Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Why trading Greg Monroe might be the right move

Let's get this out of the way: Greg Monroe is one of my favorite Pistons in recent memory; a graceful, offensive-post maven who possesses moves that few players in the league can match. In fact, in spite of his struggles finishing, I believe Monroe has the best post moves in the game today. You can even overlook his deficient defensive presence and skills simply because of the talent he brings to the offensive end of the court. At yet it may be time for the Pistons to maximize his value and deal Monroe to a team looking for a young franchise center as Detroit builds around Andre Drummond and Josh Smith.

ESPN recently published a 5-on-5 in which they asked which 2010 draftees should immediately get a contract extension and which should be put on pause for the time being. Regarding Monroe, the panel was split 3-2 Wait and See versus Extend respectively. The most measured response was from Spurs blogger Matthew Tynan:
Wait and see. Prior to the Smith era I would've said extend. But the signing of J-Smoove has exacerbated the Drummond/Monroe debate that already existed. Given Smith's contract and positional conflicts involved, it'd behoove the Pistons to give it a little more time before possibly committing to Monroe, who has arguably the least future value of the three.
Tynan is right on almost all accounts here. Without Smith in the mix, re-signing Monroe is a formality, not a question. But with Smith's contract symbolically making him the centerpiece of the Pistons' future, and a (potentially) improving Drummond, the money Monroe will seek for his next contract may be an albatross on the Pistons' books. A Drummond/Monroe frontcourt is fun to watch and potentially dominant despite the obvious spacing issues it produces. But better is a Drummond/Smith frontcourt that is significantly improved defensively and doesn't relinquish any of the scoring capabilities that Monroe brings.

As I mentioned after the signing, Josh Smith is worth the money that the Pistons have guaranteed him. He's a franchise player and someone worth building around. Playing Smith alongside the Monroe/Drummond pairing was all that complicated measures. But if Joe Dumars can maximize Monroe's value and turn him into a talented small forward, Smiths' talents will easily replace the loss of Monroe and the Pistons will have yet another talented young asset with which to rebuild.

With that in mind, earlier today, Detroit Bad Boys analyzed Monroe's market value, landing on something approaching absurdity:
So what should be the starting point for trade negotiations for the best player out of the past three drafts, the best big man in the league under 23 years old, who is still on his rookie salary? A. Freaking. Lot.

The closest example would be James Harden. Prior to his trade to Houston, he was also the leader of his draft class in win shares and the best young player at his position in the league. Oklahoma City brought back two first round picks, a rookie lottery pick, and a very solid veteran on a very solid contract.
A shortlist of players from the last three drafts (in no particular order) who all have a case as a better player than Monroe: John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard, Andre Drummond. While players like Thompson, Leonard, Lillard, and Butler are all fringe candidates included mostly because of their potential, the rest are all currently or soon to be better than Monroe. Wall's return to the Wizards last year single-handedly turned them into a playoff team while Kyrie Irving is fast on his way to being the league's top point guard. Even Monroe's running mate Drummond showed skills on both ends of the floor last year in limited minutes that Monroe has never displayed.

James Harden, on the other hand, is a franchise player that was miscast as a bench scorer on Oklahoma City. He finished the '12-'13 season with the 11th highest PER in the league, beaten out only by those players that you'd kill to have on your team: Kobe, Tony Parker, Durant, Lebron, Carmelo, Chris Paul, etc. And what did Oklahoma City get in exchange for such a player? Steven Adams, Jeremy Lamb, a worthless future draft pick, and defensive sieve Kevin Martin who is no longer with the team. In other words, taken to the cleaners.

Not only is it foolish to think that Greg Monroe commands the same kind of trade value that Harden does, but if the Pistons get cleaned out the way OKC did (remember that those first round picks were in the 2013 draft, projected to be the worst draft in the last decade+ of the league), Dumars should get his resume ready.

Looking only at metrics like PER and win shares in the trade market is reductive. Player fit and potential is just as important as any advanced metrics outside of all cities other than Memphis. Monroe's value to a team more closely aligns with players like Paul Millsap: defensively challenged power forwards with an offensive pedigree and years of sustained performance. Atlanta recently stole Millsap out from under the rest of the league by signing him to a two-year, $19M deal, well below his market value and below what Monroe will garner on his next contract, but Millsap is in the same realm and Monroe will be considered similarly.

