Greg Monroe restricted free agency: 'Moose' Hunting, Part 1

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

With free agency looming this summer, what does the future hold for the Pistons' Greg Monroe?

The Pistons will face some major decisions this summer, such as whether Joe Dumars will remain the President of Basketball Operations, who will replace him if he is not retained, and who to hire as the next (temporary) Head Coach.

But another very significant question is what the organization will do about big man Greg Monroe. While there was plenty of speculation that Detroit might trade him back in February, the word was that they rebuffed any offers. As a restricted free agent, Detroit can certainly keep him if they are willing to match any competing offer(s) he receives this summer. Presumably, his agent, David Falk, will search for another NBA team willing to sign Monroe to a maximum contract of approximately four years/$60 million. The Pistons would have three days to match that offer, or lose him for nothing. If they are unwilling to match it, Detroit would probably try to execute a sign-and-trade in order to get some return on their investment in Monroe.

The current NBA salary cap is $58.7 million, but it could rise for 2014-15. The new figure is usually announced early in July before the free agent signing period begins. While a higher cap will give every team more money to spend, it will also raise the cost of a max contract. Monroe is eligible for a deal paying him up to 25 percent of the cap. While it is possible no one will offer him that much, there are several franchises that can well afford it.

There has been plenty of speculation about the Pistons’ intentions regarding Monroe. The assumption has been that they would prefer to retain him for less than a max contract, since such a deal could have already been inked last October. Yet since his salary cap hold will be only $10.2 million, waiting to extend him gives the Pistons more flexibility in signing other free agents this summer. According to Keith Langlois of Pistons.com:

... they could sign free agents to salaries that total $10 million for next season (for instance, one player who’ll make $10 million next year or two players who’ll make $5 million apiece) and then sign Monroe for whatever it takes to land him, even if it exceeds the salary cap, or match an offer sheet he might get as a restricted free agent.

Beginning today, we will explore which NBA teams that might be interested in either signing Monroe and/or in trying to negotiate a sign-and-trade with Detroit. Still, it cannot be emphasized enough that as long as the Pistons are willing to match any other offer he receives, they absolutely can keep Monroe. While it’s also possible that he would only sign a one-year qualifying offer of $5.5 million so he could be an Unrestricted Free Agent in 2015, that scenario seems unlikely for at least three reasons:

1. Monroe will almost certainly get a contract offer from some team for $6-$9 million more (per year for four years) than that amount.

2. If he declined other proposals and only signed Detroit’s one-year qualifying offer, he would be leaving that money on the table with no assurance he could ever replace it through future earnings.

3. He would also be risking an injury in 2014-15 that could lower his value.

Today, we will look at five possible suitors for Monroe’s services. (We will consider others who may be interested in him in the coming weeks.)

Atlanta Hawks

Would they want Monroe? Atlanta needs help up front. They lost centers Al Horford (age 27) and Gustavo Ayon (age 28) to injury this season. Horford has two years left on his deal, which pays him $12 million per year. Ayon will be a free agent. Power forward Paul Millsap (age 29) has one year/$9.5 million left on his contract. Monroe has been very durable, and would be a very solid big man to pair with Horford.

Can they afford him? The Hawks have salary commitments of $47.9 million for next season, and cap holds of an additional $12.6 million. They could renounce several of those players or sign them first for less, but that still does not leave them with enough space under the current salary cap to offer Monroe a max contract. So they would need to negotiate a sign-and-trade with the Pistons.

What can they offer? Since they only signed Millsap to a two-year deal last summer, he probably does not figure into their long-term plans. One possible scenario would be for Atlanta to offer Millsap and either Kyle Korver (three years/$17.2 million) or Lou Williams (one year/$5.45 million). They could also include a first round pick to sweeten the deal.

Should Detroit be interested? If they are looking for an improved shot at the playoffs next season without sacrificing future financial flexibility, this trade offer could appeal to them. Millsap would bolster the Pistons’ frontline and Korver would add much-needed three-point shooting. Detroit would have enough money left to add another quality free agent, and would have more cap space in 2015 when Millsap’s contract expires.

Will Monroe land in Atlanta? That looks like a real long shot, but I wouldn’t rule it out if the Pistons decide they want to win now and don’t want to pay max money to "Moose."

