MILWAUKEE — In the world of professional sports, communicating and stroking egos is arguably the most important attribute of being a coach or manager.
Larry Drew knows that all too well. He’s been around pro basketball for nearly three decades as a player and coach and has mastered the art of building relationships.
Drew demonstrated that essential quality early and often during a press conference Monday morning at the BMO Bradley Center in downtown Milwaukee where he was formally introduced as the 13th head coach in Milwaukee Bucks history.
From the beginning until the end of his 41-minute press conference, Drew complimented virtually everyone under the sun, especially the man who made this all possible for him: Bucks owner Herb Kohl.
With Kohl sitting in the first row beside Drew’s wife, Sharon, and two of their sons, Landon and Lindsey, Drew gave Kohl one compliment after another. “I heard so many great things (about you),” Drew said to Kohl. “You’re a brilliant basketball mind. You know how this game is played and how it should be played.”
Drew also heaped generous helpings of praise on John Hammond, the Bucks general manager, who targeted Drew as a Bucks coaching candidate and pushed hard for him to get the job.
And Drew gushed about several Bucks players, most notably young center Larry Sanders and young power forward John Henson, who, after receiving a call from Hammond, cut away from his workout regimen in Florida to attend the press conference.
Henson has known Drew for about four years or since his freshman season at the University of North Carolina where he was a teammate of Drew’s son, Larry II.
“I want to acknowledge John Henson, who changed some plans to be here for my press conference,” said Drew, who then joked, “So you get on the coach’s good side right away.”
Drew prompted a few more chuckles just minutes later when Sharon’s cellphone went off. “That’s a fine,” Drew said to his wife, who was once a cheerleader at the University of Washington. “That will be a fine.”
Besides saying complimentary things about Henson, Sanders and another frontcourt player, Ersan Ilyasova, Drew even had nice things to say about the Bucks’ dysfunctional backcourt, which may be on the brink of being dismantled.
Starting shooting guard Monte Ellis has an opt-out clause in his contract and has told associates he’s bolting Milwaukee. Ellis’ backup, J.J. Redick, is an unrestricted free agent and appears destined for another city, also.
Brandon Jennings, the Bucks’ starting point guard, is a restricted free agent. And while the Bucks can match any offer by another team for Jennings, they may not want to retain him, especially after Jennings said he “wasn’t sure” he wanted to remain with the team after its last playoff game against Miami.
Drew is cognizant of the uncertainty surrounding the Bucks, who nevertheless are counting on him to perform the same magic act as he did in Atlanta, where the Hawks went to the playoffs three straight seasons with him at the reins.
But Drew may be asked to do more than coach the Bucks: He may be enlisted as their No. 1 sales person during free agency in July.
That’s because several of Drew’s former players with the Hawks would be welcome additions to the Bucks. Four Hawks — Josh Smith, Devin Harris, Kyle Korver and Zaza Pachulia — are all unrestricted free agents.
Smith, an exceptionally talented but inconsistent performer, is the gem of the group and will generate considerable interest once free agency begins July 1.
The other three Hawks are quality players and would, at the very least, fit into the Bucks’ rotation.
Drew, by all accounts, has a great rapport with each of them. When I spoke to Korver late in the regular season, he raved about playing for Drew. When I spoke to Harris over the telephone about a week ago, he did the same.
It was clear these guys enjoyed playing for the 55-year-old Drew, who is about as humble as any pro head coach you’ll come across.
When I asked Drew about the possibility of him “lobbying” for any of the Hawks, Drew said he, Hammond and Kohl will meet perhaps as soon as today and discuss player personnel matters in depth and in a “systematic” way. Drew said he won’t be bashful about attempting to transform some of those Hawks into Bucks.
“We’re going to sit down here as a staff and we’re going to talk about some of these players,” Drew said.
“We want to bring in people who can help us.
“I’m going to throw my two cents in about everybody. I had the opportunity to coach those guys. I know those guys and they know me. I thought they did a really nice job for me.
“If those names do come up, why not open it up for discussion?”
As Drew and I wrapped up our conversation, Kohl walked over and, for those within earshot, proclaimed Drew’s press conference a smashing success. Said Kohl: “Larry, you hit a home run.”
And, if he can shore up the Bucks’ roster with a couple of his talented former players, he’ll hit a grand slam.
Gery Woelfel is a sports reporter for The Journal Times. Gery can be reached by calling (262) 631-1713 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org