Milwaukee may be getting a nice arena out of it, but the NBA team that occupies it does not love us back.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Do People Realize That Big Ers Is Better Than Markeiff Morris?

#BucksForest is back on Blogger.  I like Tumblr a lot, but I've lost a couple of posts recently due to Tumblr crashing.  It's actually probably Safari crashing, but it doesn't matter.  So, I'm back on Blogger.

Bill Simmons caused a tangentially Bucks-related ruckus a few days ago by tweeting that a Big Ers for Markeiff Morris (with the Suns receiving the right to swap first round picks) is inevitable.  The ruckus wasn't so much about Morris being traded -- Morris himself started that brouhaha by telling the Philadephia Inquirer that he wants to leave Phoenix -- as much as it was about people evaluating what Morris is worth and what Phoenix might be willing to get for him.

[It should be noted that PhoenixSports.com has reported that Morris wants to go to either Houston to play with James Harden or to Toronto to play with Kyle Lowry.  What this proves, yet again, is that NBA players NEVER think logically.  They just, A) want to play with guys they like and, B) believe that guys who kill them are way better than they actually are.]

The fallout to the Inquirer's report and Simmons's tweet has been bloggers everywhere conjuring up trade ideas that have no chance of happening.  What has been fascinating to me is that many of the blog posts have echoed the same sentiment: that Markeiff Morris is too good to be traded for Ersan Ilyasova.

Which brings me to an honest question: Why don't you people (meaning people who write and/or Tweet about basketball) want to understand the game of basketball?

Ersan Ilyasova is a better NBA basketball player than Markeiff Morris.  He is better on defense and he adds an interior dimension on offense that Morris lacks.  (Morris is the better shooter and more skilled offensive player.)  He also has only one season left on his contract, while Morris has four.  (They make similar per-year salaries.)  Ersan is also at an age (28, officially, though rumors have persisted for years that he is actually three years older) that tends to produce more Championship role-players than Morris's (25).

Plus, Morris also has the knucklehead factor against him.  After the Suns acquired Brandon Knight last season, Morris, his brother Marcus Morris and Eric Bledsoe made it CLEAR with their actions on the court that they were not happy with the situation.  Essentially, the Suns offense became either Bledsoe & the Morrises playing keepaway from Brandon, or Brandon running things primarily with Alex Len & the other role players.  Ers may or may not have had problems with the slew of knuckleheads who have played for the Bucks during his career, but he never showed it on the court to the degree that Markeiff & Co. did last season.

None of this is to say that I would protest against Simmons's proposed trade if I were a Pistons fan.  It is quite possible that Marcus Morris, who is already on the Pistons' roster, will be a better player next season if his brother is there in place of Big Ers.  I already have the Pistons tipped as a Playoff team, and if Markeiff takes Ersan's place, I would continue to believe in them.

As a big Brandon Knight fan (and, thus, something of a Suns bandwagon-hopper at the moment), I think that acquiring Big Ers would be a fantastic move.  In fact, I think it would put them back in Playoff contention.  (And what would really help their Playoff chances is dealing Bledsoe.  I checked ESPN's NBA Trade Machine, and an Eric-for-Eric trade [Bledsoe for Gordon] is possible under NBA rules.  NBA bloggers/Twitterers are gonna hate that one, too, but for Phoenix it would mean acquiring a fantastic shooter, adding size to the backcourt and lopping off three years of contract commitment.) Acquiring better players than you send away tends to do that.