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“A big mistake” — George Karl singled out the player that prompted the Milwaukee Bucks to trade Ray Allen

George Karl said trading Ray Allen in 2003 was a mistake, as the Bucks' real problem was a player they traded for in 2001.
Ray Allen

Ray Allen

There are a lot of things we remember about Ray Allen’s career. Of course, most of us will never forget that corner three-pointer in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals. Some would relish Allen’s historic championship run with the Boston Celtics, while those who are a bit more old school recall how lethal of a scorer he was with the Seattle Supersonics. But some may not know, before all those mentioned above, Allen was the marquee player of the Milwaukee Bucks.

What. A. Run.

In the 2000/01 season, Allen hit his stride with the Bucks and empathically led Milwaukee to the Eastern Conference Finals. Allen finished the season with a 22/5/5 average and helped the Bucks win 52 games, wrapping up the campaign as the second-best team in the East. Ultimately, it was an incredible run by the Bucks. 

However, Allen Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers ended Ray-Ray’s chances of making it to the NBA Finals for the first time by beating the Bucks in their controversial seven-game series.

One deal ended it all

Eager to bounce back next season, then-Milwaukee head coach George Karl and the Bucks organization decided to pull off a bold trade in the summer of 2001. Coming off his All-Star season with the Miami Heat, the late Anthony Mason seemed a perfect fit for the Bucks. And that’s what Karl and the rest of the front office also thought.

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However, as the 2001/02 season played out, Karl reckoned that the Mason they signed was far from the All-Star player he once was. Aside from underperforming, Mason, according to Karl, also had an attitude problem. In an interview with The Athletic in 2020, Karl admitted, “the Anthony Mason mistake was a big mistake.

Karl said Mason’s addition was a mess. He wasn’t coachable and he didn’t see most of his teammates eye-to-eye, including Allen. Soon, the team’s issues with Mason affected the Bucks’ performance. From winning 52 games, Milwaukee didn’t make the playoffs in 2002 after finishing the season with a 41-41 record.

The drama had also seen Allen and Karl’s relationship fracture. The following season, the Bucks finally pulled the plug and approved the multi-player trade that saw Allen joining the Sonics in exchange for Desmond Mason and an aging Gary Payton.

Reflecting on the subject, Karl said they shouldn’t have traded Allen.

If I had to look back on it I think we probably shouldn’t have gotten rid of Ray Allen,” Karl said in 2017 via ESPN. “We had the great run the one year when we made it to the Eastern Conference Finals, a jump-shot away from making it to the NBA Finals, and the next year we signed Anthony Mason to a free agent contract hoping that would be the piece that would catapult us to a championship team…That was probably the piece that didn’t fit. The piece that didn’t work. You always think there is one more piece needed…That switch just didn’t work. That not working created the domino effect of other things not working.

Indeed, trading a prime Allen was a tough call to make. Having heard Karl’s revelations, it leaves some of us thinking, what if the Bucks never signed Mason? We can only imagine.

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