Dear Milwaukee Bucks,
I am disappointed in you.
You’ve squandered an enormous opportunity.
As a Wisconsin native, I’ve loved watching your team since I was a young kid. The team has been good, but never great. Some of my favorite players of all-time are Glenn Robinson, Vin Baker, Gary Payton, Sam Cassell, TJ Ford, Michael Redd and Ray Allen.
You’ve only made the Playoffs four times in the last decade and have never made it out of the first round. Although it’s been disappointing, I’ve stayed loyal. A lot of fans have stayed loyal. Wisconsin is one of the most loyal fan bases in America. Probably in the world.
In April of 2014, that loyalty started to pay off for me. Longtime owner Herb Kohl had just sold the team to new owners, who would have a huge opportunity to change the culture of professional basketball in Wisconsin.
To the owners Marc and Wes, don’t get me wrong—I appreciate that you’ve bought my favorite basketball team and have done some amazing things since the purchase. You started things off right by hiring Jason Kidd as head coach. Following the last couple NBA Drafts, I couldn’t have been more excited. In 2013, one of the worst drafts of the last five years, you found one of the true gems in Giannis. Props to your scouts and to you, GM John Hammond. The next year, you took Jabari Parker to be the future of the franchise. Great pick!
After Jabari went down last season, it was a pleasant surprise to make the Playoffs and to give the Bulls a scare in the first round.
The introduction of the new logos, new uniforms, a new floor and an amazing new arena on the horizon had me really pumped for this year’s NBA Draft and the upcoming season. With Giannis locked up through the 2016-2017 season, Jabari Parker on the team potentially through 2017-2018, the next step would be to draft some sweet new players and to put some nice pieces together in free agency.
So, last Thursday, I sat in the stands at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn watching the NBA Draft live for the first time in my life (it also just so happened to be my 30th birthday).
After an amazing run by Bo Ryan and my favorite college team, the Wisconsin Badgers, I couldn’t wait to see where Player of the Year Frank Kaminsky and the other Badger stud Sam Dekker would be picked. I also wanted to see where the Kentucky and Duke players would land.
“Frank the Tank” was selected by the Michael Jordan-owned Hornets with the 9th overall pick and six of the first 13 picks were from Kentucky or Duke. Dekker still remained on the board halfway through the first round and as each player was selected, I hoped that Sam would fall to Milwaukee. After guards were selected by the Suns, Thunder and Hawks, Dekker was still available when it came time for you to pick at No. 17.
In my time as a basketball fan and someone who loves marketing, my thought is, that your job as an organization is to make us, the fans care. The goal seems to be to make us want to watch games, pay attention to the box scores, buy tickets, buys merchandise, watch on games on TV and consume content on your website, among other things. Your job is, according to your high end marketing video for the new arena is to “create energy, excitement and passion across the state” and to “create a spark for a bold new future” and a “transformation spread beyond basketball.”
Well, on Thursday with the 17th overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, you failed.
After doing an amazing job with buzz and marketing and building an awesome on and off-the-court product the last 18 months, you squandered a huge opportunity to take the franchise to a whole new level. You had an opportunity to win the love of your state and your most loyal, die-hard fans. You had an opportunity to draft a homegrown, hometown hero in Sam Dekker, who won the hearts of the entire state on the way to the National Championship game, but you failed.
Instead you selected Rashad Vaughn from UNLV.
Let me be clear: I have no problem with Rashad Vaughn the person or the player. I’m sure he’s a fine human being and could turn out to be a real nice NBA player. But he’s not Sam Dekker.
As a basketball fan and person from Wisconsin, I can honestly say I don’t know much about Vaughn. I looked up some highlights and the draft workout of the kid and he looks good. He looks like a serviceable player with some potential, but he’s not Sam Dekker.
You may have built the arena to “create energy, excitement and passion across the state” but on Thursday, you surely didn’t draft to do those things. Not only did you not draft Dekker, but you didn’t even bring him in for a workout. This is a guy who clearly has what it takes to be a great player. He has solid fundaments after learning from Bo Ryan at Wisconsin, has a ton of character and is a dynamic player that has traits eluding to him becoming a Gordon Hayward and/or Chandler Parsons caliber player in the league.
I understand I’m not an NBA scout or a GM, but in this case, it was less about the scouting of talent and more about the opportunity to keep the excitement going for the state of Wisconsin.
