Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Greg Monroe's Qualifying Offer and the State of the Pistons

Greg Monroe looks good in Detroit's Red and Blue, but how much longer will he be wearing them?
By Bennett Corcoran (@CorcoranNBA)

As negotiations have prolonged into mid-August without a resolution, it appears Greg Monroe plans to accept the qualifying offer extended by the Detroit Pistons of about $5.5 million, according to Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today.

There is some risk involved for Monroe. He is leaving money on the table this summer, as he could have signed an offer sheet from another team or reached an agreement with the Pistons. If he gets hurt this season or underwhelms, that guaranteed money is no longer in play.

This path represents the quickest way out of Detroit, and it’s clear why Monroe would pursue an exit strategy based on the current roster construction.

The addition of Josh Smith to the Monroe-Drummond dynamic created a crowded frontcourt for Detroit, and this unfortunately allowed J-Smoove to launch way too many long two’s, converting them at a scathingly low rate. Smith hoisted a career-high 265 three pointers, connecting on just 26.4% of them. He also chucked 211 jumpers between 20-24 feet (his favorite shot), making only 32.2% (per NBA Stats). With Smith and Brandon Jennings soaking up possessions, Monroe’s usage rate regressed to 21.4%.

Monroe has yet to flash a consistent jumper, and this inability particularly hurt Detroit given their spacing woes last season. In 2014, Monroe chucked 166 mid-range shots, connecting on just 31.9% of them (per NBA Stats). Based on his low field goal percentage in the paint but outside the restricted area (just 38.9%), it appears Monroe needs to work on establishing position and learning a few go-to post moves.

One of Monroe’s biggest strengths is his ability to rebound the basketball, and Detroit cleaned the glass with a Monroe-Drummond combination. Detroit was the best offensive rebounding team in the NBA last season with a rate of 31.4%. Monroe’s rebounding rates predictably declined slightly with the presence of Smith, but this skill is still a key aspect of Monroe’s game.

With Smith and Jennings in the fold, Monroe was unable to take advantage of his court vision. Although his assist totals don’t blow you away, Monroe is a gifted passer for a big man. Monroe averaged 5.5 assists per 100 possessions in 2013, but his assist rate declined by 8.3% last year with the presence of Smith (per Basketball Reference).

Defensively, the Smith-Monroe-Drummond trio struggled to keep up with quicker teams, resulting in a 110.5 defensive rating for lineups featuring all three big men. An ugly net rating of -8.0 forced the Pistons to stagger minutes between the three.

Sharing the court with Smith also could be the reason for Monroe’s dip in production on the defensive end last season. His 108 defensive rating was his worst mark since his rookie season (per Basketball Reference). Detroit’s defense was slightly better with Monroe sitting, by 0.9 points per 100 possessions (per Basketball Reference). He does have the quick hands to generate steals, but Monroe is not a shot blocker, and has never averaged one block per game in his career.

With Smith entering the second year of his massive $54 million contract and Drummond the apparent franchise cornerstone, it looks like Monroe will be entering a similar situation for next season, potentially limiting his value.

The Pistons acquired plenty of three-point shooting this summer, no matter what the cost, to stress the importance of ball movement and surround the big men with perimeter weapons. Jodie Meeks, Caron Butler, D.J. Augustin and even Cartier Martin are all capable three-point shooters.

In 2014, the Pistons were third to last in the NBA in passes per game (per NBA Stats). Their isolation-heavy offense also registered only 47.9 points per game created by an assist (per NBA Stats), tied with the Utah Jazz for 27th in the NBA. This shooting influx should encourage better spacing and ball movement, hopefully solving some of the team’s spacing issues on offense.

Equipped with more weapons to surround the big men in place, it is now up to newly hired team president/coach Stan Van Gundy to get the most out of this roster. Maybe SVG will unleash a new strategy that turns Detroit around, but it’s difficult to imagine as long as Drummond, Smith and Monroe are all sharing the floor. Monroe could resign with the Pistons next summer after a successful 2015 season, but that sounds like a pipedream at this point.

After predictably failing to move Smith (barring some last second swap with the wildcard Sacramento Kings), the Pistons will almost certainly look to move Monroe going forward. If two players cannot coexist based on their respective styles of play, and one is immovable, logically Monroe seems headed for another team.

By accepting the qualifying offer, Monroe earns a no-trade clause and must agree to any transaction. At the same time, it's hard to imagine Monroe pouting about a trade given his apparent insistence on leaving. Because the qualifying offer is much less than he would receive on the open market, Monroe could be flipped to a title contender without necessarily having to worry about the barrier of salaries matching.

In terms of his ultimate landing spot, it’s difficult to project where Monroe will end up next summer (or earlier) because so many teams have cap room every year. As teams like the Pelicans and Hornets have shown though, teams are willing to pay for young talent even if it's a little rough around the edges. Expect more rumors next season connecting Monroe to other teams, as the fear of tying up cap space while Detroit mulls matching the offer suddenly evaporates.

The Monroe situation not only affects the long-term outlook of the Pistons, but also restricted free agency as a whole. Perhaps in the future as more RFAs wait until August without a contract like Monroe and Eric Bledsoe, others will sign qualifying offers in attempt to spurn their team next season for a larger payday.

Barring injury, I don’t expect Monroe’s numbers to fluctuate much next season. If anything, they will increase due to the presence of Van Gundy. With an influx of shooters and a better coach, it is fair to say that Monroe is in line for a similar payday next summer. He might not earn the max, and it might not be for five years (depending on if he is traded at the deadline – a team that acquires him would retain his Bird Rights), so there is the likelihood that he must take a slight pay cut to leave, especially if he wants to link up with a contender. But what if Monroe gets $50 million next season and gets to leave Detroit early? Could you really blame him?

Until Monroe actually puts pen to paper, this could just be another negotiating tactic in attempt to squeeze some more money out of the Pistons. But it’s August, and there are only so many realistic options on the table at this point. With very few teams remaining who could make Monroe a competitive offer, it looks like he is either resigning in Detroit or accepting the QO and trying his luck next summer. While it’s possible the two sides still reach an agreement (Nikola Pekovic still got paid this time last year), it appears that signing the QO would give Monroe more flexibility going forward, as he could explore options with other teams.

By this time next season, it’s very likely that Monroe will be in a better basketball situation than Detroit, and hopefully with a long-term contract freshly inked. For a big man lacking the space to operate, maybe that fact alone is worth accepting the qualifying offer.

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