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Greg Monroe is stuck in an unfortunate situation; the Detroit Pistons are not

Greg Monroe apologized to the Pistons and their fans for "a regrettable mistake." (Getty Images)
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Greg Monroe apologized to the Pistons and their fans for "a regrettable mistake." (Getty Images)

Detroit Pistons el jefe Stan Van Gundy is in a strange position, which by extension puts forward Greg Monroe, forward Josh Smith, and Detroit Pistons fans in a strange position.

The Pistons, as currently constructed, were designed to make the playoffs. Former general manager Joe Dumars cobbled the roster together by utilizing cap space in the 2009 and '13 offseasons to sign free agents to build around. The 2009 acquisitions, scorers Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, made the Pistons terrible enough that they were able to draft Andre Drummond, Monroe and Brandon Knight. Knight and the 2013 cap space were then used to sign Smith and deal for Brandon Jennings. Smith and Jennings made the Pistons terrible enough that new’ish owner Tom Gores decided to fire Dumars and hire Van Gundy to run and coach his team.

The problem here is Van Gundy and technical GM Jeff Bower are stuck with a roster that is paying a high-end salary to Smith alongside a heap of smaller contracts. That wouldn’t appear to be a problem until you realize Drummond is almost certainly set to eventually make a maximum contract, and Monroe is a restricted free agent who probably should be making close to eight figures a year in spite of his defensive shortcomings, thus clogging up Detroit’s future cap picture with a well-paid frontcourt that doesn’t play well together.

Monroe hasn’t signed for eight figures a year, though, because he is a restricted free agent. Van Gundy and Bower, intelligently, haven’t bid against themselves in order to keep Monroe and his “should-be-making” rate, and that’s probably causing a bit of friction.

Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski talked about as much in a recent AIMEzing Words podcast, via Detroit Bad Boys:

Greg Monroe, Detroit is trying to help him with some sign-and-trade possibilities around the league. Monroe doesn't really have a great interest in going back and playing with these Pistons. If they're going to move him in a sign and trade they gotta get value for him. They've got to get back some significant players and some significant talent to compensate for that loss.

If Monroe doesn’t have great interest in going back to the Pistons, it probably has just as much to do with his poor fit in the team’s lineup as it does the team’s refusal to just hand him a huge contract when they could have him for much less.

When they shared the court together in 2013-14, Monroe, Drummond and Smith were absolutely awful. It’s a shame Josh Smith has become the basketball intelligentsia’s top whipping boy, and we can’t wait for the first contrarian Josh Smith thinkpiece to blab its way through our laptops, but he truly is a terrible fit with this team at small forward. Monroe is a gifted passer and tricky midrange and low-post scorer, and in shoehorning Smith into a small forward position he doesn’t belong in, it does both forwards a disservice.

Monroe probably is ticked at Detroit engaging in mild trade talks and refusing to hand him a contract commensurate with his production, but Detroit also has a right to do this. Restricted free agency was largely ignored by the league’s band of goofball owners for the better part of the last decade, and it’s why the NBA had to eventually lock out its players in 2011, as owners failed to intelligently and consistently take advantage of a system (that they helped design!) that if properly utilized would help keep salaries down.

Since the lockout, though, several players have gone through the restricted free-agent route, several have signed with other teams and watched as their incumbent squads matched the offer and brought them back, and we’ve yet to hear a peep from players grumbling about things in the seasons to follow – despite much press-initiated handwringing over players potentially feeling hurt by the whole process.

The same situation is being played out this summer, with Gordon Hayward already having signed with Charlotte and watching as Utah matched, and the sides seemingly couldn’t be happier with how things turned out. Hayward isn’t worth anywhere near the ridiculous $14.7 million he’ll make next season, but with the league’s revenues and salary cap rising in the years ahead, his total of potentially (the last year is a player option) four years and nearly $63 million may seem like an accurate payout. Maybe.

This is why, in an ever-changing NBA, Greg Monroe might be best served playing for the qualifying offer next season.

Monroe is a better player than his $5.5 million QO would suggest, but if he truly doesn’t want to be a Piston for long, he should avoid encouraging a deal with another team (which Detroit would surely match) and just hold his nose for one more year playing alongside Smith. This would make him an unrestricted free agent in 2015, once again scads of teams will have huge bags of maximum-sized cap room, and Monroe could turn into a well-compensated consolation prize for any team that struck out while trying to sign a franchise player.

The worry in signing for the QO is that a player would leave himself victim to that often-mythical “what if he tears up his knee”-outlook, but what if he tears up his knee?

Say an unfortunate incident goes down in January, and Monroe tears his ACL. You don’t think some NBA team, flush with cap space and needing to make a splash, won’t talk themselves into signing a scoring big man like Greg Monroe? Knowing that he’ll be back by November, at full strength a few months later, and theirs for years to come? This is the NBA, remember. Things go a bit nuts during the summer.

All situations concerning restricted free agents – including Eric Bledsoe – are different. We can’t presume that Greg Monroe will be just fine with signing somewhere else and then returning to Detroit merely because Roy Hibbert brought a good attitude back to Indiana a few years ago. These are individual grown men we’re talking about, and they’ve every right to be different than the guy that came before them.

Detroit’s just-as-unique stance is understandable, though. They are using leverage in a situation where franchises of yore (or the 2000s, whatever) did not. They probably want Monroe back, even with Smith stuck on the team, and a chance to try it all over again with Stan Van Gundy calling the plays. Teams with still-available cap space are also probably right not to bother to offer Monroe a deal, knowing that too big of one will probably encourage the Pistons not to match (saddling the new team with Monroe at an overpaid rate), and that a proper contract will quickly be matched by Detroit.

It’s an unfortunate situation for someone like Greg Monroe, but he can come out ahead by biting the bullet we call “the qualifying offer.” He’ll make less than his current value next season, but in just 11 months, he’ll be able to call his own shots and the salaries in the long run will probably even out. The only problem with that is spending one more year tossing up shots in a Detroit Pistons uniform.

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Kelly Dwyer is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at KDonhoops@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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