Greg Monroe, stuck losing with Pistons, trying to stay focused before free agency

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BOSTON – Greg Monroe stood in front of his locker and wearily watched a swarm of reporters approach him.

Asking the first question, a writer prefaced his query by mentioning Monroe scoring 11 straight Pistons points and Detroit overcoming a 12-point deficit. Making a subject feel at ease by starting with a softball question is a common media tactic, and it appeared this reporter was employing it. Then, suddenly, the question’s tone took an about-face.

“Where did you guys lose the game tonight, though?” the reporter asked.

Monroe sighed, vibrating his lips together, and hesitated a few moments before describing yet another loss.

Monroe has lost 210 games in his five-year career, matching Jason Thompson for the most personal defeats since Monroe entered the league.

With Thompson’s Kings surprisingly successful and Monroe’s Pistons on a 10-game losing streak that has dropped them to 3-16, a record better than only the tanking 76ers, it seems like only a matter of time until Monroe claims sole possession of that wretched record.

But relief could be in Monroe’s sights as soon as this summer.

He accepted the Pistons’ qualifying offer – reportedly turning down more than $13.5 million per season, though he denies the reported figures – in order to become an unrestricted free agent. First-round picks rarely take qualifying offers – especially those the caliber of Monroe – and even more rarely re-sign after doing so. It seems unlikely Monroe will become one of the exceptions.

Why would Monroe want the ability to flee Detroit as quickly as possibly?

It’s been a long five years.

Monroe received DNP-CDs the first two games of his career, immediately inciting local banter that he was a bust. Turns out, he was actually the Pistons’ best player as a rookie. Later that season, Monroe was one of only six Pistons to attend a shootaround boycotted by several players in protest of coach John Kuester. The Pistons finished 30-52, the most wins they’d post with Monroe.

In his second season, Monroe appeared to be on an All-Star track. He was probably the best player in his draft class at that point, ahead of Paul George and John Wall. But the Pistons still went 25-41, which has been their best winning percentage with Monroe.

Monroe asked the Pistons to scout a promising center from Connecticut named Andre Drummond, and they drafted Drummond No. 9 overall. But Lawrence Frank stubbornly refused to start Drummond, who’d passed Monroe as the team’s top player, so the talented big men rarely played together. Detroit sunk to 29-53 in Monroe’s third year.

The Pistons fired Frank and hired Maurice Cheeks, but before the new coach could pair Monroe and Drummond, Detroit signed Josh Smith. For nearly the entire season, the Pistons jammed all three bigs into the starting lineup – a decision so disastrous I wondered whether it was a hidden form of tanking to keep a protected first-round draft pick. Monroe said the team lacked chemistry in the locker room and admitted trade speculation weighed on him. Again, the Pistons went 29-54 – and they lost the pick by one slot.

Stan Van Gundy’s hire last offseason brought big promise, but he declined to trade Smith, leaving Monroe in limbo. After serving a two-game suspension for pleading guilty to drunk driving, Monroe has been in and out of the starting lineup. His production has been uneven and regressed overall. The Pistons are 3-16.

“The things I’ve seen earlier to some more recent things, it’s shaped me,” Monroe said. “I would be lying if I said it didn’t. So, that’s why I just try to get on the court and just give it my all and focus on being the best player I can be.”

Monroe has developed a reputation for his steady approach amid chaos. As free agency looms, he’s determined to maintain it.

He permitted me just a few inquires about his contract status before politely shutting down the line of questioning.

“At this point, I’d rather not talk about it,” Monroe said.

Fair enough, but the speculation around him will not stop. There are a lot of teams that could use a talented, young big man.

Take Boston, where Monroe just scored 29 points while singlehandedly keeping the Pistons in the game late. Or the Trail Blazers, who reportedly pursued a sign-and-trade for Monroe last summer and have neither of their starting bigs – Robin Lopez and LaMarcus Aldridge – under contract beyond this season. Or the Hawks, another team linked to Monroe last offseason and who might want to shift Al Horford to power forward and/or need a replacement for free agent-to-be Paul Millsap.

All three teams could have max-level cap space – not that it’s necessarily required to nab Monroe.

I think the 6-foot-11 24-year-old with a career PER of 19.2 will command a max offer, but it’s hardly a given. He’s limited athletically, and his consistent level of play since entering the league suggests he’s relatively close to his ceiling. Though he defends well enough one-on-one and has improved on that end of the court, his defensive rotations have often been slow, and he’ll never become a traditional rim protector.

Monroe lists stability and winning as his top priorities, but money will obviously play a part in his decision – one that could come sooner than later.

After seeing so much turmoil under the Joe Dumars regime, Monroe said he didn’t want to commit long-term to a team run by people he didn’t know. The early returns under Van Gundy have been negative, potentially cementing a path laid down this summer.

