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Greetings from your SOB Editor! These pages have been silent for almost a year now, but from time to time certain topics arise related to the history of the Bucks that deserve some commentary.
With the Bucks future in Milwaukee secure and the new arena groundbreaking coming up this month, it is a great time to be a Bucks fan. We can now emotionally invest in the team without the existential threat of relocation that hung over the franchise for much of the past decade.
That said, Bucks fans witnessed enough front office dysfunction the past quarter century that it is instructive from time to time to revisit some of the events of the past, to help guide a better path in the future. To that end, this piece will take on two topics. The first is how the Milwaukee Bucks, Herb Kohl and John Hammond were integral in building the NBA champion Golden State Warriors roster. Most in the media aren’t aware of how these two franchises intersected during the 2010-2012 period with personnel moves. We’ll also debunk a bit the recent blurb where former Bucks GM Mike Dunleavy relays how he had a tremendous deal in place to draft Kobe Bryant back in 1996 but was vetoed by owner Herb Kohl.
How the Bucks helped the Warriors grow
A decade ago, when Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks were atop the Western Conference, it was a common theme for NBA announcers to proclaim: “Boy, I bet the Milwaukee Bucks wished they never dealt Dirk Nowitzki to the Mavericks“. The reality of that story is a little more complicated, as the Mavericks made that 1998 draft day trade with the Bucks contingent on Nowitzki being available to them. Dirk had a strong relationship with the Mavericks front office and always was going to be a Maverick. He was never on the Bucks radar nor would he likely have come over from Europe to play for the Bucks.
That said, we haven’t heard much commentary from NBA announcers regarding key trades and decisions made by our Milwaukee Bucks that helped the current Warriors team come together (trade links courtesy of BasketballReference.com) :
|June 22, 2010||Trade|
The Maggette trade was one where the Bucks sought more scoring coming off the “Fear the Deer” year in 2010. John Hammond had previously coached Corey Maggette when with the Clippers and apparently vouched for him. The Bucks agreed to take on Maggette and the 3-years and $30 million still owed in exchange for the expiring contract of Dan Gadzuric and the two-years and $8 million left on Charlie Bell’s deal. When people talk about Hammond “cleaning up the contract mess” of prior GM Larry Harris, they tend to forget trades such as this one, where Hammond took on a lot more money for a dubious player acquisition.
By being able to dump Maggette, the Warriors freed up playing time and shots for their recently drafted second year player, Steph Curry. Culture change began in Golden State. For the Bucks, the Maggette personality and contract would set off a series of two more failed trades to come.
|June 23, 2011||Trade||
As part of a 3-team trade, the Milwaukee Bucks traded Jimmer Fredette and John Salmons to the Sacramento Kings; the Milwaukee Bucks traded Corey Maggette to the Charlotte Bobcats; the Charlotte Bobcats traded Tobias Harris, Stephen Jackson and Shaun Livingston to the Milwaukee Bucks; the Sacramento Kings traded Bismack Biyombo to the Charlotte Bobcats; and the Sacramento Kings traded Beno Udrih to the Milwaukee Bucks.
Media reports before the June, 2011 draft had the Bucks enamored with Klay Thompson. Possessing the 10th overall pick, the team was in prime position to draft Klay and in subsequent interviews even Thompson has acknowledged there was a strong possibility he would have been drafted by the Bucks.
That never happened though because the Bucks felt it important for locker-room chemistry to shed Maggette and the then $20 million still owed on his contract. By entering into the three team deal above, the Bucks dumped Maggette on the then Charlotte Bobcats while acquiring Stephen Jackson to presumably help them “win now” and regain the FTD momentum. The price for dumping Maggette though was giving up the 10th overall draft pick in exchange for the 19th overall. There Hammond salvaged the deal a bit by drafting Tobias Harris. Still the Warriors were able to scoop up Klay Thompson with the 12th overall pick. In addition to the Bucks passing on Klay, how did the Warriors further benefit from the Bucks acquiring Stephen Jackson? Read on!
|March 13, 2012||Trade|
The 2012 trade deadline had been pushed back to March due to the earlier players strike. The Bucks were stumbling along, hurt greatly by the loss of Andrew Bogut for the season to an injury sustained in January. The Bucks had been contemplating dealing Bogut for some time but had never pulled the trigger. As the trade deadline approached, surprisingly the team found out a market did exist for an injured Bogut, and a vibrant market at that. The leader in the clubhouse for the pursuit of Bogut was Golden State. The Warriors needed a defensive big-man and also believed that by trading for the injured Bogut (who wouldn’t play at all that season) they could tank their way to the seventh lottery seeding and thus retain their 2012 first round draft pick that otherwise would have to be sent to Utah. The Warriors had previously dealt that pick away in trade but could keep it should it be in the top seven in the 2012 draft.
