Wednesday, May 31, 2017

7 Things I Want the Bucks to Do That Have Nothing to Do With Basketball

#BucksTwitter is hot nowadays with chatter about the team's GM position.  Should the Bucks have tried harder to retain Hammond?  Will Assistant to the GM (The Office joke) Justin Zanik be promoted?  If not, what does that say about Zanik's relationship with ownership?  Who should the Bucks hire, if not Zanik?  Is there footage of Sam Hinkie sneaking into the Cousins Center in a gorilla suit?  Inquiring minds want to know.

Perhaps my mind isn't inquir-ery enough.  I just don't care.  About any of it.  I view NBA GMs as corporate lackeys.  The Owners hold the purse strings.  The Coach gives his input.  A few other trusted advisors hold sway.  GMs exist to keep the owners happy.

There's an apocryphal GM story that I love re-telling.    It's about the 2009 Draft.  The draft of super-duper star Steph Curry and super-duper bust Haseem Thabeet.  Blake Griffin was the obvious first choice, and he went to the Clippers.  The Grizzlies chose second.  Memphis GM Chris Wallace drafted Thabeet; har-dee-har-har.  Except he wanted Curry.  Memphis Grizzlies Trusted Advisor to the Owner, Jerry West (yes, that Jerry West) convinced Owner Michael Heisley (R.I.P.) that Thabeet was a one-of-a-kind talent that could not be passed upon.  Even more remarkable than Curry's ascent to The Biggest Star Since Jordan is the fact that Wallace is still Memphis GM.  Remarkable, that is, to those who don't quite realize that the NBA is run by Owners, not GMs.

So, enough about the Bucks GM position.  We're here to talk about non-basketball matters.  The Bucks are in a good spot right now, what with attendance up and a new arena opening in about a year.  But good doesn't always mean good enough.  There are a few things that I'd like to see the Bucks do; seven to be exact.

1) Move to the West

It is an open secret that the NBA has a late-night audience.  Far, far, far more than any other American team sport.  While NFL, MLB NHL and college sports TV viewership and ratings tend to decline in the latter hour of prime time, the NBA's get stronger.  For example, the 9:30 p.m. Central Time game on TNT routinely beats the 7 p.m. game in apples-to-apples comparisons.  Another example is that Inside the NBA, the TNT post-game show, gets watched by far more people than ESPN or TNT's pre-game shows.  I am going to choose to stay about 15,000 miles away from speculating on the societal reasons why these example exist.  The bottom line, though, is that NBA fans tend to like watching basketball late at night.

The Bucks are in the East, which means that their television profile goes against the grain.  They are on TV early in Milwaukee far more often than they are on TV late.

Bucks home games start when the Bucks want them to.  It's the road games that can be a problem.  When teams in other time zones host the Bucks, it means that Milwaukee fans must either tune in at an unusual time or miss the game.

The NBA road schedule works like so: Each team plays 15 road games against the opposite conference (1 at each team) and 26 road games against its own conference.  Intra-conference road games consist of 2 away games against each division foe (that's 8), 2 away games against 8 of the 10 non-division foes (plus 16) and 1 away game against the other two non-division foes (plus 2, equals 26 intra-congerence road games).

By playing in the East, 24 of the Bucks' 26 intra-conference road games are against teams in the Eastern Time Zone (the Bulls are the only other East team in the Central time zone).  Therefore, 24 times per season Bucks fans must tune in at 6:30 pm Central, or earlier, to watch their home team.

If the Bucks moved to the West, they would play in the Eastern time zone only 14 times per season.  That would mean ten fewer games starting at 6 or 6:30 pm.

From a TV perspective, the downside of a move West would be the addition of more games that start at 9 or 9:30 pm local time.  But the difference may be less dramatic than one might expect.  Today the Bucks play five games per season in the Pacific time zone; with a move to the West that number would be 11 (or, in some years, 10).  That's six (or maybe 5) extra late games.

