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.

Jerry Colangelo: Team USA would’ve won FIBA World Cup if not for injuries

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Team USA finished seventh in the 2019 FIBA World Cup – the Americans’ worst-ever finish in a major tournament.

Why did the U.S. fare so poorly?

USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo had sharp words for the many stars who withdrew. But that’s not his only explanation.

Kyle Kuzma suffered an ankle injury that kept him off the roster. Jayson Tatum missed the final six games with his own ankle injury. Marcus Smart was banged up and missed time throughout the event.

Colangelo, via Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated:

“I believe that if we didn’t have those injuries, we would have won,” said Colangelo. “The injuries were just too much to absorb.”

Maybe.

Those players – especially Tatum and Smart, who occupied a roster spots – would’ve helped. But even with those two, the Americans were vulnerable. Australia beat them in an exhibition, and Turkey nearly upset them in the first round. France and Serbia clearly outplayed them in the knockout phase. Team USA just lacked its usual talent.

Perhaps more top Americans will play in the 2020 Olympics. That will make the biggest difference.

If USA Basketball had attracted more stars for the World Cup, it likely could’ve withstood a few injuries. This roster allowed little margin for error.

Jarrett Culver enlivens Timberwolves’ otherwise-quiet offseason

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NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Timberwolves are the only team with two max-salary players under age 29. Heck, they’re the only team with two max-salary players under age 25.

But Minnesota isn’t set.

Far from it.

Though Karl-Anthony Towns (23) is already a star and sometimes looks like a budding superstar, Andrew Wiggins (24) has stagnated on his max extension. Add expensive contracts for Jeff Teague and Gorgui Dieng, and the Timberwolves have limited cap flexibility. With veterans too good to allow deep tanking, Minnesota also has limited means to upgrade through the draft.

New Timberwolves president Gersson Rosas was likely always bound to limit his impact this summer. Minnesota faced few clear pressing decisions. Any big moves would start the clock toward Rosas getting evaluated on his prestigious job. In one of his main decisions, Rosas retained head coach Ryan Saunders, an ownership favorite.

Yet, in this environment, Rosas still found a simple way to add a potential long-term difference maker.

The Timberwolves entered the draft with the No. 11 pick – right after a near-consensus top 10 would’ve been off the board. They left the draft with No. 6 pick Jarrett Culver.

All it took to trade up with the Suns was Dario Saric, who would’ve helped Minnesota this season but probably not enough to achieve meaningful success. He’ll become a free agent next summer and is in line for a raise the Timberwolves might not wanted to give.

Culver is not a lock to flourish in the NBA. But Minnesota had no business adding a prospect with so much potential. This was a coup.

Otherwise, the Timberwolves remained predictably quiet, tinkering on the fringe of the rotation. They added Jake Layman (three years, $11,283,255) in a sign-and-trade with the Trail Blazers. They took Shabazz Napier and Treveon Graham off the hands of the hard-capped Warriors, getting cash for their trouble. They signed Noah Vonleh (one year, $2 million) and Jordan Bell (one year, minimum). They claimed Tyrone Wallace off waivers.

With their own free agents getting bigger offers, Minnesota didn’t match Tyus Jones‘ offer sheet with the Grizzlies (three years, $26,451,429) and watched Derrick Rose walk to the Pistons (two years, $15 million). For where the Timberwolves are, the far-cheaper Napier should handle backup point guard just fine.

Minnesota is methodically gaining flexibility. Teague’s contract expires next summer, Dieng’s the summer after that. The big question is how to handle Wiggins, but that will wait.

With Towns locked in the next five years, Rosas has plenty of runway before he must take off. Nabbing Culver was a heck of a way to accelerate from the gate.

Offseason grade: B-

Report: Iman Shumpert rejects offer from Rockets, who’ll have several familiar names in minicamp

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Iman Shumpert is the best free agent available.

Why hasn’t he signed yet? Apparently because he spent the offseason negotiating with the Rockets, but those talks haven’t produced a deal.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Kelly Iko of The Athletic:

Alykhan Bijani of The Athletic:

I wonder whether Houston tried to sign Shumpert to a contract similar to Nene’s, creating another trade chip. The Rockets are close to the luxury tax and probably wouldn’t guarantee Shumpert much. It doesn’t take months to negotiate a simple minimum contract.

Shumpert (29) is a credible wing in a league starving for them. He played well for the Kings last season before getting traded to Houston, where he struggled. Other teams should be interested.

The Rockets have just nine players with guaranteed salaries. There’s plenty of room for some of these past-their-prime veterans to make the regular-season roster. It might mostly depend on which of Terrence Jones (27), Nick Young (34), Luc Mbah a Moute (33), Corey Brewer (33), Raymond Felton (35) and Thabo Sefolosha (35) are in the best shape at this stage.

Knicks’ rookie R.J. Barrett wants to posterize Kristaps Porzingis

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Fairly early into the season, on Nov. 14, Kristaps Porzingis — the one time savior of the New York Knicks, at least in the eyes of fans — returns to Madison Square Garden wearing a Dallas Mavericks’ uniform.

He can expect to feel the, um, “love” of Knicks fans.

And Knicks rookie R.J. Barrett wants to add to that, as he said in a Bleacher Report live chat with fans.

I want to know: who does he really want to dunk on but will not say? Zion Williamson? Going back in history to Jordan?

Against Porzingis he will get his chance. That said, it’s not easy to get up and over the 7’3″ unicorn, but guys have done it. Right Dwight Howard?