MILWAUKEE – A major NBA free-agent chose Milwaukee over New York and Los Angeles. Let that sink in.
In what is arguably the biggest free-agent signing in the history of the Bucks franchise, Greg Monroe agreed to join Milwaukee on a three-year, $50 million deal. The contract, which was first reported by Yahoo Sports, is set to have a third-year player option. That means Monroe can sign a new contract before the 2017-18 season, which is when the league salary cap explodes up to $108 million – thus allowing him to make significantly more money at that time.
Monroe, who just turned 25 years old, joins the young core of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker, Khris Middleton and Michael Carter-Williams. Monroe is the oldest of that group, with Antetokounmpo and Parker both 20 and Middleton and Carter-Williams both 23. Those five should also comprise Milwaukee’s starting lineup.
Monroe has been a consistently strong performer since being drafted by the Detroit Pistons seventh overall in 2010. He’s averaged between 15.2 and 16.0 points per game in each of the past four seasons while adding more than nine rebounds per game.
From an advanced statistical perspective, Monroe has posted a career player efficiency rating (the heralded PER) of 19.7. No one on the Bucks last season had better than a 18.5 PER. In fact, the last time a Milwaukee player had a PER better than Monroe’s career average was Ersan Ilyasova during the 2011-12 season (which is what led to Ilyasova signing a five-year, $40 million contract that next summer).
Monroe should slide into the Bucks’ starting center spot, providing a low-post game that has been missing in Milwaukee. More than 92 percent of Monroe’s shot attempts came within 10 feet of the basket last season, and he made nearly 51 percent of those shots, according to Basketball Reference. Monroe took just 65 total shots beyond 10 feet last season and connected on 33.8 percent of them, so he’s not going to stretch the floor for the Bucks. He also only dunked the ball 22 times over the past year, indicating his below-the-rim offensive style. But with Monroe’s powerful 253-pound frame, he gets more than six layups and put-backs per game.
Monroe instantly becomes Milwaukee’s best rebounder, with a 17.9 total rebound percentage that was better than every Bucks player last season.
That’s the long version. The short version is that Milwaukee just landed itself a premier talent, one who would have been more noticeable to casual fans if not stuck on a Detroit team that never made the playoffs in his five seasons there.
The Bucks aren’t usually able to make a splash on the free-agent market. Between playing in one of the NBA’s smallest markets – especially one that happens to also be a cold-weather city, plus Milwaukee’s inability to frequently put together winning rosters, it’s proven to be a difficult task.
The last time the Bucks were able to snag away a supposedly quality player, Bobby Simmons left the Clippers to come to Milwaukee on a five-year, $47 million contract (considered big money by NBA standards at the time). That worked out very poorly for the Bucks. One key difference between Milwaukee investing in Simmons then and banking on Monroe now is the history of work. Simmons had one breakout season with Los Angeles after three previous lackluster NBA years. Monroe has been good each of his five seasons in the league.
If it hadn’t been for the Bucks’ 26-win improvement under Jason Kidd last season, Monroe never would have chosen Milwaukee. Reports stated that Monroe was tired of missing out on postseason play and wanted to join a team that could give him a taste of the playoffs. Who would have thought the Bucks of 2013-14 (with a franchise-worst 15-67 record) would be the team to provide that opportunity for Monroe.
It wasn’t about the money, either. The Knicks, Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers all reportedly offered Monroe the same maximum amount that the Bucks did. With a relatively equal playing field, a top free agent actually opted to play in Milwaukee for basketball reasons.
Monroe can’t officially sign until July 9 when the NBA moratorium is lifted. That same day, Middleton is expected to sign his new five-year, $70 million deal.
This all sets up nicely for the Bucks now, and in the future. In two years, Monroe (assuming he plays well) will opt out of the final year of his contract. Milwaukee could re-sign him at the same time that its inking Antetokounmpo to an extension. Carter-Williams is due for an extension then, too. That also happens to be when the Bucks could be opening a new arena, assuming those plans are able to be finalized in the coming months.
Momentum of this magnitude hasn’t been on the Milwaukee Bucks’ side in a long time.