For the second offseason in a row, one of the NBA’s most coveted talents has decided to leave the greater New York City metropolitan area for the Midwestern sprawl and 2 AM last calls of Milwaukee. Greg Monroe, rumored to be headed to the New York Knicks for the duration of 2014-15, declined the Knicks’ maximum contract offer in order to agree to sign with the emerging Milwaukee Bucks.
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He’ll work for $50 million over three years, according to Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, but the contract also has an opt-out clause after 2016-17 that will allow him to take advantage of what will then be a salary cap that will jump over $100 million.
Just before the offseason, Monroe’s fit on a team like Milwaukee seemed as unlikely as him spurning a similar max offer from the New York Knicks. The former Pistons big forward was thought to be perfect in the apex of New York president Phil Jackson’s beloved triangle offense, utilizing his scoring threat and passing strengths to encourage action on both the strong and weak sides, potentially freeing things up for similarly maxed-out Knicks superstar Carmelo Anthony.
Milwaukee, meanwhile, seemed to run in opposition to old NBA orthodoxy under head coach Jason Kidd. Kidd, who famously worked his way out of a lucrative head coaching contract with the Brooklyn Nets in 2014 in order to jump to the same position in Milwaukee, often ran a position-less offense full of long-armed and versatile players, with the notable exception being that of center Zaza Pachulia.
The Bucks had the worst record in the NBA in 2013-14, prior to Kidd’s ascension to coach, but the team rallied to win half of its games in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year in 2014-15, good for a sixth seed in the weak Eastern Conference. The team turned into a defensive powerhouse, ranking fourth on that end last season, but the squad’s offense was putrid: Milwaukee ranked 26th, the worst mark of any postseason squad.
The team’s postseason ended with a 66-point showing against the Chicago Bulls, but it also ended with the promise of major internal development amongst the team’s growing young players (even its prize for bottoming out in 2014, forward Jabari Parker, only played 25 games before tearing his left ACL) and heaps of cap room. The Bucks entered the offseason with about $20 million in projected cap room with minimal cap holds to get in the way of adding a stud.
Nobody thought Monroe would be that stud. The Bucks need scoring badly, but his old school low post game not only flies in the face of an NBA that is valuing perimeter shooting and flexibility above all, but these Bucks seemed to typify the trends that seemed to dot what in a lot of ways has been a revolutionary last few years in the league.
The pairing of old and new with Monroe’s low-post savvy and his cast of unpredictable but potentially-explosive teammates feels at once like a needed marriage and a rather odd bedding of fellows. It’s important to note that Monroe isn’t your typical plodder, he’s not hurting anyone offensively by not running the floor and he can start the break with a defensive rebound. Monroe gobbled up a quarter of the available defensive rebounds last season, nearly a top ten mark even with Andre Drummond (who finished third in the league defensive rebound percentage) mostly out there with him.
Despite the team’s youth and athleticism the Bucks were merely a middling team in terms of pace in 2014-15, and a healthy chunk of that has to do with the fact that the squad employed an uneasy point guard in Brandon Knight for most of the year before handing it off to a trade acquisition in Michael Carter-Williams that didn’t have the benefit of a full training camp with his teammates. The team needs to run more, with that roster. And despite the team’s stellar defense, though, the Bucks were a miserable defensive rebounding team during the regular season.
Monroe will change that. What we hope he doesn’t change is the defense.
Greg Monroe is a poor defender at either center or power forward. He does not have the footspeed nor the length nor the instincts to cover screen and rolls or help out on the interior, and now he’ll be asked to act as the ostensible last line of defense in Milwaukee. Usually teams will acquire lacking defenders at the perimeter positions with the knowledge that defensive-minded centers and power forwards are there to pick up the slack. The opposite is true in this agreement.
This Bucks lineup is eminently tinker-a-ble, however.
The deal that sent Ersan Ilyasova to Detroit for since-waived players not only opened up cap space for the Bucks to grab Monroe from the Pistons (as if the Pistons actually put up a fight), but a starting slot for John Henson. Henson started just 11 games last season, but he was an absolutely killer shot-blocker when he played – had he played enough minutes, he would have led the NBA (by far) in block percentage.
If Henson and Monroe can co-exist, with Monroe securing defensive space while Henson leaves his man to go make life miserable for an encroaching opponent, then we could have a formidable pairing. Only the 82 game slog will let us know how it works.
Far more time will be needed to figure out just how well Monroe’s work in free agency helped him out, but the early and anticipated returns are fantastic.
After a summer’s worth of haggling, Monroe famously turned down Detroit’s restricted free agent offers last summer while waiting for an offer sheet from an outside team. That offer sheet never came, because it was known that despite the new front office’s lukewarm feelings for Monroe, the Pistons would still match any other team’s attempt to sign Monroe and keep him in Detroit.
That outlook was a bad one for both outside teams (Monroe was coveted, but no team was going to waste its time prior to the inevitable match) and Greg Monroe. Instead, he decided to accept Detroit’s $5.47 million qualifying offer. Hardly chump change, but nowhere near what he’d make accepting the Pistons’ extension offer or money from another team.
He played the season out professionally – 15.9 points and 10.2 rebounds in only 31 minutes a game – and his 2014-15 turn could hardly be called a contract year uptick. Had Monroe sulked or even suffered a major injury, teams were still going to line up to offer him huge money.
Monroe has the huge money to start – three years, $50 million – with the option to not only make far, far more money by opting out just after turning age 27 in 2017, but to once again survey the unrestricted free agent scene should the experiment in Milwaukee fail.
After playing for five coaches in five years and never even sniffing the playoffs in Detroit, Greg Monroe made out after working through his unearned early-career penance.
And the Bucks finally got themselves a scorer.
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