It was a season of change for the Milwaukee Bucks, who rebuilt their team with athleticism and an improved defensive mindset while remaining a factor in the wide-open Eastern Conference.
The Milwaukee Bucks said goodbye to two of the top scoring players in their history, and still finished 42-40 and in the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons.
Long defined by the high-scoring duo of Ray Allen and Glenn Robinson, the Milwaukee Bucks began the transformation on August 2, sending Robinson to Atlanta in exchange for Toni Kukoc and a #1 pick in the 2003 Draft. In Robinson, the Milwaukee Bucks bid adieu to the second leading scorer in team history after eight seasons and 12,010 points.
Picking up some of that scoring slack was third-year swingman Michael Redd. The team averted disaster in October when they matched Redd’s offer sheet from the Dallas Mavericks. Redd, following a breakout season a year ago, distinguished himself as one of the league’s top sixth men. On March 30, his 250th career trey qualified him third on the NBA’s all-time three-point percentage leaders (.438). He was at his best in clutch situations, shooting 54.5 percent in the fourth quarter.
The new-look Milwaukee Bucks improved their athleticism via the draft, adding Marcus Haislip in the first round and Dan Gadzuric in the second round. Gadzuric, from UCLA became the first rookie since Ray Allen to start for the Milwaukee Bucks on opening day and the first rookie ever to start an opening game for George Karl.
Despite the revamped roster, the Milwaukee Bucks trudged through the beginning of the season with a 14-20 record before surging above.500 with a 13-3 stretch from Jan. 10-Feb. 14. Though they enjoyed a degree of success, the Milwaukee Bucks felt they still needed to make a move to improve the team’s defense. No one expected that that move would involve Allen, a three-time All-Star, who was dealt on Feb. 20 with two other players and a first-round draft pick in exchange for nine-time All-Star Gary Payton and swingman Desmond Mason.
The team’s new nucleus of Mason (14.8 ppg), Payton (19.6), Kukoc (11.6), Redd (15.1) and holdovers Sam Cassell (19.7 ppg) and Tim Thomas (13.3 ppg) stumbled to a 7-12 mark in their first 19 games, but closed the season with eight wins in their final nine games to make the playoffs. The Milwaukee Bucks postseason hopes were derailed by a New Jersey team that prevailed four games to two en route to the NBA Finals.
Cassell, who had a team-high 1,536 points and 450 assists, became the 249th player in NBA history to score 10,000 points on Feb. 21. Earlier in the season, on Dec. 9, he recorded the first triple-double of his career in his 602nd career game.
Karl continued to build his coaching legacy, finishing at or above .500 for the 12th consecutive season and becoming the 14th coach in NBA history to win 700 games, a milestone achieved on March 22 with a win over New Orleans. On the final day of the regular season, he passed John MacLeod for 13th on the all-time win list with his 708th NBA win.