Tony Cartagena covers Wisconsin Sports for ESPN Wisconsin
Those are the players the Milwaukee Bucks received in exchange for Ray Allen, and others, in the NBA’s blockbuster trade of 2003.
Despite being reunited with head coach George Karl, Payton was in the final year of his contract and bolted Milwaukee for Los Angeles at season’s end. Allen – who was already an all-star three times in six years at the time of the trade – went on to be one of the league’s all-time greatest shooters, won two championships and is considered to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
The average Milwaukee fan cannot pick Mason out of a crowd nor do they remember the underwhelming career he had for the Bucks.
Ronald “Flip” Murray, Kevin Ollie and a first-round pick were also sent to Seattle. Quite the haul for very little in return.
Seriously, how does this trade happen? What maniac on the ESPN Trade Machine conjured up this lop-sided deal?
Just two years prior, Karl was coaching Milwaukee’s ‘Big Three’ of Allen, Sam Cassell and Glenn Robinson in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Finals. Now they’re blowing up their roster? It just didn’t make logical sense.
Over a decade later, Jason Wilde – who traveled back and forth from Philadelphia covering Karl’s team in the 2001 Eastern Conference Finals – tried to make sense of it all with a little revisionist history on ESPN Wisconsin’s ‘Wilde & Tausch.’
“If I had to look back on it I think we probably shouldn’t have gotten rid of Ray Allen,” Karl said during an appearance on the show. “We had the great run the one year when we made it to the Eastern Conference Finals, a jump-shot away from making it to the NBA Finals, and the next year we signed Anthony Mason to a free agent contract hoping that would be the piece that would catapult us to a championship team. Maybe to the point to where we could get through the conference and into The Finals. That was probably the piece that didn’t fit. The piece that didn’t work. You always think there is one more piece needed, you think when you get an all-star type player that it’s going to work. That switch just didn’t work. That not working created the domino effect of other things not working.”
The late Mason averaged just 8.5 points and 7.2 rebounds per game during his two-year stint in Milwaukee. He’ll forever be remembered for his unusual form at the free throw line.
“Ray Allen and I got along, I think, in a very good way and at a very good level for the majority of the beginning of our career,” Karl added. “All the stuff, when it started to unravel, I made my mistakes, I think other people made some mistakes, and there is a conflict that I think in the end, (General Manager) Ernie Grunfeld, (Owner) Senator (Herb) Kohl and the management above felt that making a change would be the best way to go.
“Not only did (Allen) go, but I faded out pretty quick too.”
Layman’s terms: Karl and Allen’s honeymoon phase ended when the team failed to mirror the success they had in 2001. In hindsight, trading Allen away was a mistake and the team was forced to look in an entirely new direction.
From August of 2002, until shortly after the 2003 NBA Draft, Robinson, Allen, Cassell and Karl were all out of the 414 area code. Oh, what could have been?
Karl’s recollection was refuted by Steve “The Homer” True, ESPN Wisconsin’s afternoon drive-time radio host.
“I can tell you the truth,” Homer said during his weekly appearance on Wilde and Tausch, immediately following Karl. “Truth is (Karl) thought that Ray Allen was trying to get him fired. Or that Ray Allen was working against George and Ray was close with Senator Kohl. George was so worried and disliked Ray Allen that his nickname for him was ‘Judas.’
“That’s why Ray Allen got traded. When the head coach privately refers to Ray Allen as ‘Judas’ then you are no longer shocked when that player gets traded.”
In 2009, Allen called the end of his career in Milwaukee “abrupt,” saying “ultimately, I think it was the whole George Karl relationship. We started butting heads and it ended up not working.”
Maybe the cliché ‘all good things come to an end’ phrase is realistic, but, there is no hiding the fact that when Karl and Allen clicked, the Bucks were good. They were on the verge of building a successful dynasty in one of the league’s smallest markets.
Forcing the 76ers to the brink in the Conference Finals wasn’t even Karl’s fondest memory of the 2001 run. That came in Game 6 of the second round when the Bucks traveled to Charlotte trailing the series three-games-to-two.
Allen scored 23. Cassell and Robinson led the way with 33 and 29 respectively. Milwaukee forced a Game 7. Karl says he remembers being down by 20 points in that game. Officially it was a 10-point deficit at halftime.
“That team played better than they were more often than any team I ever coached,” he said. “It was not a tremendously skilled and talented team but we knew how to win a game.
“I’ve been blessed to go to the conference finals in Seattle. I’ve been blessed to be in the conference finals in Milwaukee and the conference finals in Denver. The city that was most energized and was most connected to the team was Milwaukee. It was just fun.
“It was fun coming to the games. They had two-hour block parties. The fans were juiced and that building was incredible.”
Listen to the full interview with George Karl here.