Greg Monroe is unlikely to return to the Detroit Pistons next season. Monroe made the unexpected decision to sign his qualifying offer instead of a long-term contract in Detroit. He probably wants out and he wants to pick his next free agent destination. That much people can agree on.
However, the exact route of his exit remains to be seen and their is wild disagreement on how his departure will come. In one corner we have Sean Deveney of the Sporting News who reported the following, emphasis mine:
According to NBA rules, Pistons forward Greg Monroe is now eligible to be traded. And, sources told Sporting News, he wants that, badly. But teams seeking Monroe will need to cough up a first-round pick, and that's a sticking point.
Monroe was a restricted free agent this summer, but was unable to attract a sizable offer from another team-in part, because teams feared the Pistons would match the offer and later use Monroe as a trade chip, and in part, because no one is quite sure how much Monroe is worth. Monroe's agent, David Falk, had several potential sign-and-trade deals in place, but the Pistons were unwilling to add to an already bloated payroll, and passed.
Instead, Monroe had to sign Detroit's $5.5 million qualifying offer, making him a Piston for this year, and allowing him to be an unrestricted free agent next summer. As part of that contract, under NBA rules, Monroe is allowed to veto any trade the Pistons come up with before February's trading deadline.
But that won't happen, a source with knowledge of the situation told Sporting News. Detroit is off to a brutal 5-19 start, and Monroe would be happy to exit stage left-though the Pistons want a first-rounder to help with their rebuilding in return.
"Everyone knows he wants out of there," the source told SN. "There is almost nothing he would shoot down."
So Greg Monroe is unhappy in Detroit and wants out pretty much any way possible. He has to approve any trade, but he'd approve any trade just to leave. Got it.
Next, USA Today reporter Jeff Zillgitt:
Teams calling Pistons about Greg Monroe get same answer: Monroe, who must approve trade, uninterested & wants to keep Bird rights, I'm told.— Jeff Zillgitt (@JeffZillgitt) December 15, 2014
Well, jeez, that's just the complete opposite. It's also the version I happen to believe. Why?
Because he doesn't want to lose his Bird Rights. Bird Rights allow a team to exceed the cap in order to re-sign their own players. Full Bird rights also allow teams to pay their own players more in free agency. If Monroe signs elsewhere in free agency he can sign for four years with 4.5 percent annual raises. He can get the same contract if he is signed-and-traded by the Pistons this offseason. But if he re-signs with the Pistons he can get a five-year deal with 7.5 percent raises (the max).
But I thought Greg Monroe had no interest in returning to Detroit?
He probably doesn't.
If Monroe truly cares about his Bird rights as Zillgitt and others (including Vincent Goodwill of the Detroit News, who mentions it often) then there is no way he would be interested in a trade this year. And it's not because he can get more money from Detroit (there is no indication he wants to return). So if he doesn't want to return why does he care about his Bird rights? Because he wants to pick his next destination and if he agrees to a trade he effectively cuts the teams that can vie for his services in half.
A team like Portland couldn't sign him. Neither could teams like New Orleans or Oklahoma City or the Washington Wizards. If they want Monroe and Monroe wants them, then he needs to stay in Detroit all year. That is because only Detroit can exceed the salary cap and facilitate a sign-and-trade with another team that is already over the cap like the ones mentioned above. If Monroe wants 29 teams to be able to bid on his services then he needs to stay in Detroit.
From the Pistons' perspective, the fact that about half the league can't view Monroe as anything more than a rental means that the return they could expect from Monroe is likely minimal. And a minimal return isn't worth sending him out as they could probably get a comparable minimal return in a sign-and-trade in the offseason, even if it's just a big fat trade exception.
Deveney reports that the Pistons are asking for a first-round pick, which seems appropriate given Monroe's talent level, but the combination of the receiving team not controlling his Bird rights and the fact that the Pistons aren't in a good bargaining position means that not many teams would be willing to forfeit that pick. They might, instead just wait until the offseason and attempt to sign him outright.
Why would a team trade a first-round pick for Monroe if it means they can only match the offer he could receive from a more attractive destination. Without Bird rights no team could offer Monroe more money and would not have the upper hand.
Yes, it's confusing but what it boils down to is this -- Monroe is unlikely to be traded this season. It's not completely out of the question, of course. I never thought he'd accept a qualifying offer, after all. But if I have to decide between Deveney's report that Monroe definitely wants out now and Zillgitt's report that he definitely wants to stay for now, I'm going with Zillgitt.