In the lobby of the Bucks' practice facility in St. Francis,
Wis., is an amazingly lifelike statue of an elderly security
guard. The uniformed figure, wearing eyeglasses, a hearing aid
and a name tag reading ART, sits cross-legged staring at the
glass doors. "One night we were here working late and we decided
to order a pizza," Milwaukee's new coach, George Karl, says with
a laugh. "Next thing you know we hear all this pounding and
screaming. It's the delivery guy outside hollering at old Art to
let him in!"
Karl knows the frustration of knocking on the door only to be
left out in the cold. As coach of the Sonics for the past seven
years, he won 55 or more games six times but reached the Finals
only once, in 1996, when Seattle lost to the Bulls in six games.
Now he's trying to revive a franchise that hasn't reached the
postseason in seven years.
The good news for Karl is that he has a talented core in guards
Ray Allen and Terrell Brandon, and forwards Tyrone Hill and Glenn
(Big Dog) Robinson. Yes, that same nucleus went 36-46 a year ago,
costing Chris Ford the coaching job, but injuries--not lack of
ability--were the main culprit. Brandon, Hill and Robinson each
missed at least 25 games.
With all his key players now in good health, Karl hopes to
remake the Bucks into a trapping, rotating unit reminiscent of
his Sonics teams. He's even enlisted Robinson, an explosive
scorer who occasionally plays defense with all the vigor of a
certain security guard, to join the team-oriented approach. Says
Big Dog: "In one week with George I've already gotten more
credit for my D than I have in my whole career."
Offensively Karl wants the Bucks to play faster, using ball
movement and cutting as opposed to the isolation game. Look for
Brandon, a clever point guard who can score from anywhere, and
Allen, an emerging star at shooting guard, to carry more of the
load, especially since each is in the last year of his contract.
"Because of the injuries, we relied on [Glenn] too much last
year," Brandon says. "We don't want to put too much pressure on
any one guy."
Karl concedes that the up-tempo style could make depth a concern
for the Bucks. To bolster their bench, they signed 34-year-old
free-agent guard Dell Curry, a career 40.0% three-point shooter,
and 32-year-old Vinny Del Negro. Milwaukee also has high hopes
for 6'8", 289-pound Robert (Tractor) Traylor, a first-round
draft pick out of Michigan, whom Karl already calls "the best
rookie I've ever coached."
Karl needs a year or two to find guys who can play his style of
ball-pressure defense, but he believes that with a little luck,
the Bucks can become the Sonics of the East. "Can we win a
conference championship in four years?" he says. "I don't think
it's out of the question." Given his record, only a dummy would
Starters PVR* 1997-98 Key Stats
SF Glenn Robinson 51 23.4 ppg 5.5 rpg 1.23 spg 47.0 FG%
PF Tyrone Hill 110 10.0 ppg 10.7 rpg 1.18 spg 49.8 FG%
C Ervin Johnson 122 8.0 ppg 8.5 rpg 1.95 bpg 53.7 FG%
SG Ray Allen 41 19.5 ppg 4.3 apg 1.35 spg 36.4 3FG%
PG Terrell Brandon 44 16.8 ppg 7.7 apg 2.22 spg 46.4 FG%
Top Reserves Bench Ranking (out of 29 teams): 11
G-F Dell Curry[+] 181 9.4 ppg 1.9 rpg 44.7 FG% 42.1 3FG%
F-C Robert Traylor(R)[+] 214 16.2 ppg 10.1 rpg 1.35 bpg 57.9 FG%
G Elliot Perry 230 7.3 ppg 2.8 apg 1.11 spg 43.0 FG%
1997-98 Record: 36-46 (seventh in Central)
Coach: George Karl (first season with Bucks)
[+]New acquisition (R) Rookie (1997-98 statistics at Michigan)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 68)