Photo by Howie Magner
They’ve overhauled their coaching staff, overhauled their roster and even overhauled the very foundation beneath their feet.
They’ve done big appearances at a high school in Racine, a State Fair milk house, a near-North Side Boys & Girls Club and a certain art museum on Lake Michigan.
They’ve focused much of their marketing efforts on players who’ve reached the ripe old ages of 24, 22 and 18.
Basically, they’ve done everything but extend their hand and say, “Let’s start over. Hi there: We’re the Milwaukee Bucks.”
And you could say they’re even prepared to do just that: The team’s inaugural Fan Fest is Saturday at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
Yes, it has been somewhat fascinating to watch the Bucks try to reinvent and reintroduce themselves to Milwaukee over a span of about five months. And it was a team in dire need of both.
When last we left them, former star Brandon Jennings was watching the final minutes of last season tick away from a cushy seat on the bench. And not long afterward, he was counting the minutes until he left town along with another former star, Monta Ellis. Both players got their wish, and in their comments since then, neither Jennings nor Ellis has sounded at all nostalgic about leaving Milwaukee.
They are far from the only two players who left town. As the Bucks entered training camp for the 2013-14 season, only four players remained from the previous season’s 15-man roster. Longtime Bucks observers will know that GM John Hammond has never been shy about remaking a roster, but this was unprecedented even for him.
But something else makes Hammond’s overhaul rather notable. Because this time, he seems to have populated the roster with players who actually appreciate being part of the population.
“I do think we have an attitude of players that want to be here, which I think can help us,” Hammond said.
“I don’t want to be critical of the guys that were here,” he continued. “I’m just saying that on the other side, it’s a very positive fact that we have an attitude of guys that want to be here. I think that can help us win games.”
Racine native Caron Butler shed tears at his introductory Bucks press conference, held at Racine’s Park High School. When’s the last time you remember a new Bucks player weeping for joy? And the team’s first-round draft pick, 18-year-old Giannis Antetokounmpo, has been spreading the Bucks gospel everywhere from the Wisconsin State Fair to the islands of his Grecian countrymen.
Larry Sanders celebrated his four-year, $44 million contract extension at Pieper-Hillside Boys & Girls Club, underneath a scoreboard that bears his name. And 23-year-old John Henson spent much of the summer just hanging out in Milwaukee before helping Sanders unveil the team’s new home court design at the Milwaukee Art Museum.
O.J. Mayo told folks at Bucks Media Day that he wanted to sign with the Bucks not just because his brother Todd plays at Marquette, but because the Bucks made him feel so wanted. And just about every Bucks player who stepped up to the Media Day mic – Zaza Pachulia, Luke Ridnour, Gary Neal, you name it – lauded the importance of chemistry, of self-sacrifice, of brotherhood. It’s been a mantra of new head coach Larry Drew, and one that’s been followed up by Butler treating his new teammates to dinner at the Capital Grille, just to get to know them better.
Maybe the way to Milwaukee’s heart is through the stomach.
Of course, everybody’s an optimist before the games are played, and it’s easy to talk about sacrificing personal goals before you actually have to do it. So how this grand Bucks experiment will play out remains to be seen, but that’s what seasons are for. On paper, the Bucks may not have quite the raw talent of last season, but it’s hard to imagine they won’t score far better on their chemistry tests. It will be interesting to see whether or not the tradeoff translates into more wins.
There’s an endgame to all of this. The Bucks need to reconnect with their fanbase, because if they don’t do so soon, they’ll be playing for one in another state. They need a new arena, an issue Doug Russell explored thoroughly in the latest edition of Milwaukee Magazine, and if their fans don’t support them, how can they ask others to do so?
So far at least, these Bucks seem much easier to embrace than previous versions. And perhaps they’ll find it easier to catch fans with honey than vinegar.
Just be sure that honey is served with enough victories.
Feel free to follow me on Twitter, where I tweet as howiemag. Hear me chat with fellow MilMag staff on “No Revisions,” our new weekly radio show that airs noon Tuesdays on WMSE. And listen to me talk sports with Mitch Teich once a month on WUWM's "Lake Effect."