Larry Drew lords over the eight-win Milwaukee Bucks (Getty Images)
Milwaukee Bucks head coach Larry Drew is a handsome enough fella, but when things aren’t going his way on the sidelines he tends to look a little sour. This was the case in Atlanta, where Drew was the head man in charge of three respectable Atlanta Hawks teams, three squads that made the postseason. Drew was supposed to lead a revamped Milwaukee Bucks squad, coming off of a first round loss with interim coach Jim Boylan in charge in 2013, to the same playoff bracket in 2013-14, but instead the first year Bucks coach has presided over the league’s worst team.
Stuck with an 8-36 record, the Bucks are well on their way to the cellar in the Eastern Conference, and the best lottery odds in preparation for the loaded 2014 NBA draft. On Tuesday, that news perked up a bit when ESPN reported that highly regarded Australian point guard Dante Exum was planning on signing with an agent, and tossing his name into the pool – good news for the point guard-less Bucks.
That news came after Monday night’s loss to the visiting Los Angeles Clippers, though, and after Clipper coach Doc Rivers felt a need to send some sympathy Drew’s way as he struggles through a miserable season. From Matt Velazquez at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:
"He just pulled me aside before I left the floor and whispered a couple of things in my ear," Drew said. "I'd rather not say what they were, but they were very uplifting."
"It meant a great deal," Drew said. "There are things that happen within our coaching fraternity that we look at being pretty sacred. We don't talk on the phone every night or anything like that, but whenever we cross paths — not just Doc, but other coaches in our league — we try to maintain that fraternity among ourselves.
"Although we battle one another, we still care about each other because we're all doing something that's not easy to do. There are trials to it, there are ups and downs about it, there are frustrations with it, there's happiness with it. It's nice to hear from a peer that gives you some encouraging words."
Velezquez reminded that we’re really not that far removed from Rivers’ own struggles as the coach of a rebuilding team.
His 2006-07 Boston Celtics were created to at least compete for a playoff berth in the lower rungs of the East, but they ended up finishing with the conference’s second worst record (only these Bucks lost more games). And Doc, just three and a half years removed from winning the Coach of the Year award, was fired in Orlando as coach of the Magic after a disappointing 1-10 start to the 2003-04 season. He’s been through this.
The Bucks didn’t expect to go through “this” during 2013-14, but a combination of impatience (the team’s front office and ownership refused to work through a planned rebuilding project), poor scouting (the team drafts, trades, and recruits free agents terribly; with the possible exception of draft picks John Henson, rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Larry Sanders), and injuries have encouraged a miserable season in Milwaukee.
In a way, Monday’s 28-point loss to Los Angeles may not have been the campaign’s low point. Consider Drew’s response to his team’s lacking effort in a 25-point home loss on Saturday, against Drew’s former team in Atlanta. From Andrew Gruman at FOX Sports Wisconsin:
"This was just a totally, totally unacceptable performance," Drew said. "Here we are in the situation that we are in and my biggest concern is do we have still have any fire in the belly? That's my biggest concern. Do we have anything inside that will allow us to go out and compete at a high level?"
"I'm disappointed in everybody, myself included," Drew said. "We are just not playing hard enough. I don't care what the situation is. Again, with me included, we're paid to play hard. I'm paid to coach this team to the best of my ability and get these guys ready to play. This is not a time to make up excuses for what has happened.
"The situation is what it is. I told the guys after the game, it's beyond basketball now. It's about going out there and representing what's on your chest and what's on your back. That's the attitude we have to bring every single night we play. Forget the record, this is about going out and competing every night."
"I saw times where possessions were taken off," Drew said. "I don't care what the situation is from a wins and losses standpoint, guys are being paid to play hard. We didn't play hard. When you play against teams that play hard, you have to play harder. We didn't play hard.”
That’s a whole lot of words in the face of an anonymous Saturday night pairing that most NBA fans would happily give a miss to.
Acting like a professional is to be expected, but one can understand the frustrations of Bucks players as they stare down another 36 games the heart of a terrible season. Again, this team wasn’t created to tank the year – as outfits in Philadelphia, Boston, Orlando, Toronto, Utah and Phoenix were. This squad was created to fight for the sort of win totals that Toronto and Phoenix, unexpectedly, are on pace to achieve.
Even after dealing former point man Brandon Jennings (something many would view as a positive for Milwaukee), the Bucks attempted to approximate last season’s 8th-seeded trip to the playoffs by dealing Jennings for Brandon Knight, signing O.J. Mayo, and acquiring veterans like Caron Butler, Zaza Pachulia, and Luke Ridnour. General manager John Hammond has convinced himself that the key to Milwaukee’s eventual turnaround is to avoid rebuilding at all costs, even if this continues to tick off a fan base that badly wants the team to smartly restart from the bottom up.
For various reasons, Hammond and his team’s fans are getting the worst of both worlds, paying nearly the salary cap amount for a team that is on pace for 15 wins, a group that still will have contracts for decidedly non-rebuild-y players like Pachulia, Mayo, and the disappointing Ersan Ilyasova on the books for years beyond this one.
And, as the team learned in 2007 when it finished with the league’s third-worst record, those ping pong balls don’t always go your way. Those second-best odds only left the Bucks with the sixth pick in that year’s draft, which they used to whiff on selecting Yi Jianlian.
I’m not even a Bucks fan, but Doc Rivers needs to swing by to cheer me up, now.
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