52 years of Bucks basketball has been played, and in that time many great (and not so great) players have spent time in Milwaukee. In this series, we will spotlight the players who played a part in the story that is Milwaukee Bucks basketball. In this edition, we look at the career of one of the best point guards to play with the Bucks: Sam Cassell.
Sam Cassell in College
Sam Cassell played his college ball at Florida State University. As a freshman in 1991, Cassell was an immediate contributor, averaging 18.4 points per game. He was slightly better in the NCAA Tournament that year, averaging 20 points per game and taking his team to the Sweet 16.
Cassell had another good season his sophomore year, averaging 18.3 points per game. However, he made a name for himself that year in the NCAA Tournament. On March 20, 1993, Cassell led FSU to victory over Tulane with 31 points, five rebounds, and five assists. What was so astounding about this performance was that Sam was a perfect 7/7 from behind the arc. FSU would eventually fall in the Elite Eight, and Sam Cassell was on his way to the NBA.
Cassell Prior to Milwaukee
Of all the teams Sam Cassell played for during his 14-year NBA career, he spent the most time with the Bucks. However, prior to coming to Milwaukee, Cassell had a pretty successful career with three different teams.
Cassell was drafted with the 24th overall pick by the Houston Rockets in 1993. Cassell spent the first three seasons of his career with the Rockets, winning back-to-back NBA Championships in his first two years. In his third season, Cassell increased his production from the bench and averaged 14.5 points, up from 9.5 the previous season. That season, 1995-96, was the first of twelve straight seasons in which Cassell would average more than 10 points per game.
One Season, Three Teams
The 1996-1997 season would see Cassell play for three teams and be traded for future Hall of Fame players. Prior to the season, the Rockets shipped Cassell and other players to the Phoenix Suns for Charles Barkley. In 22 games (nine starts) with the Suns, Sam averaged 14.8 points. In December of ’96, Sam, along with others, were traded to the Dallas Mavericks for Jason Kidd. Cassell would play 16 games for the Mavs, averaging 12.3 points. Finally, in February of ’97, the Mavs flipped him and others to the New Jersey Nets for four players, including Shawn Bradley. It would be in New Jersey that Cassell would finally realize the potential he had, as he averaged 19.3 points in 23 games.
He played a full season in New Jersey in 1997-1998, averaging 19.6 points and eight assists. The next season, though, he was back on the trading block. This time, however, he was on his way to the team with whom he would spend more seasons than any other in his career.
Milwaukee and the Big Three
An injury in the first game of the 1997-1998 season derailed a promising season for Cassell and the Nets. Without Sam, the Nets started 3-15 and went into rebuild mode. A huge three-team, eight-player trade was conducted by the Nets, Bucks, and Timberwolves. Notably, Sam went to Milwaukee, Terrell Brandon went to the Wolves, and Stephon Marbury went to New Jersey.
Cassell would be the final piece of a Big Three in Milwaukee that included Glenn Robinson and Ray Allen. In his first full season with the Bucks (1999-2000), Cassell averaged 18.6 points and a career-high nine assists per game.
The next season, 2000-2001, would be one of the best in Bucks history. Cassell and the Bucks went 50-32, earning the second seed in the East. For his part, Sam averaged 18.2 points and 7.6 assists per game. On March 3, 2001, Cassell had the game of his life, scoring a career-high 40 points against the Chicago Bulls. He also won the Fleer Shootout on All-Star Saturday, though he was not an All-Star that year. The Bucks came within one game of the NBA Finals, losing to the 76ers in seven games of the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Big Three Broken Up
All good things must come to an end, and that was certainly true of the Bucks’ Big Three. Head Coach George Karl clashed with his stars often, especially shooting guard Ray Allen. Glenn Robinson was the first to go, in 2002, when he was traded to the Hawks for Toni Kukoc. Ray Allen followed in 2003 when he was traded to the Super Sonics for Gary Payton and Desmond Mason. Cassell, finally, was traded (once again) to the Timberwolves for Joe Smith.
Sam Cassell After Milwaukee
“Sam I Am” played for three more teams in five remaining seasons in the NBA. In 2003-2004, he made his only career All-Star team with the Timberwolves. He averaged a career-best 19.8 points that year to go along with 7.6 assists. After a drop in production the following year, he was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers. His first season with the Clippers saw a resurgence in Cassell, as he averaged 17.2 points. That season, though, would be his last as a regular starter and he was waived midway through the 2007-2008 season. The move proved to work out for Sam Cassell, though, as he signed with the Boston Celtics. In Boston, he rejoined former teammate Ray Allen and helped the Celtics win the NBA Championship that season. Ray Allen wasn’t his only former teammate on that team. Cassell played with Kevin Garnett in Minnesota as well. He retired following the season. In short, Sam started his career with a title, and ended his career with one.
Sam Cassell’s Milwaukee Legacy
In 2008, the Bucks celebrated their 40th year as a NBA franchise. Cassell was honored that day as one of the 20 greatest players to ever don a Bucks uniform. “Sam I Am” is currently sixth in franchise history with 2,269 assists as a Buck. In addition, his 7.2 career assists per game with the team is second only to Oscar Robertson. A reliable free throw shooter, his 86.6% career percentage ranks seventh in team history.