Bucks sign center Meyers Leonard for rest of season: ‘They changed my life.’

PHOENIX – Meyers Leonard grabbed his backpack and his guitar and headed to the Milwaukee Bucks’ bus leaving the Golden 1 Center on Monday night in Sacramento, California, wondering aloud if he’d be headed home to Los Angeles or staying with the team on its way to Phoenix as his second 10-day contract was expiring.

He woke up in Phoenix still unsure. But by the afternoon, the answer was that Leonard was not only going to finish out the road trip, but the regular season and playoffs. The Bucks signed the 31-year-old center to a standard contract for the rest of this season officially on Tuesday before the game against the Suns.

According to a league source, Meyers’ minimum salary will cost the Bucks roughly $1.2 million due to their placement in the luxury tax. They could have waited a little longer to sign him and save some money, as April 9 is the deadline for players to be eligible for the playoffs, but general manager Jon Horst chose to make the move to fill out their 15th and final guaranteed roster spot now.

“I get through my first 10-day and I’m feeling pretty good, they offered me a second 10-day and I’m wondering what’s going to happen after this,” he told the Journal Sentinel. “We’re talking about the number one team in the league.

“I feel like I’ve connected really well across the whole organization, from the players to the (physical training) staff, front office, even the fans. I always try to stop after every game in Milwaukee, sign every autograph, take pictures, because that’s who I am.

“I texted Jon. I’m hoping to talk to (team governor) Marc (Lasry) at some point at length, or a little bit more intimately I guess, to say thank you. They changed my life. They really did. This is going to be hard for me not to get emotional right now. It’s honestly hard to describe what this feeling feels like.”

Milwaukee Bucks center Meyers Leonard (3) hits a three-point basket during the second half of their game Friday, February 24, 2023 at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee Wis. The Milwaukee Bucks beat the Miami Heat 128-99.

The Bucks signed the 7-footer to his first 10-day deal on Feb. 22, just after the all-star break when Giannis Antetokounmpo’s status was uncertain with a sprained right wrist. It was Leonard’s first contract since 2020-21, when several injuries and his use of an antisemitic slur on a video game live stream had kept him out of the game.

“For them to believe in me matters a lot. I’m so grateful,” Leonard reiterated on Tuesday. “My wife is. One day I’ll be able to tell my son hey, these are the people who believed in me, gave me a second chance. That changed, literally, my life. I love basketball, I do, but they changed my life. And it helped me in some way put the incident behind me.”

Leonard has appeared in five games thus far for the Bucks and showed he could still make three-pointers as a stretch big, hitting 44% of his shots from behind the three-point line in just under seven minutes per game.

“I fit what the Bucks do,” he said. “I can play in drop coverage on the defensive end. I use my voice very well. I try to help direct traffic. On the other end I can set big screens to get these guys open and I space the floor. I can be physical in the playoffs. Say they need eight minutes, 10 minutes, 12 minutes, that matters. Every little bit matters in the playoffs. And so for them to have that belief in me also as a basketball player, it makes me feel really good.”

Leonard has 28 games of playoff experience across stints in Portland and Miami, and was a part of the Heat’s NBA Finals team in 2019-20.

“That’s always been a little bit of a spot; we gotta try and find that true backup five that brings some of the things that Brook brings and the size and shot-blocking and still be able to make threes,” Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said. “It’s a unique position. And sometimes we shift down and go other directions and so the guy may not play a ton, but the value is very real, very important to us.

“We feel he can help us in a playoff series, playoff games. We still have 14, 15 games left. Jon just does an amazing job with the roster and I just think the fit and the need was just (there). We feel really fortunate to have Meyers. He’s been phenomenal since we’ve had him.”

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Bucks sign center Meyers Leonard for rest of season