Greg Monroe had troubles finding consistent touches with Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings taking the bulk of the shots. (Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press)
Auburn Hills — Greg Monroe’s impending free agency was a topic of conversation during Stan Van Gundy’s introduction a few weeks ago as Pistons coach and president of basketball operations, and nothing changed when he introduced his new general manager Jeff Bower behind the Courtside Club at The Palace Wednesday.
The clock is ticking, and on Monroe’s 24th birthday, his first big decision as a professional will come soon, when he’s free to negotiate with the Pistons and other teams on his next contract.
Van Gundy has met with Monroe and his agent, David Falk, in person already, in anticipation of what’s to come on July 1, when the fourth-year player hits the market.
“I value Greg Monroe highly, yes, I do want him here,” Van Gundy said. “But … when you’re dealing with free agents, even restricted free agents, the situation gets more complicated.”
Monroe’s restricted status puts the Pistons in the driver’s seat. If he chooses to sign an offer sheet with a suitor, like the Washington Wizards or Atlanta Hawks, two teams likely to make a strong move in his direction this summer, the Pistons will have three days to match the offer or let him walk.
Falk is a master negotiator, and with this being Van Gundy’s first rodeo as team president, he’s making sure to enlist Bower in the talks.
“Probably late next week we’ll circle back and continue the process, get Jeff a chance to get up to speed because I don’t want to go this one alone,” Van Gundy said. “He’s got a lot of experience. This will help us a great deal.”
Falk represents Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert, and when the two sides reached an impasse a few summers ago, Falk got the Portland Trail Blazers to sign Hibbert to a maximum offer sheet.
The small-market Pacers didn’t want to pay Hibbert maximum dollars, but couldn’t afford to let him halt their progress, being in the early stages of climbing the Eastern Conference. They ponied up.
Van Gundy didn’t give a specific number, but one can surmise Monroe hasn’t done enough in Van Gundy’s eyes to warrant that type of contract. He admitted he has a number in mind, his own “maximum” deal he’s willing to commit to a player who averaged 15.2 points and 9.3 rebounds last season.
“You certainly have a parameter. We’re in the process of figuring that whole thing out,” Van Gundy said. “There’s a cost, you have to weigh those things, too. Would you go above that number? If you don’t, how do you replace those contributions? It’s gonna be a high number because Greg’s a very good player.”
Van Gundy made it clear, though, that the Pistons’ cycle of losing in recent years means no one is truly untouchable, and that he watched film of Monroe and the younger, more explosive Andre Drummond to see how they fit together — because Drummond is the centerpiece of the franchise in the eyes of many.
“No question. It would be a lot different if you think they couldn’t play together,” Van Gundy said. “They like playing together, they have great respect for each other. So you hear those things, there isn’t a problem with one guy infringing on the other.”
How Van Gundy sees Drummond’s personal progression could have a direct correlation with how high he’s willing to go with Monroe. Drummond hasn’t developed a post game to be dependable, and certainly isn’t in the class of Monroe, who, despite his physical limitations, can finish with both hands on either side of the basket and has mature footwork.
Van Gundy has the task of predicting how far along Drummond can develop offensively in the next few years, which will take more opportunities away from Monroe.
Monroe already had troubles finding consistent touches with Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings taking the bulk of the shots, which affects how Monroe sees himself fitting on this team going forward — putting Van Gundy in a position of being a salesman on the Pistons future, to a degree.
Whether this means he’ll try to convince Monroe to take less to stay remains to be seen, but considering the Pistons control the process, the money would be the only thing not working in their favor, if they choose that route.
“I certainly tried to and will continue to. I think I have a pretty good track record with big guys being successful, with young guys,” Van Gundy said. “There’s some challenges in the pairing, with he and (Drummond). On offense they proved they can play well together. It’s a defensive challenge for Greg; he bears that because he has to go out there on the floor.”
“You throw Josh into the picture, you’re only talking them playing together 16 minutes. You can work around that, find favorable matchups. You can find ways to give him help on the perimeter. He’s a hard worker. I don’t think that pairing is insurmountable.”