Milwaukee Bucks big man Greg Monroe is at the center of trade rumors, in a trend that has dominated much of his career to date.
Long before I started to write about the Milwaukee Bucks, I covered the Detroit Pistons for the best part of 18 months. It may not have been in quite the same depth that my work at Behind the Buck Pass requires me to follow the Bucks, but I watched their games and wrote about the team twice a week on average.
As a result, I’ve had complicated feelings about Greg Monroe’s role in the NBA for a long, long time. There have been times when I have convinced myself that if he could just add a certain skill he’d be one of the league’s best big men, and then on other occasions I’ve been entirely unconvinced of his ability to positively contribute in today’s NBA.
As a far from natural fit on Milwaukee’s roster, trade talks have surrounded the 26-year-old intermittently dating back to this year’s trade deadline. Now with the draft long gone, free agency’s primary business all but concluded and the persistence of whispers noting Monroe’s continued availability, I’m starting to feel as if I’ve been struck down with a bad case of deja vu.
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A lot of Bucks fans might not realize this but when it comes to trade rumors, this is far from Greg Monroe’s first rodeo.
It may have been disguised somewhat by the narrative of Monroe’s decision to choose the Bucks over the likes of the Trail Blazers, Lakers and Knicks last summer, but the reality is that Greg Monroe has rarely been in-demand throughout his professional career. That’s not meant to sound disparaging, it’s just stating facts.
With a muddled front court that included Monroe alongside Andre Drummond and Josh Smith, the Pistons never really knew what to do with the Louisiana native as his contract wound down in the final years of his Motor City stay.
As much as many now like to marvel at how 12 months on from being Milwaukee’s record signing Monroe is on the trade block, 12 months prior to landing that successful deal Monroe was unable to draw any significant offers as a restricted free agent (although the role of his agent in manufacturing that scenario has also been rumored). The Pistons weren’t going to go out of their way to pay him without an offer sheet from elsewhere, and as such he had to sign a qualifying offer.
Along with Josh Smith, even prior to that point, Monroe was often at the center of trade speculation yet Detroit never managed to find traction on a deal that represented value in their eyes. Fast forward to the present and Howard Beck of Bleacher Report notes that the Bucks are experiencing similar problems.
"“There’s no question, Greg Monroe is incredibly available. But you’ll notice he’s also incredibly still in Milwaukee. I’ve talked to GMs and they’ve said there’s really no trade market for him right now. So where is he going to end up? Right now, I’d say still Milwaukee.”"
Sadly, it gets to a point when none of this should come as a surprise any more. With it not really working out for Monroe in Milwaukee, there has been a tendency for fans and analysts alike to revert to reminders of how everyone knew exactly what Greg Monroe was when he signed with the Bucks. Of course, that’s true. Monroe’s drawbacks have long been apparent.
Curious thanks to a sense of having watched this particular movie before, I decided to dig back into my own archives to get a grasp on the thoughts I had on the big man in the past. As an example, here’s a section I wrote on Monroe in September 2014:
"“Monroe isn’t improving.In fact from his sophomore season on, if you look at his stats per 36 minutes, there’s a year-on-year regression in many key categories. Monroe’s per 36 minute numbers have fallen back every year since his sophomore season in points, rebounds, steals, blocks and free throw percentage.Add into the mix that Monroe’s strengths remain very similar to the skill set that he entered the NBA with, and it becomes an increasingly worrisome theme. Monroe has all the physical tools to become a good defender, and yet there has been no real sign of progress towards that. His offensive play could do with a midrange game to offer a more dynamic threat, yet it’s a shot that the Louisiana native still doesn’t have in his arsenal.”"
If I hadn’t explained otherwise, there’d be little reason to believe that segment hadn’t been written today. The core sentiment stays the same.
Don’t just take my word for it though, read what Zach Lowe said about Monroe way back in August of 2013:
"“Monroe is a very good offensive player, but he’s a glaring liability on defense in a league getting smaller and quicker. He’s a turnstile trying to contain the pick-and-roll out on the floor — a mess of bad footwork, poor timing, lazy reaches, and bad choices.”"
The league has since grown smaller and quicker than even Lowe could have imagined at that point. In Greg Monroe’s case that leads to some very distinct challenges and a very obvious reason why there aren’t a whole host of teams lining up for his services.
Describing Monroe as in-demand last summer probably even oversells his most recent free agency. Were any of the interested parties last summer invested in Monroe the player above all else? Possibly not.
The Lakers and Knicks were searching for a high profile free agent who could help their historic, big market brands in their attempts to at least appear to stay relevant. The Trail Blazers had lost four of their five starters from the previous season and found themselves with endless cap space and a desire to remain competitive.
In Milwaukee’s case, they were certainly searching for a low post center, although with an ambitious new ownership group hoping to make a splash in bringing a big free agent to a small market, there were other considerations to the eventual deal too.
Monroe has enough talent to intrigue multiple teams but it would seem difficult to commit to a player with weaknesses as glaring as his, particularly when they’d only seem to be amplified by the modern style of play.
Greg Monroe is not a bad basketball player but frequent trade rumors during his time with two different franchises are certainly a cause for raised eyebrows.
There’d be no shortage of takers for him if his play continues to trend down, dragging his price along with it. Monroe is likely now more palatable as a low risk, low priced reclamation project rather than a marquee investment.
At a time when draft picks and cheap contracts are more valuable than ever, finding a general manager prepared give up assets for a player with such an uncertain fit within the league’s current landscape would seem near impossible. The probability of him opting out of his contract next summer doesn’t do anything to help the cause either.
Of course none of this will stop the rumors, it hasn’t up to this point in Monroe’s career.
It’s not hard to read between the lines when a player is reportedly an ever-present on the trade block. As such Monroe will find himself with a lot to prove in the coming season, but a shortage of teams willing to give him the chance to prove it while wearing their colors.