When Millsap was being shopped around earlier this year, it was for a package deal with the Clippers headlined by rising point guard Eric Bledsoe. That fell through before Bledsoe was shipped to the Suns and Millsap was signed by Atlanta. Rajon Rondo and LaMarcus Aldridge have been the two names most closely associated with a Monroe trade and while both represent the appropriate centerpieces of a trade, neither addresses the Pistons' real needs: a small forward and a 2014 first-round pick, the latter of which could be a major boon if the Pistons could wrangle one away from someone. Besides, Boston wants draft picks and significant assets in exchange for Rondo, and Aldridge doesn't solve any of the spacing issues presented by the Monroe/Drummond/Smith frontcourt that a Monroe trade would alleviate.

Enter the Phoenix Suns, they of three first-round picks in the 2014 draft. New GM Ryan McDonough has done an incredible job stockpiling draft picks in the 2014 superdraft. The Suns currently hold their own first-round pick (projected to be a relatively high lottery pick), Minnesota's first round pick (protected 1-13), and Indiana's first-round pick (lottery protected). The Indiana selection will fall somewhere in the low- to mid-20s, while the Timberwolves' pick--a team that made significant moves in free agency--might actually fall somewhere between 14-18, which would be a massive windfall for the Suns.

The Suns hold significant trade leverage because of this bevy of picks and may attempt to nab a player like Monroe for one of their lower first-round selections. While their own pick, projected in the top 10, will be off limits barring something significantly more than the Pistons can/are willing to offer, trading for Indiana's lottery protected pick could pay dividends for the Pistons. Teams that will likely finish ahead of the Pacers include: Miami, OKC, San Antonio, LA Clippers, Memphis (?), Brooklyn, Chicago, Golden State (?), Houston, and New York (?). So best-case scenario, that Indiana pick winds up 20th. Worst-case scenario, Indiana's offseason moves maintain their position as 2nd or 3rd in the East behind some combination of Brooklyn, Chicago, and/or Miami, and behind of several teams in the West, placing the pick somewhere around 26.

One of the things complicating any potential Pistons/Suns trade is that both teams have 15 players on their rosters, so an even number of players must change hands. To accomplish any trade for that Indiana pick, there are several options, but the players that could be on the table for both teams include:

13-'14 Salary hit
14-'15 Salary hit
13-'14 Salary hit
14-'15 Salary hit
Greg Monroe $4M FA Martin Gortat $7.7M FA
Rodney Stuckey $8.5M FA Michael Beasley $6M $6.25M
Jonas Jerebko $4.5M $4.5M player option Channing Frye $6.4M $6.8M player option

Gortat and the first-round pick would be the centerpieces for any Monroe trade. The Suns have been subtly trying to deal Gortat for a while and the Pistons would maintain their big-man depth by getting a viable backup for Drummond. The rest is just wrangling about contracts. Stuckey is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season and exchanging him for Beasley's ugly contract is a win for Phoenix. Jerekbko is owed less than Frye, both of whom have player options after this season. Detroit may be forced to take on a few extra million on Frye's contract to make this trade work. Dumars may even be able to make a play for the Timberwolves pick if it looks like Minnesota won't fall into that protected region of the draft.

Dumars made the right move trading away the Pistons' 1-8 protected 2014 pick with Ben Gordon, opening up cap space to sign Smith. If he can leverage the Pistons' current assets (ie, Monroe) to garner a first-round pick approximately where the team would draft because of their record (I expect Charlotte's pick to fall somewhere in the 13-20 range), Detroit makes a massive upgrade. With the Suns looking for young players to build around, Monroe pairs with Eric Bledsoe to create a great young core, and maintaining two of their three first-round picks could further bolster that development.

With rumors about Rondo and Aldridge floating around, the Suns are obviously not the only potential suitors, but for the Pistons' interests, they may present the best opportunity to refocus the team around Smith and Drummond while picking up other valuable pieces. In other words, while it would be sad to see Monroe leave the Pistons, his loss would be more strongly felt in the hearts of fans than on the court.


  1. (I expect Charlotte's pick to fall somewhere in the 13-20 range)...

    Am I missing something or are you saying you think Charlotte is a playoff team?

    1. You are missing something. The pick I'm referring to is the 1-8 protected pick that the Pistons traded to Charlotte in the Ben Gordon deal. So that pick depends on where the Pistons finish, not Charlotte.