Bucks can give thanks to Middleton in recruiting Monroe to Milwaukee
Could it all have happened over Thanksgiving dinner?
Could the seeds of persuasion that ultimately yielded the biggest free-agent signing in Bucks history have been planted amidst plates of turkey and stuffing at Greg Monroe's Detroit-area home last year?
Perhaps; perhaps not. But after officially inking his three-year, $50 million contract, and after being formally introduced to the Milwaukee media along with good friend and fellow signatory Khris Middleton on Thursday, Monroe revealed a previously unreported bit of information about a holiday get-together last November that may -- or, certainly, may not -- have influenced or informed his decision to join the Bucks.
Monroe said during an interview following the news conference that the day before Milwaukee played at Detroit on Nov. 28 of last season he hosted Thanksgiving dinner at his house for some of the visitors, including Middleton, a former teammate with whom Monroe has "kept up a relationship" even after Middleton was traded to the Bucks by the Pistons.
"I talked to him all the time," said Monroe, in a dapper tan suit with a purple tie and matching lapel pin. "They were at my house last Thanksgiving. We played them the day after Thanksgiving in Detroit -- they were at my house, had dinner, my mom cooked, so, you know, we've always stayed friends and I'm definitely happy to be back with him."
Middleton, Monroe said, was instrumental in his decision to sign with Milwaukee.
"I want to thank the whole organization, and also Khris -- he assisted them a whole lot in recruiting me here," Monroe said. "I'm looking forward to playing with him again; he's a great guy and from what I've heard all the guys on the team are great, so I'm looking forward to working with everyone here."
Middleton, who was drafted in the second round by the Pistons in 2012-13 and played that season with Monroe, confirmed he had an active involvement in pitching the big man on Brew City.
"I was bugging him quite a bit, I will say that," Middleton said laughing. "Almost every couple hours. But Greg, when I was in Detroit, he was somebody that competed every night as hard as he could and wanted to win, he wasn't happy losing, and that's the main thing I remember about him."
Is it possible that, like the early Pilgrims and the Native Americans putting aside their differences to find common ground and accord, Monroe and the Bucks felt a similar harmony while enjoying a meal together last year? Did the Bucks, an up-and-coming team with good chemistry, a revered coach and a 10-7 record after beating the Pistons by 16 points the night after Thanksgiving, leave a lasting impression on Monroe -- playing out of position at power forward on a team that would fall to 3-13 -- who was on the floor for just 23 minutes and took only three shots, totaling five points and two rebounds in that game against Milwaukee?
One can only speculate, and wonder.
What Monroe did make plain about his decision to join the Bucks was his recognition of the team's on-court ability, his admiration of head coach Jason Kidd and the club's operations, and his desperate, yearning, voracious desire to get to the playoffs.
"Maybe the correct word is starving for the playoffs," Monroe said when asked about his hunger for the postseason. "They have something I want to be a part of. I feel they have all the tools to get there. So they just had everything set up for what I wanted -- everything I needed to be comfortable and happy.
"I think they were the best fit for me. I met with everybody, I listened to everybody, everything they have to offer, and I felt like this organization had the most to offer me and what I was looking for."
During his jovial news conference alongside Middleton, who was a restricted free agent and on Thursday re-signed with the Bucks for five years and $70 million, Monroe said the latter "really did" play a major role in getting him to Milwaukee.
"That was serious; he was ringing me up," Monroe said, before adding, "Their aspirations, the team that they have in place, I felt like this was the best fit for me. It was purely a basketball decision. I'm a basketball player, I love this game and so nothing else mattered but basketball to me, and that's why I'm here."
It didn't hurt, however, that the Bucks also have Kidd, who finished his 19-year NBA playing career in 2013 and spent one season as the coach of the Brooklyn Nets before taking over in Milwaukee in 2014.
"You know how smart he is so you know his transition from a player, as he's proven already, to a coach was going to be pretty easy," Monroe said of Kidd. "He's won everywhere. He won as a player, he's been winning as a coach, and everybody knows who he is and what he's done for this game, and so I know that he has a lot to give back as a coach and I'm looking forward to working with him a whole lot."
As for the Bucks, general manager John Hammond, seated next to Monroe at the news conference, said he was looking forward to working with the new 6-foot-11 center as both a player and a person.
"We started with the character side of things, and Greg is a guy who's represented himself extremely well, the team that he's played for and the community that he's been a part of, and I think he's going to do the same thing here in Milwaukee," Hammond said. "I think he'll embrace the city, he'll embrace the state, the fans and I think he's going to represent himself and his teammates and his coaches really well."
Monroe was already starting to embrace the city Thursday night, when photos surfaced of him in attendance at a downtown Milwaukee street festival, interacting with fans.
Hammond, Kidd and Middleton all mentioned Monroe's ability to provide dependable scoring in the low post, something the Bucks lacked last year, especially during their playoff series loss to the Chicago Bulls in the first round. Monroe averaged 15.9 points and 10.2 rebounds in 2014-15 and has put at least 15 and nine in each of the past four seasons. He was seventh in the league in post-up points per game last year and, according to the Bucks, averaged more per game (6.0) than their whole team in the post (5.2).
"We need somebody -- if you look at our game -- you say one of the key components is, can you find somebody that can command a double team?" said Hammond. "And Greg's the kind of guy that you can throw the ball inside to him and teams have to make a decision on how they're going to defend him. So his ability to score is very helpful for us, and we need scoring.
Kidd said Monroe brings the Bucks a needed "presence," a big that can provide scoring and rebounding, which was "something that we thought we needed."
Monroe, who has a 12.6 career assist percentage, has also been lauded as a gifted passer. Kidd said the Bucks would also utilize his vision and skills as a distributor in the low and high post.
"We're not going to hold him back in the sense of just being a big and just playing inside," Kidd said. "I think that Greg can put the ball on the floor and also he can pass, so when we have guys that can cut and he can find the open guy, he can be a playmaker. So we're looking for big things from Greg."
And, finally, what does Monroe's buddy think he can bring to the Bucks?
"He can bring a lot; he's very talented and skilled," Middleton said. "He can score on the block, he can step away, make moves, make plays for everybody and I think he's going to fit in great with us. I'm really looking forward to it."
At 25 years old, Monroe should join a young and talented starting lineup that will likely comprise 23-year-old guards Middleton and Michael Carter-Williams alongside 20-year-old forwards Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker. The final season of Monroe's three-year contract is a player option, but Hammond believed the big man was sold on being part of Milwaukee's macro plans.
"I think that Greg looked at our team and said we were a playoff team, but I think most importantly he looked at it and said this is a playoff team that's going to get better," Hammond said.
And how does Monroe feel about growing and developing with a youthful, potential-filled squad that went 41-41 last year.
"The talent level that they've acquired and the level that these guys are playing at such a young age -- it's usually a hard transition for younger guys to come in," he said. "But for a team to be this young and this successful, it's a testament to the guys' hard work and Jason Kidd and his staff's hard work and you can just tell, just from my short time being here, just what a great organization it is.
"It's more like a family, and I love that. I think I fit in perfectly."
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