Bucks fans have more to be thankful for this November than we've had in almost a decade. And with an 8-3 record and a rapidly rising rookie sensation who is the envy of angry Knicks fans everywhere, there seems more on the plate this season than even in The Big Three days of plenty.
The 2009 Bucks offering sure beats the Thanksgiving when Glenn "Big Dog" Robinson and coach George Karl came down with a nasty case of the flu whilst carving up Turkeys and dishing out goodies to a gathering of gratefully infectious kids in the city.
That was nine years ago this month, the 2000-01 season. The Bucks had stumbled out of the blocks 3-9, thanks in part to the Big Dog and the coach passing the flu bug on to the rest of the team. Dog was so sick Thanksgiving week that he missed loss eight at home against the Hornets and loss nine in Washington. Karl, who was just as sick as the Dog, yanked the team co-captainships from the Dog and Ray Allen and pinned the "C" on center Ervin Johnson's jersey.
Michael Redd should remember the drama, difficult as it is to figure what Redd processes from experience. Redd was on the 2000-01 active roster but was a rookie, butt firmly planted at the end of Karl's bench all season, with the exception of six garbage time stints totalling 35 mins.
Ray Allen, idiosyncra-shooter that he is, doesn't forget anything. He was no big pal of the Big Dog despite their years playing together. The Big Dog and the clown prince of basketball, Sam "I Am" Cassell, however, were tight, and the 2000-01 Bucks were their team, not Ray's. Added to this uneasy, Cassell-controlled peace was coach Karl's public animosity toward Ray, which explains why, to this day, Ray doesn't say anything about Karl that doesn't come through clenched teeth.
Tim Thomas (Dallas Mavs reserve) certainly remembers — he was The Big Three's fourth wheel, and had to defend himself a time or two from the Big Dog's locker room ire. Timmy was coach George's favorite.
Rafer Alston, New York City playground legend, was in his second year serving as Sam I Am's back-up and apprentice. Whatever Rafer remembers from those years, it's gone a long way (400 starts and counting) in the NBA. Rafer started and won 12 playoff games with the Magic last season before the return of Jameer and the fall to the Lakers in the Finals. These days, he's serving time in New Jersey (0-13) having been traded (with others) for Vince Carter. Hey, it's good work if you can find it.
Lindsey Hunter, the 3-point "specialist" off the bench who for some reason couldn't shoot well in his single season as a Buck, is still in the NBA, too. Hunter is now 39 years old and occupying a spot on Vinnie Del Negro's Bulls bench. (Yes, Del Negro was on a couple of those Big Three Bucks teams, too). Hunter's as much an assistant coach as anything else at this point, but the fact that he's still on an active NBA roster is pretty dam impressive. I just wish he had shot better in 2000-01. The following year he started 47 games on the Lakers last Kobe-Shaq championship team (2002); and in 2004, Hunter logged 20+ mins a game off the bench in the Pistons' championship run.
Joel Przybilla (yes, that's how you spell it!), one half of the twin towers of Portland. Przybilla was also rookie on that Bucks team, the Bucks having traded their first round pick in the 2000 draft, 7-footer Jason Collier, and their 2001 first-round pick to Houston for the rights to Przy. Collier's been out of the league since 2005 while Przy found a home in Portland after being traded to Atlanta in 2004 as part of the Tim Thomas-Keith Van Horn trade (hindsight is not kind to ex-GM Larry Harris
And let's not forget Jason Keema Hart, the third rookie on the Bucks 15-man 2001 roster. The Bucks had Charlotte's 2nd round pick in 2000 thanks to the Dale Ellis trade, and Hart logged 10 mins and scored two points that season, and he too is still on an active NBA roster. Hart for almost all of his career has been a bench player in the West, and was on a Spurs 2003 championship team. This season, he's got a chair on the T-Wolves bench.
That makes seven guys still in the NBA who were there, witnesses to the dark, doghouse days in the Bucks locker rooms, November 2000. When I started this entry, I had no idea that many guys were still around. How many from the current Bucks team will still be in the League 9 years from now? Brandon Jennings and Luc Mbah a Moute, might be among the NBA's veteran elite by then. Jodie Meeks might still be around. Ersan, Warrick and Bogut? Hard to guess — they'd all be in their late 30s by then. But seven? No chance of that, no matter what their current record is.
