Stan Van Gundy was brought to the Detroit Pistons in to bring credibility and wins. Instead, the team is worse than ever and 2014-15 almost certainly already a lost cause. More surprisingly, the Phoenix Suns have scuffled in the first quarter of the season. Last year's 48-win darlings sit at 13-14 record and currently reside outside the playoff picture.
The Pistons have myriad problems but none more pressing than having two big men, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith, fighting for one position. In Phoenix, meanwhile, things just seem slightly off. A year after everything went right too much has gone wrong and the Suns are looking for answers.
In the offseason, instead of trying to shore up any perceived weakness, the team decided to double down on a strength by signing electric point guard Isaiah Thomas. But those potential weaknesses have become pressing realities with the team getting little offensive production and even less defense from big men Alex Len and Miles Plumlee. Now, Thomas is reportedly already upset with his minutes and his role.
In both Detroit and Phoenix it is a case of having too many players for too few spots. Too many bigs in Detroit, too many guards in Phoenix. With each team's strength being the other team's weakness, perhaps there is a deal to be made.
Why the Suns should trade for Greg Monroe
A Monroe-for-Thomas trade is relatively painless to pull off. The Suns are one of the few quality NBA teams who would be armed with enough cap space to re-sign Monroe in the offseason. Monroe would bring the Suns a quality low-post threat who is also an adept passer. While the Suns have an embarrassment of riches along the perimeter, they don't have anybody who can score proficiently on the block. Their lack of offensive diversity could be a reason the team recently attempted 62 percent of their shots from 3-point range in close games during a recent six-game-losing streak. Monroe isn't a great finisher in Detroit's paint-clogged offense, but on a team with four perimeter threats he could have space to get easy looks and open passing lanes to teammates.
Why the Pistons do it
The Pistons would be forfeiting any chance at re-signing Monroe (if any exists) as well as forfeiting the chance at either the cap space or the opportunity to sign-and-trade him for other assets. Thomas, though, might just be worth it. Detroit was reportedly extremely interested in signing Thomas this offseason. It's not hard to understand why.
The Pistons, as currently constructed, have nobody that forces the defense to react. It goes a long way toward explaining the team's league-worst field-goal percentage and handful of players having career-worst seasons. Thomas could become the offensive focal point. His ability to draw defenders opens up opportunities for Andre Drummond and the team's bevy of 3-point shooters. It could even lead to improved play from Smith.
In Detroit, Thomas would be starting for a team desperate for someone to take command of their offense. Shouldering an outsized portion of the offensive load might not make sense in talent-rich Phoenix, but the Pistons are starved for it. Just read Bright Side of the Suns's breakdown of Thomas' game and think how it meshes with what Detroit needs from its point guard:
Thomas ran the pick-and-roll on over 40 percent of his possessions, shooting 44.3 percent from the field and scoring 0.89 points per possession, a number that places him inside the top 30 in the NBA.
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Thomas has been short for a long time, and has developed an arsenal of shots to compensate for his lack of height. He's very explosive and has good touch around the basket, using a lot of floaters, short pull-ups and difficult layups around the rim. However, even with his skill it can be difficult for him to get good looks off once he gets into the paint.
Thomas is definitely a scoring point guard, but with his quickness he can really force the issue, collapsing defenses and drawing double-teams. When he does that, he's more than capable of dumping the ball off to the roll man or kicking it out to the popping big for the open jumper.
While former Van Gundy teams have relied heavily on the pick-and-roll, neither Brandon Jennings nor DJ Augustin can handle the responsibility. This has led Van Gundy to rely on Smith as a primary initiator on offense. While Smith is a quality passer, over-reliance on Smith's playmaking has a huge cost in turnovers and low-percentage shots from Smith. Inserting Thomas turns Smith from a primary to a secondary ball handler and turns Jennings from disappointing starter into valuable reserve.
Why Monroe agrees to the trade
No matter how much sense it makes for the Pistons and for the Suns, it ultimately needs to make sense to Monroe, who can veto any trade.
Monroe, however, might welcome a trade to the Suns because he could boost his stats and his profile with the Suns. Reports indicate Monroe's representation wants a trade so Monroe can be showcased in a better situation. In Phoenix, Monroe would go from sixth man to starter and from losing to a playoff race. Also, even if he maintained his middling efficiency, the Suns play at such a fast pace that he would get more shots, more rebounds and more points in the box score.
What Monroe wouldn't provide is better defense, and that's where Josh Smith comes in.
Why the Suns should trade for Josh Smith
First, let's get this out of the way -- the Pistons would certainly have to give up a lottery-protected first-round draft pick in order to unload Smith on the Suns. They'd also have to take back an additional player and maybe send out a Kyle Singler or DJ Augustin in the process. But the move might just be worth it -- for both the Suns and the Pistons.
Phoenix has more than enough offense to go around. But they lack a defensive presence in the paint. Smith is blocking 1.7 shots per game, remains an adequate rebounder and is defending the paint well this season.
Opponents are converting just 46.6 percent at the rim against Smith this season, per NBA stats. The Suns bigs (Len, Plumlee and Markieff Morris) are allowing opponents to hit 57.8 percent, 54.7 percent and 51.5 percent, respectively).
While a huge risk, what Smith can do on offensive end fits nicely within the Suns' system. They get out and run, pass constantly and have shooters all over the floor. Smith, of course, wouldn't be of those shooters, but if he focuses on defense, driving into the lane and kicking out to other, better shooters he could thrive.
The chance of Smith Smith joining the 3-point brigade, whether asked to or not, remains very real, however. And that is why the Suns would get a first-round pick to take on that risk. Even if Smith disappoints, the Suns get a Detroit first to go with future first from the Timberwolves and the Lakers. They could package their handful of first rounders if a deal for a star emerged (sending Smith's fat contract on with it) or keep the picks and draft quality, cheap talent as they start pressing up to the salary cap.
Why the Pistons do it
The Pistons are reluctant to repeat the mistake of jettisoning Ben Gordon and losing a quality first-rounder in the process, but relieving themselves of Smith and receiving a player the caliber of Thomas more than cushions that blow. Thomas might not so well in Phoenix but he could be the perfect No. 1 option on a talent-deficient team like the Pistons. Crucially, he could actually aid the development of Detroit's young players instead of detract from it. And it's all about building toward the future in Detroit.