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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

MILWAUKEE BUCKS AND LARRY DREW: THE BUDDY SYSTEM

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A newly hired coach or manager knows the drill: Enter with a vow of clear communication with the players. But Larry Drew took that game to another level when he arrived this month...

 

Frank: When Mr. Drew was introduced as the Bucks' coach he said, “I'm going to get to know my guys. We're going to become buddies. It will be more than just a coach and player relationship. We're going to become good friends...” How'd that strike you?

Artie: It was unusual, but I didn't really have a strong reaction. I just went, “Oh, swell, good for you.”

F: Most incoming coaches aren't so effusive. They just give a few platitudes about the need to relate to “today's players,” keeping the office door open, everyone knowing their roles...

A: And of course playing “the right way.” Drew is an NBA coaching veteran, so he hit all those marks, you betcha.

F: Settling aside the difficulty of being a pal to everyone in a group—especially a group where you're the boss—this buddy approach will be judged like most things in sports, on results.

A: If they win it'll be a great system.

F: And if not, whoever replaces Drew probably will talk more about “professionalism” and effort.

A: And leave friendship to the players.

F: It happens all the time; a team will alternate between a “tough guy” and a “nice guy.” Scott Skiles sure didn't seem like anyone's buddy.

A: The Junior G-Man had the same scowl for everyone, far as I could tell.

F: Another classic switch happened with the Brewers in 1982—and it sure worked. The team got to the playoffs in '81 with Buck Rodgers, a no-nonsense, take-charge kind of manager. But in June of '82 they were under .500, so Rodgers was fired in favor of hitting coach Harvey Kuenn, an easy-going, “let 'em play” guy.

A: Which was just what that team needed, and Harvey's Wallbangers produced the Brew Crew's only pennant.

F: And led their division with a month to go in '83, but then collapsed in September. And just like that, the Kuenn era was over and Rene Lachemann, a much more hands-on guy, was in charge for '84.

A: And presided over a total disaster... but enough of that. Right now there are all sorts of questions about who Mr. Drew's potential buddies will be.

F: Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis, J.J. Redick, Mike Dunleavy—any or all of them could be gone soon.

A: Ellis has until Thursday to decide on his $11 million option for next season.

F: The Journal Sentinel reported that the Bucks offered him a two-year extension, making a total of $36 million over three years, and he declined. That makes me think Ellis doesn't want to be around for the next version of the Bucks, even for just a year.

A: And that he wasn't happy being part of the last version. Maybe something with Jennings, maybe Ellis wanted to play more point.

F: And he did have a locker-room clash with Larry Sanders during the playoff sweep by Miami. Who knows if that was really a big deal, but maybe there were other vibes Ellis didn't like.

A: Whether the coach is a buddy or a dictator, I'd say the chemistry among the players is what's most important. I don't think Ellis, Jennings or Redick will be back, and then what will they do for a backcourt? The draft is a week from Thursday but they're not in a good spot at No. 15. But who knows what they might try to do in terms of “trading up.”

F: One thing about general manager John Hammond: He's not shy about making moves. And I'd guess the fans really want to see some moves made.

A: Or not made, as in not matching any over-inflated offer Jennings gets as a restricted free agent.

F: Well, at least Larry Drew will have a say in picking his new buddies.

 

IN THE POLITICAL ARENA

F: On a related topic, I was startled to learn that there's something on which we agree with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos.

A: What, did he learn the world is round?

F: The other day Vos told the Journal Sentinel he doesn't support using tax money to build a Bradley Center replacement.

A: I guess even Republicans have fleeting moments of sanity.

F: We say any new arena should be financed by the fat-cat business honchos who probably support Vos and Scott Walker.

A: And who'll get the lion's share of the tax cuts they're doling out.

F: The newspaper also reported Sunday that the 10 highest-paid CEOs of Wisconsin public companies got an average raise of 31% last year.

A: All the more reason they can pony up for an arena. They're the ones who'll get the good seats anyway.

 

AND BACK TO THE BUCKS...

A: It's interesting that the Bucks fired all of Skiles' and Boylan's assistants...

F: Including Bucks legend Sidney Moncrief...

A: And now Kenosha native Nick Van Exel will be coming in with Drew.

F: That really struck me. I had no idea Van Exel was coaching, and he's not a guy I would have ever thought would coach because he was pretty much of a loose cannon as a player.

A: A crusty kid.

F: For the same reason I was surprised that Sam Cassell was being mentioned as a candidate for the Bucks' job. I sure never thought of the flamboyant Sam as coaching material.

A: Cassell is very well respected as an assistant in Washington.

