We all know hindsight is 20/20. We also know how good Dirk Nowitzki was during his 21-year career in the NBA. The Milwaukee Bucks drafted Nowitzki, then an unknown commodity from Germany, back in 1988. The Bucks immediately shipped him off in what turned out to be one of the more lopsided deals in NBA history. That isn’t the only deal that turned out to be catastrophic for the Bucks.
The 1998 NBA draft
The Milwaukee Bucks had two picks in the top 19 of the 1998 NBA draft. The Bucks had both the ninth and the 19th pick in a draft that was considered pretty deep. The Milwaukee Bucks, with that ninth pick, selected European 7-footer Dirk Nowitzki, who was a relatively unknown player, but drew comparisons to Larry Bird.
Nowitzki never played a minute for the Bucks, who traded him that night in a three-team deal. The Bucks traded Nowitzki and Pat Garrity, their No. 19 selection, to the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for Robert ‘Tractor’ Traylor, a burly 6-foot-8, 280-pound forward out of Michigan. The Mavericks then traded Garrity to Phoenix for backup point guard Steve Nash.
As bad as the deal seems today, folks in Milwaukee were gushing over the deal back then. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel had this review, “(Traylor) can score in the low post. He can rebound. He can defend. Don’t tell me about his weight. There is a lot less of Robert Traylor than there used to be. Tell me about his athleticism and his explosiveness, large doses of both for a package of this size.”
Traylor averaged 4.5 points and 3.2 rebounds per game in two years with Milwaukee. He bounced around the league, playing with four different teams. In 2011, Traylor died of a heart attack.
The Milwaukee Bucks trade Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1975
Even worse than trading Dirk Nowitzki was dealing center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1975. The Bucks, however, can’t be completely at fault because the center who turned into the NBA’s all-time leading scorer had asked out of Milwaukee with one year left on his contract.
“I had only one year left on my contract and I told them I really wasn’t interested in signing up again,” Abdul-Jabbar told the LA Times back in 1987. “I wanted to leave Milwaukee. If they would trade me, it would be the best thing for everybody.”
Abdul-Jabbar made it perfectly clear it was nothing personal with the city of Milwaukee or the Bucks organization. He just needed a culture change. The Bucks shipped Jabbar and Walt Wesley to the Lakers for center Elmore Smith, guard Brian Winters, forward Dave Meyers, and forward-guard Junior Bridgeman
“I don’t have any family or friends here,” Abdul-Jabbar told reporters at the time. “The things I relate to don’t happen to be in this city to any meaningful degree. Culturally, what I’m about and what Milwaukee is about are two different things. The reason I haven’t commented on this before is I don’t want to take a knock at Milwaukee or the people here and have them think they’re unworthy of me. That’s not what it’s all about.”
The Bucks struck gold in 2013
As bad as those two trades by the Milwaukee Bucks were, the team redeemed itself a bit in 2013, but it didn’t come in the form of a trade. The Bucks, as they did in 1998, selected an unknown overseas player who just so happened to win the Most Valuable Player Award last season.
Giannis Antetokounmpo was taken by the Milwaukee Bucks with the 15th overall pick and this time they smartly kept their European selection. Antetokounmpo has certainly proven to be the steal of that draft class as he won the MVP last season and was the frontrunner this season when the league shut down on March 11.
ESPN graded the pick like this: “Give the Bucks credit: They aren’t afraid to take a chance. It may be several years before we know whether the Bucks wasted their pick or struck gold with Antetokounmpo. While he is a skilled, athletic point forward, he has the body of Kevin Durant and very little experience playing against other talented players. Also, he’s expected to come to the NBA now, meaning that the Bucks will spend millions of dollars for a player who is likely to play in the D-League for a couple of years. But could the investment be worth it down the road? Yes.”