Milwaukee Bucks: Greg Monroe was right to exercise player option

Greg Monroe exercised his player option and will return to the Milwaukee Bucks for the 2017-18 season. Was this the right move for the veteran big man?

The Milwaukee Bucks finally made a splash in free agency two summers ago, signing a big-name free agent when large market suitors such as the New York Knicks were courting the same player. In 2015, Greg Monroe left the Detroit Pistons and signed a three-year contract with the Bucks.

The supposed coup turned sour once the games began, however. A playoff team the year before, the Bucks stumbled in improving their team and instead took a major step backwards, falling into the lottery. Monroe was not the problem many purported him to be, but there is no question he was not the answer. By the end of the year, Miles Plumlee was earning starts over him.

Although Plumlee was not the answer either, his starts allowed Monroe to flash his post muscles against inferior competition off the bench. Head coach Jason Kidd saw the potential for Greg Monroe to be deployed against opposing second units and made the change permanent. Although he appeared in 81 games for Milwaukee last season (87 counting the postseason), Monroe did not make a single start.

Although his minutes and counting stats went down, Monroe’s impact went up. Bench units weren’t equipped to man up with Moose in the post, and he routinely unleashed his bag of tricks from the block to score inside. When teams doubled, he flashed underrated playmaking skills in moving the ball to shooters and cutters all moving around him.

This offseason Greg Monroe was faced with an option; should he decline his player option and test free agent waters, or exercise his $17.9 million option and stay with Milwaukee for another season? Ultimately Monroe and his agent decided to take the money to the bank and stick with the Bucks for at least one more year.

This is the right move for Monroe at this point in his career. Having just turned 27, there is another payday still in Monroe’s future as he firmly enters his athletic prime. By waiting a year to test free agency he is not sacrificing an opportunity to sign a deal longer than a few years. But he is locking in more money than he would gain on the open market.

The league is currently saturated with centers and is using fewer of them than at any point in recent history. The rise of small-ball lineups and positional versatility has players sliding down a position; that’s why Monroe is distinctly labeled a 5 now while coming out of college as a 4.

Trying to find a team with cap space and a mind to pay Monroe more than $17.9 million would be a tall task, especially as most of the teams with cap space are either flush with young centers (Sacramento, Minnesota, Philadelphia) or not on a timetable that would receive value from a high-cost offensive center best deployed off of the bench (Phoenix, Brooklyn). Such a deal wasn’t coming.

By staying in Milwaukee, Monroe makes more money this season than he was going to on the open market. Next summer the cap is currently projected to stay mildly flat, but a number of intangibles (length of postseason, jersey ads) could inject some more money into the cap. Even if the climate is similarly chilly for a center such as Monroe, he will have already pocketed that money.

Outside of the financial decision, Monroe’s role is still available on the Bucks. While they drafted a pair of young players in D.J. Wilson and Sterling Brown to shore up their bench wing rotation, they will probably enter next season with the same collection of centers.

Thon Maker is the Bucks’ center of the future (unless Giannis Antetokounmpo is) but he will still be both thin and young next season. Assuming Kidd continues to start Maker, the Bucks can fill in the minutes behind him with Monroe. The two formed a strong rotation down the stretch of last season, with each bringing very different skill-sets to the table.

If Milwaukee has another strong season and makes the playoffs, Monroe will be two seasons removed from the stink of the 2015-16 disaster. That will likewise mean two seasons of work off the bench generating efficient offense for a playoff team. That looks good on a resume, and the recent success of Andre Iguodala shows how an elite sixth man can affect a team’s ceiling.

Greg Monroe is a talented big man playing in the wrong era to maximize his earnings, but that doesn’t mean he can’t continue to have a long and successful career. For at least one more season that career will be based in Milwaukee, and he is better off for making that decision.

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