There is no doubt the future of the Milwaukee Bucks looks as strong as it’s ever been. Flashback 20 years ago to the 1996-1997 season and there was also excitement over a young Bucks team featuring some young, up and coming talent after a stretch of lean years in the Cream City. In arguably the most talented draft class in NBA history featuring Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash the 1996 Draft also helped steer the immediate fortunes of the Bucks. The Bucks selected point guard Stephon Marbury out of Georgia Tech with the 4th overall pick, but quickly traded him to the Minnesota Timberwolves for guard Ray Allen out of Connecticut who was drafted 5th Overall by Minnesota. At first there was hesitation amongst the Bucks fan base as Marbury was a charismatic, flashy point guard the franchise really never had but once Bucks fans got to see what kind of player they were getting in Ray Allen it brought high hopes to the fledgling franchise.
Milwaukee Bucks head coach Chris Ford (via NY Times): “Sometimes when deals are made, you have to wait for the completion of everything, and this is only the beginning. We feel that it’s going to make us a winning team next year. If you want pieces that are going to look good and not have results, that’s one thing. But we’re trying to put together a team that will win.”
Allen joined the first overall pick from 3 years prior in Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson and up and coming big man Vin Baker. While the depth around Allen, Robinson and Baker isn’t nearly as deep as what Jabari Parker, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton have today it sure was an upgrade in comparison to what had been a brutal stretch of Bucks basketball in the 90’s.
Coming off of 12 straight playoff appearances which ended after a First Round Sweep at the hands of the Philadelphia 76ers in 1991 and a rough start to the 1991-1992 season which cost Del Harris his job as Head Coach, the Bucks glory days were coming to a crashing halt. After interim Head Coach Frank Hamblen led the Bucks to a 31-51 record, the 1992-1993 season ushered in the hiring of Mike Dunleavy Sr. as Head Coach and Vice President of Basketball Operations. This started the beginning of a disastrous run of Bucks basketball. Starting with the implementation of a new logo and adding the color Purple into the Bucks color scheme was just the start on the journey down the wrong path. Dunleavy would make a series of questionable personnel moves and was fired after a 25-57 1995-1996 season. Dunleavy’s tenure concluded with an overall record of 107-221. While Dunleavy did leave behind some young talent in Robinson, Baker and first round pick Shawn Respert (who would turn out to be a bust) for the most part, the roster was a dumpster fire.
Having not had a winning season or playoff appearance since 1990-1991 the pressure was on new Head Coach Chris Ford to turn around the Bucks. Ford, an NBA Champion as a player with the Boston Celtics in 1981, led the Celtics as Head Coach from 1990-1995 where he compiled a 235-204 record with 4 playoff appearances out of 5 seasons (13-16 in playoffs). In 1996-1997 Ford, most of the time, rolled out a starting roster consisting of Baker, Robinson and Ray Allen along with journeyman Center Andrew Lang and veteran nomad point guard Sherman “The General” Douglas. The top bench contributions came in the form of Armen Gilliam, Elliot Perry and Johnny Newman (you’ll most likely have to Google each of those names). The team broke out to a 15-11 mark to start the season only to have it unravel away, finishing 8-22 and ending up with a record of 33-49. The silver lining in it was that they finished with 7 more wins than the previous season and things seemed to be on the up and up.
The main bright spot of the season would be the fact it marked the beginning of the stellar career of Ray Allen. With Michael Jordan leading the charge in Chicago, the Bucks had to hope to start to build for the future as Jordan’s time was beginning to wind down, and Allen was a perfect franchise player for Milwaukee to build around. At the ripe age of 21 Ray Allen jumped into the starting lineup for 81 of 82 games for the Bucks during his rookie campaign and did not disappoint. In his first game ever he was matched up against the #1 pick in the 96′ Draft, Allen Iverson, and dropped 13 points on the way to a Bucks victory over the 76ers. For the season Allen posted 13.4 PPG/4 RPG/2.6 APG while shooting 39.3 3P% an impressive number line for a Rookie on his way to earning 2nd Team All-Rookie Team Honors. Along with a solid stat line Allen provided the Milwaukee faithful with numerous highlight reel plays such as this:
The tandem of Allen and Robinson was displaying it could lead to something special even if it meant swimming upstream for a few season as the Bulls dynasty reigned and the pieces around Allen and Robinson began to formulate. However, Cream City faithful know how this story would end as ego’s ruined a promising long career for Allen in Milwaukee and he would go onto win titles in Boston and Miami while the Bucks fan base continues to yearn for its first Title since 1971.
Enjoy what the Bucks have now and keep the faith, for once the Bucks’ young talent might stick around for a while.