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.

LeBron James, Doc Rivers, others around NBA react to, participate in protests

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The NBA family spoke out loudly and quickly in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police officer.

Protests have erupted nationwide following Floyd’s death, and the NBA family is commenting on — and in the case of some players, participating in — those protests. That includes the biggest name in the sport today, LeBron James.

Pistons’ coach Dwane Casey made a powerful statement recently, and on Sunday Doc Rivers released this statement through the Clippers.

A number of players have been involved in the protest, including Karl-Anthony Towns and Josh Okogie of the Timberwolves, who were with former NBA player Stephen Jackson — a childhood friend of Floyd’s — during a protest in Minnesota.

The Celtics’ Jaylen Brown drove 15 hours from Boston to Atlanta to help lead a peaceful protest that started at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Park. He was joined by the Pacers’ Malcolm Brogdon.

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Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote a brilliant op-ed piece for the Los Angeles Times that talked about where the rage of the riots comes from in the black community.

“Yes, protests often are used as an excuse for some to take advantage, just as when fans celebrating a hometown sports team championship burn cars and destroy storefronts. I don’t want to see stores looted or even buildings burn. But African Americans have been living in a burning building for many years, choking on the smoke as the flames burn closer and closer. Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible — even if you’re choking on it — until you let the sun in. Then you see it’s everywhere. As long as we keep shining that light, we have a chance of cleaning it wherever it lands. But we have to stay vigilant, because it’s always still in the air.

“So, maybe the black community’s main concern right now isn’t whether protesters are standing three or six feet apart or whether a few desperate souls steal some T-shirts or even set a police station on fire, but whether their sons, husbands, brothers and fathers will be murdered by cops or wannabe cops just for going on a walk, a jog, a drive. Or whether being black means sheltering at home for the rest of their lives because the racism virus infecting the country is more deadly than COVID-19.”

And all this is just the tip of the iceberg of involvement of the NBA family, just like the protests are the tip of the iceberg of the frustration felt in black communities around the nation.

Jonas Valanciunas on return: “It’s kind of like coming back from the summer”

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Memphis is in when the NBA returns, and in whatever form it returns. The Grizzlies had earned the eighth seed in the West behind the standout play of rookie Ja Morant, and if the NBA goes with a play-in format for the final playoff seeds (as expected), there will be teams gunning for that slot.

Memphis’ veteran big man Jonas Valanciunas will be ready, he told Michael Wallace at the team’s official website. Valanciunas spent time in Memphis and Miami during the lockdown, checking in with family back in Lithuania, but is back in the gym getting up shots. He described the return process this way.

“It’s kind of like coming back from the summer. We’ve had two-and-a-half months off. But then again, I play with the (Lithuania) National Team every summer, so it’s not like you always have so much time off every summer. So it’s sort of like coming back and getting ready for training camp again, to get back in shape and into game rhythm. It’s unusual, with guys wearing masks and stuff, but it is sort of like getting yourself ready for training camp right now.

A lot of players feel the same way, that this was sort of like an offseason (just one where they couldn’t get in the gym and work on a specific skill or weakness). Now things are ramping up again. This is why players want a handful of games before the playoffs (or play-in tournament) start, to get their legs under them.

Memphis will have strong teams, and more veteran units, coming for their playoff spot in the form of Portland and New Orleans. Valanciunas says the Grizzlies will be ready.

We’re really motivated. We don’t need to find extra motivation. We’re young. We want to establish our names and build as a unit.

It’s going to be a unique format when the NBA returns, in what has been a season turned upside down. That, however, can be a bonding experience for this young Grizzlies team, something that makes them better faster.

Some NBA players reportedly expect families can’t come to Orlando until September

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Nothing is set in stone until the owners vote on Thursday, but the NBA’s return likely will have teams reporting to the “bubble” (or campus, or whatever term of art the league ends up using) in Orlando in mid-July. Games would start July 31 and run into late September and maybe even October.

For players, that’s a long time to be stuck in a hotel without seeing family or loved ones, so families joining the players has long been part of the plan. Except, now comes a note from Tim Reynolds at the AP that some players think their families may not be able to join them until deep into the postseason.

The smaller the bubble, the easier it is to maintain with extensive testing, which is why not all 30 teams are expected to be invited and the size of team traveling parties will be smaller. It has been expected that families wouldn’t be invited to join players at least until after the first round of the playoffs (when a lot of players left).

However, if games start July 31 and the league plans to play a couple of weeks of regular-season games, followed by a play-in tournament for the final playoff spot, then it will be September by the time the NBA gets to a final eight teams. Which will have players separated from their families for a couple of months.

It’s easy to understand the players’ frustrations with that. No matter what direction Adam Silver goes with this restart, there are going to be some unhappy teams and players.

 

Sixers head into playoffs with healthy Ben Simmons but new, untested starting five

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Philadelphia heads into the NBA’s restart — in whatever format it takes — as a team that, on the surface, benefits some from the break.

Ben Simmons was expected to return from his back issues in time for the playoffs, but it was going to be close, and he wouldn’t be fully rested and ready. Now, the All-Star is healthy and not the only player trying to shake off the rust from a long break. That’s 16.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 8.2 assists a game, and some strong defense back in the lineup.

But that lineup has never really fit together this season in Philadelphia, which is why heading into the restart playoffs the Sixers will have a new one.

Philly is expected to roll out a starting five of Simmons, Shake Milton, Joel Embiid, Josh Richardson, and Tobias Harris, reports The Athletic’s Derek Bodner. That lineup has played zero minutes together this season (Milton hit his groove with the team late and by that point Embiid and Simmons were battling injuries). Learning chemistry on the fly in what will be, at best, a shortened and condensed regular season before the playoffs start, is a tough way to go.

It’s also the right move, Milton brings the shooting and floor spacing this roster needs. Philly had envisioned Al Horford as a floor-spacing four (who could spell Embiid at the five), but it hasn’t worked out. When Simmons, Embiid and Horford have been on the court this season, the team has scored less than a point per possession (defensively, they also gave up less than a point per possession, the Sixers basically played their opponents even in those minutes). It hasn’t meshed.

When Milton, Simmons, and Embiid have played together this season — in limited minutes and different situations than the one proposed — the offense has been only slightly better and the defense has been a mess. That’s likely not the case with Richardson and Harris on the court, but nobody knows exactly how this will work. It looks good on paper, but we’ve thought that all season about the 76ers.

Which makes Philadephia one of the most interesting teams to watch when games restart. All season long this team has not lived up to expectations (for which coach Brett Brown’s seat is very hot, even if blame for the roster issues should go higher up the ladder). Now comes a real test. If the 76ers suddenly get it together they become a real threat to the Bucks in the East (if the league keeps an East/West format). Or, this could be the latest Sixers lineup to fall short.

Either way, they become must-watch television.