Should the Los Angeles Lakers submit to the temptation of an offseason spending binge, recklessly liquidating their long-anticipated, much-needed cap space is one of many painful processes they must avoid.
Now that Stan Van Gundy has assumed control of the Pistons, Monroe is no longer considered vital to their future. Detroit is expected to move on, and according to Sporting News' Sean Deveney, the Lakers are one of multiple teams presumably interested in acquiring his services:
The Lakers are the other team most frequently mentioned among league executives when it comes to Monroe. If L.A. does not make any splashy moves around the draft, and if the Lakers are ready to concede that Carmelo Anthony is not coming, then they figure to target young, second-tier free agents—and Monroe is at the head of that list.
Head of the list?
Strong cases can be made in favor of the Lakers going all-in on this offseason. Waiting for summer 2015, when they will have additional free-agency options, isn't the easiest decision to make with a 35-year-old Kobe Bryant wantonly pining for an immediate opportunity to win his sixth NBA championship.
For the better part of two decades, Bryant's wishes have been interpreted as edicts in Lakerland. Future, post-Bryant era in mind, Los Angeles may be forced to make certain concessions to remain competitive next season.
Monroe cannot be one of those trade-offs. There is no point in the Lakers offering obscene amounts of cash to a player who neither fits into their future plans nor brings Bryant any closer to procuring his sixth ring.
Inability to Move the Needle
Any player the Lakers pursue this summer must be a needle-pusher. They're coming off the worst season in franchise history and lateral movements or marginal improvements are unacceptable.
Monroe falls into the latter category. He's a marked upgrade over their fronctourt components from last season, but that's saying nothing when we're making comparisons to the bearded Chris Kaman, limited Jordan Hill and aging and injury-prone Pau Gasol.
Production isn't an issue for him. He was one of only four players—DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis and Blake Griffin—to average at least 15 points, nine rebounds and one steal per game this past season. That's some company.
But Monroe also averaged those numbers for a 29-win Pistons teams that imploded under playoff expectations. His 15.4 rebounding percentage—a measure of what percentage of available rebounds he grabbed while on the floor—was unimpressive and ranked just 15th among players who averaged at least 30 minutes per game.
Offensively, he's middling. Nearly one-third of his scoring opportunities came in the form of post-ups last season, and he shot just 43.1 percent, according to Synergy Sports (subscription required). He also struggled within the pick-and-roll, converting only 44 percent of his shots as the roll man.
Traditional power forwards and centers need to be effective in the pick-and-roll, especially if they cannot hit shots outside 15 feet, which Monroe cannot. He connected on just 28.9 percent of his attempts between 15 and 19 feet last season, per NBA.com.
The bigger issue is how inflated his shooting percentages became. He made a living scoring off putbacks (52.3 percent shooting), cuts and slashes (71.2 percent) and transition opportunities (75.6 percent), per Synergy—many of the areas where he's not responsible for creating his own offense, rendering his 49.7 percent clip something of a facade.
Pairing him next to another traditional big man is also impossible. The results he generated next to Andre Drummond this past year were disastrous. When Drummond and Monroe shared the floor, the Pistons were outscored by an average of 6.4 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com. Their defense suffered tremendously when Monroe was tasked with guarding power forwards, since he doesn't have the defensive chops or mobility necessary to keep pace with athletic, perimeter oriented 4s.
"Monroe is slow-footed and low to the ground," Grantland's Zach Lowe observed in February. "He has good hands that help him generate steals, but he has trouble containing pick-and-rolls and challenging shots at the rim—a killer combination of liabilities."
On his own, Monroe is no defensive stopper. Detroit's already shaky defense—ranked 25th in efficiency—was worse with Monroe on the floor, which poses a problem for the already defensively challenged Lakers. Opposing power forwards notched a 21.2 player efficiency rating against him last season, per 82games.com.
If they were to draft Joel Embiid or another big like Julius Randle, Monroe cannot play alongside them. He can't even play alongside Gasol. He doesn't have the range on offense, or the versatility on defense.
Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding reported in March that the Lakers didn't plan on a free-agency spending spree this summer, unless it was for a franchise-changing talent like LeBron James. Monroe isn't even close to that. And even if the Lakers were going to line the pockets of a modest talent, they could do better than Monroe.