To summarize, the overall change in time zones for Bucks road games if the team moves to the West would be:

-Eastern: 10 fewer games
-Central: 2 more games
-Mountain: 1 (or 2) more games
-Pacific: 6 (or 5) more games

That sure looks good to me.  I live in Los Angeles, so admittedly this is self serving.  But even when I am visiting family and friends in Milwaukee, the 6 and 6:30 pm start times feel too early.

There are, of course, other considerations pertaining to a move to the West.  On the plus side, more marquee franchises are in the West, which could raise the Bucks' profile.  On the minus side, the Playoffs would be tougher, at least judging by the history of the past thirty years or so.

For those wondering, "how would a Bucks move affect other teams?", here is what the League might look like if it happens:

Pacific (same as today):
The other LA team/Seattle some day

Thunder (I would imagine the Thunder would endorse a pairing with Texas.)

Midwest (talk about some hip, fun cities):

Raps (Perhaps the one sticking point. Not sure if would want to leave the big East coast cities, but at least they'd have rivalries with Chicago & Detroit)

Florida II
Tennessee (S-E-C!  S-E-C!  S-E-C!)

New York
D.C. (I'd have to think that Bullets/Wiz fans would love being in this division.)

The League would have to go along with a Bucks move to the West.  I hope that ownership at least considers making a proposal.

2) Make the lighting cooler

Confession time: Bucks games are no longer my favorite sporting events.  Part of it is that the L.A. Kings are fun, and they're a 25 minute drive away.  More of it is that UFC shows are so damn good.

As live events, UFC shows have a lot of intrinsic advantages.  There is no 'regular season', where things can get rote and the athletes can seem disconnected.  It's a fight, and fights are fun.  And they have Conor McGregor, who is basically like "Stone Cold" Steve Austin if pro wrestling were real, with a touch of "Nature Boy" Ric Flair for good measure.

Even though regular season Bucks games have some inherent disadvantages, I still don't think that they are optimizing the experience.  Improving the lighting in the arena is one area that could use improvement.

Bucks games at the Bradley Center are too bright.  Just about the whole seating bowl is lit up, and it detracts from the focus on the basketball.

The Lakers do it right.  Here's one image, and you can find others by searching on "lakers game lighting":

That's a good look for a sporting event.  The playing surface is well lit and everything else is mostly dark.

The Bucks can probably take a few other cues from UFC's live event production.  They could have a live 'ring announcer' stand in the center of the court during player intros.  They could eliminate the advertising on the ribbon boards during the action.  They could have assistant coaches put towels over their shoulders and apply Vaseline to the players' faces during timeouts.  (OK, maybe not that one.)

A new arena means a new chance to rig the lighting.  Hopefully the Bucks will consider giving Bucks games more of a "big event" feel.

3) No more music during play

On March 11, 2017, I was at the Bucks home game against the T-Wolves and for the first several minutes of the game there was no music.  It was great.  I could hear the sounds of the game and even, faintly, the chatter from the players.  What's more, this came just a few days after the big controversy over Madison Square Garden not playing any music during the first half of the Dubs/Knicks game.  I assumed the Bucks were doing the same thing, and that I'd get a more pure basketball experience all game.

Unfortunately, my hopes were dashed about six minutes into the game.  The annoying music was back.  The arena MC's were back during timeouts.  It was back to sensory overload at the Bradley Center.  It was perhaps my most disappointing moment as a Bucks fan since the team finished with the third-worst record in the Greg Odom/Kevin Durant year and then dropping to sixth in the Lottery (where they totally redeemed themselves by picking Chairman Yi [Jianlian]).

No other sport does in game music, not even WWE.  And for good reason.  The game is already very enjoyable.  Starting up the cacophony during timeouts is understandable.  The Bucks want to make money, and sponsors pay to be featured during timeouts.  Just let us enjoy the game of basketball once the timeout is over.

4) Hard tickets (optionally)

This one may be a 'me' thing.  I like hard (traditional, printed on ticket stock) tickets.  Lots of people don't.  My request is for the Bucks to give fans the option of using hard tickets.  

