Greg Monroe didn't need to start to make the biggest impact among the Detroit Pistons' talented trio of big men. Playing 31 minutes off the bench, he paced the Pistons with 24 points and nine rebounds in a 111-109 overtime win against the Chicago Bulls.
Andre Drummond scored 13 points, shooting 6-of-13 and grabbing five rebounds in 27 minutes. Josh Smith scored nine, shooting 4-of-11 and grabbing five rebounds. Jonas Jerebko, who embodies the stretch four position that Stan Van Gundy has preferred in the past, finished with 14 points, shooting 2-of-4 beyond the arc, to go with three rebounds.
Van Gundy suggested the starting lineup would change throughout the preseason, but ultimately somebody will be forced to come off the bench in the regular season once Monroe returns from his two-game suspension. When asked how he's handling the prospect of serving that role in the future, Monroe was dismissive of the question.
"I don't have to handle it, I just have to play," he said. "That's not going to change, whether I start or whether I come off the bench, that's not going to change the way I play. So, you guys might worry about it, but all I'm focused on is being on the court. If you have questions about that, you're going to have to ask [Van Gundy], he makes the decisions. But other than that, I'm just going to play."
That's the type of politically correct answer we've grown to expect from most athletes, but is it how Monroe really feels? Last week, he seemed to give a more honest answer when discussing whether his contract situation might influence Van Gundy's decision. From Vincent Goodwill of the Detroit News:
"People have brought that up multiple times. I would hope that it doesn't," Monroe said. "The question I ask is, if I signed the extension would I automatically be starting? What would the answer be?
"I hope everything that's given here is earned. If he has to bring someone off the bench I would just ask that you do it purely on what people have done on the court. My only question is, if I signed the extension, what would it be then?"
It's understandable if Van Gundy uses multiple starting lineups in the preseason as he gets a feel for the roster, but there's something to be said for maintaining the stability of a consistent starting lineup in the regular season. If Monroe consistently puts up numbers like he did on Tuesday -- and if Smith and Drummond show the inconsistency that sometimes plagued them last season -- will Monroe trust Van Gundy's motives? Or will his lack of a contract beyond this season continue to weigh on his mind?
It's too early to say. But this, combined with Smith's comments over the weekend suggesting that he and Monroe have yet to speak directly about the summer rumors that Monroe didn't want to play with Smith could foretell a potential locker room schism down the road. Here's to hoping I'm reading too far between the lines.
Van Gundy is renowned for being an excellent communicator -- and in fact, his blunt nature and refusal to massage egos is what led to his fractured (but since repaired) relationship with Dwight Howard. So I suspect Van Gundy will explain his rotation to every player, whether it's strictly about production or his preferred on-court pairings.
But with Monroe having tens of millions of future earnings at stake, I wonder if he'll ever truly compartmentalize the business of basketball from the game itself. Who could?
Now your thoughts.