Oakland, Calif. — Being traded to a new team is like moving and starting at a new school in the middle of the school year. Besides learning the new surroundings, players want to fit in with their new teammates and have a sense that they belong in the new social circle.
With Andre Drummond, Blake Griffin and Reggie Jackson, the Pistons had a quiet locker room, so the newest Pistons player made his move, getting clearance from the established leadership group for his icebreaker.
“When we got him, the first day he came in the locker room, he asked if we play music in the locker room. I said, ‘We haven’t done that in a couple years, but you can if you want to,’” Drummond said. “He did it for the first time and everybody liked it, so he’s been doing it ever since.”
Cue DJ Moneymaker.
That’s the working moniker for Pistons forward Thon Maker, who has made his name for providing the soundtrack for the Pistons locker room and team flights. Maker, acquired from the Milwaukee Bucks in a trade involving Stanley Johnson, arrived on Feb. 6 and immediately changed the atmosphere around him, like the new kid at the lunchroom table.
“The guys enjoy it. Every day, you listen to music — in the car, in (the locker room) and leading into a game each night. You’re just prepared,” Maker said. “You’re mentally locked in because you’re in rhythm.”
Before Maker’s arrival, each Pistons player had his own music routine, listening to personal selections on earbuds or headphones. It’s been an ongoing custom for the Pistons, but Maker wanted to make an impact and to build team camaraderie, as he had done in his first two-plus seasons with the Bucks.
Maker didn’t really know first-year Pistons coach Dwane Casey but new assistant Sean Sweeney, who was with Maker in his previous seasons in Milwaukee, was the conduit to getting approval.
“I asked Sweeney how Coach Casey was with music. Sweeney said he’s not going to negate it, but you have to know when to stop it,” Maker said. “I did that and some players in the past few weeks have said they feel really good.”
Since Maker’s arrival, the Pistons are 13-7 and have positioned themselves for the playoffs. Maker doesn’t take all the credit for his music igniting the hot streak, but there is some correlation.
“(The vibe) really changed, because you had guys locked in their own zones and all of a sudden he’s bringing a different vibe every game and it’s something different,” guard Langston Galloway said. “He might have some Lil Wayne, Jeezy or Meek Mill.
“It makes it more interactive in the locker room.”
Reading the room
Curating the right selection of songs isn’t easy, given the disparate backgrounds, from veteran players like Zaza Pachulia and Jose Calderon to younger players such as Bruce Brown and Khyri Thomas.
DJ Moneymaker seems to find something for everybody, drawing praise from Griffin, who said Maker’s musical tastes belie his musical background at age 22.
Maker said his go-to songs are Drake’s “5 AM in Toronto” and “9 AM in Dallas” or “Mob Ties.” He also has infused Meek Mill’s “Dreams and Nightmares” and other by J. Cole, Future and Notorious B.I.G.
“I’ll play that and they’ll listen to the storytelling and it’s the aggression that Biggie is talking about in the song that forces you to get into battle mode,” Maker said. “Any time I play those, I’m ready and locked in right away.
“It’s not just an artist, but the vibe, to get them into battle mode. You see postgame, especially after wins, I’ll play something more chill and low-key because in the NBA, the sleep doctors always say to calm down your heart rate. I’ll play something slow or more chill, not like in pregame.”
Birth of the Moneymaker
DJ Moneymaker got his start in Milwaukee, the nickname given by veteran guard Jason Terry, who played the final two of his 19 seasons with the Bucks. The genesis of Maker and music started in his rookie season, as he looked to ingratiate himself with the young team with Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, under then-coach Jason Kidd.
“In the preseason, we had lost three games and the chemistry was just not good in the locker room. When we were playing Dallas, I just started playing music in the locker room,” Maker recalled. “Coach Kidd didn’t like it and he came in and asked who was playing music. (Kidd) said I had to turn that off.
“Giannis and Khris went in and spoke with him and said it was a good idea and we should try it. We didn’t deserve to have music bumping out loud because we were losing.”
Kidd went along with it for a bit, so Maker brought his own JBL speakers and started playing music in the locker room.
“I put together a playlist and they started liking it and guys were bumping their heads to it. After the meeting, I started playing something very hype,” Maker said. “We came out in the game and we were playing extremely well.
“From then on, it helped us out. Later in the season, I got more consistent with it and played strategic songs, knowing certain guys liked certain songs and right before the meeting, I’d play something that made people think.”
Drums and money
The music has helped Maker make inroads with his new teammates as well, building on a longstanding connection with Drummond.
“The only person I knew was Andre; I’ve watched Dre since high school. The coach who taught me to play basketball used to coach Dre in high school,” Maker said. “I grew up watching him as well. Throughout the league, every time we played the Pistons, we’d catch up here and there — and now we’re teammates.
It’s eased the transition for Maker, who is making a mark on the court as well, building a rhythm on the defensive end, where he’s become a rim protector. When he makes a 3-pointer, he holds his arms above his 7-foot-1 frame and rubs his fingers together.
It’s the money sign.
That personality has made him a locker room favorite, along with the music.
“He’s been watching me since I was 14. I’ve known Thon since he was a little kid, so to see him now and have him as a teammate is pretty cool,” Drummond said. “He’s a kid still. He reminds me of myself. It’s good to have a fresh face who really is a high-character guy. I enjoy having him and he’s a great teammate; he’s a hell of a kid.”
And a pretty good DJ too.
Pistons at Nuggets
Tip-off: 9 Tuesday, Pepsi Center, Denver
Outlook: The Pistons (37-36) have lost two straight and look to salvage a second win from their four-game western trip. The Nuggets (49-23) are vying for the best record in the Western Conference, a half-game behind the Warriors.