(We’re counting down the best 20 Bucks since 1991 over the next few weeks. It’s something to do with the lockout sucking the life out of NBA fans. We begin with Toni Kukoc, a Jeremy favorite.)
Toni Kukoc came to the Milwaukee Bucks at a very appropriate time.
His glory days and prime were both past him, and though the team wasn’t ready to admit it, Milwaukee brief run as a threat in the Eastern Conference was in the past as well. After a late season collapse a year before that left them out of the playoffs, the Bucks decided it was time for a shake-up. The Big Three would be no more. The organization hoped if it ridded itself of Glenn Robinson (the only scapegoat they could get rid of at the time), Tim Thomas would blossom into the star small forward Milwaukee was paying him to be. So out went Robinson and in came Toni Kukoc, the perfect forward to backup the team’s new star.
Kukoc outlasted Thomas as a Buck by two seasons. As a Bucks fan, you know that this is how big contracts work out for the Bucks.
You also know Kukoc was a blast.
So even with the organization beginning their downward spiral that would nauseate the city’s basketball fans for the next seven years, there was a reason to head to the Bradley Center and catch the occasional game. At least for me there was.
His run as a Buck, four seasons spanning from 2002-03 to 2005-06, wasn’t anything all that special to the average person I’m sure. But I bet they enjoyed watching him more than they realized. He’s forgettable after the fact, but anyone watching a game with Kukoc in it will smile at more than a few things he does on the court. Kukoc gave Milwaukee something the team often lacked before he arrived and rarely have had since he’s left. He gave them some flash and creativity on the wing.
While Kukoc was largely athletically incompetent by the time he arrived, his court sense kept him hanging around. And who doesn’t love watching the slow, unathletic guy make crazy passes and hit threes every now and then? His court sense kept him valuable. Kukoc always made the extra pass and occasionally made the highlight reel pass. Even when his play began to fall off in his last two seasons as a Buck, Kukoc still managed to assist on 20% of baskets scored while he was on the court.
And it wasn’t so much that Kukoc was imposing himself on the game to make his presence felt, it was as if he lurked in the shadows on the court, touching the ball rarely, but it seemed there always was a purpose. Maybe he took some ill-advised threes, but I’ll fight to the death saying they were for the sake of momentum. He didn’t stand around dribbling or attack the basket with no plan in mind. He was a purposeful basketball player. We all saw how awful it was to watch a bunch of players playing without a sense of each other, or a purpose on the court last season. Kukoc was the opposite of everything bad about last season.
I’m probably glamorizing a role player much more than I should, but that’s what happens when I start talking about Toni Kukoc. He was fun and slick and caught the eye of anyone watching without them even noticing. How many other Bucks could I have said that about over the past 20 years?
Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. Follow him on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.