Why Greg Monroe Could Be the Next NBA Star to Be Traded During 2013-14

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Why Greg Monroe Could Be the Next NBA Star to Be Traded During 2013-14
USA TODAY Sports

If the circumstances were a little different, Greg Monroe might already have a five-year, maximum-salary contract like the ones Paul George and John Wall signed this past summer.

However, because the Detroit Pistons big man is part of a unique, potentially ill-fitting frontcourt trio, and because he's likely to draw immense interest as a restricted free agent this summer, Monroe might actually be the next marquee name to wind up in a trade.

 

Timing Is Everything

If the Pistons were dead set on keeping Monroe around, they would have already inked him to a massive extension. As it is, they've still got until October 31 to pursue that option.

According to Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press, the parties haven't even discussed that possibility:

There’s a reason why you haven’t heard a lot about Greg Monroe’s contract situation—there’s nothing to report. It’s highly likely that the fourth-year power forward won’t receive a contract extension from the Pistons before the Halloween deadline, meaning Monroe will be a restricted free agent next off-season.

Under the collective bargaining agreement, the Pistons have the ability to bestow a five-year extension on Monroe, but only if they consummate the deal before Halloween. The organization seems to view Andre Drummond as having the higher long-term ceiling, and only one player per team can sign a five-year extension.

So, in one sense, it's no surprise that Monroe hasn't received such an offer.

Detroit will retain the ability to match any four-year deal Monroe might sign this coming summer as a restricted free agent. That's certainly a positive, but if the Pistons take that route, they'll have to risk the potential distraction of having Monroe and his uncertain future on the roster all year.

For his part, Monroe has been professional about the process.

However, the uncertainty surrounding Monroe's future comes at a time when the Pistons might be especially intolerant of distractions.

After mucking around in the lottery for the past few seasons, Detroit has a roster that many believe to be good enough to make the playoffs. Monroe's presence in the lineup is a big part of that optimism, but since the Pistons actually have something to lose if off-court distractions foul up their on-court chemistry, it might make sense to simply trade Monroe before any issues arise.

 

The Fit

Allen Einstein/Getty Images

Acquiring Josh Smith created an intriguing, potentially dangerous frontcourt on paper, but it's still unclear how he'll mesh with Drummond and Monroe—two players who operate almost exclusively in the lane.

As a result, the overall optimism surrounding the Pistons' prospects comes with real questions about how the team is going to space the floor.

Point guard Brandon Jennings is an adequate shooter, but no reliable floor-spreading candidate has yet emerged at the 2. And if Smith winds up taking shots from the perimeter as an oversized small forward, well, let's just say he won't help much.

Josh Smith's 2012-13 shot chart, which is very red.

If Detroit has to move one of its three bigs, it certainly won't be the newly signed Smith. He's the team's best overall player and also its most expensive.

Drummond isn't going anywhere either. The Pistons are enamored with his potential to become a dominant defensive presence in the middle.

That leaves Monroe as the odd man out.

While the idea of trading a 23-year-old big man with career averages of 13.5 points and 8.9 rebounds per game should make the Pistons extremely uncomfortable, the truth is that trading Monroe might be the best way to construct a more balanced, playoff-ready roster.

Detroit needs shooting, and if it's not willing to commit to Monroe on a long-term deal, maybe his greatest value to the team is as a trade chip.

 

The Future

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

In recent weeks, we've seen teams max out players in Monroe's position. If the Pistons really felt as strongly about Monroe as the Indiana Pacers felt about Paul George or the Washington Wizards felt about John Wall, they'd have already locked him up for five more seasons.

Right?

Well, it's not that simple. Drummond is a uniquely intriguing prospect who is nowhere near as good as Monroe is right now, but might someday be much more valuable.

Further complicating matters is that Monroe could credibly make the case that he's as deserving of a five-year deal as either George or Wall.

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past three seasons, Monroe has accumulated 19.5 win shares, per Basketball-Reference.com. George is close behind with 17.4, but Wall has only amassed 10.2.

It's reductive to make the comparison all about the numbers, but you can bet that David Falk—Monroe's agent and a man who will not allow Monroe to take less than the max—has made both Monroe and the Pistons aware of his client's surprising statistical worth.

Maybe Monroe's not upset about his lack of an extension now, but as the season progresses, that could change.

 

Why Detroit Might Hold Steady

There are a handful of reasons why the Pistons should consider keeping Monroe through the season that aren't related to the potential distraction of his contract status.

What if Drummond gets hurt or takes a step backward?

Surely, the Pistons would regret moving Monroe if it turned out that the big man with whom they'd cast their lot wasn't quite as good as they believed him to be.

And what's the harm in seeing if Monroe can take another step forward in his development?

If the Pistons were totally certain that Monroe wasn't worth the maximum four-year deal they'll almost definitely have to match in 2014 to keep him, it'd make sense to move him.

But they can't be sure of that at this point. If Detroit hangs onto him all season and it turns out his play clearly justifies a max deal, they can pay him next summer.

Simple as that.

Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

Let's also not forget how difficult it'll be for Detroit to get anything close to equal value for Monroe in a potential trade. This is a borderline All-Star center who'll make only $4.1 million this year, and any team who acquires him will still have to deal with the same pesky restricted free-agency issues the Pistons are currently facing.

So while it'd be nice to go get a floor-spacing shooter like Ryan Anderson from the New Orleans Pelicans, a one-for-one swap like that wouldn't work under the CBA.

Anderson makes twice what Monroe does, and while New Orleans would love to get a more conventional big man to play alongside Anthony Davis, would they be willing to take on some of Detroit's dead money to make a deal work?

And from the Pistons' perspective, Anderson would be a better fit, but if it took Monroe and another player to get him, it would sure feel like they failed to get much in return for their great young center.

Other potential deals might include something like the Boston Celtics giving up Jeff Green and Courtney Lee for Monroe and Rodney Stuckey whose contract expires after this season.

But the issues are the same: Detroit gives up more overall talent, takes on more money and essentially gives up Monroe for pennies on the dollar.

 

Big-Picture Impact

If we step back and look at the broader implications of Monroe's situation, it's striking how a potential trade could shake up the Eastern Conference—and the Central Division in particular.

The Pistons profile as a playoff team, albeit as one of the bottom four seeds. That's a significant step up from recent seasons, and the new confidence in the team's prospects is at least somewhat tied to Monroe's considerable skills.

Fernando Medina/Getty Images

But if Detroit could, somehow, get the kind of shooting it needs in exchange for Monroe, maybe it would help all of the other pieces on the roster click in a way that raised the team's ceiling substantially.

On the other hand, maybe a trade would weaken the Pistons in a way that opened up opportunities for the Cleveland Cavaliers or Milwaukee Bucks to overtake them in the division.

There could be some major ripple effects here.

 

The Final Analysis

Even though they're poised to make the playoffs for the first time in years, the Pistons are in an unenviable situation.

They can give Monroe a five-year deal right now, play out the season and sign him to a four-year extension next summer, or trade him. They'll juggle those options while trying to figure out how he'll fit alongside Drummond and Smith.

The worst thing an NBA team can do is spend big money on players who aren't legitimate cornerstones. The Pistons will almost certainly have to break the bank next summer to keep Monroe, so if the team doesn't view him as a one of those foundational pieces, it might be best to move him.

Nobody ever said the right decisions were the easy ones.

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