The Milwaukee Bucks postmortem is confirming what most folks believed while the whole mortem was in progress.
The team took some chemistry lessons from Dr. Bunson and Beaker.
Place the blame for such internal combustion at your feet of choice. Former coach Scott Skiles for checking out early. Former interim coach Jim Boylan for being unable to check in enough. The players for being unable to check their egos for the good of the team, or for not winning enough to reach the point of “winning cures all.” GM John Hammond for putting all of those player in the locker room. Everyone has a theory.
And you can certainly debate just how far the Bucks’ talent level could’ve taken them even when mixed with perfect chemistry. But without it…
Well, without it, you’re exactly where you are today. While other teams advance in the playoffs, Bucks fans stew over the team losing nine of its last 10 games, speculate about the name of their next coach, wonder just whom he’ll be coaching and whether the Bucks can avoid the same fate next season.
On his way out, Boylan – a good man put in a difficult spot – put the blame on himself, telling the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel “the bottom line is I didn’t do good enough.” But he also gave hints of the team’s locker room issues, born of contract questions and playing-time conflicts. “It was not an easy group,” he said. “But as coach, it was my job to try to handle that.”
Whether the next coach is a veteran disciplinarian like Stan Van Gundy, a younger player’s coach like Kelvin Sampson or somebody else who falls somewhere in between, a few things are clear.
The Bucks need more talented players. They need players who play as if they want to be here. And it wouldn’t hurt to have a leader or two in the locker room.
When the final curtain fell on Milwaukee’s final playoff loss to Miami, I asked an older veteran who he thought this season’s locker room leaders were. He hemmed and hawed, then ultimately deflected the question, which you could read as an admission that there really wasn’t one. Leaders are easily identified after an entire season, and they don’t mind others pointing them out, even in defeat.
Once, it appeared Brandon Jennings might be on that path. Now, nobody knows just where his path is leading.
After not getting a contract extension prior to the season, Jennings wasn’t shy in speculating about where he could play next year. He’s a restricted free agent, so the Bucks could match whatever offer he gets from another team. But he doesn’t sound like a man who’d want the Bucks to match those offers. After a poor playoff series that included a Game 4 benching, Jennings wouldn’t even say whether he still wants to be in Milwaukee. “Do I want to be here?” he mused in the postgame locker room. “Um… I mean, I don’t know.” He’s also grown fond of the tired mantra that it’s up to his agent and the Bucks, as if he’ll have little say in the matter.
If Jennings wants to go chase bigger bucks that he hasn’t quite earned and brighter lights that bring a harsher glare, well, perhaps it’s time the Bucks let him. For all of the good he’s done in Milwaukee - and he’s done plenty, as recognized by his Community Involved Player of the Year honor at April’s Wisconsin Sports Awards – it didn’t translate in the locker room this year. Openly courting other teams while your own team is still on the court tends to sow seeds of discord at home.
Milwaukeeeans can be rather passionate about their sports stars, but that passion runs both ways. Commit to them long-term, like Robin Yount or Ryan Braun, and they’ll get in bar fights defending your honor. But show hints of a wandering eye, and they’ll help pack your bags. The Journal Sentinel did an online poll asking which Bucks guard fans most wanted to return. Nine percent said “all of them” and only 11 percent said Jennings.
The Bucks built marketing campaigns around Jennings, and now he’s got a 20 percent approval rating. He spent the fourth quarter of a playoff elimination game watching from the bench. Right now, in most of Milwaukee’s eyes, he’s a star that’s falling.
That could always change, of course. The Bucks and Jennings could hug it out over a long-term contract, and Jennings – still only 23 years old – could still blossom here.
But it seems increasingly unlikely. This offseason presents an uncommon opportunity for Hammond and the Bucks to significantly remake their team. Hammond has the relative security of a contract extension, room under the salary cap and roster slots to play with. It’s not quite a blank slate, but it’s certainly one with lots of blank space.
And when one chemistry formula fails, you usually look for another. That should make for an interesting offseason.
At the end of Jennings’ final playoff postgame media session, somebody brought up that last point. “Very interesting,” he agreed. “We’ll see what happens.”
And then, his last words.
“I’m done taking questions.”