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Sports fans love to reminisce over the days where it all went wrong: the wasted draft pick, the tragic trade or the defecting hero. These may not be, by definition, the worst roster moves ever made, but they were the ones that affected us on a personal level. These are the events that caused -- and still cause -- us to sit on our bar stools and lament the cruel twists of life.
Bucks trade C Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and F Walt Wesley to the L.A. Lakers for C Elmore Smith, G Brian Winters, F Dave Meyers and F Junior Bridgeman
Raised in Brooklyn and schooled in Westwood, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar never quite warmed up to clogging or cheese making in Milwaukee. After six years of powering the Bucks to a 342-150 record and a league championship, Abdul-Jabbar felt he had done his time in the Midwest. He wanted to go to the Knicks or Lakers, and there was nothing the Bucks could do about it.
Andrew D. Bernstein
"Live in Milwaukee? No, I guess you could say I exist in Milwaukee," Abdul-Jabbar said in a early magazine interview. "I am a soldier hired for service and I will perform that service well. Basketball has given me a good life, but this town has nothing to do with my roots. There's no common ground."
It took eight months for the Bucks to find the right deal for Abdul-Jabbar, and in that time both sides reportedly had a gentleman's agreement to keep the trade demand quiet. GM Wayne Embry claims to have tried every course of persuasion with Jabbar, including offering to fire anybody in the front office. But it was a cultural issue with Abdul-Jabbar, a need to be back in a big city.
The Lakers sent a care package of four players who would serve Milwaukee faithfully for a few years -- Smith averaged 13.4 ppg in 1 1/2 seasons with Milwaukee, Winters 16.7 ppg in eight seasons, Meyers 11.2 ppg in four seasons, and Bridgeman 14.4 ppg in nine seasons. But all of them would be retired long before Abdul-Jabbar had finished collecting five more NBA titles and the all-time scoring mark.
June 16, 1975: A Banner Day for Lakers The Los Angeles Times -- December 25, 1987 By Thomas Bonk
In a suite of rooms at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Milwaukee, after a dinner of beef Wellington, red wine and assorted cheeses, the National Basketball Assn.'s most valuable player, the most dominant figure in the game, told his employers he didn't want to work for them anymore.
Twenty-eight-year-old Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said that night he wanted the Milwaukee Bucks to trade him. While the men who ran the Bucks listened in deathly silence, Abdul-Jabbar said he wanted only one thing. He wanted out.
The night of Oct. 3, 1974, marked the beginning of the end of Abdul-Jabbar's association with the Bucks. In the five years he had played in Milwaukee, he had won an NBA title, in 1971, and had taken his team to a seventh game in the NBA finals just six months before that night in October.
Now, those things were no longer enough to keep him happy. ...
... But never before or since has the best big man in the game been traded at the height of his career, going on to lead his new team to four NBA titles, outscore every player who has ever played basketball, play longer than anyone ever has before and outlast every one of the younger players for whom he was traded.
The trade that brought Abdul-Jabbar to the Lakers was unique, complicated, innovative and also essential to the franchises of the Lakers and Bucks. It also changed the lives of the six players involved in what [Lakers owner Jack Kent] Cooke called "that dizzy trade."
It caused one city to look at itself and another one to close its eyes, pinch itself and wonder how it could be so lucky.
F Julius Erving signs with Virginia of the ABA
Imagine this: The Bucks are one season removed from an NBA championship, they have a legend in his twilight (Oscar Robertson) and a supernova about to explode (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), and they draft a rising star (Julius Erving), who would come to re-invent the way basketball is played.
Except that day never came. There would be no Big O-Kareem-Dr. J triumvirate in Milwaukee.
Play in Milwaukee? "It wasn't even a consideration," Erving says. Rick Stewart/Allsport
Even though Erving signed with the Virginia Squires of the rogue ABA after his junior year at UMass in 1971, the Bucks still gambled with the No. 12 pick in the 1972 draft. Gambled and lost. Erving stayed in the ABA, winning two titles and three MVPs with the New Jersey Nets. When Erving did attempt to jump to the NBA, it was with Atlanta ... but the contract was ruled illegal by commissioner Larry O'Brien.
When the ABA merged into the NBA in 1976, Erving was sold to the Philadelphia 76ers, where he played his entire NBA career.
"I didn't know anything about Milwaukee," Erving told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel years later. "I really didn't have anything against Milwaukee. As a matter of fact, [GM] Wayne Embry had followed me from my sophomore year of high school, every basketball camp I went to. ... So when he drafted me, I knew exactly why. But I just didn't know anything about the city, the team. My interest in that time was going to Atlanta, if I was going to go anywhere else other than Virginia, so Milwaukee just kind of got left out in the cold. It wasn't a real consideration."
Ironically, he did play his last NBA game in Milwaukee, with the Sixers losing to the Bucks in Game 6 of the 1987 conference semifinals.
