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Donte DiVincenzo is playing a starring role for the New York Knicks during 2024 NBA playoffs. Why did the Bucks trade him two years ago?

As Donte DiVincenzo plays a starring role for the New York Knicks, leading the franchise to the precipice of the Eastern Conference finals, Milwaukee Bucks fans may be wondering why their franchise wasn't able to keep the team's first-round draft pick in 2018.

DiVincenczo was with Milwaukee for three full seasons, including the championship run in 2020-21 — although his injury in the playoffs sidelined him from the bulk of the postseason. He was traded to the Sacramento Kings midway through the 2021-22 season in a deal that doesn't seem to have yielded much for the Bucks in retrospect.

New York Knicks guard Donte DiVincenzo (0) celebrates his three-point basket during the second half of their game against the Milwaukee Bucks on April 7 at Fiserv Forum. The Knicks beat the Bucks, 122-109.
New York Knicks guard Donte DiVincenzo (0) celebrates his three-point basket during the second half of their game against the Milwaukee Bucks on April 7 at Fiserv Forum. The Knicks beat the Bucks, 122-109.

For a franchise that hasn't had many first-round picks and limited success with the players selected, it's easy to argue that DiVincenzo is the best first-round pick the franchise has made since drafting Giannis Antetokounmpo in 2013. It's possible (gulp) that he's the second-best first-round pick in Bucks history since Andrew Bogut in 2005, depending on how you feel about John Henson or Brandon Jennings.

So why isn't he playing in Milwaukee?

Donte DiVincenzo was a first-round draft pick by the Milwaukee Bucks in 2018.
Donte DiVincenzo was a first-round draft pick by the Milwaukee Bucks in 2018.

When and why did the Bucks trade Donte DiVincenzo?

In February 2022, the Milwaukee Bucks engaged in a four-team trade-deadline deal with the Kings, Detroit Pistons and Los Angeles Clippers, acquiring 32-year-old big man Serge Ibaka from the Clippers. The biggest cost was surrendering DiVincenzo to the Kings.

The Bucks also received two second-round picks (2023 and 2024) and cash while also sending Semi Ojeleye and Rodney Hood to the Clippers. Ibaka was only under contract for the rest of the 2022 season.

At the time, Ibaka provided big-man depth as Brook Lopez worked his way back from a lengthy absence resulting from back surgery.

DiVincenzo had torn an ankle ligament in the first round of the 2021 playoffs and was slow to return that following season, a return further delayed by spraining that ankle and a stint in the health and safety protocol. He averaged 8.8 points and 4.7 rebounds per game for the Bucks in his career but had been down to 7.2 points in 20 minutes per game that season.

Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) and forward Serge Ibaka (25) cheer their team on during a game early in the 2022-23 season at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee. Ibaka was acquired in the Donte DiVincenzo trade during the 2021-22 season.
Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) and forward Serge Ibaka (25) cheer their team on during a game early in the 2022-23 season at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee. Ibaka was acquired in the Donte DiVincenzo trade during the 2021-22 season.

How did Serge Ibaka help the Bucks after the trade?

Ibaka played in 19 games that season, averaging 7.0 points in 17.8 minutes, with 5.3 rebounds.

The Bucks re-signed him for 2022-23, but he only played in 16 games (averaging 4.1 points in 11.6 minutes) and essentially parted ways with the team in January, later revealing his displeasure with playing time and communication from the organization.

He became part of a four-team trade that brought Jae Crowder to Milwaukee from the Phoenix Suns. Ibaka hasn't played in the NBA since.

What were Donte DiVincenzo's stats after he left Milwaukee?

DiVincenzo played in 25 games for Sacramento in 2022 and scored 10.3 points per game.

At that point a free agent, DiVincenzo signed a two-year deal with the Golden State Warriors worth a total of $9.3 million, with a player option for the second year. That allowed him to pair with Stephen Curry, and his three-point percentage shot up to a career-best 39.7%, with 9.4 points and 3.5 assists per game in 26.3 minutes.

This year with the Knicks, DiVincenzo averaged a career-best 15.5 points per game, plus 3.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists and a career-best 40% shooting from three-point range.

Donte DiVincenzo throws down a monstrous dunk during Game 5 of the New York Knicks' Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series against the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden.
Donte DiVincenzo throws down a monstrous dunk during Game 5 of the New York Knicks' Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series against the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden.

What is Donte DiVincenzo's contract with the Knicks?

DiVincenzo elected to opt out of the second year of his deal in Golden State and signed a four-year deal with the Knicks before the 2023-24 season, worth $50 million over four years. The signing allowed him to re-connect with Villanova teammates Jalen Brunson and Josh Hart, a brew that has seemingly worked particularly well.

Could the Bucks have given that contract to Donte DiVincenzo?

There's no scenario where the Bucks would have paid DiVincenzo what he commanded in free agency with the Knicks.

