The 3 biggest “What Ifs” in Milwaukee Bucks’ franchise history

MILWAUKEE, WI - APRIL 02 (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WI - APRIL 02 (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /
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The history of the Milwaukee Bucks is marked by several crucial junctures that, if altered, could have redefined the team’s journey.

These significant “what if” scenarios invite us to ponder the potential alternate paths the franchise might have taken. Ranging from moments of untapped potential to unexpected turns of events, this examination highlights three of the most prominent crossroads that hold the power to rewrite the Bucks’ story. In revisiting these instances, we gain valuable insights into how the interplay of chance and decision-making can profoundly influence the realm of professional sports.

What if the Milwaukee Bucks never traded Dirk Nowitzki?

Did you know that Dirk Nowitzki, the legendary basketball player, wasn’t initially drafted by the Dallas Mavericks? Surprising as it may be, Dirk was originally chosen by the Milwaukee Bucks but was swiftly traded to the Mavericks on draft day in exchange for Robert Traylor. In case Robert Traylor isn’t a familiar name, it’s because his professional career left little impact.

Traylor struggled to average more than 5.5 points per game throughout his brief time in the league, eventually exiting the NBA after just seven seasons. This leads us to a compelling question: What if the Bucks had held onto Dirk and not traded him to the Mavs? Let’s delve into this intriguing scenario.

Contemplating the Bucks’ prospective trajectory during the 1998-99 draft, they possessed a young yet promising roster. Having acquired Ray Allen two years prior and with the emergence of Glenn Robinson, the team was on the cusp of a breakthrough season. Imagine adding Dirk Nowitzki to this core instead of Robert Traylor, whom they traded away after two uneventful years. The ramifications could have been substantial.

If we envision the selection of Dirk, it’s plausible that the Bucks would have retained the 19th overall pick they traded away. For the sake of discussion, let’s assume they chose Pat Garrity, the player actually taken at that position. Acknowledging that both Garrity and Nowitzki struggled in their rookie year, it’s unlikely they would have immediately transformed the Bucks’ fortunes.

Nevertheless, incremental improvement would have been expected. In the truncated season, the Bucks closed with a 28-22 record, securing the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. Their playoff journey, however, concluded in the first round at the hands of the eventual Eastern Conference champions, the Indiana Pacers.

Although the presence of Dirk and Garrity could have fortified the Bucks against the Pacers, it’s doubtful they could have overcome a Reggie Miller-led squad. In the subsequent 1999-00 season, the Bucks acquired veteran point guard Sam Cassell, only to once again be defeated by the Pacers, this time in a decisive Game 5, during the 2000 NBA playoffs.

As the seasons progressed, Milwaukee’s youthful talents blossomed into stars, propelling the Bucks to the Eastern Conference Finals in the subsequent year, where they narrowly fell to Allen Iverson and the 76ers after a grueling seven-game series. Notably, they were only a single game away from the NBA Finals. With Dirk in the lineup, they might have confronted the formidable Kobe-Shaq Lakers for the championship.

A third-year Nowitzki, averaging 21.9 points and 9.2 rebounds per game while shooting 47.4 percent, would undeniably have been a formidable force in such a crucial series. While it’s improbable that the Bucks would have dethroned the Lakers’ dominant duo, their presence in the Finals could have reshaped the league’s landscape significantly.

Envision a scenario where the Bucks possessed two future Hall-of-Famers—Ray Allen and Dirk Nowitzki— in their prime, standing on the cusp of stardom. The potential for this team seemed limitless. Had this young core remained intact, it’s plausible that the Bucks might have graced the NBA Finals once more and potentially captured a championship.

In retrospect, parting ways with Nowitzki in favor of Traylor emerges as a monumental misstep for the Bucks. When considering these potential outcomes, it becomes evident that the decision to acquire Traylor instead of Nowitzki stands as one of the franchise’s most regrettable blunders. The prospect of having two future Hall of Famers simultaneously could have reshaped their history and even led to championship triumphs had Dirk’s path been different.