When Pistons starting forward Josh Smith fouled out with 6:47 remaining against the Celtics on Wednesday night, Detroit trailed by nine. Enter backup Greg Monroe off the bench. Over a 2:21 stretch in the final minutes of regulation, the 24-year-old big scored 10 straight points — all either within 4 feet of the basket or from the free throw line — during a furious comeback to force overtime.
“We played pretty well in a lot of the fourth quarter, until the very end,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “Monroe, obviously, that’s a tough spot, especially when you’re coaching, because you know what can beat you is the 3, and they keep chipping away with two after two. I thought [Brandon] Bass and Tyler Zeller guarded them about as well as you could, but he just made shot after shot after shot.”
The Celtics had few, if any, answers for Monroe or Andre Drummond, who combined for 56 points (21-35 FG), 21 rebounds and six blocks. (And, yet, somehow the Pistons still managed to lose to a Celtics team that shot a combined 39.8 percent from the field.) The C’s could sure use a guy like that.
Actually, the Celtics could sure use that guy. And it’s not out of the realm of possibility.
For some odd reason, the Pistons brought Monroe off the bench in favor of Smith and Kyle Singler alongside Drummond in the frontcourt. Detroit is 0-6 without Monroe in the starting lineup. The Pistons score 7.2 more points and allow 8.3 fewer points with Monroe on the court, according to Basketball Reference. If I were him, I wouldn’t be too happy backing up one of the league’s least efficient scorers. (For the record, the Pistons are 12.5 points per 100 possessions worse with Smith on the floor.)
After collecting 29 points (9-17 FG, 11-11 FT) and seven rebounds in the 109-102 loss to the Celtics, Monroe provided all the right answers to a line of questioning about his adjustment to a newfound reserve role, and then finished, “I just have to continue to get comfortable coming off the bench.”
When the Pistons and Monroe failed to reach a long-term extension this past summer, he opted to sign a one-year, $5.5 million qualifying offer and become an unrestricted free agent in 2015. With Detroit unable to find a trade partner for the three years and $40.5 million left on Smith’s burdensome contract, it seems increasingly likely Monroe could be the odd man out of the crowded Pistons frontcourt.
“I’m always trying to get quality,” Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said in his weekly interview with CBS Radio. “We’re trying to get better players, more impactful players. We do have a hole from a rim-protecting standpoint, and you can’t just add rim protection and then give up other things that you have that are solid. So, they’re not easy to find. A quality one, I should say, is not easy to find. Maybe through the draft or free agency, but we will continue to work all the way to the trade deadline to see if we can fix that hole in the meantime.”
Should the Celtics or any team seek a trade for Monroe, the 6-foot-11, 253-pound former No. 7 overall pick would have to waive his Bird rights, which diminishes the amount of money he could make this summer. Still, Ainge would have enough cap space in 2015 to offer Monroe a hefty contract, and Boston is made more attractive by the presence of Monroe’s fellow Georgetown product Jeff Green.
“We’re really good friends,” said Monroe. “Obviously, he’s originally from D.C., so he’s always home in the summer, and I spend a lot of time back at school, so we’re together a lot. We have the same agent and stuff like that, so we have a pretty good relationship. I would say we’re good friends.”
The Hoya fraternity is a close-knit group, as evidenced by Green, Monroe and Otto Porter making a trip to Indiana for Game 5 of last year’s Eastern Conference finals in an effort to support Roy Hibbert.
Accompanying the Georgetown foursome was their agent, David Falk, whose small list of active clients also includes Jared Sullinger and Evan Turner as well as former Celtics coach Doc Rivers‘ son Austin. Needless to say, Monroe has more ties to Boston than you might expect from a native of Harvey, La.
Should Green decline his $9.2 million player option for the 2015-16 season, he too would become an unrestricted free agent, and the Hoya duo has discussed joining forces on the Celtics, even if in jest.
“We joke about it,” said Monroe, who could command a max deal in the four-year, $60 million range this summer. “We all joke about it, man, but obviously it’s a lot more than us two coming here or us two talking about it. Right now, I’m just focused on where I’m at. Whenever the time is and if everything is right, then obviously I’ll always weigh my options, but right now I’m not worried about that.”