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2 Milwaukee Bucks With abundant talent, they have eyes on the promised land, and a sixth man shall lead them

Shortly after free-agent swingman Tim Thomas agreed to re-sign
with the Bucks for $67 million over six years--spurning a
reportedly more lucrative offer from the Bulls--he attended a
basketball camp at Whitefish Bay (Wis.) High. There he was
greeted by applause from dozens of kids wearing T-shirts reading
MILWAUKEE LOVES YOU! "All these people were coming up, saying,
'Thanks for coming back,'" Thomas recalls. "It was wild."

Thomas will have to get used to such adulation. With all the key
players returning from a team that won 11 of its last 15 games
and came within a basket of upsetting the Pacers in the first
round of the playoffs, the Bucks are suddenly the front-runners
for the Central Division title. Milwaukee has one of the league's
best shooting guards in Ray Allen; a 20-points-a-game scorer at
small forward in Glenn (Big Dog) Robinson; and an elite point
guard in Sam Cassell. The frontcourt, which lacked depth a year
ago, has been significantly beefed up with the additions of power
forward Jason Caffey, acquired from the Warriors in a three-team
trade, and first-round pick Joel Przybilla, a 7'1" center from

The player who has Bucks fans really excited, however, is the
6'10" Thomas, a fourth-year man. His willingness to come off the
bench and to sacrifice his willowy, 230-pound body at power
forward endeared him to coach George Karl, who in turn gave
Thomas a measure of freedom on the court. In five playoff games
Thomas was nearly unstoppable, blowing past the Pacers as if they
were traffic cones when he attacked the hoop. Hoping to persuade
Thomas to return, Karl and general manager Ernie Grunfeld flew in
July to Miami, where Thomas was attending a boxing match between
Felix Trinidad and Mamadou Thiam. At their hotel they waited for
a nervous hour in an adjoining room while Thomas showered and
dressed after a nap. Then he came in and delivered the good news.
"It meant a lot to me that they came," says Thomas, 23, "but it
didn't change my decision. I already knew my heart was in

As was the case last year, Thomas won't start, but he'll almost
always finish (and he'll continue to mess up Karl's hair on the
court after every Milwaukee win). Karl expects to give Thomas 30
minutes per game--about four more than he did last season--while
using him everywhere from the point to power forward. "Tim
doesn't have that scorer's mentality like Ray and Glenn and Sam
do," Karl says. "He's more of a basketball player. He makes all
our other guys better."

Thomas could make his biggest impact on defense; the Bucks ranked
23rd in points allowed in 1999-2000 (101.0 per game) and last in
defending against the three-point shot (39.1%). Matching his
intensity on D will be bangers like Caffey, Ervin Johnson, Darvin
Ham and Scott Williams. Karl admits he erred last year by
starting with the since departed J.R. Reid and Danny Manning at
power forward. "They were too soft," says Karl. "When we went to
Darvin and Scott, there was an attitude change for the whole team
on the defensive end."

Should Big Dog continue to nap on defense, the Bucks have enough
offensive weapons to part with him before the Feb. 15 trading
deadline, with the 6'8" Caffey providing the low-post threat that
Milwaukee lacked last season. Thomas is already showing he's
willing to represent the Bucks' more hard-nosed approach. Over
the summer he added two tattoos on his left arm. One has a
handprint with a 5, his jersey number, below it; the other is a
Chinese symbol for success. The symbolism applies: If five play
defense as one, the Bucks will have success in the palms of their

--Marty Burns

COLOR PHOTO: KIM STALLKNECHT/NBA ENTERTAINMENT SIXTH DIMENSION A gifted passer and ball handler, Thomas gives the Bucks whatever they need off the bench.

In Fact

George Karl has led his team to the postseason each year since
1991-92 (the past two seasons with the Bucks and the previous
seven with the Sonics). Only Utah's Jerry Sloan (12 seasons) has
a longer streak.

Projected Lineup


SF Glenn Robinson 20.9 ppg 6.0 rpg 2.4 apg 0.96 spg 47.2 FG%
PF Jason Caffey[1] 12.0 ppg 6.8 rpg 1.7 apg 47.9 FG% 59.7 FT%
C Ervin Johnson 4.8 ppg 8.1 rpg 1.59 bpg 1.01 spg 51.6 FG%
SG Ray Allen 22.1 ppg 4.4 rpg 3.8 apg 1.34 spg 45.5 FG%
PG Sam Cassell 18.6 ppg 9.0 apg 3.7 rpg 1.26 spg 46.6 FG%


F Tim Thomas 11.8 ppg 4.2 rpg 1.4 apg 46.1 FG% 34.6 3FG%
G Lindsey Hunter[1] 12.7 ppg 4.0 apg 1.57 spg 42.5 FG% 43.2 3FG%
C Scott Williams 7.6 ppg 6.6 rpg 0.97 bpg 50.0 FG% 72.9 FT%
F Darvin Ham 5.1 ppg 4.9 rpg 1.2 apg 0.83 bpg 55.5 FG%
C Joel Przybilla (R)[1] 14.2 ppg 8.4 rpg 2.4 apg 3.86 bpg 61.3 FG%

[1]New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 113)

an opposing team's scout sizes up the Bucks

"The reason the Bucks came so close to beating Indiana in the
playoffs was that they abandoned many of the defensive gimmicks
they've been using the last two years under George Karl and just
got tough and physical....This is a great one-on-one team, a
great offensive team in the one through four positions. All they
need is a center to block some shots, grab some rebounds and lay
it in every once in a while. I don't know if Joel Przybilla is
ready to do that yet....The bad news is Sam Cassell is unhappy
with his contract. The good news is that Lindsey Hunter is
sitting there if Sam doesn't want to play. Hunter is a pretty
good shooter and a superior defender....For the flexible
Milwaukee system, Tim Thomas fits in perfectly. He can't be
guarded on the perimeter by the fours in this league....If they
don't win a round in the playoffs this year, they risk becoming
one of those teams that never turns the corner. But I think
they're going to get nastier, develop more of a home court
advantage and find a way to get over the hump."