No. 1 Sam Cassell
After arriving via a three-team trade with the New Jersey Nets and the Minnesota Timberwolves to Milwaukee late in the 1999 season, Sam Cassell immediately became the spark the Bucks were desperately looking for in making a return to the playoffs.
The Bucks went through a seven-year drought of not making the playoffs from 1991-1998. They appeared in the postseason in 1998-1999 but were eliminated from the playoffs by the Indiana Pacers. The Bucks needed a guard that provided scoring, which is exactly what Cassell brought to the table.
He played in only four games for the Bucks when he first arrived, but in his first full season with the team, he added a massive lift. He contributed an 18.6 points per game average and added nine assists a contest on the campaign, leading the Bucks to the playoffs once again. However, their season ended in the same fashion as the previous year, losing to the Indiana Pacers in the opening round of the postseason.
Yet, in the 2000-2001 season, the Milwaukee Bucks were finally able to put together a substantial run in the postseason. Cassell provided another solid stat line of 18.2 points and 7.6 assists per game. He was seen as the distributor on a team that featured two 22-point-per-game scorers in Glenn Robinson and Ray Allen. The Bucks put together a 52-30 regular season and finished first in the Central Division en route to making their third consecutive playoff appearance.
Milwaukee looked to be getting over the playoff hump, as they marched through the first round by beating the Orlando Magic in five games, then defeating the Charlotte Hornets in a hard-fought seven-game series. With their first Conference Finals appearance since 1985-1986, the Bucks found themselves in a unique situation as they squared up with an Allen Iverson-led Philadelphia 76ers team.
Despite making the Conference Finals, their season would come to an end after losing in seven games to the Sixers. Cassell put together a stat line of 17.4 points per game and 6.7 assists per game during the 2001 playoffs. Milwaukee would miss the playoffs the next year, despite Cassell averaging 19.7 points per game, which at the time was a career-best for him. In his final year with Milwaukee in the 2002-2003 season, Cassell mirrored his performance from the prior year with a 19.7 points per game average and took the Bucks back to the playoffs for the fourth time in five years. They ran into a strong New Jersey Nets team and were knocked out of the playoffs in six games in the 2003 playoffs.
Cassell would eventually get traded to Minnesota, but his time with the Milwaukee Bucks saw both team and individual success. He strung together an average of 19 points per game, 7.2 assists per game, and four rebounds per game in his five years with the team. Although he never won a title with the team, Cassell should be remembered for being at the forefront of bringing successful basketball back to the Bucks and reigniting the standard of playoff basketball in Milwaukee.
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