Pistons, Monroe stuck in contract tangles

Vincent Goodwill Jr.
The Detroit News
If another team acquired Greg Monroe it would not have his full "Bird rights."

Los Angeles — The Pistons and Greg Monroe appear headed for an eventual separation, a divorce that seemed inevitable the moment Monroe didn't agree to a long-term contract this summer as a restricted free agent.

Monroe was obviously annoyed when a Sporting News report surfaced Monday, essentially claiming any suitor could poach him from the Pistons for the cost of a first-round pick.

"Everyone knows he wants out of there," the source told the Sporting News. "There is almost nothing he would shoot down."

Because Monroe is in a "qualifying offer" year, he essentially has a no-trade clause between now and the trade deadline. And while approving a trade could put him back at his natural position (center) and in a starting role as well, it would essentially undermine everything he did over the summer — a short-term gain in environment but long-term loss with his earnings potential.

Yes, a team could conceivably acquire Monroe for a four- to six-month rental, considering they'd lose him in the offseason because they wouldn't have his full "Bird rights"— which allows a team to exceed the salary cap to sign its own player in free agency.

But it doesn't make sense for Monroe to forfeit those rights, and it doesn't appear to make sense for a team to give up something of value to the Pistons for a player it knows will walk out the door come July.

"If they feel the need to come to me, I would have to have the discussion, but that discussion would have to be initiated by them, not by me," Monroe said.

It's likely Pistons general manager Jeff Bower approached Monroe's agent David Falk to probe Monroe's interest in approving a trade now as opposed to losing Monroe for nothing this offseason, when Monroe is an unrestricted free agent.

But unless that team is positioned to be substantially under the salary cap come July 1, it doesn't make financial sense for Monroe — who declined to take a $50 million-plus deal with the Pistons this summer — to take far less than that next summer.

Because of his $5.5 million deal this season, the most a team over the cap could offer him if it acquires him via trade now would be four years, $28 million — representing a huge loss if he chose to stay with the Pistons last summer.

As it stands, the cap and luxury tax will rise again this summer, with the cap expected to go to $66.3 million ($63.065 this season) and the tax threshold to around $81 million ($76.82 this season), giving Monroe more room to explore, more teams to consider — even with more established free agents like Marc Gasol (Memphis) and LaMarcus Aldridge (Portland) hitting the market.

As it stands, nearly half the NBA teams have less than $58 million committed for next season, plenty of options for Monroe but perhaps few for the Pistons.

How did it get here?

Monroe wanted out in the offseason, his first chance at testing the market. Experiencing four losing seasons, four coaches and two owners made him believe stability and winning weren't very possible here, and the Pistons weren't offering him a max contract to compensate, as unsuccessful franchises have to usually pay the "bad team" tax.

It was team's prerogative to put a cap on their offer, as well as Monroe's for not blindly trusting the unknown in Stan Van Gundy, a man who hadn't been president of basketball operations before.

Where the Pistons put themselves in this position was by not trading him. Although Monroe couldn't get a max offer sheet from another team, he did receive substantial interest — and Portland and Atlanta tried to facilitate trades for him.

The Pistons wanted point guard Jeff Teague and sharpshooter Kyle Korver in return for Monroe, and the Hawks balked — perhaps with knowing Monroe could walk to them the summer of 2015, right into their cap space without having to part with valuable assets.

It could be said the Pistons knew they were asking for too much with the Hawks, using their leverage to try to get Monroe to commit long-term, as they never believed he would sign the qualifying offer, that he would pass up a huge payday.

To make matters worse, Monroe was as annoyed at the reports that surfaced over the summer claiming he didn't want to play with Josh Smith, as if the two had issues with each other in the locker room.

Smith's presence on the roster leads to an uneasy setup — three starters for two spots at center and power forward. And yes, the Pistons are shopping Smith, willing to move him for the right deal.

The Sacramento Kings are still interested in Smith, a source told The Detroit News. The man with final say, Van Gundy, turned down the Kings proposal over the summer — one that amounted to a pu pu platter of talent relative to Smith's, as he wanted a chance to see if he could unlock all of Smith's versatility and turn it into consistency.

Smith has gotten off to a slow start, although he had his best game of the season in Sacramento on Saturday night, with 21 points, 13 rebounds, five assists, and five blocks — in front of Kings owner Vivek Ranadive, the man who was behind acquiring Smith from the start.

Certainly Smith's slow start hasn't raised his trade value, but is Van Gundy ready to give up on Smith and take less back in return, for more unknowns?

Would moving Smith answer the question about Monroe's impending free agency? Not really, as he could have his own game plan to set in motion this offseason. But nobody knows if it would pry that cracked door a little bit more or if the Pistons truly envision Monroe and Andre Drummond as a winning combination.

Even Van Gundy didn't seem very optimistic when he was asked about Monroe keeping a door open to a return, saying "that's what he said," but Van Gundy's tone was one of resignation as opposed to optimism.

Perhaps he knows one of his first moves backfired on him, and Monroe, who has to endure the rumors between now and the Feb. 15 trade deadline, now has all the power to determine his future.



Mavericks at Pistons

Tip-off: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m., The Palace, Auburn Hills

TV/radio: FSD/WMGC 105.1

Outlook: The Pistons have lost 10 straight at home. ... .Mavericks F Dirk Nowitzki is averaging 19 points and 5.7 rebounds.