Boston Celtics

Would they want Monroe? Currently their frontline for next season will feature Joel Anthony, Brandon Bass, Vitor Faverani, Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger. While they might prefer more of a shot-blocking presence in the post, Monroe would still give them an immediate upgrade.

Can they afford him? Boston’s salary obligations for 2014-15 are $54.6 million, and they have sizable cap holds, too. While they almost surely will renounce Kris Humphries, they may want to retain Avery Bradley. If they covet Monroe, they can only make Detroit a sign-and-trade proposal.

What can they offer? Assuming at least a near-max level deal for Monroe, the Celtics could conceivably offer Jeff Green (two years/$18.4 million) and Kelly Olynyk (three years/$7.3 million), or else Rajon Rondo (one year/$12.9 million). The Pistons might request a first round pick to further sweeten either pot.

Should Detroit be interested? If Detroit decides that their best move is to start Josh Smith at power forward, then adding his old schoolmate Rondo to the team could hold a strong appeal. Alternatively, adding a true small forward like Green and a promising big man like Olynk could be deemed an acceptable return. The Pistons might even propose a swap exchanging Monroe and Brandon Jennings for Rondo and Green. While such a trade could elevate the Pistons to the playoffs next season, it might not be in the long-term interest of a franchise whose 20-year-old budding superstar is several years away from his peak. By the time Andre Drummond is 25, Green will be 32, and Rondo and Smith will both be 33. The true worth of a trade for Rondo is also very dependent on him re-signing with Detroit when he becomes a UFA in 2015.

Will Monroe land in Boston? This possibility seems more likely than many others, since Detroit has long been rumored to be interested in Rondo. But trading Monroe for a one-year rental seems like a very risky move.

Charlotte Bobcats

Would they want Monroe? They have Al Jefferson (age 29) under contract for two more years. Their other frontcourt pieces are Josh McRoberts, Bismack Biyombo and Cody Zeller. While it’s questionable whether Monroe is the ideal partner for Jefferson, the Bobcats could conclude that the best use of their cap space would be to invest in Detroit’s productive young big man for the next four years.

Can they afford him? Charlotte has just $44.8 million tied up in salaries for next season, with the only major cap hold the sure to be renounced Ben Gordon. Charlotte could make Monroe a max offer if they so desire.

What can they offer? If these franchises agreed to a sign-and-trade, it might include Gerald Henderson (two years/$12 million), and either Zeller (three years/$13.5 million) or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (two years/$11.3 million), in order for the salaries to match up.

Should Detroit be interested? The returning talent the Pistons would net does not appear to help them as much as what might be available from other trade partners. Still, Henderson could start at shooting guard and Zeller might be able to pair acceptably with either Andre Drummond or Smith as a third big.

Will Monroe land in Charlotte? This possibility seems remote, though not impossible.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Would they want Monroe? Upfront they have oft-injured Anderson Varejao (one year/$9.7 million), Tristan Thompson (one year/$5.1 million), and Tyler Zeller (two years/$4.3 million), so they could certainly use a player like Monroe. They also have Spencer Hawes, who they obtained mid-season from Philadelphia; his deal expires this summer.

Can they afford him? Cleveland has $45.7 million in salary commitments, with cap holds for Luol Deng and Hawes requiring their attention. If they renounced both, Cleveland would have about $13 million to spare. Their cap also includes $13.5 million in unguaranteed salaries. So they could create the financial flexibility to make Monroe a max offer.

What can they offer? Conceivably the Cavaliers could offer Jarrett Jack (three years/$18.9 million) and Thompson for him. A number one pick might be an additional Detroit demand. While the Pistons would probably prefer to receive back Kyrie Irving, it’s not reasonable to expect that he would be on the table.

Should Detroit be interested? While Jack could bolster the backcourt, he has had a disappointing year and is probably overpaid. Thompson is not an ideal partner for Drummond, and he will need to be extended in another year. Even if they decide to cut ties with "Moose," it’s probable that the Pistons would prefer to find a trade partner outside of the NBA’s Central Division.

Will Monroe land in Cleveland? Very unlikely.

Conclusions

Of these four teams, Boston appears to have the most to offer Detroit in a sign-and-trade. Whether any such deal is in the Pistons’ long-term interests, of course, depends on how the organization evaluates Monroe’s fit and future with the team. Feel free to vote in the attached poll and then share your comments.

What say you, DBB?

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