Jeff S., Bethesda, Md.: While the Magic had a great combo with Shaq and Penny, the Bucks could have had a team greater than the Lakers of the '80s. In the early '70s, the Bucks drafted Lew Alcindor and already had Oscar Robertson. But few people remember that the Bucks also drafted a little-known player named Julius Erving. The Big O, Kareem and Dr. J on the same team! Come on, this might have been the greatest team ever. Instead, Dr. J decided to go to the ABA, Kareem won one title with the Bucks, got them to a second Finals appearance, and then demanded to be traded to L.A. Sound a bit familiar, Magic fans?
June 24 1998
Bucks trade F Dirk Nowitzki and G Pat Garrity to Dallas for F Robert Traylor
The Tractor sort of stalled in the Wisconsin cold. Jonathan Daniel /Allsport
Dallas drafted Robert Traylor at No. 6, then turned him into two players by getting Dirk Nowitzki (No. 9) and Pat Garrity (No. 19) from Milwaukee.
They loved the deal at the time. They, being everybody.
The Bucks were mighty impressed with Traylor's weight and performance at pre-draft workouts. The fans were getting a big-name player from big-name program for a European enigma nobody was sure would even sign in the NBA. The media called it "shrewd" and "just what the Bucks needed."
Two years later, they don't love it quite as much.
Nowitzki is a star in Dallas, as is Steve Nash, whom the Mavs acquired for Garrity in a side deal with Phoenix. Garrity, for that matter, is a solid bench player in Orlando.
Traylor is long gone from Milwaukee, traded in a three-way deal that brought Jason Caffey and the ubiquitous Billy Owens to Milwaukee. Despite his pre-draft conditioning and eagerness to sign long-term in Milwaukee, Traylor couldn't control his weight and couldn't find his way in the NBA game. The trade virtually cost coach Chris Ford and GM Bob Weinhauer their jobs, and they were replaced by George Karl and Ernie Grunfeld, respectively, neither of whom saw much use for The Tractor.
Traylor Deal Still Hurts Milwaukee Journal Sentinel -- November 18, 2000 By Tom Enlund
The trade will never go down as one of the more brilliant moves the Milwaukee Bucks have ever made. Only time will tell whether it will be chronicled as one of the all-time worst.
On draft night in 1998, the Bucks traded the rights to Dirk Nowitzki and Pat Garrity to the Dallas Mavericks for the rights to Robert "Tractor" Traylor. Much water has passed under the bridge since then, indicated by the fact that Traylor returned to the Bradley Center Friday night in a black, blue, orange and white Cleveland Cavaliers uniform.
But the memory and the fallout from that trade still linger, especially because Garrity and Nowitzki have established themselves as solid pros and Traylor's career has stalled.
Spencer Thurmond, Marion, Ill.: The move that absolutely kills me is actually a combination of several moves from the draft night in 1998. The Bucks had the No. 9 pick and I knew this was going to be the year that something good was going to happen, and I knew that No. 9 pick was going to help them out tremendously. I was hoping and praying for them to draft Paul Pierce. I didn't think that there was any way that that would happen, because I thought for sure he'd go in the top 5. Well, the night went on and he wasn't in the top 5, then he wasn't sixth, or seventh, and then he wasn't eighth! I was going nuts! I couldn't believe that he dropped all the way to nine.
Then David Stern came to the podium, and uttered the woeful words, "With the ninth overall pick in the 1998 NBA Draft, the Milwaukee Bucks select ... Dirk Nowitzki from Germany." What?!? Dirk Nowitzki? Who the heck is that? We just missed out on one of the biggest draft-day snubs of all-time, I thought. Then later that night, a bright light of hope occurred. A trade. The Bucks traded Nowitzki to the Dallas Mavericks for Robert "Tractor" Traylor. Yes! Finally something good from that night, I thought.
Three years later, I sit here writing this almost in tears at the lost opportunities of that night. Robert Traylor is in Cleveland, the man the Bucks got for him, Chris Gatling, is in Cleveland. Paul Pierce is a star, and Dirk Nowitzki is an up-and-coming All-Star. Ahhhhhh, the ups and downs of the NBA Draft.
At least I'm not a Clippers fan.
June 18 1985
Bucks select F Jerry Reynolds at No. 22
Terry Porter seemed a natural fit for the Bucks. Jim Gund /Allsport
What seemed like an obvious choice to anybody who knows the difference between cheddar and muenster became just another piece of limburger by the Bucks front office. With nothing but a low first-round pick in 1985, long after Patrick Ewing became a Knick, it seemed like a lay-up for the Bucks to choose South Division High School and Wisconsin-Stevens Point alumnus Terry Porter.
But the Bucks missed the bunny again, opting to go with Jerry Reynolds from LSU. Never mind that the Lakers snagged A.C. Green with the next pick, and Portland scooped up Porter after that. Reynolds played three undistinguished seasons in Milwaukee and ended up in Europe after four more with Seattle and Orlando. Porter started at point guard for the San Antonio Spurs this postseason, and Green was a reserve in Miami.
Hard Draft to Forget: Porter Remembers Wanting to Play for Milwaukee Milwaukee Journal Sentinel -- December 31, 1995 By Tom Enlund
It's a tale that's been told many times. It surfaced again last week in Minneapolis when Terry Porter of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Jerry Reynolds of the Milwaukee Bucks stepped on the same basketball court once again.