I have to credit my pal Front Row Brian with my re-found love of hard tickets.  We went to the Georges St. Pierre vs. Jonny Hendricks UFC show a few years ago, and he dragged me to Will Call to pick up the tickets.  At the time I complained that he could've just printed them.  He pointed out that ticket stubs can be such a nice memory trigger for sporting events you've attended, especially if the tickets are printed on official arena/team ticket stock.  I've never looked back.

I get that mobile tickets (meaning, using your smartphone, credit card or ID to get in the arena) are viewed as the future of event ticketing.  I get why.  Many fans find mobile ticketing convenient.  There is less worry about losing the ticket or buying a fraudulent ticket on the re-sale market.  NBA teams like mobile ticketing because it allows them to potentially grab a cut of the re-sale market from StubHub and others.

I'd still argue that hard tickets are better for fans.  Sure, tickets may get lost on occasion, but getting re-prints at the box office isn't that difficult.  Fraud is not a significant problem with hard tickets; it's mainly a problem with printed (PDF) tickets.  And the re-sale market...?  I'm sure that NBA teams can figure out a way to partner with StubHub and/or create their own just-as-good-or-better re-sale market (which most definitely does not mean, because as a re-sale market it leaves a lot to be desired).

As of now, the Bucks plan to go mobile-only for ticketing at the new arena.  Even if you walk up to the arena box office and buy a ticket using cash, the current plan is for the team to ask for your email address and then forward a mobile ticket to the Bucks app (or a ticketing app) on your smartphone.  I hope the team reconsiders, and at least gives us the option for a nice, hard ticket that can act as a memento.

5) Less green & cream

This one is going to get me in trouble.

My Twitter best friend, Bucks Senior VP Alex Lasry, was the driving force behind the current Bucks uniform design.  Some people think he shepherded the Bucks into having the NBA's best set of uniforms.  Unfortunately, I cannot agree.

I'm just not a fan of the current look.  The green is too pale.  Cream should not be a sports color.  The extreme block lettering is... too extreme.  The collar and "sleeves" are big, thick outlines of green (on the white jersey) or cream (on the green jersey).  I'd rather see some kind of multi-colored stripes.  And the logo just isn't any fun.  Who wants a futuristic deer staring at them?

I want the deer spinning a basketball.  I want a real hunter green.  I think red and green works great, when combined right.  Collar and sleeve striping marks some of the League's most iconic uniforms, and it looks great.  And why not white or yellow or gold -- something bright -- instead of that drab, dreary cream?

What's done is done, and the Bucks will most definitely be in their current uniforms for many years to come.  And it's only the uniforms, after all.  I don't even wear sports jerseys anymore.  

My desire here is for the Bucks to minimize the green & cream.  Wear the black uniforms more often for road games.  Use the secondary logo (the one that looks like a green state of Wisconsin, with BUCKS written diagonally) at center court.  Maybe even nudge Nike (who will make NBA uniforms starting next season) to darken that "good land green" a little bit.  Some slight adjustments could go a long way.

6) More Saturday home games

In the Herb Kohl years, Bucks season ticket holders could just about count on 13 Saturday home games per season.  Last year it was only 9.

Why the 30% drop in Saturday home games?  I don't know, but I have a strong guess.  I think it's because the Bucks owners want to book more big concerts and other touring events once the new arena opens.  They know that promoters know that Milwaukee is a tough town to sell out unless your concert is on a Saturday.  Bucks management is trying to condition Bucks fans to attend games Sunday through Friday, like Lakers fans do here in Los Angeles.  (The LA Kings and Clippers get Saturdays at Staples Center.)

I want Milwaukee to get more concerts.  I want my Saturday Bucks games even more.  The arena tends to fill up.  Fans have more time to pre-gam.  People are more likely to be able to stay out after the game and join downtown Milwaukee's weekly tradition called Amateur Night.  Thirteen Saturday home games still leaves thirteen winter & spring Saturdays for concerts.

