Pistons Mailbag - August 6, 2014

by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

No new developments in the Greg Monroe contract situation as far as anyone can tell, but that hasn’t slowed the flood of questions from Pistons fans regarding his fate. Throw in a little lineup speculation and...on with Mailbag...

Samuel (Ann Arbor, Mich.): The Greg Monroe situation is starting to look rather ugly from the outside. It seems like Monroe is completely disinterested in the Pistons organization. What are your thoughts on Monroe signing a qualifying offer and then trading him to a team for a young asset with two to three contract years remaining?

Langlois: Can’t do that, Samuel. If Monroe signs the qualifying offer, he must play with the Pistons for one season and then he will become an unrestricted free agent. That’s the way the collective bargaining agreement calls it.

Jeffery (Royal Oak, Mich.): How about this trade scenario: A three-team trade between the Pistons, Cavs and Timberwolves where the Cavs get Kevin Love, the Pistons get Andrew Wiggins and the Wolves get Greg Monroe. It seems like a win for all three teams.

Langlois: There have been a number of reports that indicate the Cavs and Timberwolves have all but agreed on the conditions of the trade that will essentially send Love to Cleveland, perhaps with another piece, in exchange for the last two No. 1 picks – Wiggins and Anthony Bennett – plus a 2015 No. 1 pick. Timberwolves owner Glenn Taylor is also said to be enamored with Wiggins. I can understand that. When you’re losing Love, the face of the franchise, you really need to be able to sell sizzle. And Wiggins, for whatever he might become, certainly comes with sizzle. He’s been talked about as a potential superstar. Taylor, Flip Saunders and the organization can save some face here by emphasizing the extremely high ceiling many believe Wiggins to have. I’ve addressed a number of proposals centered around Monroe and Love over the past few months and repeatedly come to this: I’m not sure how Saunders would view the compatibility of Monroe and Nikola Pekovic. We know the Timberwolves have wanted to get more athletic on the wings. Wiggins certainly helps them achieve that. I think the T-wolves are pretty set on Wiggins as the centerpiece not that they are resigned to losing Love.

Darrin (Mio, Mich.): I’m seeing it reported that Greg Monroe isn’t eager to return to the Pistons. Shouldn’t the Pistons let him go?

Langlois: Stan Van Gundy fairly recently said he has not been told that by Monroe or by David Falk, his agent. Van Gundy has made no secret of the fact that Drummond is at the center of the franchise’s future, so it’s possible that Monroe is harboring some belief that the ideal situation for him might be elsewhere simply because he might fear he can’t do what he does best while playing alongside Drummond – but that’s just supposition, too, because Monroe has never expressed that sentiment publicly. He’s also smart enough to know that the ideal situation might be a long time coming and even if he doesn’t regard his current situation as ideal, that doesn’t mean it isn’t the best available option or a really good option. Falk, for all of the shrewd negotiations he’s conducted over the years, is nothing if not pragmatic. He, too, no doubt knows the grass isn’t always greener. I’m sure he has done his due diligence and explored every potential landing spot for Monroe that they might have viewed favorably. But nothing has eventuated so far. No offer sheet was presented – at least nothing that tempted them to sign. If there are any sign-and-trade suitors, they’ve remained under the radar. The closer we get to October, the sharper this should come into focus. Don’t assume just because the weeks roll by with no news that things are turning ominous. We’ll find out the fate soon enough. I’ve maintained all along that the odds favored Monroe’s return to the Pistons. I’ll hold to that belief until I hear something that makes me think otherwise.

Aubrey (Sterling Heights, Mich.): What are your thoughts on targeting Jeff Green as a player more suited to play small forward via trade or a sign-and-trade centered around either Josh Smith or Greg Monroe? The idea of Smith playing with Rondo or obtaining a young, talented post player such as Monroe would have to be intriguing to Boston. The Pistons would be getting a player who can attack the basket and shoot from the perimeter. If Boston is willing to trade Green, would you make a deal primarily focused on Green and either Monroe or Smith if it were up to you?

Langlois: Tough call, Aubrey. I think Monroe and Smith are better players than Green, but it’s not lopsided. Stan Van Gundy sure seems determined to either stick with what he has and see if he can make it work or entertain trades that only return equal talent in return. He might eventually decide to look for ways to balance the roster – right now, the three best players on the team play the two power positions – but I don’t think he’s ready to accept 80 cents on the dollar to achieve that balance. Maybe Green is closer to 90 cents on the dollar. And maybe that would be enough, now or eventually. Impossible to gauge: Boston’s intentions. The Celtics really haven’t gone one way or another yet – either trading Rajon Rondo and going into a full rebuild or trying to go after players of Monroe’s caliber who could put them right back in the playoff picture.

Impatience (@Discomfort_): Are the Pistons going to look at trying to get Rajon Rondo?

Langlois: See above. Nobody’s sure what Boston’s intention is. But Rondo’s name has been largely absent from credible trade speculation all summer, so it sure doesn’t seem like Danny Ainge is urgently trying to deal him. The only really likely match from Detroit’s side would be Greg Monroe. (Josh Smith? Not as much because, like Rondo, he’s more of a middle-aged veteran. Smith would hold appeal to the Celtics, I think, if they really wanted to keep Rondo and go for it now.) And, again, there’s no feel for what Boston would think of that return. On paper, Monroe would appear to make a lot of sense for the Celtics – a young player who would fit with a rebuild but also one ready to contribute prominently immediately. Of course, that’s precisely why Stan Van Gundy has steadfastly maintained his preference is to bring him back to the Pistons.

