What if the Bucks Never Traded Marbury for Allen?


Netflix recently added the new Stephon Marbury documentary to their lineup. A Kid From Coney Island gives basketball fans another diversion during the “pandemic season.” It may not be a ten-part documentary, but it’s powerful. It opens the door for the minds of NBA fans everywhere to wonder “what if?” Bucks fans might not remember the butterfly effect that Marbury had on the franchise. In the midst of what is probably the craziest NBA season ever, let’s look back at one of the most insane drafts in NBA history.

The draft

Remember when the Bucks drafted Ray Allen? Oh yeah, that’s right, they didn’t. The Bucks selected Marbury with the 4th overall pick in the 1996 NBA draft. This draft was spectacularly talented. It produced four Hall of Famers, including Allen, in the 2018 class. The fact Charlotte didn’t pick Kobe (finalist for the 2020 HOF class) until number thirteen is probably the craziest part of that draft. Most fans of the twelve teams ahead of Charlotte can’t help but wonder, “what if my team drafted Kobe?” However, for Bucks fans, it may seem more ridiculous to imagine Ray Allen not being traded to Milwaukee.

The Minnesota Timberwolves had their eyes set on Marbury with the 5th overall pick, and the Bucks took advantage. The Bucks drafted Marbury and quickly used him as trade bait. But what if they didn’t trade him? That’s what fans at the time wanted. It may be hard to admit it now, but Bucks fans were not happy with the decision by GM Mike Dunleavy.

The first “what if”

Sure, keeping Marbury and ultimately never having to deal with his painful departure might have been pleasant. And of course, why would we believe a George Karl-Herb Kohl-Marbury relationship would be any better? It probably wouldn’t have been. However, this scenario also means the tension between Marbury and former Timberwolves teammate Kevin Garnett most likely wouldn’t have happened.

Now let’s be real, even if Marbury averaged 35 PPG, Milwaukee still wouldn’t have been able to give him a super-max deal like Minnesota provided Garnett. That contract, at the time, was an NBA-record $126 million extension. Marbury also took it as a direct insult, who felt he deserved a similar sum, even though NBA law held restrictions. This led to Marbury demanding a trade that he insisted be to either the Knicks or the Nets.

Perhaps the Bucks franchise could have paid Marbury more? The logical answer is probably not. The Bucks gave Allen a $70.9 million extension. At the same time, the Timberwolves offered Marbury a six-year extension worth $71 million.

Frustrated Competitor

There is no doubt that Stephon Marbury is a competitor. A street-baller legend with unconditional love for the game could have been enough for the Bucks to keep “Starbury” in town. Milwaukee could have formed a competitive team with Marbury, Glenn Robinson, and the possibility of extending Vin Baker’s time in Milwaukee. Maybe a $71 million contract extension would have been more appealing to Marbury if he had been on a winning team and didn’t feel any sense of disrespect from the front office. And at the time, if that extension was offered before the Timberwolves gave Garnett his record-breaking deal, Marbury might have had a more positive attitude towards his role on the team. His purpose for the Bucks would have been the team leader, the all-star, and the face of the franchise. That was not necessarily offered to him in Minnesota.

The second “what if”

Fans of the game might not be so quick to say a Marbury-Robinson lead team would have been more successful than a Marbury-Garnett lead squad. That’s probably not the team that wins a title. Especially not from the 1996-1998 seasons with the Bulls running through the NBA.

So let’s forget about the Bucks keeping Marbury in the draft. Imagine what it might have been like the second time his name was in the conversation.

After play declined in Minnesota during the ’98-’99 season, Marbury requested a trade. Not only did Marbury not have a stable relationship with Kevin Garnett or the front office, but he also wasn’t a fan of living in Minneapolis. He requested the Wolves trade him to New Jersey or New York and stated that he wouldn’t sign with any other team. Even if that meant a trade to a championship-caliber team in Milwaukee? Yes, he most likely wouldn’t have re-signed. However, I do believe in miracles. And if you’re a fan of Milwaukee sports, then you must believe in them too.


Considering the fact Bucks current PG at the time, Terrell Brandon, was coming off an injury and wasn’t particularly happy with his offer, the Bucks knew they had to make a move. Milwaukee’s GM Bob Weinhauer took a liking to Sam Cassell of the New Jersey Nets. A three-team deal was made 03/11/99 that sent Brandon to Minnesota, Marbury to New Jersey and Cassell to Milwaukee. Everybody received their wish.

Let’s pretend this scenario wasn’t initiated based on a combination of Marbury’s jealousy and Weinhauer seeking Sam Cassell. What if he set his eyes on Marbury? And what if the Timberwolves went ahead and traded him to Milwaukee regardless of his wish to play back home? Maybe that version of Milwaukee’s “big three” era would have been more successful. Does that team beat Allen Iverson and the Sixers? They would have had a shot. Does that team beat Kobe and the Lakers? That’s a tough one, but I’m biased, so yes, they very well could have.

In Marbury’s 172 games with the Nets, he averaged 23.2 PPG and 8.3 APG in 39 MPG. If you put those numbers next to Ray Allen’s career stats with the Bucks, it looks a little better on paper than they do next to Cassell’s. Allen averaged 22.6 PPG while shooting 40% from three in 36.2 MPG. Cassell averaged 18 PPG with 6.7 APG in 33.2 MPG. Marbury, Allen, and Glenn Robinson adding 21.1 PPG in 37.3 MPG would have been a much more significant threat in the Eastern Conference.

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The reality

This was a crazy theory. It’s crazy to think that the Bucks could have financially been able to pull off signing a big three. It’s also zany to believe that the city of Milwaukee may have more to offer than the Twin Cities. Or NYC, for that matter. The chances of this were one in a million. And if it did happen, Milwaukee could have saved Marbury’s NBA career.

Other fans know Wisconsinites fans for their loyalty. Allen has even made comments on Bucks fans’ embracements. Former Bucks PG Brandon Jennings also showed love for the city and was delighted to be back for another short stint with the team during the 2017-18 season.

Respectful and Friendly

Although the city may have its struggles with segregation and racial tensions, the people love their sports. Fans here are usually respectful and friendly towards players and visitors. That is not always the case in New York.

Although he was playing for the Nets, Marbury was thrilled to be back home in NYC. Marbury excelled with New Jersey, but the Nets weren’t winning. This led to an attitude problem and a developing locker room cancer. These issues followed him to Phoenix and eventually back to New York as a member of the Knicks. The Bronx is where Marbury’s NBA career went to die, right in his home city.

The pressure of going back home (again) to play for the home crowd was a heavy weight to carry. Throw in some of the country’s most aggressive media crews, and you’re almost destined to fail. Oh, and you also hate your coach. That is a frightening situation.

It’s more than pleasing to see Stephon Marbury doing as well as he is. He is an absolute legend in Beijing. You love to see a player who enjoys the game finally find peace on the court. Oddly enough, I think he could have found that serenity a lot sooner at the Bradley Center.

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About Mike Konicek

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