Last season, the Bucks upped the number of Friday and Sunday home games, ostensibly in an effort to make up for the decrease in Saturday dates.  It's a noble effort, but Fridays and Sundays are not Saturdays.  Plus, Saturdays tend to be the best day of the week for my seventh and final suggestion...

7) Tailgating

Wisconsinites like to drink.  It is something I have always suspected, and now we have proof.

Even moreso, Wisconsinites like to drink outdoors.  Who can resist the fresh air/debilitating liver disease combo that comes from outdoor drinking?

Luckily, Wisconsin sports fans get plenty of opportunities to drink outdoors.  But we want more.  We want tailgating space at the new arena.

I am aware of certain limitations.  Nobody is going to be tailgating during weekday games, at least not until April or so.  Nobody is going to tailgate during mid-season night games because it gets too dark and too cold too early.

But holy heck would Bucks tailgating be awesome during select weekend day games and, most importantly, once the Playoffs begin.

The key is surface parking.  The Bucks need to preserve a surface parking lot somewhere relatively close to the arena.  It can be done.  The Padres did it in San Diego, and their downtown is a heck of a lot more busy than Milwaukee's.  San Diego's Tailgate Park is 7.5 acres of surface parking that includes 1,000 spots with room to tailgate.  And -- lo and behold -- 7.5 acres is just about the EXACT same size as the area currently covered by the Bradley Center and its adjacent parking structure.

Tearing down a parking structure to create surface parking is extraordinarily unlikely to happen, but tearing down the Bradley Center will happen.  That will create about 5 acres of space, which would be large enough for at least 600 cars and trucks to tailgate.

At present, the plan is for the Bucks to develop office space (or something else besides surface parking) in the space where the Bradley Center currently sits.  Hopefully they either reconsider, or find some other area nearby the arena where a few thousand hearty souls can grill out and drink a few beers during the sunnier days of basketball season.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The End of the Hammond Era (Three Years After It Actually Ended)

John Hammond is gone from the Bucks, having accepted a position as Orlando's general manager.  Good for him; "who cares?" for the Bucks.

When Jason Kidd was hired in summer of 2014, it was clear that Hammond's time as the Bucks' top personnel executive was over.  The initial reporting of Kidd's Nets-to-Bucks move cited Kidd's inability to gain control over player personnel.  Whatever bridges Kidd may have burned in Brooklyn, it was implausible that he would come to Milwaukee as Just Coach.

It is unclear exactly how much sway Hammond held since Kidd arrived, but there is plenty of evidence to support the theory that Kidd was in charge.  The Bucks seemed to acquire a lot of players who excelled when playing either for or against Kidd.  They also seemed to hire a lot of players represented by Jeff Schwartz, who is Kidd's long time agent.

Then there were the rumors.  Brandon Knight being traded for Michael Carter-Williams, rumored to be because Kidd wanted a big, pass-first point guard in his own mold.  Rashad Vaughn being drafted over Bobby Portis in 2015, rumored to be because Kidd was worried that a young, active Big like Portis could retard Jabari Parker's development.  (Kidd may have had a point.  Who knows how much the drafting of Ray Allen affected Big Dog, a fellow jump-shooting Wing.)

Whatever the level of Hammond's control, it now seems clear that he wanted out from the moment Kidd arrived.  Hammond was just turned down for Orlando's top front office position.  Now he'll be number two.  Only Hammond knows for sure, but from where this blog sits it appears that Hammond simply wanted to make sure that he maintained the G.M. title, no matter the circumstances.

If we remove the Kidd era, then Hammond's reign lasted from 2008 to 2014.  It's a checkered history. For every Giannis, there's a Larry Sanders (who, it must be said, I loved).  A Joe Alexander for every Brandon Jennings, a Charlie V for every Monta and a JJ Redick for every John Salmons.  And, heck, even the good ones end well, though we expect Giannis to.

As with any Bucks employee from the Herb Kohl era, one has to wonder how much influence The Senator had over Hammond's performance.  Kohl was noted -- perhaps notorious -- for wanting to compete every year.  Hammond alluded to this after drafting Giannis, noting that the Bucks had to find a way to procure an All-Star.  The clear implication being that Kohl would never let the team bottom out intentionally.

