NBA

Greg Monroe Playing Free Agency Waiting Game

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At the start of free agency, there likely wouldn’t have been many takers on a betting line placing forward Greg Monroe on the list of unsigned players approaching August. But this is exactly where the talented Monroe patiently sits and waits, watching much less talented players get mega deals, while the market plays itself out.

Welcome to the land of restricted free agency.

When talking to players around the league who have had the pleasure of taking a stroll through restricted free agency at some point in their career, there’s no shortage of groans or looks of discomfort as they give their opinion of the journey.

Restricted free agency is a safe haven for an executive holding the rights to a player entering the market for the first time. Once a franchise issues a qualifying offer before the start of free agency, the team is granted the right to match any offer sheet from an opposing club. It is the primary reason why most rival teams refuse to venture into this type of bidding process for a player. It is risky business. But for the incumbent general manager, restricted free agency allows the market to set the value of the player rather than bidding against themselves while working on a new contract.

Everything coming out of Detroit points to newly crowned Pistons president of basketball operations and head coach Stan Van Gundy matching any offer received for Monroe’s services. Van Gundy fully understands he’s in a strongly leveraged position and there’s no need to rush the process. This is a business decision and not one regarding any aspect of Monroe’s game on the floor.

The worst-case scenario for Detroit is Monroe deciding to sign the $5.5 million qualifying offer for the 2014-15 campaign and becoming an unrestricted free agent next summer, where Van Gundy wouldn’t have the leverage to match an offer. But even in this scenario, Detroit would still have the ability to offer more money than any team in the hunt in 2015.

Leverage here is clearly with the Pistons, especially since the list of teams around the league with the necessary cap space needed to poach Monroe away from Detroit continues to dwindle by the day.

On the flip side, restricted free agency isn’t always a problem for players. Some guys benefit – in huge fashion.

All-Star center Roy Hibbert entered restricted free agency in 2012 and was immediately offered a four-year, $58 million deal from the Portland Trail Blazers, which the Indiana Pacers eventually matched. Heading into free agency, Hibbert’s market value was nowhere near what Portland offered, but the Blazers had to come strong in order to force the Pacers’ hands. It didn’t work out for Portland. Indiana paid the premium. Hibbert headed to the bank.

Monroe was drafted with the seventh overall pick of the 2010 NBA Draft. Four players in the top 10 from this class have received maximum deals with John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Paul George receiving early extensions and never testing free agency. The fourth, Gordon Hayward, received a maximum contract offer from the Charlotte Hornets earlier this month, which the Utah Jazz opted to match to keep him in the fold.

In all, five of the top 10 players selected in 2010 were able to secure eight-figure-per-season paydays before reaching restricted free agency (Derrick Favors being the fifth at four-years, $49 million in Utah).

The only players who are currently unemployed from 2010’s top 10 picks are Ekpe Udoh and Monroe. Forwards Evan Turner, Al-Farouq Aminu and Wesley Johnson recently signed lower value deals with the Boston Celtics, Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers, respectively.

Monroe has career averages of 14 points, nine rebounds and 2.3 assists per game on 51 percent shooting since entering the league. To date, he has played the most regular season games (309) and logged more minutes (9,681) than anyone in his draft class, which shows his durability.

However, the problem for Monroe this summer hasn’t been concerns of work ethic, durability, attitude or respect levels. The issue was, before the available money started drying up, teams being reluctant to tie up valuable cap space while Detroit had three days to match any offer with other free agent options coming off the board.

The prevailing thought still holds that Monroe is a guy Detroit wants in its program long-term. Having the emerging Andre Drummond and the talented (but coming off a brutal year) Josh Smith on the roster just reinforces the team’s decision to allow the market to play out naturally without interruption.

Talented big men in today’s NBA get paid – royally.

Cousins signed a lucrative four-year, $62 million deal to remain in Sacramento. Larry Sanders, also from the 2010 draft class, signed a four-year, $44 million deal with Milwaukee before he touched restricted free agency. Last summer, Minnesota Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic had to wait until August to ink his five-year, $60 million deal as a restricted free agent.

So the question isn’t if Monroe will cash in at the box office, it’s just a matter of when. Does he decide to bet on his durability and take short money this season while preparing for the summer of 2015 where he would have more options?

Restricted free agency is a game of strategy. While Monroe has his own set of options, Van Gundy and the Pistons are in complete control.

About Lang Greene

Lang Greene

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last seven seasons