After dismissing first-year coach Maurice Cheeks Sunday, the Pistons sent a clear message that this isn't working. Of course, the fact it isn't working a) surprises no one and b) will not change until Detroit changes its stance on moving Greg Monroe.
The fourth-year big man has strengths the Pistons cannot use and deficiencies the team cannot afford. Yet, NBA.com's David Aldridge reports "the Pistons remain adamant that the 23-year-old Monroe is a key part of their future."
A future that looks no better than this putrid present as long as this jumbled roster remains intact. Getting bigger and slower at a time when the rest of the league is sacrificing size for speed seemed foolish back then and now borders on gross incompetence.
Monroe isn't Detroit's problem. He is, however, the only avenue to a possible solution the Pistons have at this point.
Pistons general manager Joe Dumars, who may well be joining Cheeks in the unemployment line after his contract expires at season's end, had a unique (preposterous?) take on the NBA's "pace and space" movement.
There's a reason other executives haven't followed his lead, a reason other teams aren't employing sloths for a track meet. Today's hybrid power forwards are gazelles; Dumars tried combating that trend with a man known all too fittingly as "The Moose."
Monroe does a lot of things well. Unfortunately, none of those things happen away from the basket nor on the defensive end.
"Slow-footed and low to the ground" as described by Grantland.com's Zach Lowe, Monroe "has trouble containing pick-and-rolls and challenging shots at the rim," "a killer combination of liabilities," in Lowe's book.
A slick passer (career 2.3 assists per game) and bully near the basket (career 51.4 field-goal percentage), Monroe's a throwback force resembling the power forwards of old. The only problem is he has to contend with the supercharged 4s of today's game, an apparent impossibility judging by the 19.1 player efficiency rating—league average is 15.0—he's yielded to opposing power forwards this season, via 82games.com.
If the Pistons were passable defensively, it would be easier to overlook Monroe's shortcomings on that side of the floor. Unfortunately, this is the NBA's 20th-rated defense (104.8 points allowed per 100 possessions) and second-most generous in terms of field-goal percentage against (46.7).
It's hard for a team to hide a defensive sieve when the entire unit has sprung leaks.
The only way for the Pistons to make this a partnership worth saving is by complementing his offensive gifts. With this supporting cast in place, though, Detroit has handcuffed—not helped—its blossoming big.
Monroe is the antithesis of a stretch 4. In three-plus NBA seasons, he's attempted just six triples and misfired on all six. If the Moose strays further than eight feet from the basket, he's a non-factor.
Considering his frontcourt mate, Andre Drummond, has attempted 91.2 percent of his field goals within five feet of the cup, Monroe's mid-range problems are an issue. Throw in the fact Detroit has the league's lowest three-point percentage (31.2) and they become a catastrophe.
Again, not all of this falls on Monroe.
This group needed a knockdown shooter on the wing and Dumars delivered Josh Smith (.419/.229/.566 shooting slash). It required a calculated floor general to steer this ship and the executive tabbed shot-chucking Brandon Jennings (team-high 15.7 shot attempts per game, 38.3 field-goal percentage) as the right man for the job.
"Welcome to the 2014 Pistons," CBS Sports' Matt Moore wrote, "an enigma wrapped in a puzzle wrapped in a meth-addled marmot on fire."
If Detroit doesn't address this issue now, that same descriptor could be used for the 2015 Pistons, the 2016 Pistons, the 2017 Pistons...
Detroit's three-big lineup—Smith at the 3, Monroe at the 4, Drummond manning the middle—is statistically grotesque.
It's punchless at the offensive end (102.4 points per 100 possessions, would be NBA's 19th-rated offense) and porous at the opposite side (108.2 points allowed per 100 possessions, worse than the Utah Jazz's 30th-ranked defense, 107.8).
Clearly, something needs to change.
"In a perfect world, the Pistons would trade Smith, work out an extension with Monroe and go to bed each night secure in the knowledge that, with him and Drummond, they had one of the top frontcourts in the sport," Hoop76.com's Tom Sunnergren wrote (via ESPN.com).
It sure is nice to dream, isn't it?
If you can find a team willing to take on the remainder of Smith's four-year, $54 million deal, via ShamSports.com, you should consider searching the want ads for a team in need of a general manager. Dumars made a mad-dash signing with Smith in hope of securing his own contract extension. He'd walk away with Executive of the Year honors if he could find a landing spot for Smith, because it simply does not exist.
If Smith isn't on his way out, then who's destined for a change in scenery?
Certainly not Drummond. You don't let a 20-year-old, 6'10", 270-pound monster of untapped potential slip of your grasp.
That alone puts Monroe on the chopping block, an area he was likely to find anyway given his expiring contract.
Monroe is a David Falk client, the agent responsible for brokering Roy Hibbert's max contract—an offer he originally signed as a restricted free agent with the Portland Trail Blazers that was eventually matched by the Indiana Pacers.
"He has gotten the price he said he'd get for his clients for two decades—and he says the price for Monroe will be a max contract," Aldridge wrote of Falk.
The Pistons have the funds to keep Monroe in the fold. Even with a massive extension likely looming in Drummond's future, his deal would only overlap one season with Smith's current contract and a max deal for Monroe.
Simply having the means to make this purchase does not make it a worthwhile investment, though. "That money could probably be better spent placing the right small forward beside a more-efficient Smith and a content Andre Drummond with additional room to operate from the post," Jabari Davis of BasketballInsiders.com wrote.
If the Pistons have needs a player other than Monroe can fill, why even wait to start reaping those rewards?
Change Is Always Good
That antiquated axiom isn't always true, especially when it's Dumars bringing about said change.
Still, this is a move that even the lame-duck executive would have a hard time mishandling.
The Pistons have a plethora of holes and a limited number of resources with which to plug them. Moving Drummond isn't an option. Moving some of Detroit's tertiary expiring deals (Rodney Stuckey, Charlie Villanueva) isn't enough.
That difference-making wing—the one who can ease some of Jennings' playmaking duties and spread the floor so these post players can breathe—is out there somewhere. Monroe's offensive tools are powerful enough to net that player in return, as long as Dumars is willing and able to find that trading partner.
For now, Dumars seems reluctant to make that call.
Until he comes around, the Pistons will remain stuck in a present marred by self-inflicted wounds. Too slow to keep pace, too proud to accept fate and too stubborn to make the last move needed to return this once-proud franchise to relevance.