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BOSTON – It seemed so simple, so smart. The Bucks – young, talented and center-less – bringing in Greg Monroe, a big, physical pivot capable of collecting double-doubles routinely. The union of Milwaukee and Monroe was widely praised last summer, with preseason predictions declaring Monroe the piece that would turn an upstart Bucks team into a conference contender.
“That’s why I came here,” Monroe told The Vertical. “I thought I would be successful here. I still can. There is a lot of time left.”
Perhaps, though this season continues to slowly slip away. Thursday’s 112-107 loss to the Boston Celtics dropped Milwaukee to 24-34, six games back of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. To be fair, the Bucks have played better of late. They had won four of five before the loss to the Celtics, a stretch that coincided with coach Jason Kidd’s shakeup of the starting lineup. Out were Monroe and Michael Carter-Williams. In were O.J. Mayo and Miles Plumlee.
Monroe swears the demotion doesn’t bother him. “Nobody on this team can play 48 minutes,” Monroe said. “I’m either going to come out at six minutes or go in at six minutes. Not starting doesn’t bother me. I know what I can do. The coaches and my teammates know what I can do. It’s not about who is starting. It’s about who is contributing on the floor.”
It’s the right attitude, of course. Complaining won’t get Monroe anywhere. He’s the new guy. And despite continuing to put up solid numbers – Monroe’s 16.5 points and 9.6 rebounds are on par with his production last season – the Bucks aren’t winning. He starts airing grievances, and he becomes a target.
Besides, it’s foolish to think Monroe is the Bucks’ biggest problem. Injuries have been a problem. Mayo has been hurt. Greivis Vasquez has been hurt. Parker returned from a torn ACL injury in early November but he has been a work in progress.
Inconsistency has been a problem. The three-team swap that included the Bucks moving Brandon Knight for Carter-Williams has been a disaster, with Milwaukee flipping a steady scorer in Knight for the erratic Carter-Williams. Monroe factors in here – he has struggled to fit into the Bucks’ schemes, particularly on the pick-and-roll – but Milwaukee’s free fall from the ranks of the defensive elite is a team-wide issue.
Still, Monroe is an easy fall guy. Last week, Monroe’s name was prominent in trade rumors. It wasn’t what he expected, but Monroe vows it’s not something he worried about.
“It’s not the first time my name has been out there and it won’t be the last time,” Monroe said. “Unless a trade happens, it’s not going to bother me. How many guys hear their names swirling in rumors? That’s part of the league. It doesn’t matter to me until somebody from here tells me they made a move. Then it’s on to the next.”
There will be no next city for Monroe, not now anyway. Just a next game, a next opportunity for the Bucks to try to climb back into the playoff race. The shift of Monroe and Carter-Williams has sparked an anemic bench and triggered a run of good games by Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Monroe says he still feels that he has the support of the coaching staff and believes there is enough time for the Bucks to live up to the preseason expectations.
“Everyone has kind of given up on us, everyone except for us in this locker room,” Monroe said. “We can be a good team. We have balance. We have players on the floor who can make plays. With me and Mike coming off the bench, we can score. We just need to keep the focus, keep fighting. We just need to keep trying to find ways to win.”
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