The Pistons' signing of Josh Smith to a four-year, $54MM contract last month raised plenty of eyebrows around the NBA, not necessarily because of the years or dollars, though Smith's $13.5MM annual salary will be the highest among this summer's free agents not named Chris Paul or Dwight Howard. Rather, it's Smith's fit with the Pistons that had many observers questioning the deal.
Detroit didn't exactly have a successful 2012/13 season, but one of the team's bright spots was its frontcourt, where its most productive player, power forward Greg Monroe, paired with up-and-coming rookie center Andre Drummond. The Pistons are unlikely to increase Drummond's workload too significantly from the 20.7 MPG he averaged in his first year, so there should be plenty of minutes to go around in 2013/14 for the club's top three big men, but the long-term outlook is unclear.
With Smith under contract through 2017, and Drummond under team control through at least 2016, Monroe appears to be the odd man out. Despite being the Pistons' leader in minutes, points, rebounds, and plenty of other categories this past season, Monroe's place among the club's core looks more tenuous than Smith's or Drummond's, given his contract situation. Entering the final year of his rookie-scale deal, the 23-year-old is extension-eligible this offseason, and could hit restricted free agency next summer.
Earlier this week, when I discussed rookie-scale extensions and restricted free agency, I surmised that teams were becoming more likely to lock up their rising stars prior to the free agent period. From the club's perspective, it might mean saving a few million dollars, which could come in handy down the road, given the league's restrictive CBA. From the player's perspective, it means landing a massive payday prior to hitting free agency, reducing concern about suffering a serious injury or a dip in production in that fourth year.
For Monroe and the Pistons though, an extension may not be in the cards this offseason. Grantland's Zach Lowe reported in July that teams who inquired on Monroe's availability around the time of the 2013 draft were given a flat "no" by Detroit. However, that didn't stop Lowe from suggesting a couple weeks later that Monroe could be shopped at some point this season if the club "falls in love" with a Smith/Drummond frontcourt. According to the Grantland scribe, the Pistons aren't overly enthusiastic about signing Monroe to a maximum-salary extension.
Even if the Pistons were interesting in locking up Monroe, agent David Falk didn't sound too into the idea when he discussed it with Vincent Goodwill of the Detroit News earlier this year.
"Greg isn't gonna go backwards between his third and fourth year," Falk said. "I don't think I've ever done an extension after a third year. In the '90s you maxed out a guy after his second, but the [CBA] rules are different now.… What incentive does a player have to do an extension after his third year? For me personally, it's difficult to do that…. The structure of the CBA, for me, I can't speak for others, I question why that makes sense."
Falk isn't just posturing; he also represents Pacers big man Roy Hibbert, who was offered a lucrative extension by Indiana a year before his free agency. Hibbert ultimately waited and landed a max offer sheet from the Blazers, which the Pacers matched. Assuming Monroe continues to develop and improve, it's reasonable to think he'd also receive a max offer in 2014, or something very close to it, given the bidding we've seen on free agent bigs in recent years.
Of course, even though neither the player nor the team seems all that inclined to work out an extension agreement at this point, that doesn't mean the two sides won't talk before the October 31st deadline. For the Pistons, locking up Monroe to a long-term extension in the neighborhood of Serge Ibaka's pact with the Thunder (four years, $50MM) would be a nice value play. That sort of deal wouldn't necessarily tie them to Monroe for the long-term, since it'd be a movable contract — the club could theoretically extend him, then trade him a little later, like the Nuggets did with Nene.
As for Monroe, it's possible his views aren't entirely aligned with his agent's. Although Falk would prefer to wait for free agency, Monroe may want to play it safe and ink a new deal this fall while his stock is high, even if he'd risk losing out on a few million dollars by doing so.
Ultimately, between the Pistons' addition of Smith and Falk's aversion to non-max extensions, the the odds of a new deal for Monroe this offseason probably aren't great. My guess is that the former seventh overall pick opts for free agency instead, in which case he'll represent a tantalizing target next summer for teams with cap space who miss out on top-tier options like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony.