Stan Van Gundy second-guesses himself on Pistons’ handling of Greg Monroe

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By this summer, it was too late. Greg Monroe was done with the Pistons, and he signed a three-year max contract with the Bucks.

Given the circumstances, Detroit made relatively good use of its freed cap space – trading for Ersan Ilyasova, Marcus Morris and Reggie Bullock.

But could the Pistons have handled Monroe better?

They had opportunities.

Shortly after being hired as president/coach, Stan Van Gundy called Monroe and Andre Drummond “an ideal pairing.” Yet, Van Gundy refused to trade the player who most interfered with a Monroe-Drummond pairing – Josh Smith. Van Gundy even regularly started Smith before waiving him.

Going back, Detroit offered Monroe a lucrative, but not max, contract when he was a restricted free agent last summer. He accepted the qualifying offer, setting up his unrestricted free agency this summer.

The Pistons still could have traded him, but they needed his consent. It seems they aimed too high. Maybe Monroe wouldn’t have approved a deal, but few situations would have been worse for him. Even if he would have lost his Bird Rights, that wouldn’t have mattered if he were leaving Detroit anyway.

Not giving Monroe a max offer last summer, forcing Monroe to play with Smith, not trading Monroe – does Stan Van Gundy regret any of that?

Van Gundy on the Lowe Post:

I’ll be honest. I go back and forth on it. I really do. Because I think Greg is an outstanding player, and I think he’s a high-character guy as well, and I think that those are the guys that you generally want to build around.

But I don’t think that he and Andre Drummond are the best fit. Not saying you couldn’t make it work, but certainly not the best fit. First of all, I think the game is moving smaller and quicker as it is. The teams that have continued to play with two big guys, at least one of them is, at least one, if not both, are guys who can step away and make shots. Indiana played with David West. Memphis plays with Zach Randolph. Those guys can all go 17, 18 feet and make shots.

Basically, what we were trying to do is play with two centers. And if you’re going to max Greg out – which he’s certainly worth the max; there’s not a question with that – then you’re going to try to do it with two centers.

And as much as it was a little bit tough on the offensive end, the real problem was at the defensive end. I mean, it’s just really tough. We put Greg in some tough situations, and he did a good job, as good a job as he could. But you’re asking him to guard stretch fours like Kevin Love and things like that.

You can’t sign him to a max, you can’t sign Drummond to a big contract eventually and then just say they’re going to share the center spot. That doesn’t make any sense. So, I went back and forth with it on Greg, and I still do. Part of me is wondering whether we made the right move, quite honestly, letting him go. Because he’s a talented guy. But the other part of me says we were never going to have the fit that we needed to move forward.

And I think from Greg’s point of view, I don’t think there was much doubt – certainly we didn’t feel much doubt – that Greg was gonna leave.

I generally agree with Van Gundy’s assessment of the situation. I disagree with his handling of it.

First, I think Monroe was worth a max contract last summer. Even if he weren’t an ideal fit with Drummond – Detroit’s franchise player – Monroe still would have had plenty of trade value. Given the number of teams that offered him the max in free agency this year, I think the Pistons could have eventually traded Monroe for a better return than Ilyasova, Morris and Bullock.

That’s especially true if the Pistons had dumped Smith sooner. The 2013-14 season proved Smith, Monroe and Drummond couldn’t effectively play together. But Van Gundy wanted to see for himself, and that further alienated Monroe from the Pistons.

I don’t blame the Pistons for not offering Monroe max in 2014, though. Challenging him to sign an offer sheet they’d match was sensible. No player as good as Monroe had ever accepted the qualifying offer. It wasn’t reasonable to bank on him becoming the first.

For what it’s worth, there’s no guarantee Monroe would have accepted a max offer from the Pistons last summer. There was a report he wouldn’t, and Van Gundy talked to Zach Lowe about it now:

I don’t really know last summer. But Greg had, at that point, a lot of misgivings and, quite honestly, again, we didn’t know our team real well. I’d had six weeks here, and were pretty conservative in what we willing to do money-wise. We did offer him a contract that would have made him our highest-paid guy, but we didn’t go to the max.

At that point is where Van Gundy and I really disagree. Once Monroe accepted the qualifying offer, the Pistons had to trade him. They could have sold him to a contender as a rental. I can’t believe Monroe, after all that losing in Detroit, would have rejected a chance to play for a winner. Whatever the Pistons could have gotten, as long as it didn’t interfere with their 2015 cap space, would have been better than riding out a lost season with Monroe.

The Pistons aren’t in a bad spot now. Their roster better fits Van Gundy’s system. But they lost a major asset in Monroe with only the resulting cap space in return, and it’s easy to find a few points they could have avoided that fate.

No wonder Van Gundy is second-guessing himself.

For what it’s worth, that’s a healthy approach. The Pistons clearly have an introspective leader, which him more likely to handle the next dilemma better.