We all know that the injured Bogut was dealt, allowing the Warriors to tank, thus keeping their number one draft pick (#7) and using that pick to select Harrison Barnes. That deal provided the Warriors with both Bogut and Barnes. What most people aren’t aware of is that the Bucks and Warriors originally were discussing a deal that would have involved Bogut for Steph Curry along with Kwame Brown’s expiring contract (to make the salaries work under the CBA). The Bucks however had serious concerns about Curry’s bad ankles. In an effort to determine whether Steph’s ankles would hold up, the Warriors put him out on the court in back-to-back games on March 10th and 11th to showcase him for the Bucks. Steph struggled in both games, playing only 16 and then 9 minutes respectively. After that, he was shut down for the balance of the 2012 season.
The Bucks brass had a decision. Do they trade the oft-injured Bogut for Curry, who also up until that time had serious injury issues? Ultimately the Bucks rejected the Curry/Kwame deal based on those injury concerns. According to people close to Herb Kohl at the time, the Bucks did not want to take on another injury prone player, especially one who could not contribute anymore that season. The Bucks wanted more certainty in their return for Bogut.
They also wanted to rid themselves of Stephen Jackson and the two-years and $20 million left on his deal. Even though Jackson had been acquired only 9-months earlier, he had worn out his welcome quickly and some considered him a bad influence on Brandon Jennings. From these underpinnings, the final deal was struck. The Bucks would use their best asset at the time, Andrew Bogut, to dump Jackson and his contract. As a consolation, they’d acquire Monta Ellis and Epke Udoh, two healthy players that would allow the Bucks to continue their pursuit of a playoff berth in the strike shortened 2011-12 season.
Had Kohl been willing to roll the dice on Curry and his health, it is quite likely the reigning NBA MVP would have been a Buck. And had Golden State not shed useful players Monta Ellis and Epke Udoh, they may not have been able to fully tank that season thus retaining the lottery pick they used to select Harrison Barnes. GSW and Utah tied for the 7th seeding and GSW won the coin flip and got to keep their pick. One additional GSW win that season and the pick would have gone to Utah. No Barnes.
After reading the paragraphs above, some Golden State fans and certain media skeptics will be incredulous, claiming that the Warriors never would have traded Steph and the concept of dealing him to the Bucks is/was nonsense. That’s fine and those folks are entitled to their opinion. However your SOB editor was informed of the Curry developments “real-time” by someone close to the organization during that fateful week in March 2012. While all parties will today deny that a Bogut for Curry deal was on the table for the Bucks to decide on, those involved do know how close the Bucks came to acquiring Steph. Remember, the Steph Curry of March 2012 was a promising young player, but also one who had serious injury problems and was nowhere near the MVP Steph Curry we see on the court today. And the Andrew Bogut of that time was a very valuable 12/10/3 defensive anchor who many hoped would return to form coming off his injuries.
Should you choose to disregard the Curry trade information above as made up nonsense, that’s ok. Please do so if you’d like. But even if you removed Curry from the equation, the three trades above were still critical to the Warriors building and developing their championship squad. Unlike the Nowitzki myth, the Bucks really did play a key role in helping the Warriors win one title and perhaps more.
Bogut, Klay, Barnes, cap space, playing time and culture change from the Monta/Maggette/Capt. Jack era of the Warriors were all provided to Golden State courtesy of Milwaukee. Note the Warriors didn’t bother to keep Jackson around for a second act. They quickly moved the one year and $10 million remaining on his deal on to San Antonio for Richard Jefferson (former Buck!) and his two-year contract, while pocketing a number one pick for their troubles. A number one pick they used to select Festus Ezeli. And we haven’t even touched on the issue of current Warriors director of player personnel, Larry Harris, who joined the Warriors front office after being let go by the Bucks in 2008.
So Golden State fans, as you enjoy your second Finals appearance, please send some thank-you cards to Milwaukee!
