Milwaukee Bucks: 3 ‘what ifs’ from Bucks’ early 2000s run

22 May 2001: (Mandatory Credit: Ezra Shaw/Allsport)
22 May 2001: (Mandatory Credit: Ezra Shaw/Allsport) /
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Milwaukee Bucks
CLEVELAND, UNITED STATES: (Photo credit: DAVID MAXWELL/AFP via Getty Images) /

The Anthony Mason saga

Williams never had a chance to redeem his fateful suspension in Game 7. In fact, he never played a game for the Bucks again as he was dealt to the Denver Nuggets as part of a three-team trade a week before the start of the 2001-02 season.

That was all engineered to free up the cap room that was needed to sign veteran free agent Anthony Mason, who the Bucks and Karl especially thought would vault the Bucks over the top after coming up short of the NBA Finals the previous year.

It was quickly apparent that the change of going from the beloved Williams to Mason was like bringing a stick of dynamite into the Bucks’ locker room and hoping it wouldn’t explode.

The 34-year-old didn’t fit systematically with the Bucks as he exemplified the grind it out, back to the basket ways that made him stick in the league earlier in his career with the New York Knicks. And Mason certainly wasn’t afraid to share his opinion on the Bucks wanting to play through him more as Sports Illustrated’s Ian Thomsen included in February of 2002:

"“People say I’m disruptive, but I just tell the truth,” he says. “I can be nice and say, ‘Look, sweetheart, let’s try to get the ball inside.’  Or I can say, ‘Get the f—— ball inside!'”"

The fact that Mason had been far from peak game shape at the time of his signing, which came four days before the start of the 01-02 season, complicated matters and further fractured the team’s chemistry.

Again, in that same interview with The Athletic’s Eric Nehm ($), Karl reflected on how much Mason disrupted the foundation the Bucks previously had, coming in overweight, and believing he was more established than the team’s existing stars.

There were certainly other extenuating factors that influenced the Bucks’ downfall late in the 2001-02 season. But Mason’s presence on the roster certainly didn’t help matters when it came to battling through adversity. Eventually, Mason’s time in Milwaukee ended before the start of the 2003-04 season when the Bucks had to buy out the forward with two years and $9.93 million remaining on his contract.

One can only wonder how the Bucks’ ‘Big 3’ era would have gone differently had the Bucks hung on to Williams and essentially run it back for the 01-02 campaign.