The sight of the two of them triggered memories of Draft Day 1985, when the Bucks, coached by Don Nelson, were making their picks in the locker room of the Milwaukee Arena and reporters were holed up in a room in the bowels of the building.
Present in the media room was Porter, a local favorite who had just completed an outstanding career at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. ...
... The drama increased as the first round unfolded and Porter's name was not called. Porter's anxiety came to a head when it came time for the Bucks to use their No. 22 pick and he was still available.
The image of Porter in a Bucks uniform was vivid as it came time for the Bucks to pick. But then came the announcement: "The Milwaukee Bucks select Jerry Reynolds of LSU."
Porter was so distraught that he had to leave the room to compose himself. As it turned out, Porter was drafted by Portland and went on to become the starting point guard on the Trail Blazers team that lost in the NBA Finals to Detroit in 1990 and Chicago in 1992. Reynolds played three seasons with the Bucks before being traded to Seattle. He rejoined the Bucks this season when he signed as a free agent after being out of the NBA since the 1991-'92 season.
Recalling the 1985 draft, Porter said, "That baby was 10 years ago. I remember when they called [Reynolds'] name out. I reminded [Bucks coach Mike Dunleavy] of that before a game. He was an assistant with them then. He was like, 'Uh, well, I was rooting for you.' I said, 'You wasn't rooting that hard.' "
Actually, Dunleavy was still a player with the team at that time.
Rick Moon, Milwaukee: As a lifelong Milwaukee Bucks fan, the personnel moves that dog my fandom involve the many quality players that the Bucks drafted and then either traded, or cut outright, before they ever played a game for the team. You could fill half of a pretty good NBA roster with this group: Dirk Nowitzki, Eric Snow, Terry Mills, Voshon Lenard, Pat Garrity, Moochie Norris and the late Bobby Phills. Then there was the infamous 1985 draft, when then coach-GM Don Nelson took Jerry "Ice" Reynolds instead of Terry Porter, who starred at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and wanted to play for the Bucks! Reynolds played a few undistinguished seasons for Milwaukee, and even returned for one year in the mid-'90s. Porter, as any NBA fan knows, was a star on some very good Portland teams and continues to play well. The Bucks' history is not so much one of miscalculations as much as missed opportunities.
June 10 1977
Bucks select Kent Benson at No. 1 overall
Generally, two out of three ain't bad. So many Bucks fans will remind you that two of the franchise's No. 1 overall picks were spent on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Glenn Robinson. A good many, however, will also point out that the third was spent on Indiana big man Kent Benson.
Strangely enough, the Bucks had two other first-rounders that year and did quite well for themselves by taking Marques Johnson at No. 3 and future GM Ernie Grunfeld at No. 11.
So how could they have taken Benson over names like Bernard King, Walter Davis, Norm Nixon and Jack Sikma? Hey, stuff happens. And more often than not, it happens in the Bucks draft (see article below).
The 6-foot-11, 245-pound Benson spent a mere 2 1/2 years in Milwaukee, averaging 9.9 ppg, before the Bucks cashed in on him by trading him to Detroit for Bob Lanier.
An interesting side note: In the season opener of Benson's rookie campaign against the Lakers, former Bucks No. 1 Abdul-Jabbar punched out current Bucks No.1 Benson to draw a $5,000 fine ... and the envy of Bucks fans everywhere.
Add Respert's name to list of draft mistakes Milwaukee Journal Sentinel -- February 22, 1997 By Dale Hofmann
Going back 20 years, you could argue that the Bucks have made no more than six indisputably good draft-day decisions, one of which they canceled the next season. That one would be Scott Skiles, whom Don Nelson stole at No. 22 in 1986 but Del Harris gave away for a second-rounder in 1987.
Conning then-Detroit Pistons coach Dick Vitale into surrendering $50,000 for the right to pick Greg Kelser ahead of Sidney Moncrief in 1979 was Nelson's finest moment. Bucks fans with any kind of memory can't listen to Dickie V pontificate for more than 10 minutes without wondering, "Isn't that the dope who gave Moncrief away?"
Nelson also distinguished himself by landing Alton Lister at No. 21 and Paul Pressey at No. 20, but then he went on a losing streak that extended into the next two administrations with only sporadic exceptions.
He will be remembered most for taking Jerry Reynolds ahead of Terry Porter, who was more than just available. Porter was sitting a few feet from the Bucks' offices on draft day like a kid frantically waving his hand in the air who can't get called on.
Nelson also drafted the under-motivated Kenny Fields and the immobile Randy Breuer, who still ranks as the longest continuing project since the Hoover Dam.
Harris took over for Nelson with a fresh approach and a case of Band-Aids. Determined to patch together a rusting roster, he drafted Terry Mills and traded him for Danny Schayes, who at the time was 31 going on 60.
Mills now has a 12.2-point career scoring average, while the most athletic thing about Schayes is still his wife. Come to think of it, former Olympic diver Wendy Lucero might have been a better choice than Jeff Grayer, whom Harris took at No. 13 two years earlier.