Milwaukee Bucks: Stephon Marbury changed Bucks’ fortunes not once, but twice

BEIJING, CHINA - NOVEMBER 26: Head coach Stephon Marbury of Beijing Begcl reacts during 2019/2020 CBA League - Beijing Begcl v Beijing Ducks at Beijing Olympic Sports Center on November 26, 2019 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Fred Lee/Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - NOVEMBER 26: Head coach Stephon Marbury of Beijing Begcl reacts during 2019/2020 CBA League - Beijing Begcl v Beijing Ducks at Beijing Olympic Sports Center on November 26, 2019 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Fred Lee/Getty Images) /

Stephon Marbury and the Milwaukee Bucks will forever be linked with one another as a result of not one, but two trades that changed the Bucks’ trajectory in the early 2000s.

Stephon Marbury strolled on to the stage, donned his draft hat and walked up to shake NBA commissioner David Stern’s hand in front of the flashing lights and cameras. For a brief moment in time, Marbury was a member of the Milwaukee Bucks.

The 1996 NBA Draft, regarded as one of the best classes ever in the history of the NBA, changed the course of franchises all across the league. That would be true of both Marbury and the Bucks, even without the Brooklyn native ever donning a Bucks uniform.

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After Marbury was selected fourth overall by the Bucks, the Minnesota Timberwolves tabbed sharpshooting Connecticut 2-guard Ray Allen with the fifth pick.

The two players were forever linked together when the Bucks and the Wolves negotiated a draft night trade that swapped Allen and Marbury and also saw the Bucks net Andrew Lang and a future first round pick that later became Rasho Nesterovic.

Allen went on to be a core player for the Bucks moving forward, but Milwaukee’s move to trade Marbury for Allen wasn’t received well on draft night as Michael Hunt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wrote in July 2012:

"“But, oh, they had problems with him here when the Bucks drafted Stephon Marbury in the first round in 1996 and then traded him for Allen. Bucks fans booed. Allen cried.”"

It wouldn’t be the first time that Marbury directly helped the Bucks net a building block to their run to the 2001 Eastern Conference Finals and ‘Big 3’ era.

During the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season, Marbury’s time with the Timberwolves had become incredibly fractured. Kevin Garnett‘s groundbreaking six-year, $126 million rookie extension had been a major point of contention that spurred on the labor dispute and disrupted that season.

Count Marbury among the many players that took issue with Garnett’s controversial extension, especially when it came time for his own extension negotiations as ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan disclosed in a profile on the soon-to-be Hall of Famer in November 2015:

"“In 1997, Garnett signed a historic $126 million contract, which helped lead to an NBA lockout and restrictions on player salaries the following season. When it became Marbury’s turn for a new deal, he was limited to a $71 million payday. Marbury’s camp viewed it as an injustice, one Marbury couldn’t reconcile.”"

The Bucks, meanwhile, had veteran guard Terrell Brandon leading the point, but the 28-year-old was also in a contract year himself. Milwaukee had signed a six-year, $70 million extension with Allen at the start of that season, a deal that the third-year guard orchestrated between himself, his legal team, and Bucks owner Herb Kohl.

The Bucks had entertained discussions about an extension for Brandon during his injury-shortened 1997-98 campaign, but as Peter Vescey of the New York Post reported in February 1999, the offer was far from Brandon’s liking:

"“First off, Brandon welcomes free agency at season’s end and is counting on getting paid as much (starting at $11M) as NBA law allows. Having recently extended Ray Allen for the max, the Bucks aren’t about to make that salary stretch for Brandon. In fact, sources say, they haven’t so much as made him an offer since last season and Terrell considered it an insult.”"

With the threat of losing Brandon for nothing before he sought his big free agency payday, Bucks general manager Bob Weinhauer set his sights on another oft-injured, journeyman point guard in Sam Cassell, then of the New Jersey Nets. Talks of a deal had been long gestating before the reconfigured 1999 NBA trade deadline in March and Brandon didn’t fault the Bucks for examining their options as he told Fred Kerber of the New York Post:

"“The Bucks have to protect themselves in case I don’t re-sign,” said Brandon, who sat out last night with bruised ribs and a left thigh contusion. “Until George [coach Karl] or Bob [GM Weinhauer] tell me I’m traded, I’m a Milwaukee Buck. And I’ve got to know the situation if something did happen. I’ve got to know the situation with Kerry Kittles and Keith Van Horn. Those are two considerations.”"

Eventually, discussions of a deal went beyond just the Bucks and the Nets and as Marbury upped the ante on his trade demand, through the help of agent David Falk, and became embroiled in a feud with Minnesota general manager and Hall of Famer, Kevin McHale.

After many machinations, Marbury and Brandon got their wishes. A three-team, nine-player trade between the Bucks, the Nets and the Wolves was made official on March 11, 1999 that sent Marbury to New Jersey, Brandon to Minnesota and Cassell to Milwaukee. In another deadline deal, the Bucks acquired Tim Thomas and Scott Williams from the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for Tyrone Hill and Jerald Honeycutt.

When asked about the motivations to deal Brandon and Hill and disrupt a good start to the season, Karl said he wanted players who were committed to the team as the Baltimore Sun relayed in March of 1999:

"“I have no idea if it was the right move or the wrong move,” Milwaukee coach George Karl said. “I think we made a basketball decision based on people basically wanting to be in Milwaukee. I don’t think you can be successful building a team without committed athletes.“Terrell and Tyrone were fantastic on the court, but their disharmony and whatever you want to call their professionalism around the court, I thought, was distracting,” Karl added.“Maybe I’m overreacting, but I don’t think I am. I think we let too many players blackmail us in this league.”"

The rest, as they say, is history. Cassell went on to experience a mid-career rejuvenation in Milwaukee and formed the Bucks’ ‘Big 3’ with Allen and forward Glenn Robinson. Brandon’s durability would eventually sink his stint with the Timberwolves and force him to retire in 2004, two years after his last season in the NBA.

Marbury, meanwhile, enjoyed a high-profile and highly tumultuous NBA career and eventually traveled overseas to receive the career and personal rebirth he needed playing in China where he now coaches after his retirement in 2018.

Next. The 2nd-year anniversary of Mike Budenholzer’s hiring. dark

It’s not very often where you see one player who never played for an NBA team, as in the case of Marbury and the Bucks, affect a franchise’s trajectory quite so much. The fact that it happened twice between Marbury and the Bucks is quite the memorable twist of fate.