Wearing a long-sleeved gray Henley, black jogger pants and a pair of square-rimmed eyeglasses that made him look more like a (very tall) fan from the previous night’s Ryan Adams concert in Milwaukee than the Bucks’ newest acquisition, Mirza Teletovic met with the media Monday at the Pfister Hotel and held court on a number of topics, from his new city’s cuisine and climate to his new (old) coach and new (and former) teammates.
While Teletovic, who’s been in town for a few days, said with a smile that his first impression of Milwaukee was Summerfest – and rightfully so – the impressions he hopes to have on the up-and-coming Bucks are "experience and spacing."
The team officially announced the 30-year-old Teletovic’s signing on Friday, after agreeing to terms with him a week earlier on a reported three-year, $30 million contract. The 6-foot-9 forward has been playing professional basketball for 14 years and adds some much-needed outside shooting.
"I’ve been around a while," he said. "I have a lot of experience and definitely can show them how to space the floor and how to knock down some threes."
Last year with the Phoenix Suns, Teletovic averaged a career-high 12.2 points in 21.3 minutes per game. He hit 39.3 percent of his three-point attempts, and his 179 made threes were an NBA record for a reserve player. On Monday, he said that number would have been even higher had he gotten more playing time under head coach Jeff Hornacek, who was fired after three months and replaced by Earl Watson.
"Imagine if I had played the first two and a half months, how many threes I would have made," said Teletovic, who averaged eight more minutes a game after the Feb. 1 coaching switch.
"I didn’t change anything," he said when asked if he’d done something differently to prepare for last year that produced his best shooting season. "I just got more playing time, and I think when Coach Earl Watson took over the Suns, he kind of let me be me and play the way I play basketball. Jason Kidd let me do the same thing when I was playing for him. But about the preparation, I didn’t prepare (differently) at all, trust me."
Multiple times, Teletovic emphasized the appeal of once again playing for Kidd, who coached the native of Bosnia and Herzegovina when the two were both in Brooklyn. In Kidd’s first year as a head coach, that 2013-14 Nets team – featuring Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams – made the playoffs and advanced to the second round, before losing to LeBron James and the Miami Heat.
"We had a lot of veterans on that team; we didn’t really have the combination of young guys and veterans," Teletovic said. "So I think Jason is trying to make that here in Milwaukee, and it’s the same game plan, the same plan, to get as far as possible and try to win an NBA championship. And I think for me, this is a great situation, so that was the reason I chose to come here."
Teletovic said Milwaukee was "my first option" in unrestricted free agency, largely because of the familiarity with and respect for Kidd gleaned from that season playing under him.
"It helped me understand Jason, and it helped me understand the way that he is competitive and the way that he wants to win," Teletovic said. "Jason Kidd played his last four or five years in the NBA, and he was kind of coach of the team. He understands basketball; he understands the relationship with players. He understands how to help his players and put them in the right position so they can perform at as high a level as possible and the way he sets his team up to win.
"Two coaches understood who I am (as a player), and one of them is J-Kidd, and there’s a reason I choose to come and play for him."
Both Teletovic and Kidd are represented by Excel Sports Management agent Jeff Schwartz. While three years and $30 million isn’t necessarily a bargain for a player expected to be fourth or fifth in the Bucks’ frontcourt rotation, it’s a reasonable contract given the new realities of the sky-high salary cap.
When asked about Teletovic in Las Vegas over the weekend, Kidd sounded happy about the signing.
"He’s very confident. He just understands how to play and we’re lucky to get him," Kidd said. "He can shoot the three, we all know that. But he can put the ball on the floor and get to the basket. He’s a team guy. He's a little more athletic than you think, and we need that toughness. He’s not afraid."
Teletovic appeared in only one of the two games last year between the Suns and the Bucks, scoring three points on 1-of-8 shooting in 10 minutes of a Dec. 20 Phoenix loss. Still, he sounded well aware of the situation in Milwaukee, from the roster to management to ownership and the new arena (as well as a couple local restaurants). He said he’d gotten a very positive Brew City primer from former Bucks point guard Brandon Knight, who was sent to the Suns in 2015 in a three-team trade that brought Michael Carter-Williams, Miles Plumlee and Tyler Ennis to town – a deal that’s still unpopular among many fans here.