The Athletic's John Hollinger wrote in October 2021, after the Bucks had won the title, that DiVincenzo represented one of the more fascinating contractual cases, and he projected someone with DiVincenzo's stats could command a four-year, $99 million deal on the open market. Even if DiVincenzo couldn't specifically hit those numbers, he could at least be on track for a slightly less (but still lucrative) four-year deal.

That was before DiVincenzo was slow to return from injury and struggled before getting traded to the Kings.

It's easy to imagine the Bucks never expected to pay DiVincenzo what he would command elsewhere, even without the health questions. Trading for Ibaka to fortify frontcourt depth and getting ahead of a scenario where they'd lose DiVincenzo for nothing seems like the best course of action, even in retrospect.

Unable to find that deal after his time in Sacramento, DiVincenzo elected to sign a short-term deal with the Warriors and parlayed that into a long-term deal one year later. It's arguable DiVincenzo would never become the player he became without the opportunity to play in Golden State and even then doesn't command the contract he received from New York without finding such a seamless fit with the Knicks.

Remember: Even before the title, the Bucks had tried to trade Donte DiVincenzo

The Bucks had tried to trade DiVincenzo to the Kings even before the title run in a deal that was nixed by the NBA. Milwaukee was ruled to have jumped the gun in trying to acquire Bogdan Bogdanović from the Kings in a sign-and-trade, essentially a tampering charge that cost the Bucks a second-round pick. The deal would have sent DiVincenzo, D.J. Wilson and Ersan Ilyasova to the Kings.

DiVincenzo wound up staying another two seasons in Milwaukee, but it was clear he could be seen as a trade commodity.

The Bucks signaled they were more than prepared to move on in 2021-22. Before finally trading DiVincenzo, they also traded for a similar player in Grayson Allen in 2022-22 and quickly extended him.

How many rings does Donte DiVincenzo have?

DiVincenzo was part of the 2021 Bucks and therefore won a ring for his role on the championship-winning team.

He averaged 10.4 points per game that season for the Bucks with 5.8 rebounds (a career high), 3.1 assists and 38% shooting from three-point range.

He played on the Golden State team that beat DiVincenzo's old team, the Kings, last year in the playoffs before falling in the Western Conference semifinals.

What's Donte DiVincenzo's nickname?

Matt Velazquez of the Journal Sentinel once wrote about the origin of his nicknames, including the Big Ragu, Michael Jordan of Delaware and White Donte.

The Indiana Pacers' Myles Turner (33) argues with the New York Knicks' Donte DiVincenzo during Game 5 on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden. The Knicks won, 121-91, to take a 3-2 series lead.
The Indiana Pacers' Myles Turner (33) argues with the New York Knicks' Donte DiVincenzo during Game 5 on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden. The Knicks won, 121-91, to take a 3-2 series lead.

Donte DiVincenzo vs. Pacers in the NBA playoffs

DiVincenzo has played a big role against the Indiana Pacers, the team that eliminated the Bucks from the playoffs in the first round, in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

He scored 35 points, by far a playoff career high, in Game 3 while playing nearly 44 minutes, though the Knicks lost that game. He scored 28 points in Game 2 — his second-highest playoff total ever — along with six boards and four assists in a victory. His third-highest single-game scoring total was 25 points against, you guessed it, the Pacers in Game 1 — another Knicks win.

The most points he scored in a game for the Bucks was 24, which also happened to be his single-game career high coming into this season. With the Knicks, he scored a career-best 40 points against Detroit on March 25 and cleared 30 points six other times.

DiVincenzo produced a highlight-reel putback dunk against the Pacers in Game 5 of the series, a game won by the Knicks, and then picked up a technical foul while battling with Indiana's Myles Turner, an altercation that led to some pushes and shoves.

The Madison Square Garden crowd chanted DiVincenzo's name following the play, and he had a great quote afterward about the dust-up with Turner.

"They're trying to be tough guys. That's not their identity," DiVincenzo told reporters after the game. "There's nothing more to that. … Nobody's gonna fight in the NBA. Take the foul. Keep it moving. You're not a tough guy. Just keep it moving."

What is Donte DiVincenzo's vertical leap?

At the NBA combine before the 2018 season, DiVincenzo posted a vertical leap of 42 inches, tied for the most of anyone at the combine.

It would have tied for the best mark at this year's combine, as well.

Donte DiVincenzo has a background in soccer

DiVincenzo's former coach, Jay Wright, relayed a story that DiVincenzo was recruited to his high school in Delaware to play soccer and that he was one of the top soccer recruits in the nation.

A tweet from DiVincenzo's containing a vulgar word in 2011 found a renewed life in 2024 on the internet, seemingly expressing frustration with his father in the moment he told his dad he was pursuing basketball instead.

This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Why did Bucks trade Knicks NBA playoff breakout star Donte DiVincenzo?