Milwaukee Bucks: Ersan Ilyasova has built a notable legacy

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - DECEMBER 28: (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - DECEMBER 28: (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /

Spanning 15 NBA seasons and three separate stints, Ersan Ilyasova’s time with the Milwaukee Bucks will be remembered for its very many twists and turns.

There just aren’t many basketball journeys quite like the one of Ersan Ilyasova.

When Ilyasova was selected by the Milwaukee Bucks with the 36th overall selection of the 2005 NBA Draft, he stood in the shadow of the Bucks nabbing Australian big man Andrew Bogut with the first pick that year. It also didn’t help that Ilyasova suffered a broken ankle midway through the 2004-05 season with Fenerbahce in Turkey that added plenty of intrigue at a time when international scouting in the NBA wasn’t to the level it is today.

More from Bucks News

But it was the scouting that Bucks director of player personnel Dave Babcock had previously done on Ilyasova that swayed the Bucks to take the Turkish international as he told Charlie Bury of Draft Express back in April of 2006:

"“Well what happened with him is two years ago, almost three years now, I saw him at a junior tournament in Spain, and he was just tremendous. I mean at his age he was the best player in the world in my opinion from what I saw. Later that year he hurts his ankle bad, and so he’s injured for a year and a half. But I tracked him; I kept track of what he was doing. I went to watch him practice even though he wasn’t 100%. And basically you know, that’s why you go out and scout a lot of players just to see them because you never know what happens down the road. When he was available in the second round, and there were other good players available to us, but his talent and our doctors said they thought he could be healthy with good therapy and time, so we took him and so far we’ve been really pleased.”"

Speaking to Kane Pitman in a profile of Ilyasova for last year, Bogut remembered an 18-year-old Ilyasova for being very quiet as he acquitted himself to a completely new country, language and home:

"“We were in the same draft class, he came in with me,” Bogut said.“He was a really, really skinny, baby-faced rookie from Turkey, so he wasn’t overly confident. He was very quiet. He didn’t really speak English that well, but we hung out a fair bit.”"

As we all know, it took plenty of time for Ilyasova to make his mark on the Bucks. Following what was essentially a domestic draft-and-stash year with the Tulsa 66ers in the then-NBA D-League for the 2005-06 season, Ilyasova accrued his first taste of the NBA game the following year with the Bucks by playing limited minutes in what a lost season for the franchise.

After the 2006-07 season and two years with the Bucks, Ilyasova returned back overseas to sign a two-year deal with FC Barcelona where he won a Liga ACB championship and improved his sturdy game in the process. As he later told Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in July of 2012, testing himself in Europe in developing into a starter for Barcelona was everything he envisioned at the time:

"“That’s why I went back to Europe, just to get stronger and develop myself as a player,” Ilyasova said. “I think it’s worked out really well for me. I spent two years in Barcelona. I think all the decisions I’ve made so far have really worked out well for me.”"

Ilyasova’s path led him back to Milwaukee in the summer of 2009 as the Bucks, who held his Early Bird rights after he left for Spain, signed him to a three-year, $7 million deal.

Even as the Bucks’ long-term foundation still remained muddled at the end of the aughts and going into the 2010s, save for the “Fear The Deer” run during the 2009-10 season, Ilyasova’s second stint with the Bucks is where he found his footing in the NBA for good.

The steady combination of Ilyasova’s floor spacing, nose for the ball on the offensive glass and endless charge-taking ability helped him enjoy a breakout campaign in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, a year in which he finished second for that season’s NBA Most Improved Player voting behind fellow stretch-4 Ryan Anderson of the Orlando Magic.

A five-year, $40 million deal followed in the summer of 2012 and while Ilyasova’s solid game didn’t shine greater on mediocre Bucks teams, he still remained a valuable presence all the same.

Eventually, the Bucks bridged a new era, embarking on an unforeseen rebuild as they endured through a 15-win season in 2013-14, the worst campaign in franchise history. Ilyasova eventually took a backseat as young, promising forwards such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Jabari Parker came into the fold and led to his exit in June of 2015 when he was traded to the Detroit Pistons in a salary dump move to free up cap space for free agency.

The well-traveled Ilyasova never found a permanent home over the following few seasons having bounced around between the Pistons, the Orlando Magic, the Philadelphia 76ers, Atlanta Hawks and the 76ers again. At the same time, the Bucks’ hope for the future was mired by many growing and injury pains and serious question marks to get to a more prosperous future.

As fate would have it, all roads led Ilyasova back to Milwaukee a third time on the opening minute of free agency back on July 1, 2018 where the Bucks signed him to a three-year, $21 million deal and marked the first signing in the Bucks’ roster retooling under general manager Jon Horst and new head coach Mike Budenholzer.

The familiarity of Milwaukee, the organization and playing for Budenholzer made the return to his home base very appealing as Ilyasova told Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in October of 2018:

"“I consider Milwaukee my home because my NBA career started here and I spent eight years,” said Ilyasova, whose family kept up residence in the city even after he moved on. “A lot of good (memories), bad memories also. To be back to this point is huge for me.”"

In many ways, Ilyasova’s stints with the Bucks have mirrored the franchise’s trajectory over that same time span, reaching the point to where the team now stands as the championship contender it is today. The 12-year NBA veteran’s role and contributions have largely lurked in the background this time around, especially behind Antetokounmpo’s MVP-level production, but he has helped fortify the Bucks’ depth throughout the two-year run with his reliable and ageless game.

As questions start to swirl over what the Bucks will choose to do with his non-guaranteed $7 million salary for next season, Ilyasova’s on again-off again stays in Milwaukee have been the basis for him surviving the in the NBA for as long as he has throughout his many stops all around the world.

Next. Giannis Antetokounmpo: Will MVP still be awarded if season is canceled?. dark

Whatever the future holds for Ilyasova over the coming months as the 2019-20 season remains paused for now, he’s proven on more than one occasion that you can return home again.