As the Detroit Pistons' season begins its inevitable yearly slide toward mediocrity, it's easy to see where things went wrong.
Heading into this season, few people saw this team as a completed product. However, the hope was that with the infusion of a couple of big-name players, the Pistons would be good enough to compete in a weak Eastern Conference.
Oddly, the East turned out to be even weaker than anyone thought it would be and the Pistons turned out to be even worse than anyone imagined.
I can still remember the prognostications of a low playoff seed for Detroit. Most fans were optimistic that this team would be demonstrably better than last year's squad.
For all the additions and big-name talents, though, the Pistons are just one game better than they were last year at this time.
This obviously begs the question: Who is to blame?
Is it first-year coach Maurice Cheeks with his inconsistent lineups, rotations and hands-off approach to coaching offense? Is it the new point guard that seems to not fully grasp the concept of offensive flow? Is it the star forward that refuses to stop chucking up three-point attempts despite the fact that he is hitting less than 23 percent of them? Or is it the team president that put this mess together in the first place?
One thing is for certain, the young center that is being forced to play power forward is the least of the Pistons' problems. With that said, he is the name that is most focused on.
The Case for Dealing Greg Monroe
Greg Monroe is one of the more talented big men in the league. He has excellent footwork, good hands and superb passing ability for his role. He is a high-character guy with a knack for grabbing rebounds on both sides of the ball.
However if the Pistons are planning on building their team around their other talented big man, Andre Drummond, they will need to deal either Monroe or Josh Smith.
There are several reasons why it makes more sense to deal Monroe than Smith.
First, Smith is more athletic, versatile and a better fit alongside Drummond. He can defend further out on the perimeter, which in today's era of stretch power forwards is essential. He also has more range—although he likely should cut out his three-point attempts altogether—which opens up the offense.
Second, Smith's contract is way too large to unload. Unless there is a general manager that has a serious crush on Smith, the Pistons are not likely to find many suitors for their mercurial power forward.
Lastly, it is hard to imagine Monroe being happy in Detroit going forward. This is a dysfunctional team that has been in transition for the entirety of Monroe's tenure.
The Pistons have the ability to match any contract for Monroe, as he is a restricted free agent after this year, but if all things are equal would Monroe really want to stay in Detroit?
Instead, the Pistons need to strike while they still have bargaining power. However, they need to be very choosy about what type of deal they take on.
That is where things get tricky.
This team is in desperate need of a true point guard that can be trusted to make smart decisions with the ball as well as an athletic small forward.
The Pistons haven't had an athletic small forward that could penetrate and create offense since Grant Hill left in 2000. In an era of basketball in which small forwards dominate the game, this is an incredible drought.
The Pistons have plenty of options when it comes to dealing Monroe.
They could attempt to deal him for a lottery pick and hope to have a shot at Jabari Parker or Andrew Wiggins. This may seem like a long shot, but if Monroe were in this year's draft, he easily would be one of the top two big men available and without question the most offensively talented center in the bunch.
Perhaps the Pistons will get lucky and find a team that is desperate for a big man.
The Los Angeles Lakers seem like a solid bet to want to deal with Detroit. They are looking to maximize Kobe Bryant's last few years and need an offensive big man, especially if they deal Pau Gasol. The Lakers' pick could be a top-five selection.
Alternatively, the Pistons could combine Brandon Jennings with Monroe in hopes of landing a wing player. This will be difficult, as not a lot of teams are looking for a point guard, but stranger things have happened.
The Pistons could look to secure the Milwaukee Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo and perhaps backup point guard Nate Wolters to make the salaries match up.
A very interesting deal would be for the Pistons to try to move Monroe to San Antonio for Kawhi Leonard and Marco Belinelli. Monroe could pair well with Tim Duncan and give the Spurs one last shot at a title while Leonard would finally give the Pistons an athletic wing player and Belinelli would add three-point range.
Ideally, the Pistons should try to get a first-round pick out of any deal they make for Monroe. If they can shore up one of their big holes, though, it would be well worth it to deal their talented big man.
They could potentially look to deal for Philadelphia's Evan Turner and lock up Philly's second lottery pick. The one knock on Turner is that he doesn't have great range, but his ability to score in a number of ways certainly would make Detroit more dynamic offensively.
If we are thinking outside of the box, the Pistons could approach Portland for Nicolas Batum and a first-rounder by offering Monroe and Rodney Stuckey. However, Portland is playing pretty well this year and might not like the idea of breaking up its talented starting lineup.
Not an Ideal Situation
If you are looking at the aforementioned deals and feeling somewhat underwhelmed by them all, you are probably in the majority.
As I set out to look for potential deals for Monroe, a few major issues stood out.
First, because Monroe has such a small salary right now, it is hard to find equal value for him. In order to find a good veteran player that could immediately help turn around the culture of this team, you need to pair him with another player just to make the salaries match. Luckily, the Pistons have two substantial expiring deals in Charlie Villanueva and Rodney Stuckey.
Second, the two positions that the Pistons are looking to improve in—small forward and point guard—are two of the more in-demand spots on the floor. Very few teams are willing to give up players at these two positions, even if there is a talented big man involved.
Third, Monroe is fairly limited in where he can go. He needs to be dealt to a team that needs help at center, but also already has a strong defensive power forward.
Monroe is one of the league's worst defensive big men. He can't protect the rim, lacks strong instincts and plays surprisingly soft despite having such a strong nickname ("Moose").
I understand it is hard to give up on a talented big man, especially one that is as loved as Monroe. He has developed into a productive, consistent player. He also has likely reached his ceiling, though.
If you are the front office, you have to ask yourself, how much is he worth on the open market? Should the Pistons consider a max contract for a player that is limited offensively and defensively and will likely never average better than 16 points and 10 rebounds per game?
Can the Pistons afford to trot out a lineup of Drummond, Monroe and Smith for the next four years and hope to compete? Or is the first half of this season a harbinger of things to come?
I believe that this team is not constructed in a way that will lead to success and the best bargaining chip to spur improvement is Monroe.