Free Agent Stock Watch: Greg Monroe

Most restricted free agents as valuable as Greg Monroe is are virtual shoo-ins to return to their teams. That’s not the case with the 6’11” former Georgetown Hoya whose departure would appear to offer the Pistons the easiest way to dismantle their clumsy, super-sized frontcourt. Much hinges on just who the Pistons will have running their basketball operations this summer, with the job security of Joe Dumars in doubt. Most would probably conclude that the teaming of Monroe, Andre Drummond and Josh Smith has been a failed experiment, but even if Smith and Drummond continue to be unmovable assets, for completely different reasons, it doesn’t necessarily mean Monroe is a goner.

The Pistons could sign Monroe this summer and trade him at the deadline, although his statistical decline this season suggests that his value would take a hit if Detroit continues to play him with its current set of misfit parts. His points, rebounds and assists per game — and per minute — are all down, and his PER is at a career-low 17.9. Monroe no doubt bears some responsibility for his own declining numbers, but it seems most logical to suggest that playing out of position and amid tight offensive spacing has been the primary reason behind his regression. He might not be all that enthusiastic about playing under these conditions for another year, but the Pistons wield the power to match any offer Monroe takes from another club.

Still, part of what makes Monroe such an intriguing case is the strong possibility that other clubs find him significantly more valuable than whoever will be making basketball decisions for Detroit does. Agent David Falk is averse to extensions for less than the maximum salary, and it never appeared as though the Pistons were willing to go that high. Still, Monroe is only 23 years old, and with averages of 15.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per game with a 19.8 PER over the past three seasons, there’s plenty of reason to believe that at least one team would be willing to give him the max. That’s especially true since Monroe qualifies for a max that’s equivalent to only 25% of the salary cap, significantly less than the max salaries that more experienced players can make. The precise amount won’t be clear until after the July Moratorium, but it will likely entail a starting salary close to $14MM a year.

Falk has mastered the art of linking a client with the team that holds him in higher regard than most, having done so most recently with Roy Hibbert of the Pacers. Hibbert, who like Monroe is a former Georgetown big man, wasn’t widely considered worthy of a max deal when the Blazers agreed to sign him to an offer sheet for that amount in 2012, forcing the Pacers to quickly swoop in with an identical offer to retain him.

Five Eastern Conference teams are reportedly already planning to pursue Monroe, and one of them is probably the Wizards, who would apparently like to bring him back to the same city where he played his college ball. The Bobcats and Warriors had interest in trading for Monroe at the deadline, an idea that Detroit resisted short of an extraordinary offer. The resistance to part with Monroe in advance of his free agency indicates that Dumars and company are by no means anxious to see him go. The Pistons are hoping to re-sign him to a contract similar to the four-year, $49MM deal the Thunder gave Serge Ibaka in 2012, as TNT’s David Aldridge wrote in February. Aldridge believes the team will settle for paying the max if another club makes him such an offer, but given Detroit’s inability to find a taker for Smith, it’s not unreasonable to believe otherwise. A max deal for Monroe would require a commitment of nearly half the salary cap to two parts of a three-man unit that simply hasn’t worked.

The possibility of a sign-and-trade is in play. The Pistons could use their ability to match offers as leverage to gain assets from Monroe suitors. Dumars was on the other end of such a transaction this summer, when he acquired Brandon Jennings for three players including Brandon Knight and Khris Middleton, a pair of inexpensive young talents with upside. Detroit can’t expect to receive a player of Monroe’s caliber in this sort of swap, but the big man’s status as a restricted free agent means the club could reap assets more valuable than the ones conveyed in many sign-and-trades.

Monroe is certainly no superstar, but a young, productive interior player who stands 6’11” needn’t be a marquee name to command a max deal. His down year this season raises legitimate concerns, but I think he’ll nonetheless be able to sign a max contract in the summer. Whether it’s the Pistons or another team that winds up shelling out the money depends on just who is running the front office in Detroit. If the new GM is a confident, aggressive sort who feels like there’d be an avenue to solve the team’s frontcourt mess even with Monroe on the books for max money, the big man will stay put. If owner Tom Gores installs someone who wants to play it safe and take the path of least resistance, Monroe will be wearing a different uniform.

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