October 17, 2015

MILWAUKEE (AP) Greg Monroe could be a difference-maker this season for the Milwaukee Bucks.

Jabari Parker could, too.

But in the 6-foot-11 Monroe, the Bucks have a big man who fits into the dynamic of an up-and-coming team. He is the kind of prized free-agent signee that the franchise had trouble getting in the past.

''We don't want to be in a position where we're surprised when things like this happen,'' general manager John Hammond said. ''Look, I can say it because I've lived it - there's a new day in Milwaukee Bucks basketball.''

The rebuilding project is ahead of schedule in Jason Kidd's second year as head coach. Milwaukee won 41 games and made a surprise run to the playoffs, losing in six games in the first round to the Chicago Bulls.

The Bucks let veteran center Zaza Pachulia go in the offseason. Forward Ersan Ilyasova, a seven-year veteran with Milwaukee, was traded to the Detroit Pistons.

The 25-year-old Monroe signed a three-year, $50 million deal, which includes a player option in the final year. He joins a young starting lineup that already includes Giannis Antetokounmpo at small forward, and the emerging backcourt of shooting guard Khris Middleton and point guard Michael Carter-Williams.

That other starting spot should eventually go to Parker, though the Bucks are being cautious about pushing their star forward after he tore his left ACL in December.

They can afford that luxury with a young and deep roster that added Monroe to the mix.

''He's a very good low-post player that you can play through down there because not only can he score, but he can really pass the ball,'' said the Pistons' Stan Van Gundy, Monroe's former coach.

''They got a great big guy to add to what's a really solid young perimeter core. Things look like they are on the way up here.''

Here are some other things to watch with the Bucks:

ROOM TO GROW: The 6-foot-11 Antetokounmpo, a native of Greece, has gotten better since his rookie year two seasons ago - and there's still room for improvement.

Antetokounmpo is a matchup problem since he plays like an athletic small forward, but can handle the ball like a guard. The Bucks have him working out more in camp at power forward, too, where he might be able to use his quickness against tall but slower players.

''There's stuff he has to learn at the four because he's a guard,'' forward John Henson said. ''He's learning.''

BIG MEN: Antetokounmpo at power forward would give the Bucks a quicker lineup on the floor. If need be, the Bucks could also put Monroe and Henson on the floor at the same time to match up against bigger teams.

Monroe averaged a double-double of 15.9 points and 10.2 rebounds last season. The 6-foot-11 Henson offers an energetic and defensive presence on the floor, and the Bucks don't lose much in the way of quickness, either.

''You look at two fives, two centers being able to do different things,'' Kidd said. ''I thought it would be a great tandem ... Greg starting and John coming off the bench. And there's going to probably be a time when can play both of them together.''

JUST JABARI: Along with the rehab for his knee injury, the 6-foot-8, 250-pound Parker also muscled up to prepare for play in the paint. Parker, by all accounts, is doing well at practice.

''He's going to come back and change the dynamic,'' Henson said. Parker averaged 12.3 points and 5.5 rebounds in 25 games last season.

ON GUARDS: The Bucks re-signed Middleton to a $70 million deal in the offseason, locking up their starting shooting guard for five years. Carter-Williams is learning on the job, but fits the mold of the kind of guard who can contribute across the stat sheet much like Kidd during his playing days.

The Bucks also traded for the 6-foot-6 Greivis Vasquez in the offseason to join the veteran Jared Bayless and second-year player Tyler Ennis as ball-handlers.

FLEXIBILITY: Kidd showed last season that he would use his whole roster, and the addition of Vasquez and return of Parker gives him even more length and flexibility. The roster makeup has given the Bucks the ability to withstand injuries.

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Follow Genaro Armas at http://twitter.com/GArmasAP

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