POSTED: Jul 9, 2015 8:20 PM ET
Recently signed free agent Greg Monroe is projected to be the Bucks' centerpiece of a young and athletic team, which went to the playoffs last season.
ST. FRANCIS, Wis. — In the waning hours of the NBA's free-agent "moratorium" period, with verbal agreements worth only much as the paper they weren't written on, Greg Monroe, his family, some friends and members of the Milwaukee Bucks' front office and coaching staff gathered Wednesday evening for a celebratory dinner.
There was much to celebrate: Monroe, after gambling on himself on a one-year qualifying offer with Detroit last season, was on the brink of signing a contract worth $50 million over the next three seasons. Khris Middleton, Monroe's friend and former teammate from their shared time with the Pistons, also was at the table, his family arriving later, in time to see Middleton sign his own five-year, $70 million deal with the Bucks.
As for the team's staffers, they were elated to have Middleton returning and Monroe -- the highest-profile free agent "get" in franchise history -- voting for the success they've had and successes still to come.
Not surprisingly, like a lot of NBA conversations Wednesday, the talk turned to DeAndre Jordan's change of heart and the Los Angeles Clippers last-ditch rescue of their never-so-valued center. That's when Monroe's mother Norma spoke up.
"Maybe Dallas will come after you, Greg," she said.
A silence descended on the table. An awkward silence that probably felt 10 times longer than it really was.
"That's a bad joke, Mom," Monroe finally said. "That's a really bad joke."
Laughter ensued, some of it of the nervous variety.
Free Agent Fever: Greg Monroe
The guys discuss Greg Monroe teaming up with the Milwaukee Bucks.
No one would have blamed the Bucks had they assigned a security detail to escort Monroe from wherever he was when the initial Jordan reports broke Wednesday all the way to the conference table Thursday when he finally put pen to paper. If any team seemed at risk of having a prized free-agent poached away by some unrelenting and protocol-breaching competitor, it was Milwaukee, which isn't supposed to land players of Monroe's significance.
One of the NBA's most talented, young big men, Monroe, 25, averaged 15.9 points and 10.2 rebounds for Detroit in 2014-15, one of only a dozen players to post a double-double in points and rebounds. Over the past four seasons, only Monroe and Sacramento's DeMarcus Cousins have averaged at least 1,000 points and 600 rebounds, and Monroe did it while yielding a lot of inside acreage to Pistons teammates Andre Drummond.
Many teams coveted his services, four made it to Monroe's short list. The New York Knicks and the Los Angeles Lakers, glamour destinations with money and minutes to offer, were two of them. The Portland Trail Blazers, whose famous owner, Paul Allen, caught a flight back from England to meet with Monroe and agent David Falk in Washington, was another.
Monroe chose No. 4. Milwaukee, the little franchise that could.
"They have something I want to be a part of," Monroe said at a news conference after his official signing at the team's practice facility south of the city. "I feel they have all the tools to get there.
"They were there last year even without Jabari [Parker, a Rookie of the Year possibility until he suffered a torn ACL two months into the season]. You add a guy like that back to your team, that's already a step in the right direction. So they just had everything set up for what I wanted. Everything I needed to be comfortable and happy."
That tells us something about Monroe, who looked relaxed and pleased with the big decision behind him. It also tells us a lot about the Bucks and their evolving perception around the NBA.
It speaks to coach Jason Kidd, the best-known of the changes in last year's team. To the transformation from a moribund 15-67 tanking operation -- it did land the Bucks Parker at No. 2 in the 2014 Draft -- to a 41-41 playoff team that gave Chicago all it could handle in the first round. To the young roster, dripping with long potential with players such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Michael Carter-Williams, John Henson, Middleton and Parker. To the energy delivered and pushed by new ownership, and to the buzz growing in a city lulled too long by a just-glad-to-be-in-the-NBA mediocrity.
"I think you can go with the old saying, 'If you build it, they will come,'" Milwaukee general manager John Hammond said. "We don't know how much more frequently that can happen for us, but I do think Greg Monroe looked at our overall situation, looked at our roster, looked at our coach and said, 'I think this is something that fits me.' "
Said Falk, the longtime super-agent who hasn't had a client choose Milwaukee since he represented Marques Johnson early in both their careers: "I think they're onto something great here. It's a testament to Greg's character -- it wasn't that he turned down anyone, it's just that he found what was here. It fit and he felt very comfortable."
It helped that Marc Lasry, one of the club's primary owners, went along when Milwaukee made its pitch, Falk said. Having Middleton, traded to the Bucks after his rookie season with Monroe in Detroit, "bugging him every couple hours" to come aboard was a nice advantage, too.
But the Bucks' achievements on the court sold themselves. The team actually has an identity now -- a defense built on wingspan and switching coverages, a share-the-wealth offense and tireless platoons of starters and backups -- and it has Kidd. The Hall of Fame-bound, quintessential point guard has a reputation and a style that resonates with NBA players, and it's no overstatement to say Kidd and his staff are a bonafide draw now.
"It's not going unnoticed what the guys did last year," Kidd said. "When you talk about a team, about winning, I think the league saw that. He saw it. You can see people wanting to come here to Milwaukee to be a part of it.
"He believed what we were saying. I think Khris had something to do with that, being someone who was here, that he could, 'Was this true or not true? How is it?' "
Kidd refuses to pigeon-hole Monroe, saying the big man from Louisiana, by way of Georgetown and Detroit, can function effectively in either big or small lineups. But the 6-foot-11 Monroe mostly will help the Bucks anchoring a front line flanked by Parker (6-8) and Antetokounmpo (6-11). With Middleton (6-7) and Carter-Williams (6-6) in the backcourt, that's 33 feet, 7 inches of starting five.
Carter-Williams, acquired in a midseason trade from Philadelphia, will be around from the start. Middleton is the team's best perimeter shooter and an underrated defender. The Bucks added UNLV's Rashad Vaughn on draft night to spread the floor further. But Monroe is the centerpiece.
"It checked all the boxes when we got Greg," Kidd said.
There can be a ladder effect to this kind of signing, with the Bucks' own free agents -- Antetokounmpo, for example -- aware of what they'd be leaving when it's their own time to stay or go. For a franchise working overtime to convince city, county and state politicians to assure their future with funding for a new arena to replace Bradley Center, Monroe cast an invaluable vote.
But the Bucks, in little more than 12 months, have earned their place on NBA players' ballots.
"It wasn't the geography," Falk said. "He didn't pick it because he wanted to be a 'cheesehead.' He didn't pick it because he wanted to get marketing opportunities. He picked it because of what they've put around the foundation they have. He thinks they can win."
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