Recently it was reported that Robert “Tractor” Traylor, a form Michigan basketball star and first round NBA draft pick, died of what appears to be a heart attack. This comes as a shock to many, as Traylor was only 34 years old. I was a fan of “Tractor” during his days as a Wolverine and, growing up a Milwaukee Bucks fan, I loved when the Bucks pulled a draft day trade to land Traylor.
At the time, Traylor was a big post player with soft hands and a great back-to-the-basket game. Scouts saw him as a solid NBA player and despite all the Michigan scandals that would later be uncovered, I thought Traylor was a real NBA prospect.
I enjoy looking back on sports history and selecting a point to play the “what-if” game. The sad loss of Traylor today made this place in history a sort of jumping off point for a “what-if” NBA scenario.
Starting with the Bucks, since that was my hometown squad and easily one of history’s biggest losers in the 1998 NBA draft, as you will remember, the Bucks drafted Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson first overall in the 1994 NBA draft. Two years later they added standout guard, Ray Allen, to the mix and had the making of a NBA contender. Add 27-yr old Terrell Brandon and Milwaukee’s top three stars were poised to contend in the Eastern Conference going into the 1998 NBA draft. With the 9th pick that year, the Bucks selected Dirk Nowitzki with the plan to deal Nowitzki and 19th pick, Pat Garrity, to the Mavericks for Traylor, who the Mavs selected with the 6th pick in the draft. That is really just the start of a very laughable history for the Bucks, as the Mavs traded Garrity to Phoenix for Steve Nash. So the Bucks, who have Robinson, Allen, Brandon, a newly signed Sam Cassell and Tim Thomas coming off his rookie season, trade two first round draft picks, including Dirk Nowitzki, for Traylor. Two picks for Traylor. One of those picks is Nowitzki and the other pick could have been traded for Steve Nash. So instead of lineup of Robinson, Allen, Cassell, Nash and Nowitzki, the Bucks get Traylor. Call it karma for getting the first overall pick a few years back when the had the fourth best chance of receiving that spot and Dallas had the best chance, but the Mavericks won on this deal and shaped their history as a Western Conference power while the Bucks, well they are drafting in the lottery again this year.
I realize that just because the Bucks could have kept Nowitzki and traded for Nash it does not equal a Houshmandzadeh like “Championship,” but it is tough to image that an appearance or two would not have been made with that group of All-Stars. Plus, it has been said that “if you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday,” and it is tough to believe that the Mavericks sweep the Lakers in 2011 without Nowitzki. So in a sense, when the Bucks traded for “Tractor,” they eliminated the Lakers from the playoffs in 2011. The “what-if” game sure is a powerful tool huh?