Milwaukee Bucks: Imagining a documentary on the early 2000s Bucks

PHILADELPHIA, : Glen Robinson (R) and Sam Cassell (L) of the Milwaukee Bucks rest on the bench during their game against the Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA Eastern Conference finals game seven 03 June 2001 at the First Union Center in Philadelphia. AFP PHOTO/Jeff HAYNES (Photo credit should read JEFF HAYNES/AFP via Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, : Glen Robinson (R) and Sam Cassell (L) of the Milwaukee Bucks rest on the bench during their game against the Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA Eastern Conference finals game seven 03 June 2001 at the First Union Center in Philadelphia. AFP PHOTO/Jeff HAYNES (Photo credit should read JEFF HAYNES/AFP via Getty Images) /
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Milwaukee Bucks
MILWAUKEE, UNITED STATES: 01 June 2001 (Photo credit: JEFF HAYNES/AFP via Getty Images) /

Fallout

The Bucks’ ‘Big 3’ of Allen, Cassell and Robinson would be no more in the summertime. Karl made sure of that.

In the aftermath of the the Bucks missing out on the playoffs, Karl told reporters that it was on him to make better use of the roster he’ll have the following year than he had in 01-02 as the Associated Press relayed in April of 2002:

"“We had a great core of basketball players that didn’t fit this year, and that’s my fault,″ Karl said. “This summer’s going to be an important summer for us to get better. “It’s not my job to demand we change the face of this team,″ Karl said. “It’s my job to take whatever is there on Oct. 1 of next season and put it together better than I did this year.″"

As much as Karl publicly said that he would leave it to owner Herb Kohl and general manager Ernie Grunfeld to improve their roster or address the big questions, his actions indeed spoke louder than his words. Sam Smith reported in July of 2002 for the Chicago Tribune that Karl had been pushing hard for Robinson to be dealt during the 01-02 season:

"“But Robinson grew comfortable with Kohl, and though Kohl is not considered a meddling owner, he has resisted team management’s efforts to trade Robinson. Coach George Karl pushed hard for it last season, though a trade now seems less likely with Robinson’s value further diminished.”"

When Robinson was arrested for domestic battery, assault, and illegal possession of a firearm in late July 21, 2002, that all but put the cap on Robinson’s eight-year stint in Milwaukee. Nearly two weeks later, the two-time All-Star forward was dealt to the Atlanta Hawks for Toni Kukoc, Leon Smith and a 2003 first-round pick, the selection that later became T.J. Ford.

Following his exit, Robinson and Allen exchanged plenty of words between one another through the press as Robinson pushed back on comments Allen made following his trade to Atlanta and then some:

"“I have no respect for him,” Robinson said in the Journal-Sentinel. “If this was a street game, I’d be going upside his head when I see him. But this is the NBA. “Don’t forget, I raised him in this league,” Robinson added. “He was my rookie when he came in the league. Now, all of a sudden, how is he going to bite the hand that fed him? That’s a coward move.”"

Eventually, Robinson wasn’t the only Bucks player to be caught under Karl’s crosshairs over the following months.

The rejuvenation and fresh start Karl and the Bucks were seeking for the 02-03 season never came. Milwaukee continued to tread water, or in this case .500, as they failed to ever flash the same kind of promise that set the stage for their Conference Finals run in 2001.

It was on the day of the 2003 NBA trade deadline where the Bucks changed the entire landscape of the franchise forever as they traded Allen, along with Kevin Ollie and Ronald ‘Flip’ Murray to the Seattle SuperSonics in exchange for point guard Gary Payton and Desmond Mason.

As it turns out, Karl and Allen’s relationship had become incredibly frosty and practically non-existent during the Bucks’ downfall the previous season. Along with that, Allen’s relationship with Kohl had been a source of tension between the star guard, team owner and Karl.

All these years later, Karl remarked on why he felt trading Allen was necessary from his vantage point in a recent interview with The Athletic’s Eric Nehm ($):

"“In general, I thought Ray Allen was so unhappy with me and the situation that it was going to be difficult – someone had to go, me or him, someone. And I think one time I told him, ‘Ray, what are we doing right now?’ And then when the trade presented Gary (Payton) and Desmond Mason, I was looking at how we were playing and I’m saying, ‘I think I can make this better.’  And I think we did. I don’t know. I haven’t looked back on that.”"

Meanwhile, Allen told Gary D’Amato of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel back in April of 2018 that he hasn’t spoken to Karl since the day of the trade:

"“I don’t feel the need to say anything to him,” he said. “It was clear that he didn’t like me. He did what he did to move me on. I can’t waste time or energy on people who don’t like me.”"

Kohl later called the trading of Allen his ‘most unfortunate moment’ in his 29 years as Bucks owner in an April 2016 interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

If the Bucks were looking for an end to the locker room drama and unhappiness that consumed them over the last two seasons, Payton didn’t serve as the solution, given that he had been involved in a bitter contract dispute with Seattle, which paved the way for his exit from the franchise. Payton didn’t relent on his demands for a new contract and his unhappiness transferred over into Milwaukee for the final two months of the season.

After going 42-40 and bowing out of the first round against the New Jersey Nets in the 2003 NBA Playoffs, the teardown continued into that offseason. After the Bucks drafted Ford with the eighth overall pick on June 26, 2003, the Bucks promptly sent Cassell and Johnson to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for Joe Smith and Anthony Peeler the following day.

Just like that, the Big 3 would be no more. Two days after trading Cassell, the Bucks freed Grunfeld from his contract that paved the way for him to take the same position with the Washington Wizards soon thereafter.

Finally, with no one else to blame or point the finger at, Karl fell on his sword as he was fired on July 20, 2003, wiping the slate completely clean and making that trip to the Conference Finals two years earlier seem like a distant memory.