Former Pistons big man Greg Monroe has reportedly agreed to a maximum contract with the Milwaukee Bucks, defying months of speculation that he would land in New York and giving the Bucks the interior scorer and rebounder they've long coveted. Adrian Wojnarowski (who else?) was the first to break the news this morning:
Free agent Greg Monroe will sign a maximum contract with the Milwaukee Bucks, league source tells Yahoo Sports.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) July 2, 2015
Greg Monroe will sign a three-year, $50M deal with the Bucks, including the player option on the final year, sources tell Yahoo.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) July 2, 2015
Needless to say this is HUGE news for a Milwaukee franchise just a year removed from a franchise-worst 15-67 record and looking to make waves following a 41-41 season under head coach Jason Kidd. Though he was an awkward fit next to Andre Drummond in Detroit, the 25-year-old Monroe will immediately slot into the Bucks' starting center position and provide Jason Kidd another young weapon on a roster already featuring Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker and the recently-re-signed Khris Middleton. Here's what we wrote about him a couple days ago:
Overall, Monroe would bring two obvious skills the Bucks have lacked: rebounding and interior scoring. While he's usually labeled as unathletic due to his lack of explosion, the former Georgetown star is actually a pretty good runner and carries his 250+ pounds rather fluidly, especially on the offensive end. He's a major threat either facing up or with his back to the basket, and he's also a good passer capable of initiating offense from the high post. Monroe's only obvious offensive flaw is his lack of range; though he's a good free throw shooter and made a respectable 37.2% of his midrange jumpers last year (29/78), Monroe isn't a floor-stretcher and that's one obvious reason why he simply doesn't make sense playing as an oversized power forward next to a low-skill guy like Drummond.
Defensively, Monroe has been an above-average rebounder throughout his career, averaging a double-double per 36 minutes each of the past four seasons. But he's hardly a prototypical defensive center; he's not a rim protector and doesn't have the quickness to handle quick fours or the ideal size to battle with elite offensive bigs. Nevertheless, his encouraging defensive RPM of +2.29 last season suggests his IQ makes up for a lot, and his splits at center are encouraging on both ends. In 805 minutes playing without Drummond and Josh Smith, Monroe averaged an exceptional 21.6 points/36 minutes on 59.3% true shooting (via NBA Wowy), and the Pistons were actually better defensively with Monroe at center (104.3 pts/100 possessions) vs. Drummond (108.9). Interestingly, they were dramatically better offensively with Drummond in the middle (112.1) than Monroe (106.1), though the bottom line remains that both guys were very good without the other.
So would he be worth a max deal in Milwaukee? I'd say yes simply because of his age and overall talent level -- at worst he's a useful trade chip if things don't work out -- though the concerns over his defensive fit are worth debating. In an ideal world everyone wants a rim protector, especially with Jabari Parker a potential major liability at the 4/3 spots, and Monroe simply isn't the type to erase others' mistakes. But he's also no Enes Kanter defensively (more on him in a moment), and he's a vastly better defensive rebounder than anyone currently on the roster. Also remember that the Bucks were a stellar defensive team with Zaza Pachulia and Ersan Ilyasova starting together for the second half of the season, and the Pistons were good with Monroe in the middle a year ago. I won't begrudge anyone preferring Jordan or even the older Tyson Chandler, but Monroe's age and productivity would make him a worthwhile gamble in case he were actually interested.
As many had expected, Monroe's deal is for three seasons with a player option on the final year, enabling him to re-enter free agency in 2017 when the league's salary cap is expected to exceed $100 million. Barring a disaster, Monroe opting out in two years would seem a virtual certainty, as the $17.2 million he'd project to earn in the 17/18 figures to be a bargain once the league's cap has finished exploding. That also makes him a low-risk prospect for the Bucks, who at worst have a very movable asset if things go haywire at some point in the next two seasons.
With 16 guaranteed contracts and logjams now at center and guard, the Bucks figure to make at least one or two more moves this summer, though the team's free agent activity is likely done. That said, even with their cap space exhausted they could still use their $2.8 million cap room exception to sign another player if needed. Assuming Middleton's deal is flat and no other moves are made (however unlikely that assumption might be), the Bucks' total cap number for this season would fall just shy of $78 million, which would be a few million under the previously projected $81 million luxury tax figure for this coming season. That said, reports over the past week suggest the cap and tax will be slightly higher than previously projected, so they should have additional breathing room once the new cap figures are released next week.
Just as importantly, the Bucks' cap number a year from now could be as low as $58 million if cap holds for Zaza Pachulia, O.J. Mayo, Greivis Vasquez, Jerryd Bayless, Miles Plumlee and Jared Dudley were renounced, which would provide up to $31 million in cap space in next summer if the cap rises as expected to around $89 million. Expect those numbers to move around a bit as more moves are made and cap projections firm up, but the bottom line is that the Bucks will have plenty of flexibility again next summer, even when accounting for cap holds for John Henson ($7.4 million) and another mid-first round pick. That's especially important considering that hypothetical max deals for Giannis Antetokounmpo (eligible next summer to kick in for the 17/18 season) and Jabari Parker (a year after Giannis) will be in excess of $25 million apiece. They still have to earn those on the court, but it's quite possible they do and something the Bucks will have to plan around going forward.
The move caps off a perfectly-executed first two days of free agency for the Bucks, who used cap space to acquire Greivis Vasquez's $6.6 million salary on draft night and now have just enough to make Monroe a max offer (you can bet that wasn't an accident). They started things off by re-upping starting shooting guard Khris Middleton shortly after free agency began at midnight on July 1, and now they've filled their need for an interior scorer by acquiring a 25-year-old big man just entering his prime.
Get excited, Milwaukee.