F: Bill Windler of the Journal Sentinel has said for years that Cassell should be in the Hall of Fame as a player.

A: I agree. He was a terrific backcourt man!

F: At first I thought my friend Willie was crazy, but I guess I can see it—a bit. Cassell does have two championship rings with Houston.

A: Van Exel was a good guard. So whatever the Bucks have for guards next season, maybe he can help.

F: And a lefty, too! Van Exel can be the designated assistant in charge of left-handed point guards.

A: But if they do have one of those, I hope it ain't Jennings.

F: If Ellis turns down the Bucks' money for keeps, whose money will he get?

A: Seems like he's interested in Sacramento because the new coach there, Mike Malone, was one of the assistants at Golden State.

F: And Ellis was his buddy?

A: I suppose.

 

WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN

F: Thinking back to the '82 Brewers, they're a good example of how a budding sports “dynasty” can disappear in a flash.

A: But if you think of the years leading up to the pennant, they really had an era there. When was the breakout year under George Bamberger, '79?

F: It was '78, actually, when they went from 67 wins to 93 and Bambi's Bombers were born.

A: So that's '78 through '82, a five-year run where they were really strong.

F: But because there weren't any wild cards then, and Baltimore and the Yankees were so strong, the Brewers could only get to the playoffs twice and the World Series once. And by September of '83 they had enough injuries and even age that it all came crashing down suddenly.

A: It's interesting to speculate about what the Crew might have done if they'd had a couple of wild-card spots in the playoffs.

F: The other day one of the TV stations noted that it was the 30th anniversary of the Gorman Thomas trade in June of '83.

A: I'll always remember where I was when I found out. I was at Sendik's on Silver Spring and going to the meat counter, and they had the radio on. I knew one of the butchers, a big baseball fan, and when we both heard this news we just couldn't believe it! Dealing our beloved slugger for Rick Manning?

F: Thomas was having a lousy year, hitting under .200, but still... I know where I was too—back on Long Island visiting my family. And when I realized the Indians would be at Yankee Stadium that night, I called the Journal's sports desk—I was the paper's national editor at the time—and asked if they wanted a “man on the scene.”

A: I'll bet Gorman was a wreck that day.

F: Man, was he hurtin'. I suspect he was, um, feeling the effects of drowning his sorrows, but even without that he just looked dazed. And of course he didn't do much with Cleveland, which dealt him to Seattle in the off-season.

A: Talk about history... Who was partly responsible for stopping Paul Molitor's hitting streak in '87? If they hadn't traded Gorman for Manning, someone else would have been hitting ahead of The Ignitor in that extra-inning game against Cleveland. And maybe that someone would NOT have gotten a game-winning hit that left Molitor in the on-deck circle!

F: So the streak ended at 39 games.

A: Thanks a lot, Harry Dalton, for nothing—in '83 and '87, as it turned out. When Gorman left they lost some major chemistry in the clubhouse, which may have contributed to the '83 collapse.

F: Even though Harvey Kuenn was a “buddy” manager, and it wasn't Kuenn's doing to trade Thomas. A manager can do only so much, no matter what his style is.

A: Yeah, there's a little thing called player talent, and another little thing called performing up to it.

F: How come Joe Torre was unsuccessful with Atlanta, St. Louis and the Mets but became a genius in the Bronx? How come Casey Stengel was a bozo with the Boston Braves and Dodgers but brilliant with the Yankees?

A: And don't forget, also with the American Association champion Brewers in '44.

 

ANOTHER LOST OPPORTUNITY

F: As for the current Brewers, it would have been nice for them to win their series in Cincinnati. It's one thing to take two of three games from woeful Miami, but they really need to show some sustained progress against good teams.

A: Especially the good teams they're way behind in the division. But the Crew had a clinker Sunday, on defense and at the plate.

F: So it's on to Houston, where they better take two of three before they have to face first-place Atlanta at home this weekend.

A: I'd say the Crew needs a “return to normalcy,” but I'm afraid that this season fourth or fifth place is the new normal.

F: It doesn't help that Ryan Braun's on the disabled list because of whatever's going on with his right thumb and hand.

A: It's also too bad that these games when he's absent can't apply to that 100-game suspension that might be down the road for him. It'd be nice to have that whittled down.

 

7 GAMES? IT HAS THE RING OF TRUTH

F: As we speak, the latest alleged NBA dynasty is on the brink of doom now that San Antonio has a 3-2 lead in the Finals.

A: But I'll bet a buck two-eighty that the series goes to seven games. The league won't let Miami lose Game 6!

