DETROIT - Heading into training camp last September, Thon Maker had every reason to be excited about the upcoming NBA season.
For the second consecutive year, the Australian had altered the Milwaukee Bucks' fortunes in the playoffs and hopes were high for a true breakout season in 2018-19.
With Mike Budenholzer assuming the role of head coach in Milwaukee, it appeared his floor spacing offense and simplified defensive schemes would fast-track the development of the player Bucks' superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo described as the "heart and soul" of the locker room.
"I was coming back highly excited, a lot of people were saying that Bud was going to be a great coach for me," Maker recalled when speaking with ESPN.
"I had some people in Atlanta telling me he was a great coach, a player's coach, and that my style of play was his style of play. [Bucks GM] Jon Horst told me the same thing, that I would benefit from his style of coaching and he just lets you play."
Before the two could get the chance to work together, matters were complicated by the signing of free agent big man Brook Lopez, who was immediately pegged for the starting role in Milwaukee.
"My mind was not on the moves they were making, I was just focused on improving so I didn't have any concerns with the Lopez signing," Maker reiterated when pressed on whether or not the signing felt like a lack of confidence in his ability.
Though Maker insists the Lopez signing didn't faze him, it did leave him third in line for minutes in the Bucks center rotation, far from the position he hoped to be in to start the season.
A serious wrist injury -- and subsequent trade to Cleveland -- to primary back-up John Henson opened the door for Maker, and while he was executing his role on the floor, it was during this period in late December through January that discussions were taking place away from the court, as Horst began to seek out possible trade partners for the wantaway Australian.
Simply seeking greater opportunities, he would try to distance himself from the negotiations and remain committed to his team mates in Milwaukee.
"Honestly, all that stuff I left to my agent and I was more focused on the basketball side of things," he said. "Jon Horst and I would talk every now and then, but he was just letting me know where talks were at."
Watching Maker go about his business, it was impossible to tell a trade may be looming, his infectious smile and insatiable desire to put in the work on the practice court rising to the surface with each day that passed.
"I let [Horst] know my focus was in Milwaukee and the team and what I was doing on the court. As things started getting more aggressive they kept me in the loop, but still, my main focuse remained on the team," Maker was clear to point out.
When the trade request was made public on January 27, Maker's papers had been stamped, and he failed to see the floor again in a Milwaukee jersey before being traded to the Detroit Pistons on February 7, NBA trade deadline day.
The decision to ask out of Milwaukee, the current holders on the NBA's best record, was not an easy one for Maker, who holds incredible love for the city where his NBA journey began.
"I really enjoyed my time in Milwaukee," Maker said.
"In the community, with all my appearances, the time with the kids, the community was awesome, they treated me well, everywhere I went I was welcomed. The community always welcomed me. I'll always remember that."
With the trade still fresh in his mind, Maker refuses to look back, steadfast in his belief that the move will be the best thing for him moving forward.
"I did the right thing all the way through. I was professional, I enjoyed the time with my teammates and coaches right up until the move happened. I'm not overthinking things right now, I'm not regretting things, I'm just focused on winning and focused on Detroit now," Maker said.
"I didn't listen to what anybody was saying on the outside, I simply focused on my team in Milwaukee and now am focused on this team here [in Detroit]."
Since joining his new squad, Maker has indeed been rewarded with rotation minutes, with his floor time increasing in each of his three appearances. Currently in the eighth and final playoff seed, the Boomers star is relishing the opportunity to once again be a part of a playoff push.
"We're taking every game as if it's a playoff game right now, I'm thinking about how we can get to the 6th spot, or the 5th spot," he said.
Wasting no time in endearing himself to his new fanbase, Maker would suffer a gruesome mouth injury while emphatically blocking the shot of Washington Wizard, Bobby Portis.
Maker loses some teeth while blocking Portis
Thon Maker puts up a monster block on Bobby Portis and in the process gets his teeth knocked out.
Requiring multiple stiches to his lip, his bloody mouth sparked fear that he had lost multiple teeth on the play. Maker would return to the floor soon after to connect on his first basket as a Piston -a corner three-and was quick to reveal he would not be requiring a visit to the dentist.
"The skin on my lips was like flapping, covering my teeth so people thought I lost teeth but I'm good."
Ironically, the move may pit Maker against some old friends in Milwaukee in the first round of the playoffs with Detroit currently occupying the eighth and final playoff seed.
"Man, that would be awesome, that would be awesome," Maker said with a laugh.
"I wish we had one more regular season game against them, so I could come back and get to see my teammates again. It gives me memories, it gives me great memories, they are my friends. We still talk daily, it would be cool."
If you are fortunate enough to spend time around Maker, you'll probably hear him say, "it's never goodbye in the NBA, it's just see you later," and while a new chapter in his NBA journey has begun, he will always remember where it all started.
"The city will always have that place right there in my heart, I'll always love Milwaukee, so I wouldn't change anything."