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Stan Van Gundy ‘loves’ Greg Monroe, but will he pay for him to stay?

While effusive in his praise for the former Georgetown star, Detroit’s new head man also invoked the uncertainty of the NBA free agency process

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
For anyone wondering how the Pistons new president of basketball operations and head coach feels about Greg Monroe, Stan Van Gundy spelled it out very clearly late last week:

“I love Greg Monroe,” he said. “I liked him before. Now, as I get into more film work and look at things, I like him even more. Highly skilled, high-character young big guy. Those are very, very hard to find.”

More specifically, Coach Van Gundy discussed how well he thinks Monroe and Andre Drummond work together on offense:

“I think it is an ideal pairing,” he said. “If I look at just the film I’ve watched now and looking at the numbers, you would say that Greg and Andre together were great offensively. That was a great combination on the offensive end of the floor, especially when the three guys around them were shooters – more conventional perimeter types. That worked very, very well.

“In the things we’ve studied – when you look at our three frontline guys, there’s your strength – but when you study it, when you play two of those three guys together, the Pistons were a very good team, at least last year. When you played all three of them together, they really struggled.”

The idea that Monroe and Drummond can be very effective together when there are three other guys who can shoot on the floor is not news to anyone who has been reading DBB the last two years. But after a season in which the team stubbornly insisted on starting Josh Smith at small forward for 76 games, even though he shot .264 percent on three-pointers (and a career low .419 percent overall), these words from Van Gundy are like a cool breeze blowing off Lake Michigan on a hot summer day.

Van Gundy admitted that this “ideal pairing” on offense does present defensive challenges:

“Now, it didn’t work very well defensively. I think it puts a lot of responsibility on Greg Monroe to have to guard out on the perimeter.

“But I think there are things we can do in terms of schemes and things that would make it a little easier on Greg to make that unit better defensively and then take advantage of the offensive end of the floor.”

While there certainly were matchups at power forward that took Monroe out of his comfort zone, the same was true for Smith at small forward. Expecting these two players to capably adjust to new defensive assignments alongside a 20-year-old center was not reasonable. Add a notoriously poor defender at the point and either a rookie shooting guard or a guy who is better suited at small forward to the mix, and it’s no wonder there was no ‘D’ in Detroit last season. Pistons’ fans have reason to hope that Van Gundy’s commitment to defense, with better schemes and more sensible line-ups will lead to improved play on that end of the floor.

Nevertheless, Van Gundy’s comments about Monroe’s future in Motown were not entirely rosy. He also noted that “Greg’s situation is up in the air.” He added that with “free agency, even restricted free agency, you can’t predict exactly what’s going to go on.”

That’s true enough. But Detroit is clearly in the driver’s seat when it comes to where Monroe utilizes his skills next season. Assuming that he will receive generous offers from other teams, it remains a fact that all Van Gundy has to do to retain him is match any other deal. So the new head man’s comments leave open the possibility that he is not willing to match a max contract.

Certainly the Pistons would like to keep Monroe for less than a max deal of approximately $62 million over four years. But as Van Gundy himself admitted, a “Highly skilled, high-character young big guy [is] very, very hard to find.” Expecting teams like Philadelphia or Phoenix that will have plenty of cap space to try to lowball offers to a 24-year-old big man who can consistently put up a double-double is very wishful thinking.

It’s possible that Van Gundy only intended for his comments to show that he respects the integrity of the free agency process for Monroe and his agent, David Falk. He may also want to make sure that Monroe truly wants to remain a Piston before he makes a major financial commitment to him. A max contract would make ‘Moose’ the best paid player in team history.

For now, Van Gundy signaled his willingness to work at helping him understand how he fits into Detroit’s plans going forward:

“Greg Monroe doesn’t know me, and so part of it is using the month that you have to build the relationship to talk about our vision for the team and for Greg and how he fits in and what we envision putting around him. And then we see where he is and we go from there.”

Monroe himself has been consistently tight-lipped on the subject of his future, in spite of an abundance of rumors that have surrounded him over the past year. Having played for four different head coaches in four years, surely he would like to see some stability. In that regard, it should help that the man he will be negotiating with will also be the new head coach. It stands to reason that if he buys in to the new “vision” and wants to stay put, Van Gundy will sign a contract with his agent that will make this happen.

But if Monroe wants out, Van Gundy may prefer to negotiate a sign-and-trade so the Pistons can get a solid return for one of the best young big men in the league. The next month promises to keep fans of the ‘Moose’ on the edge of their seats, awaiting his next move.