Back to that 3-9 start nine years ago, suffice it to say that Ray got over his All-Star, Olympic gold medalist self long enough to remember that the Bucks were Sam and Dog's team, the Dog dug down and started hitting the glass like never before, Scott Williams got rolling to give the Bucks a badly-needed gamer at power forward — and before long the Bucks were 23-15, on their way to a 52-30 record. They were, overall, the best team in the NBA the rest of the regular season, including sweeps of the Shaq-Kobe Lakers and the Duncan-Robinson Spurs. Truth be told, the Big Three Bucks delighted in making a mockery of the Spurs. Trouble was, Larry Brown and Allen Iverson's Sixers were the toughest test, and they were waiting for the Bucks on the road to the 2001 Finals.
After falling a Game 5 eight-footer in Philly short of the NBA Finals, the Bucks acquired tough *** Anthony Mason in the offseason and started the 2001-02 season 26-13 before the injuries and animosities caught up with them. As hard as it was to believe, it was even more difficult to watch: The Bucks had gone 75-34 in the regular season and 10-8 in the playoffs since the lousy start in 2000, but floundered to 15-28 — and missed the playoffs.
In 2005, Andrew Bogut's rookie year, the Bucks started 15-9, then 17-11, giving Bucks fans plenty to cheer about through the Holidays. But then Scott Skiles' Baby Bulls and Lebron's Cavs put them in their place. Quicker than Bucks fans could say "Central Division cellar", our Bucks only won 24 games the rest of the way and got creamed in the first round of the playoffs by the Pistons.
I bring all this up not to spike the nog for anybody about the Bucks current 8-3 record, which, as exciting as it is, has been achieved at the expense of the Knicks, Nets, a Warriors team less united than that mythical street gang of the same name from Coney Island, and a couple of perennial lottery bums from the West. The Bucks are exciting, and Brandon Jennings has given us hope for the future, kind of like John Connor in Terminator or Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings. (As stupid as those analogies sound, I'm leavin 'em in. And no, I haven't been drinking.)
With Jennings, Andrew Bogut, Luc Mbah a Moute, Ersan Ilyasova and Charlie Bell under contract through 2012, we can even begin to see beyond the Michael Redd contract. A direction has emerged. Now all GM John Hammond has to do is earn the trust of the fans, no small order.
Let's enjoy Brandon Jennings rookie year, win or lose — and there will be many losses to come, probably about 40 of them. This week alone brings a couple of tough challenges: Tim Duncan, Richard Jefferson, Tony Parker and the Spurs (no Ginobilli tonight); then the Chris Paul–David West Hornets, trying to rebound from their rough start. Hey, it'll be good to see RJ again, and let's hope Mbah a Moute is healthy enough to get in the game and guard him (no such luck).
UPDATE: Michael Redd is backing up Charlie Bell tonight at shooting guard. Unfortunately, when Skiles went to a Redd-Luke Ridnour lineup, the Bucks gave up the lead and dug themselves a ten-point deficit in the 2nd quarter. Weirdly enough, Redd missed not only the two shots he took but also five of the six free throws he took. He's too good of a free throw shooter for that, which makes me wonder what sort of a statement Redd is trying to send to coach Skiles. If I were Skiles, I'd bench him the rest of the game, probably even send him home to Milwaukee.
As I write this, Jennings and Bell are back in the game, working with Hak Warrick and Kurt Thomas to cut into the Spurs lead. … it's down to ten. No, nine, Delfino's found his 3-point range tonight.
This Thanksgiving, I am truly less concerned about the Bucks won-loss record than I've ever been as a Bucks fan, and I'm thankful for that. There is much to look forward to on this Bucks team, much to enjoy, and a number of players and a coach who SHOULD be around long enough to someday reward Bucks fans for our renewed interest.
By the way, if you haven't yet spiked the nog at your domicile, what are you waiting for?