F: The good ol' David Stern conspiracy theory, huh?

A: You betcha. Too much money to be made! They talk about everyone's rings—Jordan has six, Kobe has whatever—but I'll tell you who has the most rings, and keeps getting 'em. Stern and his cash register. That's just one ring after another, billions of rings!

F: And I guess as part of this conspiracy theory the referees will let LeBron James get away with all sorts of stuff?

A: Why not, they always do! He continues to be the all-time flopper.

F: Even after the rather obvious exposure of that tactic during the Indiana series, when he got fined for his part in the amazing double-dive with David West?

A: Absolutely. And don't forget Chris Bosh. And even Dwyane Wade. It's a shared thing. No contact at all, but the arms go flying and they go staggering back. It's like watching professional wrestling.

F: But in his Game 4 masterpiece Wade sure found a way to overcome his aching right knee.

A: And I know where he found it. He must have gotten to whatever “closeout sale” Tony Bosch was having at his clinic.

F: I daresay there are legal things the knee can be treated with. But it seems Wade can't play that way consistently, at least right now. That was one reason the Heat was in trouble against Indiana.

A: And a big reason that series went seven—much to Stern's delight, I'm sure.

F: Well, I don't have the, um, anti-Heat passion you do, but I'm sure rooting for the Spurs. This series has been a revelation for me. I knew about Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, of course, but I had no idea they got such great help from those young guys.

A: Danny Green, Gary Neal and Kawhi Leonard have made huge contributions. The Spurs used to have this image of being "dull," but not anymore. And they play such a great team game.

F: And speaking of role players, I think the Heat has come up with the ultimate in Mike Miller. He's not only a three-point specialist, he seems to be a three-point in the NBA Finals specialist!

A: He shot the lights out last year in the Heat's clinching win, but I sure hope it's a different story this time.

 

BRETT'S REGRETS

F: How'd you like Brett Favre offering an olive branch to the Packers in a couple of recent interviews? He acknowledged that “I was at fault,” at least partly for the bitter split in '08 and said he'd be happy to have his No. 4 retired.

A: That's all nice, I guess. I really don't care what he does or what they do about him. But I did find it interesting that his remarks were in a radio interview in Buffalo, and then on Sirius XM.

F: I think he was in Buffalo for some kind of charity event connected with Jim Kelly.

A: But still, why wouldn't he make those comments to a radio outlet in Green Bay or here? But then, when he was playing he never went to the Wisconsin media to say anything he thought was important.

F: It was always to ESPN or one of the league's TV networks. Like when he was going through his drug thing, the addiction to painkillers, anything he had to say was to the national media. It tells me he thought of himself as a national figure, not someone with any particular connections to Wisconsin except as the location of half his games.

A: At first I was thinking, Buffalo, oh sure, we're just getting buffaloed here. But then I realized I didn't really know what “getting buffaloed” is supposed to mean.

F: Well, let's look it up online...I see three definitions: “1. To intimidate... 2. To deceive, hoodwink... 3. To confuse, bewilder.”

A: Well, I guess I believe Favre enough that I won't say we got buffaloed. Really, I don't much care, except that now I know what the expression means. So thanks, Brett.

 

NO LEFT-HANDED COMPLIMENTS

F: A lot of folks were rooting for your least-favorite golfer to win the U.S. Open, especially on Father's Day. Alas, Lefty led on the back nine but came up short again.

A: I do not get this idolatry for Phil Mickelson! Gasbags on the radio gushing, "Oh, if he could win I'd feel so good because he'd feel so good." Is he the only guy on the PGA Tour with a family?

F: Well, he is the one who skipped the chance for practice rounds last week because he attended his daughter's eighth-grade graduation in Arizona. Then he flew back a few hours before his first round and still shot a 67. Weren't you touched by your favorite golfer's family values?

A: Give me a break! I was listening to an enjoyable segment on the Bob & Brian radio show and had to smile with a sentiment expressed along the lines of “He had to drop everything because his daughter was graduating from eighth grade? You're supposed to graduate from eighth grade.”

F: Um, apparently the daughter had some kind of speaking role.

A: So what? They don't have camcorders in Arizona? I’ve always had the feeling that Mickelson is just a big phony; it's all for show. Besides, I'm sick and tired of family values. I remember when I was in eighth grade, anytime you were getting taken to some place that was “fun for the whole family,” it was sure to stink. Go to the pencil-sharpener museum or watch cheese being made—just great.

 

Frank Clines covered sports for The Milwaukee Journal and the Journal Sentinel. Art Kumbalek is a first-class buddy.