When it comes to Detroit Pistons trade rumors, restricted free agent Greg Monroe is a name that commonly surfaces. Yet, with a large salary commitment and less than stellar results this season, would Josh Smith be a better piece to move?
There’s the question of what’s working and what’s not working for the Pistons. Lately, there’s also been the matter of differing opinions—between Smith and his coach, Maurice Cheeks.
Consider the recent benching of Smith for an entire second half. It happened during the Pistons’ loss to the Washington Wizards last Saturday, and it was the second time that such a benching has happened this season.
David Mayo at MLive.com relays Smith’s reaction:
Like I told y'all [sic] before when we had this conversation, when you hit adverse times, characters are gonna [sic] be tested. It's either that we're gonna [sic] come closer together and make it all one team, or are you gonna use a scapegoat to get away from what's really at hand?
Was Smith suggesting that Cheeks had unfairly targeted him as a scapegoat? In a follow-up piece, Mayo brought the coach’s version of events, seemingly painting this as nothing more than a media-induced dust-up: "We came to our agreement. Y'all (media) are the only ones who got a problem with it because me and Josh are fine."
Pressed about Smith’s comments however, Cheeks stuck to his own view of the situation:
That's his opinion. You know, I watch a lot of judge shows and they always talk about people's opinions, and that's his opinion. That's OK. I can't be in his brain and he's certainly entitled to his opinion. I'm entitled to mine.
Have things sorted themselves out since then? The Pistons scheduled a Sunday practice after the back-to-back losses and then faced the Wizards again on Monday. J-Smoove was back in the starting lineup, playing hard with 16 points, nine boards and six assists and logging 43 minutes.
Monroe, meanwhile, played 38 minutes with 22 points, 10 boards and the following tomahawk on John Wall:
No matter; the Pistons lost once again. They have now dropped five of six games. They’ve got some time to sort things out—they don’t play again until this coming Sunday against Memphis.
According to Kelly Dwyer of Ball Don’t Lie, there’s a positional quandary with Cheeks’ big starting lineup of Smith, Monroe and Andre Drummond at the 3, 4 and 5 positions respectively:
All the good cheer and sound practice habits in the world may not take away from one glaring issue that has Pistons fans worried and message boards lighting up with trade suggestions for forward Greg Monroe – Smith isn’t a good small forward in this system. He hasn’t been exactly lights out as a power forward this season either, but he’s played better on both ends at that spot. ... [T]he Pistons are paying a lot of money for a 14-18 team that can’t even get to .500 thus far in the terrible Eastern Conference, and that’s with potential contract extensions for Monroe and eventually Drummond coming up in later years.
Pistons numbers w/ different combinations of their big three on the floor: pic.twitter.com/r2TPd4tirp— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) December 29, 2013
The February 20 trade deadline will come up faster than you might expect. Teams around the NBA are talking and sifting through ever-changing situations.
Monroe is a sell-high guy right now. The Pistons’ seventh overall pick in the 2010 draft has progressed into a highly motivated physical player who, paired with Drummond, gobbles rebounds and makes high-percentage inside shots.
Finding a team that wants Monroe won’t be a problem. The challenge is getting back enough value in return.
He’s earning $4.1 million this season with a team qualifying offer of $5.5 million for next season. On the other hand, Smith, whose numbers are down across the board (including the lowest field-goal percentage of his career), is only 33 games into a four-year, $54 million deal.
Should Smith be on the block? Detroit won’t get full value back, but it could find someone who fits better. The Pistons need a natural small forward who relishes the role and can shoot at least a little bit from the perimeter. The outside shot has never been Smith's strong suit, and Monroe and Drummond haven’t shot beyond the arc once this season.
The Pistons’ frontcourt can’t stretch the floor, and in today’s NBA, that’s a huge liability.
Man has Josh Smith been bad this year. 14.2 PER, ast, reb, blk, rates all down. Taking 25% of his shots from 3. hitting 25%. He's not a 3.— Nate Duncan (@NateDuncanNBA) December 31, 2013
Josh Smith put in nine successful seasons with the Atlanta Hawks. The Pistons had high hopes for the former NBA Slam Dunk champion, but so far, he’s not really paying off. Trading him this soon, however, would be admitting a mistake in a major way.
If the Pistons move Monroe, they might want to consider swingman Arron Afflalo, who’s having a career year with the Orlando Magic, averaging 21.7 points per game through 30 games and shooting a blistering .436 from downtown.
Brady Fredericksen from PistonPowered considers the pros and cons of swapping Monroe and Rodney Stuckey for Afflalo and Tobias Harris:
The big thing with this hypothetical is that Monroe is going to get better; that’s the logical step for a 23-year-old who’s improved steadily since he got into the NBA. Is Afflalo, 28, going to keep seeing this late-career boom as he enters his 30s? He’s under contract until 2015-16, and he’s got a player option for $7.75 million that he’d likely accept in that final season.
And what if the Pistons really were to consider what many would say is unthinkable this early on—trading away a guy they so recently invested heavily in?
Consider the following—the Pistons trade Smith and Charlie Villanueva for Rudy Gay from the Sacramento Kings. Gay, of course, has only been with the Kings for 10 games, arriving earlier in the season in a trade with the Toronto Raptors.
Gay’s another high-priced question mark at $17.9 million this season and a player option for next. Still, he’s averaging nearly 20 points per game this season and has a more versatile style that could work nicely with the power tandem of Monroe and Drummond.
Would the numbers work for such a trade? According to the ESPN Trade Machine, yes. Plus, Gay has fewer years on his contract, which makes a major difference when it comes to extending both Monroe and Drummond.
Fans will be watching and wondering as the New Year starts—should the Pistons trade Monroe and get more in return? Should they trade Smith, the malcontent, and accept less? Or should they wait it out and see what happens? Waiting, of course, could bring about a whole new set of circumstances.
For now, the Pistons practice and attempt find a way to make their Big Three mesh. A continued losing streak, however, will only fuel the trade talk.