Bucks start to rebuild from the bottom
The chapter closed, officially, on the 2013-14 season when the clock ran out on the Milwaukee Bucks' franchise-record 67th loss Wednesday night. A new chapter was started hours before however, when Marc Lasry and Wes Edens were introduced as the new owners of the franchise. It's a positive first step as the organization begins the rebuilding process.
"Rebuilding" was a word not often uttered under the long ownership of Herb Kohl, but as he ushered in a new era of Bucks basketball by agreeing to sell the team, thoughts turned immediately to the future.
"This is a team, I should say an organization, we want to get things moving in the right direction," said head coach Larry Drew, who has two years remaining on his contract. "We are in a, what I see as a rebuilding stage with young players. It's important that we rebuild. We have good, young talent, but the veteran pieces have to be something that really blend in or mix in well. Looking back at the season, if we're going to take a positive from it, it's certainly giving the young guys opportunity who probably would not have gotten that opportunity had not we gone through the injuries that we had gone through."
Ah, the injuries.
Drew ran out 27 different starting lineup combinations and 16 different players started at least one game.
Fourteen different players missed a combined 268 games to illness or injury (another nine games were missed due to suspensions).
Zaza Pachulia, who was brought in to provide leadership and depth in the front court, rubbed his elbow as his right Achilles was wrapped in ice following the Bucks season-ending loss to Atlanta on Wednesday.
"The most important thing for all of us, for all the players, to be healthy," said Pachulia, who missed 28 games with a right foot fracture. "That's the key. If you're not healthy you can't do anything. Like for our team – we didn't have one full practice. Shootarounds includes. One, full team practice – we didn't have it."
He blinked after he finished the sentence, like he couldn't believe it.
"So it's so hard for coaches and players, guys being in and out. It was chaos this season. But again, we tried not to show it and when we were playing and we tried our best. But when you have a newly assembled team and a new system, you need everybody, especially the type of team we had, you need everybody."
John Henson added: "It's tough. I don't think we played one game with our starting five. It's crazy to think about. That was kind of the beginning of the end in the sense that we're plugging guys in and plugging guys in. Then trades and guys got disgruntled a little bit. A bad year, man. But we'll be fine. I think we'll be better for this. It's a humbling experience."
Those are words not often associated with winning basketball. Fifteen wins shouldn't have been a surprise. And for the men living it, it wasn't.
"This is rock bottom, you know what I mean?," said Ekpe Udoh, who will likely depart the Bucks after joining the team halfway through the 2011-12 season. "You could say there's positives but at the end of the day you only won 15 games in this league. That's pretty bad. So I think we'll learn from this and build. Whoever's here, we're going to build from this and understand that every day in practice everybody has to be held accountable because you don't want to go through this again."
Brandon Knight agreed when asked if there was a good group of players to build around.
"You said great pieces – we've got seven guys out," he said. "So, seven guys not playing and most of those guys play starter minutes. When you have that many guys missing from your rotation and you're putting in a lot of guys that otherwise wouldn't be playing, it's not going to be an easy season. I think we did the best with what we had and we played hard, but we were missing a lot of key pieces that missed a lot of time in the season. We brought those guys in and at the start of the season we expected those guys to play heavy, heavy minutes and so it didn't work out the way we expected it to. Not to make excuses, but that definitely plays a large role when you're playing against so many talented guys in this league."
The players under contract, and the coaching staff, admit much can be learned from this season, but even Drew was hesitant to say he was confident that the current crop of young players on the roster will be the ones to build around – especially with the uncertainty that comes with an ownership change.
"Um … it's still … in this league you can't say whether guys will be here for us or not because everybody's always looking to get better everybody's always looking to see what's out there and if it's something that makes sense for our organization to do they'll do it," Drew said. "I like what I see in Brandon. I like what I see in John (Henson). I like what I see in Nate (Wolters) and Giannis (Antetokounmpo). I like what I see in those guys. But again, we're always looking to try to get better and certainly we have to look through all of our opportunities and see what makes sense for us."
The framework of this rebuilding process has yet to be laid, however.
Edens and Lasry's bid has to be formally approved by the NBA, and once that occurs they will need to not only assess the current group of staffers within the Bucks organization but also begin bringing in any new people. There is time to reorganize, should they choose to, but not much. The NBA Draft combine in Chicago runs from May 14-18 with the lottery – where the Bucks are assured a top four pick – is on May 21. The draft is June 26.
"Shoot, there's been a lot of changes here for a while now," said Udoh, who played with nearly 40 different teammates in his two and a half seasons.
"We haven't had a solid roster for a few years. Eleven new guys (this year), three of those guys are already gone, there will probably be more guys gone this summer, so hopefully they can get a team, a solid team here they can keep together and build together."
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