Parker (@p_malatesta): What is your prediction for the starting lineup this season?

Langlois: Brandon Jennings and Jodie Meeks in the backcourt with plenty of D.J. Augustin and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope behind them. Andre Drummond at center. Kyle Singler by a nose over Caron Butler – wouldn’t surprise me if it were flipped – at small forward. If Greg Monroe is back, that’s where it gets interesting. Either he or Josh Smith starts at power forward but the minutes are going to be there for all three of the big guys.

Michael (Lake Orion, Mich.): My lineup: Drummond, Smith, Butler, KCP and Jennings. Assuming Monroe is back, he’s the leading candidate to come off the bench given he can play both power forward and center. I’m also surprised that Jonas is flying so low under the radar with fans. He’s everything SVG has been preaching all summer – tough, smart , high character and can shoot the ball. He did lead the team in 3-point percentage last season.

Langlois: That lineup is just as realistic, Michael, as the one I hypothesized. My only thinking is that Singler has proven so durable and Butler, who’s had some injury history and is 34, might be a better candidate to come off the bench. And if he’s coming off the bench, then Meeks’ shooting becomes more valuable with the starters. The real point in all of this: There is going to be more legitimate competition for minutes than the Pistons have had in several seasons and the composition of the bench should make it one of the best in the Eastern Conference. As for Jerebko, Van Gundy spoke in late June of the favorable impression he had made on him. At the time, the Pistons were thin at small forward and it seemed Jerebko might get a shot at that position. But they signed Butler and have reportedly come to an agreement with Cartier Martin – stay tuned soon for something official. They also return Singler and Gigi Datome. So power forward seems the likelier option for Jerebko at this point. But if all three of Drummond, Smith and Monroe are back, there just might not be many minutes available for others at the two power positions.

Joseph (Manila, Philippines): If Monroe refuses to sign with the Pistons – possible but not likely – what will Stan Van Gundy’s contingency plan be? Would it be a good idea to save that cap space to target some free agents next season and have less of a logjam at power forward?

Langlois: Refusing to sign with the Pistons is even less likely than signing the one-year qualifying offer, Joseph. Monroe gains nothing by refusing to sign and sitting out. He wouldn’t get paid and he would still be a restricted free agent against next summer. If he signs the one-year qualifying offer and leaves after next season as an unrestricted free agent, then the Pistons would probably have cap space similar to what they had this July 1 – something more than $10 million but less than maximum-contract money. Having a player sign the qualifying offer and walking as an unrestricted free agent is generally seen as the worst option for the original team and it wouldn’t be a great option for the Pistons. But it wouldn’t be as bad as losing him but still being left without cap room. If the Pistons were so far over the cap that even vacating Monroe’s cap hold for 2015-16 wouldn’t get them far enough under the cap to have any real leverage in free agency, losing him would be more devastating. I still regard the qualifying offer option as more than just a little unlikely for Monroe, but everything remains on the table at this point.

Ken (Dharamsala, India): Let’s say that you, as GM, have inherited a problem child. On the roster is a high-priced player who is not playing well, is not coachable and is disruptive in the locker room. He has a big contract. He has talent and other GMs know his reputation. How do you get rid of him?

Langlois: First, I’ll start with this: Josh Smith – assuming that’s who you were broadly hinting at – really doesn’t have that type of reputation around the NBA. He might not tolerate losing very well, but that surely wouldn’t dissuade general managers of most teams from pursuing him. Yes, Smith has a rich contract, but not one widely viewed as out of proportion to his contributions. There are three years left on it and he’s only 28, so you wouldn’t be paying somebody whose productivity is very likely to diminish over the life of his deal. Now, let’s go back to your hypothetical. What I would do is weigh the damage done by dealing a player whose value is at rock bottom against the cost of keeping him and a bad attitude around and choose the least painful path. If you’re a GM with a strong coach – one you believe can manage the situation appropriately – then it would be wise to keep the player and allow his market value to be rehabilitated.

Craig (Atlanta): With the team’s free-agent signings favoring shooters, what will this mean for the place of defense in their play this season? Do the Pistons have a realistic chance of being an above-average defensive squad and, if so, how?

Langlois: There’s no question Van Gundy will emphasize defense from his opening speech of training camp and every day thereafter, Craig. That doesn’t make him much different from 90 percent of NBA coaches. The difference – and the reason Pistons fans should feel optimistic about the likelihood of a defensive turnaround – is Van Gundy’s track record. He’s fashioned defenses that finished above the league average pretty much every season he’s been a head coach and he’s done it without a bevy of great individual defenders, though it must be acknowledged that Dwight Howard was a great anchor for him in Orlando. Defense is about effort, yes, but it’s about installing a system that everyone understands and making sure your teaching points are consistently reinforced and clear to all. It might be true that the Pistons’ recent defensive failings have been partially about lack of consistent effort – Van Gundy has said the Pistons must play harder than what he’s seen in videotape last season – but I think it was more about repeated breakdowns in execution. A coach who can communicate the intricacies of his defensive system in crystal clear terms can take a team of so-so individual defenders and craft an above-average to very good defensive team. I think the quality and mental makeup of the free agents Van Gundy has brought on board will make that happen sooner than many probably believe for the 2014-15 Pistons.

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