Much to the contrary of the initial reports out of Detroit that seemed to immediately follow his agreement to be the organization’s head coach and team president, Stan Van Gundy made his feelings about the potential pairing of franchise center Andre Drummond and (free-agent-to-be) power forward Greg Monroe as clear as possible over the weekend.
“I think it’s an ideal pairing,” Van Gundy told Pistons.com’s Keith Langlois. “If I look at just the film I’ve watched now and looking at the numbers, you would say Greg and Andre together were great offensively. That was a great combination on the offensive end of the floor, especially when the three guys around them were shooters – more conventional perimeter types. That worked very, very well. Now it didn’t work very well defensively. I think it puts a lot of responsibility on Greg Monroe to have to guard out on the perimeter.”
While that was certainly no guarantee of the organization’s intention to re-sign the four-year veteran at all costs, it may at least be an olive branch toward the same reality shared by those of us that could never quite understand why the previous front office regime didn’t seem to hold the same appreciation for having two multifaceted big men nowhere near their respective prime(s) on the roster.
Monroe’s days in Detroit seemed to be numbered from the moment the team decided to sign Josh Smith to a four-year, $54 million contract last summer. Although Smith can still be a very productive player when used appropriately, his better days at the small forward position were more than a few seasons ago. Combine the signing of Brandon Jennings with the suddenly-crowded frontcourt, and the back of Monroe’s jersey may as well have read “Odd-Man-Out.”
Even though he acknowledged being affected by trade rumors that seemed to follow the Pistons throughout the year prior to February’s trade deadline, Monroe was still able to provide steady productivity (15.2 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 49.7 percent FG) for Detroit in 2013-14. While Van Gundy also admitted to being even more impressed by Monroe once he was able to watch and dissect film on the (soon-to-be) 24-year-old, it wasn’t without understandable reservations over the defensive issues that come with a frontcourt of Drummond, Monroe and Smith. The Pistons were the 25th ranked defense last year, but opponents really tended to feast from certain areas when Drummond/Monroe/Smith were together on the floor in particular. Teams looked to spread the court using smaller lineups against Detroit, essentially forcing cross-matches and unorthodox switches so they could take advantage of easy scoring opportunities.
According to NBAWowy.com, during the 1,367 minutes the trio shared the court in 2013-14, Pistons’ opponents shot 49.3 percent overall, including 53.1 percent on two-point shots and 38.8 percent from beyond the arc.
Van Gundy knows that cannot be seen as a recipe for long-term success – regardless of their offensive potential – and is now faced with the unenviable task of either allowing a good, young player to walk or perhaps finding a potential suitor for Smith’s deal. For the record, the team does have plenty of cap space available to re-sign Monroe if they decided to hold onto him while still attempting to move Smith. Although the position came with plenty of expectations from the Detroit faithful, Van Gundy isn’t exactly ‘behind the eight ball’ when it comes to options, and certainly shouldn’t be there in terms of time. The team hasn’t qualified for the postseason since the sweep that came at the hands of the then LeBron James led Cleveland Cavaliers back in 2008-09, and unless your name is Mike Brown, you wouldn’t expect to have to worry about a short leash if you’re Van Gundy given the five year, $35 million contract you just signed.
Monroe is also expected to have several options should the Pistons ultimately fail to find a suitor for Smith, as the Louisiana native is expected to draw plenty of interest from teams in search of a quality big man this summer. As a restricted free agent, Monroe will be free to sign with any team he chooses come July, but the Pistons would also have the right to match any offer he would agree to.
Monroe may not be the prototypical stretch-four that some teams covet, but his footwork and ability to finish in the paint with either hand make him a tough cover for most big men. Although he may lack three-point range, Monroe can turn-and-face and hit from the mid-range as well. He may not be the most versatile defensive player, but can be effective enough, especially with a rim-protecting center providing weakside support.
The Charlotte Hornets have been rumored to have an interest in pairing Monroe with last year’s big free agent acquisition Al Jefferson in what might be a defensive-oriented head coach’s (as Steve Clifford is) worst nightmare, but other teams with cap space like the Los Angeles Lakers are expected to inquire about his services once the July free agency period commences. With up to $29 million in cap space and as many as 11 roster spots to fill, we have yet to see what the plan may be in Los Angeles. They’ve always been a franchise that prided itself on having skilled big men, but it isn’t clear where – or even if – the team intends to allot their resources this offseason.
The Washington Wizards have also been rumored to have interest, and could be in the market for a replacement for Marcin Gortat if he were to leave via free agency. Cleveland is another team that could be interested in Monroe depending upon which direction they choose to go in the draft. With rampant speculation over whether the team will offer a max extension and (more importantly) if Kyrie Irving will be willing to take it, the Cavs could be seen as a destination. If Spencer Hawes leaves via free agency, the Cavs will need to find a suitable replacement regardless of whether Irving is a part of future plans.
Put simply, there will be no shortage of opportunities and scenarios for a skilled big man with the ability to score both with his back to the basket and from the mid-post with regularity. Whether it ends up being in Detroit or with any other roster, look for Monroe to truly establish himself over the next few seasons. His talents warrant the opportunity to further develop his game, and Monroe’s next coach – whomever that might be – may just be getting one of the league’s better, young post weapons with both plenty of room and an apparent willingness to improve.
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