Detroit Pistons general manager Joe Dumars has painted himself into a bit of a corner.
This offseason, Dumars made one of the splashiest signings in all of free agency by signing forward Josh Smith to a four-year deal worth $54 million despite the presence of Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond in the frontcourt.
Whether it was a show of faith in Smith to make it work as a small forward or the simple philosophy of acquiring the best talent regardless of fit, Dumars put it all on the line with that move.
So far, that's looking like a bad decision. Armed with a new contract and a role that doesn't suit him, Smith has taken to the perimeter to clank countless jumpers instead of getting to the rim.
It's a shame, because we've seen what Smith is capable of doing when he's not chucking up shots. In the 2009-10 season with the Atlanta Hawks, arguably Smith's best of his 10-year career, he shot just seven three-point attempts. This year, Smith has shot 155 threes at a 23.9 percent clip.
If that pace holds, Smith will become the least effective three-point shooter (minimum 300 attempts) in NBA history. When you hear analysts say Smith is better suited for the 4, that's why.
Because Smith's contract is so big and he's playing so poorly, it's hard to imagine the Pistons could receive anything close to fair value in return, even if Dumars were willing to pull the plug so quickly.
Finding a solution without trading someone seems awfully difficult, though. You can safely remove Drummond's name from that discussion, as his potential is seemingly limitless. Perhaps more importantly, he also has time left on his ultra-cheap rookie deal. He's going nowhere.
And so, that leaves us with Greg Monroe. The Pistons and Monroe failed to negotiate a contract extension this offseason, which means the 23-year-old will hit restricted free agency this offseason.
Talented young big men who can score on the block, pass incredibly well and clean the glass don't come available all that often, and so it seems like Monroe will be a lock to receive a maximum offer in free agency, which will be a four-year deal starting at roughly $15 million a season.
Will the Pistons keep him at that price with Smith already being paid and Drummond well on his way to his own max deal? Is it worth keeping this frontcourt together despite the fact that the Pistons are currently outside of the playoff picture in one of the worst conferences we've ever seen?
Or is it time to stop trying to put square pegs into round holes and deal Monroe for a better fit on the wing while sliding Smith back to the power forward spot?
It's a tough decision for Joe Dumars either way, but we can safely remove rebuilding from the equation. Dumars may be short on time, as this offseason's free-agency decisions can't lead to another long stretch of awful basketball like the Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva signings did. Hitting the reset button isn't an option.
With the trade deadline (February 20) slowly creeping up, it's probably time for the Pistons to explore the trade market for Monroe.
A Floor-Spacing Swingman
If the Pistons do decide to shop Monroe, at least they'll know exactly what they need. Detroit is dead last in the league in three-point percentage this season, as it's shooting an abysmal 30.7 percent. It's awfully hard to win in today's NBA without the aid of perimeter shooting, particularly if you don't have an elite defense like the Memphis Grizzlies, for example.
Although the Pistons drafted Kentavious Caldwell-Pope this year to help in that regard, he's not ready to be the sole floor-spacing wing for a team with playoff aspirations. Rodney Stuckey is a good scorer, but he's a mid-range specialist and not a spot-up shooter by any means.
It would be one thing if Detroit just had a big core with a power forward playing out of position, but the supporting pieces aren't giving those players any room to breathe, either. The Pistons badly need players who can spread the floor. It won't solve all the problems, but it would certainly help.
The challenge is finding the players who could provide that, but also finding teams who would be willing to sign Monroe to a max deal next year. No team is trading for Monroe not to keep him long term.
One team that is interested in Monroe is the Washington Wizards, according to multiple league sources. It's becoming clear that Washington is planning to pursue Monroe, either through trade or free agency.
Prior to joining the Pistons, Monroe starred at Georgetown for two seasons so he's no stranger to Washington. The Wizards have $41,458,760 in guaranteed commitments for next season, since Marcin Gortat and Trevor Ariza among others are in the final year of their contracts.
While the Wizards would certainly like to get their hands on Monroe as soon as possible, the Pistons may balk at giving a fellow Eastern Conference playoff team such a big piece at the deadline. It's also hard to envision what the big pull for Detroit would be in a trade.
Trevor Ariza could help at the 3 as a deadly corner spot-up shooter, but he'll be an unrestricted free agent after this year. Otto Porter might turn into a player down the road, but he's not the quality shooter the Pistons need now.
Detroit has the expiring deals (Villanueva and Stuckey are both expiring at $8.5 million) to bring on a guy like Ariza or Martell Webster along with draft picks, but just handing Washington a potential franchise big man for role players would be awfully difficult to do.
Another team that should want Monroe is the New Orleans Pelicans. Monroe and Anthony Davis would complement each other tremendously and really give the Pelicans a solid foundation to build from. After acquiring Tyreke Evans last offseason, the Pelicans won't otherwise have the cap space this offseason to pursue Monroe, which would likely make them even more willing to forfeit assets in a trade.
Would Eric Gordon be enough to headline a Monroe deal? Probably not. Gordon is shooting a blistering 40 percent from behind the arc, but there are obvious health concerns at play. Given the size and length of his contract (a max deal that runs through 2015-16), that's a huge risk to take on.
Perhaps a deal between the two teams would have legs if Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson, one of the best three-point shooters in the league, wasn't out at least two months with a neck injury. Anderson would be a great floor spacer for Detroit, and Smith and Drummond could help cover up for him defensively.
If the Pistons want to get Monroe out of the conference and add shooters, New Orleans is probably the most logical trading partner. According to Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports, the Pelicans are in the hunt for a big man after losing Anderson and Jason Smith to injury. With that in mind, Monroe should be the best big man available for trade.
If Detroit were willing to take on Anderson in hopes that he'd be in the lineup for a playoff run and down the line, here's what a potential deal could look like:
Pistons receive: SG Eric Gordon (three years, $44.6 million) and PF Ryan Anderson (three years, $25.2 million)
Pelicans receive: PF Greg Monroe (one year, $4 million), SG Rodney Stuckey (one year, $8.5 million) and PF Charlie Villanueva (one year, $8.5 million)
This would be a tough deal for both sides to consider, but it would have the potential to be mutually beneficial. Detroit would get the shooting that's so desperately needed from two different sources, and New Orleans would have a very solid core in place with Jrue Holiday, Monroe and Davis.
On the Clock
Which team would win that hypothetical trade?
No matter what the decision is, Dumars is most certainly on the clock here.
How the Pistons perform in the next few weeks could decide an awful lot, but ultimately it will boil down to whether or not he thinks Monroe is worth the max in Detroit.
If Dumars thinks Monroe is, he has other means to address the wing shooting issues. Trading Monroe is not his only option, especially with the expiring contracts of Stuckey and Villanueva in tow.
But what if Dumars doesn't think Monroe is worth the max or can mesh with Drummond and Smith going forward? Then he has T-minus 30 days to find a deal to save the season—and maybe even his job.