SVG: Monroe issue is No. 1 Pistons priority

Stan Van Gundy said Greg Monroe's restricted free agency has occupied much of his time.
Ron Hoskins/NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

Stan Van Gundy’s been on the job about six weeks and dealt with a variety of pressing issues: Thursday’s draft preparation, next week’s dive into free agency, meeting with Pistons players under contract and identifying candidates to fill out his coaching and front-office staffs.

But one issue has dominated his landscape: Greg Monroe and his pending restricted free agency.

“Even with free agency and the draft and everything else,” he said, “I’ve spent well over half my time on that whole situation.”

In a Tuesday meeting with the media, the Monroe situation dominated to the same degree. They’ve looked at every conceivable scenario, Van Gundy said, and essentially already decided what they’ll do at every price point should Monroe come to them with an offer sheet from another team. He’s not saying what it is – or whether there’s a number past which the Pistons wouldn’t go – but Van Gundy remains adamant that he values Monroe highly.

“The fair thing to say is we either want him back or we want good value for him,” Van Gundy said. “We absolutely control whether Greg is back here next year. But we can’t necessarily control after next year and so you have to put that into consideration, too. You do have to at least have a plan. If this happens, are we ready? To me, that situation, we know exactly where we’re headed on that.”

Monroe’s options are:

  • Sign an offer sheet with a team that has enough salary cap room to give him the contract he seeks, which likely would be one that starts with a first-year salary of around $14 million. If he comes to the Pistons with such an offer sheet, the Pistons would have 72 hours to match it. During that time, the team pursuing Monroe would have that amount of cap space tied up and be unable to pursue other free agents. It’s that uncertainty that often makes teams hesitant to present offer sheets to restricted free agents.

    The Pistons can’t negotiate a sign-and-trade deal with a team that agrees with Monroe to an offer sheet. The only options at that point are the Pistons match and keep Monroe or choose not to match and Monroe leaves without compensation. And if the Pistons match, they can’t trade Monroe anywhere for a year without his consent and not under any circumstances for a year to the team that extended the offer sheet.

  • Identify a team without the cap space to present an offer sheet but willing but to give him the contract he demands if that team and the Pistons can agree to a sign-and-trade deal. Van Gundy says the Pistons won’t participate in any such deal without coveting the players offered in return.

    “The trade strategy is we either get something that we value, something we think makes our team better than it would by not having Greg, both short term or long term, or we don’t do the deal.”

  • Signing a long-term contract with the Pistons. Not out of the question, but probably unlikely given the conventional preference of Monroe’s agent, David Falk, to take his clients to free agency.

  • Signing the one-year qualifying offer for $5.5 million, as determined by his draft position in 2009, and then becoming an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2015. It’s an unusual move for a player to make, but not unprecedented. Ben Gordon took the one-year qualifying offer from Chicago in 2008 to become an unrestricted free agent in 2009. But Gordon, as the No. 3 pick, got $6.4 million that season – less than he might have gotten as a free agent but certainly not as far out of line as Monroe signing for $5.5 million vs. what he can expect in first-year salary.

    “There are a lot of options and we’re comfortable with all of the options on the parts we can control,” Van Gundy said. “We’re comfortable that we’ll be OK, no matter what, because there can’t be a trade we don’t like. We have control over whether Greg is here next year. There are some scenarios that are certainly a lot better for us than others, but we’re pretty comfortable we’ll come out of this OK, no matter what happens.”

    Van Gundy even talked about the possibility of keeping Monroe, Josh Smith and Andre Drummond throughout the life of Smith’s contract, which runs for three more seasons. In the final year, 2016-17, Drummond would be on the first year of what is anticipated to be a maximum deal. That means the Pistons would have the majority of their cap space – $40 million or more – tied up in the two frontcourt positions.

    “There would be a good chance, just because of the duplication in the makeup, that one of them is coming off the bench,” he said. “So that’s an interesting scenario and we have looked down the road at that. It’s hard to say that’s the ideal situation. It really affects what you’re able to do on your perimeter and you would like a balance on your roster. But we have also come to the conclusion, if that’s what it comes to, we can deal with that for one year.”

    A few quick highlights from other Van Gundy comments:

  • Jonas Jerebko has made an impression by being the most frequent visitor to the team’s practice facility. Van Gundy identified seven core players.

    “I don’t know if I would be ready to say we know who the group is we would want long term, but I do think we know who our core is of the guys on the roster,” he said. “There are no big surprises. It starts with Andre and then it’s Josh and Greg and Brandon (Jennings) and then (Kentavious) Caldwell-Pope and (Kyle) Singler. And then the guy who is really to me working in my mind into that regard is Jerebko. He’s put in a lot of time. He’s been the most consistent guy at our facility coming in to work.”

  • He called it unlikely the Pistons would trade into the first round. They won’t do it before the draft, for sure. If they see a player they covet falling into the mid-20s, they would consider moving up. But they won’t offer a current player they value or a future first-round pick. Cash and a future second-rounder, maybe.

  • Van Gundy said in meetings last week, the staff identified “nine or 10” free agents they’ll go after quickly when free agency opens. They broke down free agents into three categories: ones who would take up half or more of the projected $13.5 million in cap space they’ll have; “value” players who likely will sign for less than a mid-level contract; and those they wouldn’t pursue even for the minimum.

    Van Gundy said the Pistons have too many needs to spend all of their money on one player, in all likelihood. He used a baseball analogy. The Pistons, he said, would be happy to hit three singles or a double and two singles rather than swing for a home run and strike out.

  • With the 38th pick, they won’t gamble on a player who might slip due to character red flags. And they won’t draft an athlete they hope they can transform into a player. They’ll look instead at players who have one or two clearly identifiable NBA skills. If it’s a perimeter player, shooting will be a high priority.