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Greg Monroe: Stan Van Gundy's first major mistake?

Joe Dumars' final blunder as GM might have led to Stan Van Gundy's first as his replacement.

Russ Isabella-US PRESSWIRE

With the news that Greg Monroe has officially signed the qualifying offer, people are looking for who to blame. Some blame Monroe for apparently wanting out of Detroit. Others blame Joe Dumars for wasting the beginning of the promising big man's career -- a career that saw Monroe play under four coaches in four years and average 28 wins.

Many blame Josh Smith, the roster-disrupting addition signed by Dumars who took shots away from Monroe and points off the board with horrid shooting and decision-making. Few people, however, have been pointing the finger at Dumars' replacement Stan Van Gundy.

Van Gundy was signed to much fanfare in the offseason and for good reason. He is one of the game's top coaches, and owner Tom Gores paid him a king's ransom to pilot Detroit back to respectability. But part of getting the marquee coach to come to Detroit was that Van Gundy, who had no executive experience, was given control of the front office as well as on the sidelines.

From the beginning, the newly minted president of basketball operations talked about how handling Greg Monroe's restricted free agency was the No. 1 priority of the offseason. He bragged about having a plan for every contingency and every possible contract offer Monroe could receive.

Van Gundy was faced with three choices: 1. Re-sign Monroe to a multi-year deal 2. Sign-and-trade Monroe 3. Let Monroe walk for nothing.

Monroe's decision to take his qualifying offer is essentially option No. 3 but in slow, excruciating motion. And it could represent the first major mistake of Van Gundy's tenure in Detroit. All before a single game has been played or practice has been held.

Whether it was foisted upon him or it was his plan all along, Van Gundy stands to lose Monroe for absolutely nothing following the season. He reportedly turned down multiple sign-and-trade opportunities for Monroe. He decided to turn down the chance to receive assets either because he was confident Monroe would eventually re-sign on Van Gundy's terms or because Van Gundy had a plan for free agency and valued those freed up dollars more than players and/or picks.

But planning for free agency is a very dangerous game and a poor team-building strategy. Free agency is where bad teams overpay for mediocre talent (see Smith, Josh; Gordon, Ben; or Villanueva, Charlie).

And to be 100 percent clear, the likelihood that Monroe is traded during the season is exceedingly unlikely. First, Monroe has veto power over any possible trade. Second, and more importantly, any team trading for Monroe will not have his Bird rights. This means that the team will not be able to go over the salary cap in order to re-sign him following the season.

The only teams even willing to trade anything for Monroe will be one of the 16 teams in the NBA projected to have the ability to re-sign him after this season. And the likelihood of getting much in value for what is likely to be a rental will be minimal at best. That means that it's free agency or bust for the Pistons.

In the meantime, though, Van Gundy is tasked with installing his offense and defense with Monroe as a key piece knowing that he will likely have to replace him in the offseason. The other option would be to bring Monroe off the bench in favor of Smith, but that likely represents a downgrade on the floor and could cause yet another combustible Pistons locker room to go boom yet again.

If there is hostility between Monroe and the coaching staff or the players and Monroe what is currently set to be an amicable breakup could quickly devolve into a bitter divorce. And if things become toxic there is little opportunity to send Monroe elsewhere because there will be no market for him.

So was the hubris of a coach overplaying his hand in dealing with his restricted free agent? Or is this the ultimate sign of patience -- of knowing exactly what the team is going to do both this season and beyond to try and build a contender around Andre Drummond?

The truth is, it's probably both. Van Gundy probably had a good sense of fair value for Monroe, but he might have been too stubborn to budge off of his initial number. And is the unknown of competing in next year's free agent market really better than the known of paying, or even overpaying, a young big man like Monroe?

And between now and then Van Gundy is faced with the reality of having a young star still learning the center position and two untradable power forwards in a city that has known nothing but disappointment and dysfunction for the past six years.

The Greg Monroe decision was Van Gundy's first opportunity to turn the fortunes of this franchise around. But it seems that we'll have to wait a year to find out if Van Gundy is as good an executive as he is a coach or if he just set back the rebuilding of this franchise by mismanaging free agency and allowing a quality young player walk away for nothing.