With NBA All-Star Weekend in the rearview window, the Milwaukee Bucks are gearing up for the final stretch of the regular season and preparing for the playoffs. There’s still a lot of basketball to play between now and then, and with Bobby Portis remaining sidelined with a knee injury and Giannis Antetokounmpo’s availability unknown – he sought additional evaluation on his wrist in New York City today – the Bucks have a thin front court.
As our own Van Fayaz detailed earlier today, Milwaukee has two open roster spots and needs to fill at least one of them to meet the league’s minimum roster requirements ahead of their next game. Well, Jon Horst found someone who can fill that seat; according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Bucks are bringing in Meyers Leonard on a 10-day deal.
ESPN Sources: Free agent F/C Meyers Leonard -- out of the NBA since March 2021 after uttering an antisemitic slur on a video game livestream and rehabbing post-surgical nerve damage on his right leg -- is signing a 10-day contract with the Milwaukee Bucks. pic.twitter.com/sDxBJm9CPG— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) February 20, 2023
What do we know about Meyers Leonard? Well, he hasn’t been on the court for a while; his last game played was with the Miami Heat back in January 2021, over two years ago. The Bucks don’t have a problem with bringing in players coming off an extended layoff, we know that much. But while Jae Crowder held out for six months due to a falling out with the Phoenix Suns, Leonard has away from of NBA basketball for 25 months. Why’s that?
Well, for one thing, it was discovered that there was nerve damage in his lower leg during a April 2021 ankle surgery – thought to be career-threatening – and this was after he was already shut down for the season with a shoulder injury in February 2021.
But then there’s also, y’know. The slurs.
Hold on, I need a minute. Be right back.
OK, I’m back, thanks. Now let’s try to be as fair as we can be to Leonard, who was indeed fined $50K by the league, essentially banished by the Miami Heat, and subsequently cut loose by the Oklahoma City Thunder after his choice words were broadcast to a Twitch stream with tens of thousands of users tuned in. Truth be told, he lost his livelihood as a consequence of his actions, which were to choose the words he shouted in frustration on a live stream. Here, hold on, I have an audio/visual aid:
Fuck Around and Find Out. Full Video. pic.twitter.com/fZb3JDUUW0— Roger Skaer (@rogerskaer) October 1, 2022
But what has he done since then? It seems, at least as far as the league is concerned, Meyers Leonard took on the effort of rehabilitating himself (and his image) and trying to fill in the gaps that he claims he was ignorant of. That’s unequivocally a good thing! From the ESPN article:
In an interview that aired last month, Leonard told Jeremy Schaap on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” that he didn’t know the meaning or history of the slur he used.
“There are absolutely no excuses for what happened that day,” Leonard told OTL. “And ignorance, sadly, is a very real thing. I am not running from this, but I did not know that it happened.”
“Since his use of a derogatory and unacceptable term in 2021, Meyers Leonard has been held accountable and has dedicated considerable time and effort to understand the impact of his comment,” NBA spokesman Mike Bass recently said. “He has met with numerous leaders in the Jewish community and participated in community programs to educate himself and use his platform to share his learnings with others.”
Leonard was suspended in March 2021 after using antisemitic slur on a live stream. He later apologized and has spent time with Jewish leaders and immersed himself in the Jewish community over the last couple years -- which the league has been aware of. https://t.co/bPfWzeJTGK— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) January 12, 2023
So based on the beats of Leonard’s story so far, he made a mess, suffered the consequences, and has been trying to make amends. Whether or not he’s been successful in the cleanup of said mess is not for me to say, but I can already admit that I’m not particularly interested in his return to the NBA court. He has already accumulated $60 million in career earnings, so I am not terribly concerned about his financial well-being, and it’s not like he’s some transcendent Kyrie Irving-esque talent whose abilities demand a lightening of the load of the baggage he brings with him.
I’m not saying he is or isn’t rehabilitated, just that it’s a good practice of the theory. Do people deserve second chances or should they be damned from society after a mistake? Everyone is going to feel differently and it’s a complex answer.— Bucks Film Room (@BucksFilmRoom) February 20, 2023
For the sake of conversation, let’s be as generous as possible with our interpretation of events. Let’s give as much credit as we can to what Leonard has done since his suspension, and minimize the harm as much as possible. Yes, it feels gross, but hold on to that for just a second.
Even just from a basketball perspective, this move seems misguided. According to Woj, the Bucks “wanted to bring in a big man with shooting ability and a playoff history.” Is Meyers Leonard really the best available fit for that description? Meyers Leonard, who has played 8 total professional basketball games since the COVID shutdown started? Meyers Leonard, who averaged 5.3 points across only 28 playoff games in his nine-year career? He might boast a career three-point shooting average of 39.0%, but this signing sure seems to miss the mark, even on just a ten-day contract. Maybe the list of available free agent centers isn’t the most exciting, but do any of them come this sort of off-court business? Actually, yes, but that’s a separate conversation.
So why is Meyers Leonard worth the hassle, and why now? Maybe it’s as simple as needing to shore up depth behind Brook Lopez while Portis and Giannis are on the mend; the only other traditional big that the Bucks have is two-way player Sandro Mamukelashvili. And Leonard does at least fit the description of a big center, at 7’0” and 260 lbs. Maybe it’s some sort of unpopular altruism on the part of the Bucks franchise, who have otherwise been relatively drama-free. Or maybe it’s something else entirely; after all, if Leonard’s representation hasn’t changed from his last NBA stop, who else knew that he and Khris Middleton share an agent?
All in all, this is likely to be a short stint for Leonard in Milwaukee, and let me be the first to say that I wish Meyers Leonard well on his own journey towards being a better person. Just not as a Buck.