Bucks sign Kukoc to 1-year deal
BY CHARLES F. GARDNER
Posted on Fri, Aug. 05, 2005
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
MILWAUKEE - (KRT) - Toni Kukoc will indeed be back with the Milwaukee Bucks next season.
The 6-foot-11 forward will begin his fourth season with the Bucks next fall, after being signed to a one-year deal on Friday. The 36-year-old free agent had attracted interest from other National Basketball Association teams, including the Chicago Bulls and league champion San Antonio Spurs.
"I think it's great for our team moving into next season," Bucks general manager Larry Harris said. "He has tremendous basketball knowledge. "He likes Milwaukee and he likes the fans. This is really where he wants to be."
The signing of Kukoc to a contract worth nearly $2 million makes it highly unlikely that the Bucks will match the Atlanta Hawks' four-year, $16 million offer sheet to restricted free agent Zaza Pachulia.
The Hawks signed the 6-11 Pachulia on Wednesday. The Bucks have seven days to match the offer or lose the 21-year-old to Atlanta. It is expected that the Bucks will sign free-agent forward Bobby Simmons on Monday and guard Michael Redd and center Dan Gadzuric later in the week. Simmons, named the NBA's most improved player last season with the Los Angeles Clippers, has agreed to a five-year, $47 million deal. Redd has agreed to a six-year contract worth more than $90 million and Gadzuric has agreed to a six-year, $36 million deal.
Since joining the Bucks for the 2002-03 season, Kukoc has averaged 8.7 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists in 189 regular-season games. n"He's thrilled," said Kukoc's Chicago-based agent, Herb Rudoy. "He had the opportunity to go to five or six teams. From the beginning, he told me to get it done with Milwaukee."
Earlier this summer, Rudoy expressed doubts that Kukoc would be able to return to the Bucks because of their off-season spending on other free agents. But Rudoy continued to have a dialogue with Harris, and it eventually led Kukoc back to Milwaukee. "I think he loves the reception he gets from the fans," Rudoy said. "That was a big part of his decision to stay there. And he feels he could be a great mentor to some of their young kids.
"Toni is a basketball genius; he really understands the game." Kukoc, who lives with his family in Highland Park, Ill., has worked closely with the other Bucks big men, including Gadzuric and
Pachulia. Now he will have an opportunity to work with the top pick in the June NBA draft, 7-1 Andrew Bogut.
Kukoc is a native of Split, Croatia, and the 20-year-old Bogut is a native of Australia and of Croatian descent.
"Andrew has a high respect for him," Harris said. "Certainly Toni will be a great learning tool and a great person he can lean on. I know Andrew will be a sponge, and Toni has always been great with our big guys.
"His wealth of knowledge about basketball is important for the young team we have."
Kukoc was limited to 53 games last season by a hip injury, and he averaged a career-low 5.6 points in 20.7 minutes per game. But when he was healthy, the Bucks' bench was more productive and the team was more successful.
It is expected that Kukoc will play at both forward spots. He will be used with Joe Smith and Simmons at the power forward spot, and will mix in with Simmons and Desmond Mason at small forward.
"He'll be a forward," Harris said. "It's all about matchups, and he will do whatever it takes to get himself on the floor. He just wants to win." Rudoy said Kukoc was excited about the Bucks' off-season moves, adding Simmons, retaining Gadzuric and Redd and drafting Bogut. "He likes playing with Redd," Rudoy said. "He thinks Redd is terrific."
Kukoc was a second-round draft choice of the Bulls in 1990 and played on three NBA championship teams in Chicago (in 1996, '97 and '98). Before coming to the NBA, Kukoc played in the former Yugoslavia and Italy, winning three European championships and three European player-of-the-year awards.
Rudoy declined to speculate on whether the upcoming season, Kukoc's 13th in the NBA, would be his last.
"He's going to take it one year at a time," Rudoy said. "He decided he just wants to see how the year goes. He didn't want anybody to be tied into that (a longer contract)."
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