It all makes for a complicated calculation of the man's Bucks legacy.  We don't know exactly how much control he had.

From this blog's perspective, there is a temptation to forgive all of Hammond's mistakes because he got us Giannis.  Billy McKinney, the head of scouting, apparently was the guy who sold Hammond on Giannis, but Hammond still pulled the trigger.  The 2013 Bucks were a Playoff team -- through, granted, not a very good one -- and Hammond still had the guts to draft a complete project who had no chance of helping the 2014 Bucks be better.  That's big.

Is that enough?  Can Giannis make up for the frustrating (2009), inspiring (2010), disappointing (2011), maddening (2012), bickering (2013), awful (2014) legacy of Hammond's six seasons in charge?  Not to me.

John Hammond will always be in the Bucks Forest dog house.  He surely has reasons and regrets.  Any decision maker does.  Ultimately, too many of his decisions went wrong.  That's why he'll be second banana in Orlando instead of the man in charge.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Ray Allen and the Bucks

NBA Twitter was set aflutter yesterday when Kevin Garnett hosted an informal, televised reunion of key players from the Boston Celtics 2008 title team and didn't invite Ray Allen.  Predictably, Garnett and his crew (Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Glen "Big Baby" Davis and Kendrick "Please Give Me One More Contract" Perkins) talked about Allen in unflattering terms.

There are many ways to define "punk move", and talking behind another man's back on television without having him there to respond is near the top of the list.  Whatever, though.  It was merely confirmation of who those five men are.

This is a Bucks blog, and the topic of Ray Allen and his alleged treachery is one that hits close to home.  Allen was a central part of the Bucks' "Big Three" era, with Glenn "Big Dog" Robinson and Sam Cassell being the other two.  That time evokes pleasure and pain among long time Bucks fans.  The pleasure is from a 2001 Playoff Run that ignited local interest in the team.  The pain is from the team's quick demise; a situation in which Ray Allen may or may not have played a central role.

We know some things about Ray Allen's time in Milwaukee.  He clashed with George Karl, who frequently lectured Allen about the importance of playing "the right way".  He was sensitive about his place in the star hierarchy.  He was traded after Michael Redd emerged as Allen's younger, cheaper replacement.

Allen engaged in some back-and-forth in the press after Big Dog was traded to the Hawks in the summer of 2002.  My sense is that both men regret that episode.

They had a relationship similar to the Shaq/Kobe dynamic on the Lakers.  Kobe simply could not understand why Shaq didn't obsess about basketball.  Same with Ray Allen towards Big Dog.  Why doesn't this guy practice hard all the time?  Why doesn't he care more when we lose?  Why doesn't he take more pride in playing defense?  They are familiar conflicts when contrasting personalities team up.

Milwaukee likely stands as Ray Allen's greatest regret.  The trade to Seattle was because Redd was four years younger and $22 million cheaper (over the remaining two years on each man's contract, combined), and the Bucks wanted a point guard.  It wasn't Allen's decision.  Yet, Allen knows that the Bucks would not have made that trade if the team was winning.  The Bucks were a .500 team.  Teams led by Jason Kidd, Chauncey Billups, Reggie Miller and Allen Iverson finished atop the East.  Those are All-Star guards, doing what Milwaukee's All-Star guard wasn't.

The Celtics exes blame of Ray Allen is petty.  Their jealousy of Allen's success in Miami is transparent.  But, again, this is a Bucks blog.

What about Bucks fans' feeling towards Allen?  He was their biggest star during their best run.  Yet, the team missed the postseason half the time and they only had one great Playoffs.  He ticked people off.  Instead of trading the understudy for value, the Bucks traded their star.  Few fans complained.  Attendance went up the following season.

The old saying goes, "it's not about what you do, it's about how you make people feel".  Who feels for Ray?  Basketball is gone in Seattle.  The old Celtics still hate him.  He does have Miami and Game 6.  Maybe that's the real lesson: there's always time.