By taking accepting the qualifying offer, whether or not he intended to, Monroe sent the Pistons a clear signal he wants out. But, if they received the message and look to trade him, Monroe has veto power over any deal. The catch: If traded, Monroe loses his bird rights – the ability to re-sign for higher raises and more years.

Van Gundy calls Monroe a “very good player,” and it’d be foolish to give him away. But taking modest returns, especially if the Pistons remain so far from the playoff picture, would beat losing Monroe for nothing this summer. At some point, Van Gundy will have to discuss trade options with Monroe.

That conversation is another opportunity for Monroe’s focus to be disrupted, but he’s not worried about it or any other distraction.

“At the end of the day, to me, in this business, what you do on the court matters the most,” Monroe said. “For me, that’s pretty easy to do. When I’m just asked to play the game I love and to make a great living off of it, it’s easy for me to focus on that game just be the best player that I can be.”

After more than four seasons of difficulty surrounding him, what’s another few months?

Ben Simmons reps ‘Egg Boy’ on shoes (PHOTO)

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The internet has tried to raise several thousand dollars for Will Connolly, better known as “Egg Boy”, after he slapped an egg on the head of New Zealand senator Fraser Annig. As of publication, the Go Fund Me has more than $71,000, which will be donated to the victims of the Christchurch mosque shootings.

Connolly went viral as the perfect, realtime response to the racist views espoused by Annig, who spoke of anti-immigrant (and anti-Muslim) rhetoric directly following the Christchurch massacre despite himself being an immigrant to New Zealand.

Thanks to his courageous act, Connolly has become a kind of internet sensation. A native of Australia, Connolly got a little recognition by countryman Ben Simmons on Tuesday.

Via Twitter:

Gen Z is going to save us.

Report: Markelle Fultz is moving rehab from L.A. to Orlando

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Orlando Magic coach Steve Clifford has already said that former No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz is not expected back on the court this season. Fultz was traded back in February from the Philadelphia 76ers to his new home in Central Florida.

Now it appears that Fultz will be doing his rehabilitation back in Orlando. According to a recent report from Josh Robbins, Fultz will shift his rehab from Los Angeles to Florida from here on out. To that end, Fultz said he wants to be closer to his new teammates.

Via The Athletic:

“I think it’s what’s best for me and the team,” Fultz said after he watched practice Tuesday. “(It’s beneficial) just being around these guys, so they see my face and I see their face. I’m going to learn as much as I can. As we make this push for the playoffs, I want to be here with my guys and just support them.”

Fultz is still trying to get his shoulder right, and not to mention his shooting stroke and comfortability on an NBA floor. If anything, his return back to the Magic organization should be seen as a good sign, especially as the season comes to a close. A lot of players already spend their offseason in Los Angeles, so the idea that Fultz would want to return shortly before the Magic season ends is encouraging.

We don’t have a timeline for his return just yet, but at this point Fultz is a reclamation project that Orlando is happy to have under their guidance. If they can turn him into an NBA player, they could have something special at a relatively low asset cost.

Report: Doc Rivers agrees to an extension with Clippers

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Doc Rivers will be staying with the Los Angeles Clippers.

According to multiple reports, Rivers and owner Steve Ballmer have agreed to an extension that will keep Rivers with the Clippers organization “long term”.  Some earlier rumors had Rivers potentially being a candidate for the Los Angeles Lakers, who are presumed to have an opening this summer. But Rivers told reporters on Tuesday that he isn’t going to be heading across the hall, and that he’s happy where he is.

Via Twitter:

Rivers has led the Clippers to a surprising season, one that should result in a postseason bid despite a sort of ramshackle roster.

I think Rivers’ legacy was called into question following the departure of both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, but his ability to create a winning atmosphere in L.A. in a post-star era for the Clippers is a testament to his ability.

Of course, Rivers might not have to go without a star for too long. Rumor has it Kawhi Leonard still favors the Clippers as a top destination this summer should he choose to leave the Toronto Raptors.

A fan paid nearly $7,000 to see LeBron and Giannis, then got neither

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March in the NBA can be a bit of a gamble for fans looking to score tickets as a means to watch their favorite players play. On good teams or bad, stars are subject to rest this late in the season.

Apparently one fan found that out the hard way after shelling out several thousands of dollars to see Giannis Antetokounmpo square off against LeBron James on Tuesday.

With the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers set to go head-to-head in Wisconsin, neither Antetokounmpo or LeBron will be on the floor. That’s going to upset one fan who, according to Darren Rovell, paid $6,970.50 for courtside seats.

I had a friend have this happen to him recently. Expecting a trip to New Orleans, he purchased tickets to watch the Pelicans play the Portland Trail Blazers earlier in the year. His tickets were for several rows behind the Blazers bench, and although they weren’t too expensive, no doubt they would have left wallet a bit thicker if he would have known that Anthony Davis would not have been playing.

Stay home, watch the game on your 4K television, and have a private bathroom and fridge. I know I shouldn’t tell you not to go to NBA games, but at least this wouldn’t happen to you if you stayed home.