Making a play for Monroe would seem sensible if he could be had at a steep discount for whatever reason.
Which he can't.
Deveney says that Monroe will attempt to secure a max contract when he hits restricted free agency this summer:
Monroe’s agent, David Falk, will hit the market seeking a max deal for Monroe, and he could well get it—Monroe is a skilled 23-year-old big man who has averaged 14.0 points and 9.0 rebounds, and those are not easy to find.
A good example is Monroe’s fellow Georgetown Hoya Roy Hibbert. In 2012, Hibbert was a restricted free agent coming off a year in which he averaged a pretty mundane 12.8 points and 8.8 rebounds. Yet he was offered a four-year max deal worth $58 million by Portland, and the Pacers were forced to match it.
. . .
"If anyone is going to find a max deal for Monroe, it is David,” the GM said.
Yeah, that's no discount.
If the Lakers were to sign Monroe to a contract starting at $12 million annually—and if he lands a max deal, that's being conservative—they would have roughly $45.2 million tied up in Monroe, Bryant and Steve Nash alone. That's not including what they'll pay their first-round draft pick, or what it would take to retain Nick Young and/or Gasol.
According to Marc Stein of ESPN.com, the salary cap is expected to rise to $63.2 million next season. That means the Lakers would have almost 72 percent of their cap committed to three players, none of whom are established All-Stars in their prime.
Bad for business?
I'd say so.
Looking to the Future
A core of Nash, Bryant, Monroe and the Lakers' top draft pick isn't going to win the Lakers any championships next year. It might not even get them to the playoffs.
Nash is anything but healthy at this point of his career, and Bryant himself is a question mark after appearing in only six games this past season. If the Lakers are lucky, they make the playoffs. If they're really lucky, they're not swept in the first round.
Flexibility is paramount now. The Lakers have scratched and clawed and endured uncharacteristic losing to get here, in a position where they have the funds available to make a splash and accelerate a complex rebuilding period. Committing long-term money to Monroe doesn't do that.
Patience can hurt. It will hurt. Bryant doesn't want to hear the Lakers are waiting for summer 2015. Fans don't want to acknowledge next season could be just as bad as 2013-14. They want progress. They want results.
But signing Monroe doesn't guarantee anything. He may or may not jibe with their stable of talent, and he's yet to prove he's that fortunes-turning talent the Lakers need. If he was, the Pistons wouldn't have been as bad as they were this year.
Some of his flaws can be attributed to Detroit's deficient design. Their offense, for instance, was truly a stagnant disaster. Performing within the ebb and flow of that jagged rotation is difficult for anyone.
Only so many what ifs can be overlooked, though.
Anytime the Lakers are thinking about breaking the bank to sign or trade for an impact player, they have to ask a very specific set of questions: Is Player X worth sacrificing a pursuit of Kevin Love in 2015? Is he worth jeopardizing their ability to make a run at James whenever he comes available?
Is he even worth compromising potential Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh pursuits this summer?
The answer, in Monroe's case, is no.
Summer 2015 is particularly big with all the talent expected to be available. From Love to Rajon Rondo to LaMarcus Aldridge to (possibly) James, the Lakers are poised to go shopping. Acquiring Monroe ruins those possibilities.
Bryant is owed $25 million in 2015-16. Even if he and Monroe were the only players on the roster at that point, you're still looking at $40 million in commitments for two players, one a fading star on his last legs, the other a 20-something forward who is best served as a complementary piece to a very specific group of players.
Worse, they won't be the only two on the docket. There will (most likely) be this year's first-round pick. There could be Young and Gasol. There could be new contracts for Kendall Marshall and Kent Bazemore. All told, the Lakers could have over $50 million on the books leading into 2015-16, precluding them from making a run at any of the true superstars who become available.
"We won't consult with him," general manager Mitch Kupchak told USA Today's Sam Amick of running offseason decisions by Bryant. "Our decisions going forward—we're not going to do knee-jerk stuff."
On this one, maybe they should consult Bryant. He's bound to tell them that bringing in Monroe is just the type of short-sighted, knee-jerk blunder the Lakers desperately need to avoid.