Harris leaves Bucks, won't be offered new contract

The Bucks made the playoffs twice while Larry Harris was GM, but they only won one game in each first-round series. AP Photo/Morry Gash

MILWAUKEE -- With Larry Harris out as general manager of the Milwaukee Bucks, Sen. Herb Kohl now has to prove to the next candidate that he's not a meddling owner.

"I'm not Mark Cuban," Kohl quipped of the Dallas Mavericks' billionaire owner who routinely makes headlines. "I honestly believe that I'm not a meddling type of a manager, whether it be in basketball or whether it was in food stores or department stores or as a senator."

Still, it's a stigma Kohl carries, and Harris asked in advance if his contract would be renewed at the end of June. After discussions with his advisers during the weekend, Kohl decided to let Harris leave immediately.

"My heart and my head were in a different place," Kohl said Wednesday. "My heart certainly wanted to maintain our relationship. ... [But] the needs were such that I believe that we needed to have an outside person with a fresh approach to take a look at our basketball organization to see how we can get better and get back to the playoffs."

Calls to Harris' cell phone went straight to voice mail, with his standard message concluding, "As always, have a wonderful day."

Player personnel director Dave Babcock will handle the day-to-day operations and the bulk of the team's draft preparation while Kohl searches for a replacement. But Kohl dismissed Babcock as a candidate.

"I think we need an outside person who will take a fresh look," Kohl said. "That's my inclination right now."

Potential candidates include TV analyst and former coach Doug Collins, former Sonics GM Rick Sund and Pacers CEO Donnie Walsh, who did not take questions from reporters in Indiana on Wednesday.

Collins declined to comment on his interest in the job, but the Bucks pursued him heavily for the head coaching position before hiring Terry Stotts in 2005.

"Doug Collins is a man of great knowledge and wisdom in this business," Kohl acknowledged before saying it served no real purpose to speculate on candidates. "I'd rather not say anything about anybody except that it's wide open for the best person we can find at the earliest possible date we can find that person."

The move also leaves coach Larry Krystkowiak's future in doubt. Krystkowiak, hired last March, has gone 28-58 in just over a season and Kohl said that his future would be a discussion for after the season.

Kohl was loudly booed in a 112-106 loss to the Miami Heat on Tuesday night, the 18th time Milwaukee lost the lead in the fourth quarter while dropping to 23-44.

They'll likely receive another high lottery pick for the third time in four years after selecting Andrew Bogut with the No. 1 pick in 2005 and Yi Jianlian sixth overall last year.

Harris tried to improve the team midseason by trying to trade for the Knicks' Zach Randolph, but Kohl turned it down after studying Randolph's off-the-court issues. Still, he denied allegations that he kept Harris from doing his job.

"He's had the freedom to do what he's wanted or needed to do. It doesn't mean that any general manager anywhere has total freedom to do anything they want to do," Kohl said. "There has been a minimum of second-guessing, if any."

Harris never made the impact he'd hoped for after being hired as general manager in July 2003. He'd been with the franchise full-time since 1990 when he was the scout-video coordinator under his father, then-coach Del Harris.

But the younger Harris' teams faltered as he went through a stream of coaches from Terry Porter to Stotts before settling on Krystkowiak in March 2007.

Harris' teams made the playoffs in 2004 and 2006, but failed to win more than one game in each first-round series.

His tenure also was marked by injuries and poor contracts for a core of now unmovable players, mostly when he committed more than $200 million to player salaries in 2005.

Harris re-signed Michael Redd to a six-year deal worth $90 million, but also chose to keep Dan Gadzuric for six years and $36 million, while signing Bobby Simmons from the Clippers to a five-year, $47 million deal after Simmons won the NBA's Most Improved Player award.

Simmons wasn't able to stay healthy and has largely been a role player, while Gadzuric has made just 10 starts since signing the contract and averaged less than 13 minutes a game.

Harris has had some success in the draft, but his trades were mostly busts.

Without a first-round pick in 2006, he sent frenetic point guard T.J. Ford to Toronto for power forward Charlie Villanueva, who hasn't been able to stay healthy, either.

That deal came after Harris sent his 2006 first-round pick and Desmond Mason for Jamaal Magloire, a trade that also failed because Magloire never seemed to fit the Bucks' uptempo style.

Milwaukee has struggled to find an identity behind a mishmash of offensive threats and a lack of defense in the physical Eastern Conference.

"What we've not shown is the passion too often this year," Kohl said. "We have good guys and they're talented guys. We have not gotten the job done. That's No. 1."