Ripple Effect

Udoh trade lends perspective to Pistons’ drafting of Monroe

Recently-traded Ekpe Udoh was drafted one spot ahead of Greg Monroe in the 2010 draft.
Allen Einstein/NBAE/Getty Images
The first salvo of the NBA trade season had nothing to do with the Pistons. And yet everything to do with the Pistons.

The first salvo of the NBA trade season centered on Monta Ellis and Andrew Bogut, the headliners who switched cities, Ellis heading to Milwaukee from Golden State and Bogut going the opposite way. There were others involved. One of them was Ekpe Udoh, the player Golden State picked No. 6 in the 2010 draft, leaving Greg Monroe to the Pistons.

In his second season, Udoh has recently taken on a larger role for Golden State – though now you wonder if that was done to showcase him for trade as much as on merit. He’s given indications he will be a very good defensive player and he draws high marks for character. He’ll help Milwaukee, especially with the void created by Bogut’s injury and now his absence.

But had Golden State taken Monroe, this trade would not have been made. Had they traded Monroe, he would have been the headliner, not an enticement offered to seal the deal.

What might have been … for Golden State, for Greg Monroe and for the Pistons if Warriors management hadn’t made a very late decision, a surprise to everyone, to draft Udoh at No. 6?

“If you ask me now, I might wonder,” Monroe said after Wednesday’s shootaround at Sacramento, where tonight he’ll play against another player from that 2010 draft with whom he’ll be forever linked, DeMarcus Cousins, taken No. 5. “But on a regular day, no. The draft is something you can’t control. You get picked where you are. You just have to come out and play. Once that day was over, I was pretty locked in.”

The jury is still deliberating and probably will be for a while yet, but you look back at that draft and it’s not a stretch to say the Pistons came out of it better than anyone. John Wall, Cousins, Derrick Favors and even Evan Turner could all eventually both justify their draft slot and carry their teams to great success, but there doesn’t appear to be a more serendipitous pairing of team and player at the moment than the Pistons and Greg Monroe.

Monroe worked out for Golden State, Sacramento and New Jersey. He worked out against Udoh in both Sacramento and New Jersey, but not against him for the Warriors. You wonder if that little winkle in itself would have tipped the scales had it been arranged so Golden State had seen them both on the same day, head to head.

Golden State’s decision to take Udoh over Monroe is one that had massive implications for the Pistons. The building optimism and momentum the Pistons have generated – the palpable imprints made by new owner Tom Gores and new coach Lawrence Frank high among the reasons – started with the drafting of Monroe, who at 21 has emerged as one of the NBA’s best young big men with a real chance to eliminate “young” from the modifier someday soon.

The Pistons liked Udoh well enough. They liked his defense and loved his demeanor. They were prepared to sit down around the big conference table in their war room – Joe D and his cabinet – and hash out the merits of Udoh vs. Ed Davis on draft day when, less than 24 hours before the draft began, came word that Golden State was very likely to draft Udoh.

That lessened the intrigue in their war room considerably. If Monroe was going to be there, debate over. They loved him. Even though Monroe didn’t work out for the Pistons – agent David Falk didn’t see the point, because surely Monroe would be snapped up by either Sacramento or Golden State – they felt they knew him inside and out. They’d scouted him thoroughly and interviewed him – and were wowed by him – at the Chicago draft combine, leaving there perhaps a little sick at heart because the lottery process the night before had left them in the No. 7 spot, one out of the running, in their view, for the impact player they’d hoped to land.

But they landed him. Monroe now is smack in the middle of an impressive run of drafts for Joe Dumars and his staff. Rodney Stuckey, Jonas Jerebko, Greg Monroe – and still great hope for Austin Daye – plus Brandon Knight, whose own draft night slide was equally unexpected and equally fortuitous for the Pistons.

There’s still a chance, of course, that the Pistons will be active before Thursday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline. But if it comes and goes with nothing, put it in perspective: One reason is they weren’t remotely considering a trade of their 2010 No. 1 pick.