"I’ll tell you about Brandon Knight," Teletovic said Monday. "He just told me great things about Milwaukee – the organization, J-Kidd, the way that they work, the way they have a young team and they try to compete, and then making the playoffs the first year J-Kidd arrived (in 2014-15) – just great things."
Teletovic is the second free agent inked by the Bucks, following the sign-and-trade acquisition of former Cleveland backup point guard Matthew Dellavedova, who agreed to a reported four-year deal worth $38 million and brings similar qualities – experience, outside shooting – to the table.
"I think the Milwaukee Bucks have a great team, a young team, that needs definitely some veteran leadership, guys who’ve been to the playoffs, and I think Delly and me, we can definitely help with that," Teletovic said. "But I will try to help this team out, not just by shooting threes, but like I said, leadership, rebounding, blocking shots, playing defense, whatever they need to win."
The Bucks have stated for months now that 6-11 rising star Giannis Antetokounmpo will be the team’s starting point guard (or, as Kidd said, "point forward, point center, however you want to look at it"). Antetokounmpo, sweet-shooting swingman Khris Middleton and slashing forward Jabari Parker are the prized core; around them, the Bucks are trying to develop complementary pieces and find fitting role players.
In the frontcourt, big man John Henson, a 25-year-old blocking machine, probably isn’t going anywhere, but center Greg Monroe, signed to a $50 million free-agent contract last offseason, has been a widely rumored trade candidate. Rookie Thon Maker, the 19-year-old first-round pick, has flashed great potential early in Summer League, but he’s raw and not yet ready to contribute.
With his outside shooting, rebounding ability and confidence – Teletovic spoke very comfortably and intelligently with reporters Monday – Teletovic could fill an important role for the young Bucks, like a more vocal Ersan Ilyasova.
Whether or not he becomes a leader in Milwaukee, Teletovic knows whose team this is and had glowing things to say about its talisman players.
"I think Giannis is an unbelievable talent who can play different positions, the 1, 2, 3 and the 4," Teletovic said. "Jabari is a great athlete, you know, definitely is going to get better every year. I see him like a next LeBron James, physical-wise – he can attack the rim, dunk over people, the only thing he misses a little bit, in my opinion, is be more aggressive. But he will be."
In the meantime, Teletovic is going to continue getting accustomed to Milwaukee and eating at "great places" like Three Brothers Serbian restaurant in Bay View.
"I come from a very small city, the climate is the same like being home (in Mostar), so I don’t have to adjust to that," he said. "It’s a great, a small city that has huge potential, and I’ll enjoy it."
Born in Milwaukee but a product of Shorewood High School (go ‘Hounds!) and Northwestern University (go ‘Cats!), Jimmy never knew the schoolboy bliss of cheering for a winning football, basketball or baseball team. So he ditched being a fan in order to cover sports professionally - occasionally objectively, always passionately. He's lived in Chicago, New York and Dallas, but now resides again in his beloved Brew City and is an ardent attacker of the notorious Milwaukee Inferiority Complex.
After interning at print publications like Birds and Blooms (official motto: "America's #1 backyard birding and gardening magazine!"), Sports Illustrated (unofficial motto: "Subscribe and save up to 90% off the cover price!") and The Dallas Morning News (a newspaper!), Jimmy worked for web outlets like CBSSports.com, where he was a Packers beat reporter, and FOX Sports Wisconsin, where he managed digital content. He's a proponent and frequent user of em dashes, parenthetical asides, descriptive appositives and, really, anything that makes his sentences longer and more needlessly complex.
Jimmy appreciates references to late '90s Brewers and Bucks players and is the curator of the unofficial John Jaha Hall of Fame. He also enjoys running, biking and soccer, but isn't too annoying about them. He writes about sports - both mainstream and unconventional - and non-sports, including history, music, food, art and even golf (just kidding!), and welcomes reader suggestions for off-the-beaten-path story ideas.