Stephen Curry, Charles Barkley join “Race and Sports in America: Conversations” on NBC family

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In the wake of the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, and the protests that followed, citizens of the United States have started to have a long-overdue and challenging discussion of race and systemic racism in America. Black celebrities — guys such as Stephen Curry and Charles Barkley, plus other NBA stars — have stepped into the middle of that conversation and are using their voices.

That discussion, along with Barkley and Curry, comes to the NBC Sports family of networks Monday in “Race and Sports in America: Conversations.” The roundtable discussion show airs at 8 p.m. ET simultaneously on NBCSN, the Golf Channel, the Olympic Channel, and every member of the NBC Sports regional broadcast network.

The wide-ranging conversation (recorded in Lake Tahoe) included discussion both of the recent protests that swept the nation and the calls for police reform — Barkley said he wants to see that.

“The first thing we need, listen, we need police reform.  We need to, listen, I got in trouble for defending cops.  And I’m always going to defend cops.  I don’t want them out there killing unarmed Black men, but we need cops…” Barkley said. “But we need good cops.  We need to hold cops accountable.  If they do something wrong — the way the system is set up now, if cops do something wrong, other cops judge them.  That’s not fair in any aspect of life.  If you are a cop and you saw what happened to Mr. Floyd and you think that was all right, you shouldn’t be a cop.”

Curry spun the discussion of police reform into the need for people to vote for change — particularly at the local and state level.

“Same concept around reforming police, getting the bad ones out, is in every form of leadership in government in terms of how important voting is.  Not just at the national presidential level, but in our local, city, state elections…” Curry said.

“That’s where the real change happens.  So when it comes to voter suppression which we’ve seen since George Floyd’s passing in Georgia, we’ve seen long lines; people have been standing there for 12, 13 hours trying to vote.

“And that’s where a local election, as we look forward from a year from now and beyond, every single cycle, how do we continue to let our voices be heard, not just what we’re saying and crying for and asking for help, but how can we actually use our given right to go vote, to go put people in positions of power that they’re going to look out for us in a very meaningful way that’s going to make a true difference.”

Beyond the two NBA stars, Kyle Rudolph, Anthony Lynn, Troy Mullins, James Blake, Jimmy Rollins, and Ozzie Smith take part in the discussion.

Tune in Monday night across the NBC Sports family of networks for a can’t miss discussion of race and sports in America.

Not one NBA equipment manager packed light for NBA restart

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Rob Pimental spent a good amount of time thinking about everything the Miami Heat would need for what could be a three-month trip to Walt Disney World.

He is the Heat equipment manager. Every jersey, sock, sneaker, whatever the team needs, it’s his responsibility to have it ready. So, when it came time to figure out what was getting packed for Disney, Pimental came to a realization.

“Pretty much everything,” said Pimental, who confessed to having a few sleepless nights of worrying. “I’m the type of guy who wants everything on hand, so I literally packed up my entire equipment room and brought it with me.”

He’s not alone.

All 22 teams in the NBA restart had to pack more than ever, for a road trip like none other. Every team is assured of spending at least five weeks at Disney, and some could be there for three months. The challenges for players and coaches are obvious, but the challenge for equipment managers — among the unsung heroes of this restart plan — aren’t anywhere near as visible to those watching games from afar.

“This is what equipment managers were built for, honestly,” Orlando Magic equipment manager Jacob Diamond said. “We have some of the smartest guys around the league that do what I do and at the end of the day, for us, it’s really no job too big, no job too small. Our coaches are relying on us, our players, and this is history right here. So, it’s kind of cool to be a part of it — even though it’s extra work.”

For this trip, Diamond has a two-room suite in the hotel that the Magic are calling home.

It’s not a perk. He needed the space.

Luggage is lined up around all four walls, with more bags in the middle of the room, along with a clothes rack, a large trunk and a bunch of bright blue bags with the Magic logo stacked over by the sliding door that leads to the balcony. He knows the contents of each, where every item is, so if Nikola Vucevic needs a certain pair of socks or Aaron Gordon needs a certain type of compression gear, Diamond finds it in a flash.

“I made sure I overpacked for this rather than underpacked,” Diamond said. “It’s not so easy to have things sent here. I’d rather have things here, ready to go, so here we are.”

Toronto Raptors equipment manager Paul Elliott prides himself on typically taking only what he needs. He tends to take 45 bags on a standard road trip; by NBA standards, that is packing light.

Not this time. For this trip, Elliott’s count was 176 bags.

And while most teams only had to move their operation once — from their home facility to Disney — Elliott had to pack the Raptors up twice, first from Toronto to their pre-camp workouts at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, and then again to get the stuff up to Disney.

“I looked at it as what they were going to take for a two-week Western road trip, took what I would usually pack for that, and kind of quadrupled it,” Elliott said. “I just had to make sure I had enough options for these guys to accommodate them when they need. I just want to be prepared.”

