Goodwill: Pistons' Greg Monroe still likely a goner

Vincent Goodwill Jr.
The Detroit News

Auburn Hills — Signing Josh Smith 18 months ago represented a pressing of the fast-forward button to propel a young and dull team to the playoffs. The franchise found it better to eject the disk from the DVD player, and released Smith on Monday.

The move "shocked" Brandon Jennings and Greg Monroe, along with the rest of the NBA world. Smith had a dominating presence, both tangible and intangible — and perhaps even a greater one on the salary cap, which likely exacerbated his tangible effect.

"Definitely the most unexpected, for sure," Monroe said. "Personally I definitely didn't have any idea this was about to happen. The most surprising since I've been in the league."

Smith took the most shots, had the ball the most and of course drew the biggest ire of fans and critics who lamented his contract and his style of play. They even blamed Smith for things sight unseen — such as Monroe's unwillingness to sign a long-term contract with the Pistons this past summer.

Of course when a player passes up $50 million to wait a year for the sole purpose of receiving his freedom, there has to be a scapegoat. And Smith, with his scowl and what some in the organization believe to be a negative attitude, became an easy villain.

So much so, the Pistons apparently had so much trouble finding a trade market that didn't include them giving up a key asset or draft picks. So in the end, they just ate the salary.

Whether tacitly or explicitly, it signals change in Auburn Hills — and you wonder who's next on the chopping block.

And now, the natural assumption is Monroe will gladly sign a contract with the Pistons this summer, with Smith out of the way — on the floor and in the locker room.

That assumption would be wrong, and the Pistons can't be operating under that premise. First-year coach Stan Van Gundy said as much in his news conference, but perhaps he's holding out hope Monroe now will give the Pistons a longer look.

"I can't answer anything," Monroe said when asked if he felt the organization made the move in part due to him. "They haven't talked to me. Stan has said he'll talk to people individually over the next couple of days."

Monroe didn't like the rumors that he and Smith had issues — he's vehemently denied that — and he didn't like the organization measuring its offer to him to Smith's salary last summer.

Here's the facts.

Smith will receive every dollar from the contract he signed in July 2013, $27 million for the next two seasons plus what he's owed this season. The cap hit will be spread out over the next five seasons, per the "stretch" rule.

"It's an advantage in the new CBA to do this," Van Gundy said. "Besides what we're talking about, there's a tangible benefit, too. We get significantly more cap space going forward. It helps us accelerate our rebuilding efforts."

The haul of free agents Van Gundy ushered in this past summer hasn't given much in the way of real results — they are 5-23 after losing to the Nets on Sunday — so there's real question with this franchise identifying the right pieces and implementing them into Van Gundy's vision.

Despite the widespread criticism of the previous regime's handling of the salary cap, the Pistons are in good shape. Counting Smith's $5.4 million cap hit, the Pistons have just $34.9 million in committed salaries next season, which includes Caron Butler's nonguaranteed deal.

With the cap going up, the Pistons could have plenty of space to maneuver with trades and free agency, but it doesn't mean they would be happy to offer Monroe a max deal, nor does it mean Monroe would willingly accept.

Monroe will be entering his sixth year and one of his main objectives will be long-term security balanced with other priorities, mainly the chance to win. Signing a contract that will take him to the brink of 30, he'll have to be very careful in assessing the direction of a prospective team.

With the team now hitting the reset button, how much hope is there that the next 54 games will provide tangible proof that Van Gundy — and, by proxy, owner Tom Gores — has a firm handle on creating a contender, let alone a winning environment?

The organization feels Monday's move is a step in the right direction, and the Pistons certainly don't appear to be done moving and shaking this season.

The question remains, though, if the still-novice owner and inexperienced "Executive Van Gundy" are charting a course back to respectability?

And Monroe's likely walking out the door will reflect that.