The Milwaukee Bucks were designed to make the playoffs, and instead of returning to the postseason the roster responded with 15 wins. The group is under the NBA’s salary cap, but it also boasts a series of long term contracts to middling or disappointing players that nobody is in a hurry to deal for. It boasts a coach in Larry Drew that followed one uninspired turn in Atlanta with an initial season in Milwaukee that left all involved stifling a yawn. The team’s franchise player is serving a drug suspension. Its general manager isn’t highly regarded, following his latest offseason buildup at least. It has just a 25 percent chance the top overall selection in this year’s draft. Its arena is dilapidated and sometimes barely playable.
Two men just bought this team for $550 million.
ESPN’s Marc Stein broke the news on Wednesday. The Bucks will be sold to a pair of investors, Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry, and the team will stay in Milwaukee. The team’s previous owner, former Senator Herb Kohl, has made a massive return on his $18 million investment from 1985, when he purchased the franchise, and he’ll follow through on his promise to keep the Bucks in Wisconsin.
Holy cow, though. That’s $550 million for arguably the worst investment in the NBA. Here’s Stein’s initial report:
In January, Forbes valued the Bucks at $405 million, last among the league's 30 franchises.
Sources told ESPN.com that the deal, subject to league approval, will be confirmed in an afternoon news conference.
Kohl, a longtime U.S. senator who bought the team for $18 million in 1985, made keeping the team in Milwaukee a condition of the sale. It's also believed Kohl, while relinquishing majority control, will retain a significant percentage of the team.
And here’s a snippet of the team’s press release, via their official website:
Furthermore, consistent with his commitment to the Bucks and Milwaukee, Senator Kohl has pledged a $100 million gift for the development of a new arena for the team. In addition to honoring Kohl's requirement that the team be kept in Milwaukee, the new owners have committed to contribute at least an additional $100 million towards the development of a new arena in the city.
"My priority has always been and will continue to be keeping the Bucks in Milwaukee," said Kohl. "This announcement reinforces that Milwaukee is and will continue to be the home of the Bucks. Wes and Marc agree, and they share my commitment to the long-term success of this franchise in Milwaukee."
Messrs. Edens and Lasry jointly stated: "We would like to thank Senator Kohl and his team for their support and cooperation throughout the purchase process. The Senator has provided the Bucks with nearly 30 years of dedicated stewardship, and we are very excited to join Bucks fans, the city of Milwaukee and the NBA to build the long-term success of this franchise. Having attended various sporting events in Milwaukee and Green Bay over the years, it is easy to see why the greater-Milwaukee area is such a storied sports atmosphere.
In a rare move, the team actually acknowledged the going price, an astonishing figure for a team in a small market, with precious few initial assets, one that may have to suss out both a new coach and general manager hire in the weeks prior to this June’s NBA draft.
That seems cruel to surmise with one game left to play and with coach Larry Drew and GM John Hammond still working with paying gigs, but Milwaukee’s approach has been long-derided, and they truly did inadvertently back their way into a rebuilding effort. Hammond signed O.J. Mayo, Zaza Pachulia, and Carlos Delfino to offseason deals that didn’t seem incredibly onerous on their own, but it did extend the team’s commitment to mediocrity. Sadly ironically, the calls for the team to bottom out in order to jump high in the draft rankings were met without Hammond intending to engage in a rebuilding process.
That’s what the Bucks are faced with, though, moving forward. The team will have to find a way to finance a new arena, they will have to navigate this June’s draft, and make smart work with what will be a goodly amount of salary cap space this July. They’ll have to determine whether or not to commit to a front office that has failed to pull the Bucks out of the doldrums that date back decades. They’ll have to be approved by the NBA’s Board of Governors. There is so much left to do, befitting a team that enters the last night of the regular season with just 15 wins, one working without a suitable modern arena.
The man who has overseen these many years of mediocre, lacking, or downright lousy play is Senator Herb Kohl. This is a man that must be lauded, though.
Unlike former Seattle SuperSonics owner Howard Schultz, Herb Kohl did not sell out his community. He promised Bucks fans that he wouldn’t sell to a group that wouldn’t commit to Milwaukee, and he followed through on that promise – unlike Schultz, who basically expedited a SuperSonics move to Oklahoma City by selling the franchise to two owners from Oklahoma. The Bucks may be the NBA’s lowest-valued franchise, and the team still has a lot to figure out, but Herb Kohl has made it so Bucks fans don’t have to worry about their team leaving town. For that, even without considering his $100 million donation to a new arena plan, Herb Kohl should be applauded.
He should also have to pick up the next bar tab he comes across, too. And fans both inside Milwaukee and out should remember this day -- $550 million for a team with no star, no arena, and no enticing prospects – the next time the league cries poverty, and locks out its players.
Until then, though, the Bucks will stay in Milwaukee. It’s where they’re supposed to be.
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