So he fought back.
There was only one thing for him to do if he wished to gain the upper hand and flip the traditional restricted-free-agency script: take Detroit's qualifying offer and bet on himself in a way no team has or will.
This is just what he did.
Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today reports that Monroe has "informed the Detroit Pistons' he will accept the qualifying offer, play for Detroit in 2014-15 and become an unrestricted free agent next summer."
With this largely unprecedented decision, everything changes for Monroe.
Accepting that qualifying offer worth nearly $5.5 million is a last resort. It's something prominent restricted free agents don't do.
Signing a long-term deal guarantees financial security. Commit the next four or five years to Detroit, and Monroe would be set for life no matter what the Pistons are offering. The caveat there is Monroe must come to terms with what they're offering, which he didn't. If he had, we wouldn't be finishing up the second month of Monroe Watch.
Rumors of what Detroit is dangling are everywhere. Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press has the Pistons baiting Monroe with a four-year contract worth slightly more than $54 million. Monroe himself, meanwhile, hit Twitter to debunk the notion that he rejected a variety of offers:
Whatever the Pistons are actually offering isn't enough. That, of course, assumes this is about money and contract length.
Other factors are clearly at play. Chief among them is Monroe's desire to remain in Detroit long-term, which Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski told Aime Mukendi Jr. of the AIMEzing Words podcast (h/t Hawks Hoops' Buddy Grizzard) isn't very strong:
Detroit has tried to help [Monroe] with some sign and trade possibilities around the league. Monroe doesn’t really have a great interest in going back and playing with the Pistons. If they’re going to move him in a sign-and-trade, they’ve got to get value for him. They’ve got to get back some significant talent to compensate for that loss. They haven’t been able to find a deal for him.
The absence of a sign-and-trade puts Monroe at the mercy of his market. Only there is no market. Not a real one.
Free-agency funds have dried up. No team aside from the tankadelic Philadelphia 76ers can offer Monroe the lucrative contract he's seeking. That leaves him where he started: at the Pistons' behest. And that, in turn, has left him to take drastic measures.
The Detroit News' Vincent Goodwill was first to report that Monroe's willingness to accept the Pistons' qualifying offer. Although he could earn substantially more than the nearly $5.5 million that qualifying offer pays him, playing through next season at a steep discount is the only way he creates leverage.
Qualifying offers are basically one-year contracts. Really, it's the last year of Monroe's rookie deal. Once it expires, he reaches unrestricted free agency, allowing him to sign with whichever team he pleases, knowing full well the Pistons cannot interfere with his plans.
If he really wants out of Detroit or really believes he's worth more than the Pistons are offering, delaying free agency is his only lifeline.
But it's an unreliable lifeline.
There's a reason players coming off rookie deals don't accept qualifying offers: Risks usually outweigh rewards.
Not only is Monroe agreeing to take home less than half of what he can make in salary, but he's betting his value increases. He's betting that he doesn't perform poorly next season.
He's betting that he doesn't get injured and belt his earning potential 17 ways in the wrong direction.
Monroe cannot guarantee his qualifying-offer ploy works out in that sense. Less money could be available to him next summer for whatever reason. The Pistons' current proposal could be as good as it gets.
Even if he's willing to take that chance, his leverage increases only by so much. In the end, like Tom Ziller of SB Nation hammers home, the Pistons can still win:
Let's say Monroe signs the QO, plays 82 games and is awesome. He hits unrestricted free agency as a clear max player. Guess who can offer him the biggest contract? The Detroit Pistons! Will Monroe really leave money on the table due to hard feelings and spite? If he does, he still doesn't win.
Players -- more accurately players' agents -- have been threatening to sign the qualifying offer for ages. There's a reason no one takes those threats seriously. The QO is not an arrow in the players' quivers. It's a fake weapon.
Is enduring an extra year in Detroit worth it? Is it worth the knowledge that barring a sign-and-trade, Monroe must still take a pay cut to leave?
Is it worth creating personal power that can still be hijacked?
If Monroe is strictly trying to gain control over his own fate, this qualifying-offer route is worth it.
Exercising this right is only a "fake weapon" because players don't use it. Monroe is setting a precedent, and he'll set another one come next summer, when his gamble either pays off or backfires spectacularly.
Detroit can still offer him the most money in 2015, but that's not a bad thing, nor is it a powerless play.
Ignore any resentment and re-sign next summer, and Monroe still gets handsomely paid. And he gets paid after monitoring Detroit's progress for another year.
That's huge. The Pistons have yet to make the playoffs with Monroe, and Stan Van Gundy will be his fifth coach in as many years. Why should Monroe trust them and what they're building? They haven't earned his faith.
“I would like to get him long-term,” Van Gundy said, per Goodwill. “I have great respect for him as a person and a player. I think we’ve tried to make him understand what we’re trying to do and why he’s an important part of it.”
Part of what, though?
Playing through next year is about more than (potentially) augmenting his market value. It allows him to ensure he's in the right situation and that the Pistons are on the right track. If he's not, and if they're not, he has the option of leaving on his own terms without having to rely on the Pistons' compliance and willingness to deal him for whatever interested teams are offering.
This isn't to say the Pistons won't eventually move him. They might. In part because they may be unable to move Josh Smith's deal; mostly because the threat of unrestricted free agency looms larger than restricted status.
Delaying free agency gives Monroe ultimate freedom the Pistons have to acknowledge. They can lose him for nothing next summer. Without the ability to match, theirs is the hand that could be forced.
Worse for the Pistons still, receiving adequate value in return becomes impossible because Monroe is making so much less. Rival teams won't have trouble matching Monroe's $5-plus million salary, but the Pistons will have trouble bringing back an ideal haul.
Hoops are being jumped through, obstacles must still be cleared and new precedents must be set, but that's power.
The only form of leverage Monroe could create, the only way he could fight back against the shackles of restricted free agency.
*Salary information via ShamSports.
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