More gear is on the way.

By the time games start, the 22 teams will have more than 4,000 jerseys between them. Every team brought three sets of uniforms — typically, two jerseys each for each player. Then the decision was made to give players at Disney the opportunity to wear jerseys with a message raising awareness about social injustice and racial inequality, and those huge shipments are expected to arrive in the next few days.

When Elliott started unloading the Raptors’ 176 bags, several staff members who aren’t usually tasked with helping with equipment ran to his aid. More bags will be going back to Toronto when the season ends; Elliott had his assistant send him empty ones to accommodate the new jerseys.

“We’ve got the greatest staff for that sort of thing,” Elliott said. “Nobody’s above anything. They just want to make sure it’s done properly.”

Washington coach Scott Brooks said the Wizards are using a similar everybody-must-help approach, and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra insisted his team do the same.

“There’s an absolute understanding that this is an all-hands-on-deck situation,” Spoelstra said. “And that means bags, laundry, cleanup, everything — not just for equipment managers, but everybody. … We’re all going to be involved in every aspect of it.”

Days will be long for equipment managers. Each team only sent one; it’s not unusual for two equipment personnel to travel, but that wasn’t possible on this trip because of the restrictions on the amount of people who can be in the NBA bubble.

Extra work will add up as well. After practices or games, equipment managers will have to load up the sweaty gear, take it back to the hotel, then call a shuttle to pick them up and take them to the laundry facility built for the restart — 66 washers and 66 dryers, all lined up inside what once was a batting cage at the Atlanta Braves’ former spring training complex.

There’s also a code among the equipment managers. While the 22 teams will be trying to beat each other, the equipment staffs are working together and helping one another where possible.

“We all understand each other’s daily battles,” Diamond said, “because we share the same ones.”

The real comforts of home are gone for the next several weeks. The trick, Pimental said, is making sure players don’t have to worry about getting what they need.

“It’s something we’ve never done before,” Pimental said. “But we’ll make it work.”

Joakim Noah says focus of Achilles recovery was to make Clippers roster

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Joakim Noahlike Kobe Bryant and so many athletes before them — didn’t want an injury to define how his career would end.

Noah said he injured his Achilles back in September and the focus of his rehab is the chance he has now with the Clippers.

“You know, in September, I had a freak accident and cut my Achilles, and you know, I told myself that that’s just not how I wanted to end my career,” Noah said on a conference call with reporters Saturday.

“So you know, the day after the surgery, I was in the gym working out with the hope of making this team. I knew that if I didn’t keep training and if I got a call from the Clippers and I wasn’t ready, I knew I would have regrets for the rest of my life. So I kept training, and to be in this position right now, I feel very fortunate to be in this position, being with God, great players, being in a position to win a championship, it’s not something that I take for granted.”

Joakim Noah added he was supposed to have a workout with the Clippers before the season, but the injury ended that.

“I was supposed to work out with them in September right before the season started. I was ready. I was really excited for the opportunity, and then, you know, just from up with one minute to the next, I cut my Achilles.

“So to be back in this position and to have the confidence from the organization… It’s just a class organization. I just feel like very, very blessed to be in this position right now.”

Noah provides depth and versatility behind an established Los Angeles frontcourt, something needed with the compacted schedule in the Orlando NBA restart. The Clippers start Ivica Zubac, a more traditional center, then bring potential Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell off the bench. Harrell brings his energy, 18.7 points and 7.1 rebounds a night, great pick-and-roll chemistry with Lou Williams, plus improved defense to the mix.

The Clippers are counting on the Noah from the second half of last season, where he was solid coming off the bench in Memphis playing quality defense plus scoring 7.1 points per game. Noah could even play himself into a Clipper contract for next season (depending on what happens with Harrell in free agency this offseason).

For now, Noah is just happy to be back on the court.

Philadelphia’s Ryan Broekhoff not in Orlando after wife tests positive

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Ryan Broekhoff, who never quite found a spot in the Dallas rotation, got a real opportunity when Philadelphia signed him as a substitute player for the restart in Orlando.

Except Broekhoff hasn’t gotten a chance to take advantage of the opportunity because there are things more important than basketball.

Broekhoff explained in a Tweet that his wife tested positive for the coronavirus and family has been his priority. As it should be.

Philly signed Broekhoff because the team needs shooting, and what he does is take and make threes — 51 of his 59 shot attempts in Dallas this season were from three (for his career 77.8% of his shot attempts are from deed) and he hit 40.3% of them.

Broekhoff was always going to struggle to find minutes with the Sixers. Philly is expected to start Shake Milton and Josh Richardson on the wing in Orlando, and coming off the bench behind them is Furkan Korkmaz, Matisse Thybulle, Glenn Robinson III, and Alec Burks.