Did Herb Kohl veto drafting Kobe Bryant?
While Bucks management certainly deserves their share of criticism for the transactions above, Herb Kohl probably doesn’t deserve some of the critiques recently brought by former GM Mike Dunleavy.
Adam McGee with Behind the Buck Pass discusses the Kobe scenario at length here.
The gist of the story is that Dunleavy had a series of trades lined up for the Bucks to trade down from their fourth slot in the 1996 NBA draft, end up with the 8th overall pick, select Bryant there, and then receive some extra draft picks for their trouble. The implication by Dunleavy is that because Bryant never worked out for the Bucks, Kohl wouldn’t allow the team to draft him.
While Bucks fans lament their misfortune here, there are some important points to put into context.
-> In order to draft Bryant, the Bucks would never have been able to draft future hall of famer Ray Allen, as they would have needed to trade the Allen draft pick to drop down to the 8th slot to draft Kobe. So it wasn’t as if the Bucks could have added Kobe to play alongside Ray.
-> At the time of that draft, NBA high school players were still considered very unproven. Ray Allen was a much safer pick and most of the NBA felt that way, as he was selected 5th overall to Kobe’s 13th.
-> During that era, NBA rookies were only allowed to sign three-year contracts, after which they’d become unrestricted free agents. This provision was negotiated in the 1995 Collective Bargaining Agreement in response to Glenn Robinson holding out for a $100 million dollar rookie contract in 1994. How many Bucks fans feel that Kobe Bryant would have re-upped with the Bucks after three seasons like Ray Allen did? Perhaps he might have, but there was a decent chance he would have bolted as a free agent for greener pastures.
-> The final thought on this deal relates to Dunleavy and his skills at draft day dealing. While we are sure Dunleavy pursued these ideas, his actual ability to execute multiple “trade down” deals should be put into question. Dunleavy would have had to have dealt down in the draft twice. From pick 4 to pick 6 and then to pick 8 per his story. Has that ever been pulled off before? That’s a pretty complex set of moves involving multiple teams. We’d like to remind Dunleavy and Bucks fans of his work the year prior.
Draft Day 1995: Mike Dunleavy, operating in the dual role of GM and coach believed that the Bucks had their core in place with future all-star Glenn Robinson and all-star Vin Baker on the roster. All the team needed was better guard play and outside shooting to complete the core. Dunleavy orchestrated a deal with Portland on draft night whereby the Bucks sent their #11 pick and a future #1 pick in exchange for Portland’s #8 pick. The Bucks selected Michigan State guard Shawn Respert.
For a variety of reasons, including Respert’s health, the deal was a massive failure. The question though is why did Dunleavy do it? The original answer was that Respert beat Dunleavy in a game of “Horse” during his workout in Milwaukee. Dunleavy never lost those games and was wowed by Respert’s shooting ability during the workout according to observers at the time.
However another theory was leaked by someone in the organization that Dunleavy made the trade to move up from pick 11 to pick 8 in order to draft point guard Damon Stoudamire. Why wasn’t Stoudamire a Buck? The rumor is that Dunleavy got confused during the fog of draft day and failed to put a contingency on the trade with Portland should Stoudamire not be available at the 8th pick. And he wasn’t, as Stoudamire was drafted #7 by Toronto, just ahead of the Milwaukee. Thus the Bucks were stuck with the Portland deal and forced to take Respert, who wasn’t their primary target.
Either alternative did not reflect well on Dunleavy or the Bucks. Regardless of whether the target was Respert or Stoudamire, it was a emotional decision where an analytical decision making process by Dunleavy was not part of the equation.
So when we hear Dunleavy wax poetic on his Kobe mega-deal, we generally view it as some wishful thinking from afar and not reflective of the facts on the ground at the time. In 1996 the Bucks made a masterful selection of Ray Allen and if there is any real regret, it should relate to the subsequent trade of Allen to Seattle.
While we know revisiting some of these prior deals can be painful, we hope you enjoyed the thoughts expressed. While this site will not be a regular producer of new content, there will from time to time be some commentary as it relates to Bucks history and personnel moves in the hope lessons from the past can provide for better outcomes in the future.
With the NBA draft, free agency and arena groundbreaking all taking place in the next 30-days, we’ll now turn to the future, which appears to be very bright.
Your SOB Editor aka PaulPressey25 on Twitter