The 28-year-old Josh Smith has $40.5 million strapped to his back over the next three seasons and the 23-year-old Greg Monroe will enter restricted free agency this summer. His next contract will fall at four years between approximately $50 and 60 million.
Forget about the finances for a second. One of these guys has to go for basketball reasons alone.
According to NBA.com (subscription required), the Smith-Monroe-Andre Drummond frontcourt has been awful, allowing 110.4 points per 100 possessions. That’s over two points higher than the last-place Utah Jazz.
Detroit’s overall defense ranks 22nd in the league.
Detroit can’t keep that threesome together another year, and since Drummond is the 20-year-old franchise savior locked up for the foreseeable future on a rookie-scale deal, Smith or Monroe will have to pack their bags.
According to NBAwowy, Monroe and Drummond have played just 163 minutes without Smith on the court. In that time, Detroit’s offense flourished, scoring 108.7 points per possession—a grade good for third-best in the entire league.
Defense was still a huge problem—like, "worst defense in the league" huge—but anchoring that end is complex stuff, and what extremely young frontcourt duo wouldn’t struggle?
It’s not the biggest gamble to bet on Drummond figuring it out eventually, and while Monroe won’t ever be Kevin Garnett, he will get better with age and experience.
On the other hand, Smith is the better two-way player. He's a borderline All-Star who’s versatile, unique and brilliant when not hoisting jump shots. If Smith stays, whoever’s tapped to coach this team will need to completely remove three-pointers from his arsenal. That’s non-negotiable.
In the 460 minutes Smith has played beside Drummond without Monroe, Detroit has the league’s best offense and a defense 0.4 points per 100 possessions worse than the team’s overall allowance.
It’s clear this season that the Pistons are better with Smith beside Drummond instead of Monroe, but may not be the case over the long haul.
Add in the fact that Smith is older and can be traded for something of value, and it makes better sense for Detroit to pair Drummond with Monroe instead.
Michael Pina covers the NBA for Bleacher Report, CelticsHub, Red94 (ESPN’s TrueHoop Network), Sports On Earth and The Classical. His writing can be found here. Follow him @MichaelVPina.