After the Badgers lost the National Championship game, we hoped Dekker would return for his senior season to try to get back to win a title. He declared for the draft and on Thursday you had a chance to make his rookie campaign for your team that senior season we missed out on.
In my time as a Bucks fan, I’ve watched some really bad draft moves over the years with you guys. Here are just a few examples:
1994: You took Glenn Robinson instead of Jason Kidd (Still love you, Big Dog).
1998: You traded Dirk Nowitzki to the Mavs on draft day.
2005: You took Andrew Bogut #1 overall instead of taking Chris Paul.
2007: You took Yi Jianlian instead of Joakim Noah.
2011: With the 10th pick you made a trade instead of taking Klay Thompson, eventual NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, “Manimal” Kenneth Faried, Marquette Alum (and young superstar) Jimmy Butler or even Chandler Parsons.
Those were all tough to swallow, but this Dekker situation stings the most.
Moving forward, I suggest you take some notes from Mark Cuban and the Dallas Mavericks. In the 15 years he’s owned the Mavs, the Bucks have had just one season over 48 wins, while his franchise has managed to win 48 games 13 of the 15 seasons, missing the playoffs just once and winning the 2011 NBA Title.
Why is it you ask? A combination of bringing in awesome players, marketing and getting the fans behind the team.
The Mavs have had Kidd, Nowitzki, Parsons, Vince Carter and several other big name players that were marketable and drew fans into the arena. Since Cuban has become the Mavs owner, I’ve become a big supporter of theMavericks. They’re my second favorite team behind the Bucks. Mostly because they had Kidd, Michael Finley from Wisconsin and Devin Harris, who also starred for the Badgers.
So, as we move forward, I really don’t even care if Vaughn becomes a perennial All-Star. I’ll always wonder what would have been with Dekker in a Bucks uniform.
I live in New York and if you would have taken Dekker, I would have flown to Milwaukee for multiple games this upcoming season. Now, I don’t care if I see one game in person. I still might get to a game if I’m in town, but I won’t seek it out. Passing on Dekker is a major buzz kill for me. It will take something special to make me want to come see a game now. I will remain loyal, but this one stings.
What Dekker could have done for Bucks Nation on and off the court, getting buckets and working in the community would have been enormous.
I had an amazing 30th Birthday last Thursday, but the worst part of my day was your draft selection. It certainly put a damper on the rest of the night. I was bummed and remain bummed. It took the wind out of my sails for the upcoming NBA season.
“Sam I Am” probably won’t get a ton of playing time in Houston, because they are stacked. Right away, he’ll probably be the sixth- or seventh-most popular Houston Rocket, whereas he would have been the second-most popular Buck behind just Jabari and I bet he would have given him a run for his money.
I know when it comes to winning, it isn’t a popularity contest. But when it comes to filling a new arena, selling concessions, merchandise and a fan experience, it comes down to popular players and fan favorites. Winning helps, but you’re not a Championship contender. You’re just a Playoff contender. You might as well put butts in the seats and keep building momentum for the new arena.
Of course you’ll still sell some tickets and some new merchandise and a lot of beer, but we’ll all be wondering what it would have been like to have Dekker’s named called as a starter on opening night in Milwaukee. Dekker would have been a familiar face. He would have given the Bucks some charm, some charisma and a boost in popularity with the people of Milwaukee, Madison and the entire state of Wisconsin, not to mention anyone around the nation who fell in love with that Badger team during their unprecedented NCAA tournament run.
There are a lot of mainstream basketball fans that won’t even know that you had a chance to draft Sam Dekker. These are the same fans who won’t care about the Bucks this year and will not attend a game. But, they’re the same fans that if you did draft Dekker would have heard about it and possibly hit up a Bucks game to check him out.
Dekker and the Badgers captured the nation’s heart during their tournament run. They made everyone believe. You could have done the same.
I am a loyal fan, so I’ll still watch. I’ll still cheer. I’ll still keep hope for the team. But I won’t care as much.
You still have a chance to win me back, to win us back. You know, you can trade for him. I’ll be the first one to buy four game tickets and fly to Milwaukee for a game. I’ll buy a Dekker jersey in the team store and four ice cold beers at the Bradley Center to cheers to the hometown kid. Let’s make it happen.