MILWAUKEE – Some players are the socks. Ersan Ilyasova is the feet. But the end result is the same: Change, constantly.
If you’re Nate Robinson, Mike James, Chucky Brown, Joe Smith and dozens of others who leave forwarding addresses as often as most of us leave gratuities, you know the drill: Signed here, traded there, employed, waived, paid, packaged and dumped time and again back into the hamper.
If you’re Ilyasova, you don’t go anywhere, yet everything around you changes. Argyle, tube, crew, silk, solid, patterned, support – the Milwaukee Bucks’ 6-foot-10 forward from Eskisehir, Turkey, has gone through a veritable sock drawer in his NBA career.
Consider: Of the 60 players taken in the 2005 NBA Draft, Ilyasova (No. 36 in the second round) is the only one still with his original team. All the big names that night – former Buck Andrew Bogut, Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Raymond Felton and so on – have moved at least once, as have the sleepers (David Lee, Monta Ellis, Marcin Gortat). Indiana’s Danny Granger was the last of the “originals,” besides Ilyasova, until he got dealt to Philadelphia on Thursday at the league’s trade deadline. Many have dropped off the NBA map entirely.
And because there is no one from the 2004 Draft still with the team that selected him and, from 2006, only Portland’s Joel Freeland remains with the team – he’s an asterisk case who came over from Great Britain prior to last season – Ilyasova’s specialness spans three drafts and 179 others whose names got read by David Stern or former second-round maestro Russ Granik.
Had Ilyasova, 18 when he was picked, played for the Bucks immediately (he spent 2005-06 in the D League with Tulsa), he would have been a teammate of Ervin Johnson and Toni Kukoc, who were 20 and 19 years older than him that season. He stayed overseas for a year, dipped his toe into the NBA in 2006-07 at 19, then went back to play in Spain for two years.
By the time Ilyasova returned for 2009-10, only four players remained from his first NBA roster (Charlie Bell, Dan Gadzuric, Michael Redd and Bogut). After Bogut was traded to Golden State during the 2011-12 season, all four of them were gone, too.
Now it’s two years later, the Bucks are on their fifth head coach since Ilyasova was drafted – he missed the Larry Krystkowiak era entirely – and he’s one of just four players left from last year’s roster. He has been supplanted as the team’s resident Euro phenom by 19-year-old “Greek freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo, the youngest player in the NBA.
He has had 67 Milwaukee teammates, by the team’s count, from the start of 2006-07 till now.
The irony in all this is that Ilyasova, that rare individual who has been spared the endless uncertainty of role players and journeymen everywhere, actually might be better off had he been forced to relocate a time or two.
Staying with the Bucks has been easy on the wardrobe and his friends’ contacts lists. He met his wife Julia in Milwaukee. And his early Bird rights with the Bucks made him eligible for the five-year, $40 million contract he signed in July 2012.
But he has sniffed the air of a winning season just once, in 2009-10, and is a cumulative 72 games under .500 while general manager Larry Harris first and John Hammond second have re-painted, laid new carpeting and moved the furniture around him.
Worse, Ilyasova has regressed as a player. Mostly starting yet struggling – first from an ankle injury in camp, then in coach Larry Drew’s new system – he is putting up the shakiest numbers of his career: 10.5 points and 6.0 rebounds a game, 38.5 percent shooting, 29.6 percent on 3-pointers. Per 36 minutes, he’s about where he was as a nervous teenager. Better paid but more frustrated.
Ilyasova, who watched as NBA vets Luke Ridnour and Gary Neal were freed at the deadline from the NBA’s losingest team (via their trade to Charlotte), talked recently with Gery Woelfel of the Racine Journal Times about his Groundhog Day permanence in Milwaukee:
Ilyasova downplayed talk about him wanting out of Milwaukee and declined to comment on whether he or his agent, Andy Miller, had requested a trade.
Ilyasova made it clear, though, the Bucks’ revolving door policy with players has irritated him.
“The thing I’m upset about is each year, each season, we go through the same thing,” Ilyasova said. “Last year, we make the playoffs and now we start all over again. That’s really frustrating.
“Hopefully, we’ll find right pieces for the team. Hopefully, we’ll turn it around.”
Then the deadline passed, Ramon Sessions and Jeff Adrien came aboard as possible (though minor) pieces and Ilyasova stayed put. Ilyasova reportedly is a favorite of owner Herb Kohl, who remains enticed by Ilyasova’s potential.
Ilyasova is a complementary player who constantly has had to adapt to another new crew and new vision. The things he does best – 13.0 points a game, 5.6 rebounds, 45.5 percent 3FG the year before he got his contract – have slipped.
Still, he is the last man standing in the same spot from that June night nine years ago. Too often, though, you’d have a hard time proving it by his impact. He and the Bucks are due for a change.