On a list of things the Milwaukee Bucks needed in recent years, a certifiable leader probably doesn’t rank near the top.
Yet, the Bucks’ conspicuous lack of leadership took its toll on and off the court.
Without an assertive leader last season, the Bucks’ locker room was a cesspool. Players didn’t get along with each other. Players didn’t along with the coaches and vice versa.
One longtime NBA employee who witnessed all the shenanigans told me it was the worst locker room he had ever observed.
Is it any wonder why Bucks general manager John Hammond revamped the roster and coaching staff?
The Bucks have 11 new faces on this season’s roster — that’ll be the most by any team this season and only matched in recent years by last season’s Houston Rockets — and an entirely new coaching staff.
What’s more, they now have a leader, a respected one who already has ingratiated himself to virtually everyone.
That’s Caron Butler, whom the Bucks acquired in a trade from the Phoenix Suns last month.
The Racine born and raised Butler has embraced his leadership role and is taking it upon himself to provide direction to what has been a rudderless ship.
“As I told Caron when we brought him in, I’m going to need him to be strong in those (leadership) areas,” Bucks coach Larry Drew said.
Butler has taken Drew’s request to heart. Shortly after joining the Bucks, Butler reached out and contacted his new teammates.
Then, last week, Butler dialed them up again, this time for a night out at a popular downtown Milwaukee restaurant.
“I just wanted to get off to a good start with my teammates,” Butler said. “I think it was a good way to build camaraderie.
“All the guys showed up and we had a great dinner and talked about expectations for the season together on and off the court.
“It was a good session.”
It was also a tad expensive. Often times when a group of athletes congregate for a night out on the town, they’ll throw their respective credit cards into a hat. The person whose credit card is withdrawn winds up picking the tab.
Not this time. The only credit card that made its way on to the table was Butler’s.
Zaza Pachulia appreciated Butler’s gesture, but the Bucks’ veteran backup center appreciated Butler taking the time to organize the event even more.
The gathering gave Pachulia an opportunity to socialize in a relaxed setting with his new teammates, most of whom he didn’t know well.
“First of all, you have to give Caron the credit for making it happen,” Pachulia said. “I was very impressed by what he did. We got to talk about basketball while watching some college football game (Wisconsin vs. Ohio State).
“When you have this many new faces, that’s how you get to know them better, that’s how you get on the same page. Those little things can lead to big things.”
Pachulia, who is entering his 11th pro season, said Butler may have triggered a team ritual.
“Caron was the first one to get us all together,” Pachulia said. “That’s what a leader does; he leads by example.
“He gave me an example to follow; he gave others an example to follow. Now I’m next in line to take everyone out for dinner.
“Like I said, what Caron did was a great example and I’m sure we’ll benefit from it.”