June 19, 2014 at 8:34 pm

Pistons make retaining Greg Monroe their top priority

There probably won't be 10 teams who'll present Greg Monroe with a significant offer, but the Pistons are very aware of the competition. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)

In a very short time, the Detroit Pistons and restricted free agent to be Greg Monroe will stop posturing, and the real poker game will begin.

Come July 1, less than two weeks from today, teams will be lining up with sales pitches for prospective free agents, offering loads of money and opportunity for the league’s top free agents.

Stan Van Gundy won’t be doing that, just because the Pistons can have conversations with Monroe and his representatives now, in preparation for the race to come.

“I think you normally see those things with max level guys. I think it’s unlikely we’ll do that,” said Van Gundy in a phone call to The News on Thursday.

Monroe’s agent, the experienced David Falk, has long said about any top client, “Don’t worry about the money. I can get it from 10 different teams. It’s about winning and opportunities.”

There probably won’t be 10 teams who’ll present Monroe with a significant offer, but the Pistons are very aware of the competition, assessing who has the cap space, opportunity and desire to acquire Monroe.

After the Pistons signed Josh Smith last summer, a logjam was created in the frontcourt, making it unlikely Monroe would sign an extension along the lines draftmates DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento, max deal) or Derrick Favors (Utah, four years, $49 million) agreed to before last season’s deadline.

So the new Pistons president of basketball operations isn’t taking his first big task lightly. With Monroe’s restricted status, the Pistons seemingly control the process because they can match any offer sheet from another team.

Teams can always use a 24-year old, high-character, unselfish big man who can score around the basket. With the cap increasing by $5 million, there’s no guarantee Monroe, who has yet to make an All-Star team, won’t receive a max offer.

A max contract for a player with zero to six years of service began at approximately four years and $62 million last season ($13.7 million in year 1, with substantial annual raises) before factoring in the cap increase.

The Atlanta Hawks, New Orleans Pelicans and Washington Wizards reportedly have interest in Monroe, and other teams could be lying in wait.

“He’s a very high priority for us,” Van Gundy said. “We have ideas on who might offer him what. Our strategy is if Greg gets a max offer, what are we gonna do? There’s only three things we can do. He can sign a qualifying offer, sign him (to a long term deal) or do a sign-and-trade.”

A qualifying offer means Monroe would be on the books for $5.4 million next season only, but he would be an unrestricted free agent next summer.

It’s rarely used by either side, because the player usually wants the long-term security and the team wants to lock up a talented player just the same.

But it’s an option if both sides can’t reach an agreement on a long-term deal — and opposing teams are scared off from signing a player to an offer sheet for fear it’ll be matched, while tying up their salary cap for those three days as the team that owns the player’s rights considers the offer.

“We talk about it a lot and Jeff (Bower) has been through it before,” Van Gundy said. “You weigh what’s out there because once you give him a qualifying offer, he can sign it or get an offer sheet. What level of an offer would we match? We’re prepared for that and doing due diligence for people who want to sign and trade for him.”

Even though it plays a big part in this team’s immediate present and future, it appears Van Gundy’s preparation for the unknown has taken away the stress.

“I’m not tense about it,” Van Gundy said. “It’s not a crisis situation.”

Washington Wizards: It could work on a number of levels, if both sides were inclined to make it happen.

The Wizards have long been rumored as a suitor to Monroe, for natural reasons. Falk is a season-ticket holder at the Verizon Center and has a relationship with Wizards owner Ted Leonsis that dates back to the late 1990s, when Leonsis, then part-owner of the franchise, wooed Falk’s No. 1 client, Michael Jordan, to become part of the team.

Style-wise, he could fit in as a change of pace to point guard John Wall’s transition game. When it gets to the half-court, the Wizards could throw it in the post to Monroe and utilize his passing skills in the mid-post with Wall and Bradley Beal as cutters, while Beal’s shooting could provide necessary spacing for Monroe to work on the block.

With $46 million in committed salary for next season, they would have around $13 million in cap space if they don’t re-sign free-agents Marcin Gortat and Trevor Ariza, and more if the Wizards renounced their rights, although that scenario is unlikely.

Atlanta Hawks: The Hawks gave the Pacers a surprising playoff series in the first round and have plenty of flexibility in the offseason. The Hawks could offer Monroe a chance to move back to center, his more natural position, that wouldn’t leave him as vulnerable defensively, and could play him alongside Al Horford, an established low-post scorer.

The Hawks have an emerging Jeff Teague at point guard, and shooting with Kyle Korver locked up for the next three seasons. Although Paul Milsap was signed last summer and occupies a frontcourt spot, he has an expiring contract entering next season and has come off the bench during his time in Utah.

The Hawks’ general manager is Danny Ferry, who was represented by Falk during his playing days. The Hawks have six free agents whose cap holds amount to $12 million, and they have $48 million in committed salary for next season.

New Orleans Pelicans: The Pelicans don’t have the outright space to sign Monroe, with big-money deals to guards Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans, but they have two things working in their favor: Monroe is a New Orleans native, and he could play alongside Pelicans athletic big man Anthony Davis.

Davis could be a better fit with Monroe than Andre Drummond because Davis is a power forward, not a center, and is more developed at this stage than Drummond. Many around the league feel Davis is on the cusp of superstardom, and because he’s an adept mid-range shooter, it would allow Monroe to play closer to the basket, where he’s more comfortable.

The only way a deal like this could happen is for the Pistons and Pelicans to agree to a sign-and-trade, meaning the Pistons would have to find a player attractive enough for their system. Shooting big man Ryan Anderson, who played for Van Gundy in Orlando, has been mentioned as a possible piece. It’s worth noting that Pelicans sharpshooter Anthony Morrow is an unrestricted free agent—and possible Pistons target to sign outright.

vgoodwill@detroitnews.com
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