Greg Monroe may take qualifying offer from Pistons, possibly making him a target for the Celtics

According to Real GM's free agent tracker (plus my own updates on newer contracts) 56 of the top 74 free agents have either signed contracts, or agreed to terms. Looking closer, among the 25 best free agents, only three remain unsigned -- Eric Bledsoe, Lance Stephenson, and Greg Monroe.

We've heard a ton of rumors about Stephenson, with one report linking him to the Celtics. As for Bledsoe, we've heard that the Lakers and Bucks are both very interested in making a deal happen with the Suns' point guard.

But for some reason the market for Monroe has been strangely quiet.

Today we got a hint about why the market has been so quiet -- as new Pistons' boss Stan Van Gundy seemed to suggest that Monroe may take the Pistons 1-year, $5.5 million qualifying offer before the October deadline. If Monroe does, he is leaving quite a bit of money on the table in 2014-15, as he could likely sign a deal for $12 million per season this summer. But if he takes it he would also become an unrestricted free agent next summer, giving him far more power as the Pistons would not be able to match offers.

Considering the Pistons crowded front court situation (Josh Smith is signed for three more seasons, Andre Drummond will likely get a monster extension soon), Monroe could very well be traded by next season's deadline, or simply walk next summer as an unrestricted free agent.

If he does hit free agency, Monroe will join an amazingly crowded field of big men, which includes Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol, DeAndre Jordan, Omer Asik, Brook Lopez (player option), Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson (PO), Roy Hibbert (PO), Nikola Vucevic (restricted) and Kenneth Faried (RFA).

Holy big men.

As I laid it out here, the Celtics will absolutely be a player for one of these guys next summer. As long as they can move Jeff Green (or he declines his player option), and Gerald Wallace (via the stretch provision) the Celtics will have $20+ million in cap space AFTER giving Rajon Rondo a very healthy, near max contract (I approximated his fictional contract at 5/85).

There's also a pretty good chance the Pistons move Monroe if they think he might leave next summer without them getting anything in return. If that happens, the Celtics once again could be a player. The Pistons badly need a SF who can stretch the floor, something the Celtics have in Green. The long whispered Green for Monroe swap would surely need to include a pick from the Celtics side, but you'd have to believe Danny Ainge would still jump on that as long as the pick was protected.

One thing is for sure though, the deck is stacked against Monroe sticking in Detroit if he signs that offer. Since 2002, 14 players have accepted the one-year qualifying offer, and only one (Spencer Hawes) has ended up sticking with their current team. Three players were traded during that season, while nine signed with another team after the season (the 14th was Robert Swift, who was out of the NBA after his QO season).

So look for the Monroe rumors to really pick up should he decide to take the 1-year deal, and look for the Cs to be linked to him.

But should they be? On the surface it seems like a no brainer. After all, Monroe is only 24 years old, and has averaged 15.6 points and 9.5 rebounds over the last three seasons, while shooting 50% from the field and posting a well above average 19.7 PER.

However, he routinely ranks as one of the worst defensive big men in all of basketball, and the Celtics have another player on the roster with 15/10 potential and his own defensive question marks in Jared Sullinger.

Personally my belief is this: A Sullinger-Monroe pairing will never be the big man combo on an elite NBA team. Never. Could they be the 4/5 on a good team? Absolutely. They would be very good offensively and on the glass. But Monroe would not fix the Celtics ailing interior defense, and for as long as that remains a hole for the Celtics, they will not be a title contender. I know "rim protector" has become a running joke since Ainge and Stevens spoke about the Celtics need for a defensive backbone months ago, but the proof is in the pudding. If you want to win a ring, you need a dude who can protect the paint. Check out the paint protectors for every title winner since MJ retired (for the second time).

2014 Spurs: Tim Duncan, Tiago Splitter
2013 Heat: Chris Bosh
2012 Heat: Bosh
2011 Mavs: Tyson Chandler
2010 Lakers: Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
2009 Lakers: Gasol, Bynum
2008 Celtics: Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Garnett
2007 Spurs: Duncan
2006 Heat: Shaq
2005 Spurs: Duncan
2004 Pistons: Ben Wallace
2003 Spurs: Duncan, David Robinson
2002 Lakers: Shaq
2001 Lakers: Shaq
2000 Lakers: Shaq
1999 Spurs: Robinson, Duncan

Duncan, an all-time great shot blocker, was on five of those teams. Shaq (another all-timer) was on four. Wallace was the defensive player of the year in 2004. Ditto for KG in 2008. Chandler won DPOY in 2012, the year after his title, but was equally as good (if not better) in 2011. Gasol and Bynum captured two titles together, and both guys are legit seven-footers. The weakest paint protector was Bosh, but he has a 7'4" wingspan and is incredibly underrated as a defensive player. Plus the Heat had the best wing player in basketball (and one of the best of all-time) roaming the floor. So unless you see the Celtics getting LeBron..chances are they're going to need some beef in the middle.

I want to be very clear about something: this does not mean I think the Celtics should avoid a deal for Monroe. He's a better player than Sully now, and is very likely to be a better player for the foreseeable future. He makes the team better, and that's what this entire rebuilding process is about. I'm just saying that if Monroe is a target for the Celtics, the Cs better also have a center in mind to man the middle. The same thing goes if they keep Sullinger.

But Monroe is still a dynamic offensive talent who should continue to get better, and if the price is right, I'd be very interested if I were Ainge.

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