Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond size up Pistons’ future after Josh Smith signing
LAS VEGAS – As they spend this week trying out for USA Basketball, a team that has drawn questions in recent years for its lack of size, Pistons big men Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond are still processing the free agency addition of Josh Smith, a talented forward who will give Detroit the opportunity to play what could be the NBA’s largest frontcourt trio.
The Pistons’ decision to use their long-awaited cap space to sign Smith to a four-year contract worth $56 million drew mixed reviews, to say the least. The Point Forward’s Rob Mahoney liked the talent grab for a young Pistons squad in transition, but Smith’s addition looked a bit redundant because he’s naturally a power forward who will likely be forced to log significant time at the small forward position, where his weak outside shooting could be problematic.
Out of 28 total players invited to USAB’s camp in Las Vegas this week, Monroe and Drummond are among a group of just five — along with DeMarcus Cousins, DeAndre Jordan and Larry Sanders — listed as centers. With smallball and three-point shooting en vogue around the NBA, the Pistons’ collection of talent clearly cuts against the grain, and it would seem to outsiders that a squeeze is unavoidable, sooner or later.
Smith is used to playing 35 minutes a game; Monroe played a career-high 33.2 minutes last season and he is on deck to become a restricted free agent next summer; Drummond looks like one of the NBA’s most talented young big men and he will surely command, and desire, more than the 20.7 minutes per game he received as a rookie. If Maurice Cheeks, hired to replace Lawrence Frank this summer, can find a way to balance the minutes and find functional lineups, Detroit’s unusual size could prove to be its biggest asset. If not, though, something might have to give.
The Detroit News reported last week that Pistons president Joe Dumars said that he “wouldn’t move” Drummond, but that there aren’t any other Pistons players he currently deems “untouchable.” Dumars reportedly said that he wasn’t shopping Monroe, but he also indicated that he was willing to listen to trade offers before the start of the 2013-14 regular season.
Following USA Basketball practice Tuesday, Monroe didn’t look or sound like a player who was headed immediately for the trading block. Indeed, he told SI.com that rumors and speculation involving him are “foolish” and that he is looking forward to enjoying the fruits of what was “by far the biggest summer” of his professional career, headlined by the Smith signing.
“I have a very close relationship, as do most players who play for the Pistons, with the front office,” Monroe said. “They communicate with us very well. … There’s always going to be speculation, people are going to make up stuff, they’re going to hear stuff, they’re going to write it. I don’t worry about it. I’m very happy being a Piston and I hope they’re very happy with me. As far as I know, they like me.”
Various reports have linked the Pistons to interest and trade talks involving Rajon Rondo, prompting some chatter that perhaps Monroe, a 2010 lottery pick, might be the piece needed to pry the All-Star point guard from the rebuilding Celtics.
“I think neither of us want a change,” Monroe said of his standing with the Pistons. “People are going to write stuff. I just laugh at it most of the time, because it’s foolish. That’s how people get paid nowadays. Guys like us have to live with it because we can’t comment on it. It’s going to happen. As long as I know the truth, I’m fine with it.”
The truth, in Monroe’s eyes, is that Detroit’s “jumbo-ball” approach with himself, Drummond and Smith together will get a legitimate chance to prove to skeptics that it can work.
“I’m definitely interested in getting into it and seeing how we play together,” he said. “Most nights, we’re going to be bigger than everyone. We have to get into the gym together, work together, so we’re ready to go for the season. … [Smith is] a very versatile player. There’s no question he can guard threes, he can put it on the floor, he can make outside shots. I know a lot of people are worrying about it, but I think as players, us three, being intelligent players, we’re going to be able to work it out. The coaching staff are very intelligent people. I know a lot of people are worried about it, but we’ll be fine.”
Drummond, for his part, said that he was “very excited” when he heard about Smith, who he referred to as a “great piece.” The 2012 lottery pick, who dominated at this year’s Orlando Summer League, said that he was glad that Dumars put him in the “untouchable” category after he averaged 7.9 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks as a rookie.
“It’s a good thing to hear that they feel so strongly about me, and have so much faith in me as well,” Drummond told SI.com. “It’s an exciting feeling, but I can’t sleep on it. Things happen, you never know. I’m just here to play basketball, win games, I’m not worried what happens in the front office. Whatever they do is what they do.”
Even though he is still not 20 years old, Drummond’s size, strength and physicality stands out, even among USAB’s best and brightest. He looked confident in scrimmages and spoke proudly of his play in Orlando.
“I’ve got a year under my belt [and] I was playing against guys that are just coming in,” he said. “I knew some of the tricks of the trade to be a step ahead of them. I think I played pretty well down there, got better, worked on the things I needed to work on for the season, worked on my conditioning.”
Monroe and Drummond both said that they hadn’t received specific expectations regarding their play from management in advance of next season. Drummond, who missed time with a back injury down the stretch, gave this description of his role: “Play hard, be the glue guy, rebound, block shots, and finish strong around the rim.”
As the twin towers prepare for their final day of minicamp on Wednesday, Monroe offered a bit of a advice for his USA colleagues regarding Drummond, who threw down a thunderous dunk and was active on the glass during Tuesday’s practice.
“I don’t know if anyone else got the memo, but you might want to box him out,” Monroe quipped.