One prominent big man who will continue to hear his name involved in trade rumors around the league in the coming weeks is Greg Monroe. The Milwaukee Bucks dealt away the power forward to the Phoenix Suns with a protected first round pick for Eric Bledsoe back on Tuesday. The move ended an icy relationship between Phoenix and Bledsoe, but it also added to the logjam in the team's frontcourt by adding Monroe to a mix that includes Tyson Chandler, Alex Len, Marquise Chriss, Dragan Bender and T.J. Warren.
Monroe is a 27-year-old on an expiring contract so it's no surprise that multiple reports indicate that the Suns will be looking to move him or buy him out in the coming months. He's averaged 6.8 points and 5.0 rebounds in just 15 minutes per game during this season, but his career numbers (14.7 ppg, 8.0 rpg) are a better indicator of the impact he can make on a nightly basis.
“I just told them I understand the plan they have in place and how they want to approach the season,” Monroe told the Arizona Republic this week about early conversations with his new team. “I told them, ‘If you want me to play I’ll always play. I’ll never be one not to want to play. If not we’ll just work together and find the best option for everyone.’ But I’m more than happy to play here.”
So would there be a fit between the Suns and the Celtics on a potential Monroe deal?
It's hard to envision one right now given Monroe's hefty salary of $17.8 million. The Celtics have the disabled player exception ($6.8 million) to work with but Monroe's price tag doesn't fit into it and you can't combine the DPE with other players to make it work. For instance, I get asked a lot about whether the Celtics could trade a $11 million player for a guy earning $17 million because the difference in the money would be the amount of the DPE. The answer is no. The salary has to fit cleanly into the DPE, if the Celtics acquire it via trade. If it doesn't, you have to make the trade using regular salary matching rules, like you would with any other deal.
A quick inspection of the Celtics' roster shows us there aren't any salary matching candidates for Monroe's money. No player outside of the team's Big 3 of Al Horford, Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving earns more $5.6 million this year so it would take at least three of those players to get enough salary to match Monroe's $17 million. That's not happening obviously, especially given how well this team is playing at this point in the season.
Thus, the only way Monroe becomes a viable option for the Celtics is if he gets a buyout from the Suns, a possible, but not probable scenario. The Suns likely agreed to take on Monroe in the deal with Milwaukee because they believed they could flip him for another asset and reports indicate a trade is their preference. He's not going to fetch much in a deal since he's a limited player (i.e. doesn't stretch the floor) and he is on an expiring deal. However, the Cavs, Spurs and Nuggets have reportedly already expressed interest in the power forward.
The question for those teams is how much are they willing to sacrifice for him? All would likely be sending back unwanted parts to Phoenix to make the money match in a hypothetical deal, so the Suns would need to gain some additional assets (i.e. draft picks) to make it worth their while. Would a second round pick do it? Not necessarily, particularly if Monroe is willing to sacrifice some money in a buy out with Phoenix. The Suns aren't going to take another bad contract just to get an extra second round pick. Obviously, a late or protected first round pick would do the trick but it's hard to envision another team giving that up when they know Monroe could potentially be available for nothing after a buyout down the line.
All of this would be potentially good news for the Celtics in a potential free agent pursuit for Monroe. If the Suns don't like the trade offers they are getting, (they will probably wait awhile to gauge the market), they'll probably opt to save money and figure out a buyout solution for the veteran scorer. At that point, the Celtics would be in pole position to land him on the open market with their $6.8 million disabled player exception (if they wanted him). That's far more money than any other playoff team in the Monroe market would be able to offer.
There's no guarantee that the Celtics would offer up that entire chunk of change for the big man, but they could still offer just a fraction of that amount and outbid the others. The question for Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens is whether a guy like Monroe would be a strong fit in the C's scheme. As a bench piece, my answer would be yes. Monroe has provided some reliable second unit scoring for the Bucks over the last couple years and he could do the same here as top scoring option off the pine. He's still in his prime as a post player and rebounder and the C's would have enough strong defense around him his shortcomings in that area.
It's not clear if a bench role would be enough to appeal for Monroe to sign after a buyout, particularly since he'll be heading into unrestricted free agency next summer. If another team offered him a starting spot or bigger minutes, he could choose there to help him bigger numbers and potentially earn a bigger paycheck next year. Stevens has a history of getting the best out of his players though and that would certainly be a selling point for the team if Monroe does become available.
The guess here is that this whole situation takes a while to develop. Monroe is recovering from a calf injury at the moment and the Suns will be in no rush to buy him out until the explore all trade options in the next couple months. They could even keep him until the trade deadline so they have a potential salary matching chip in any deal. If and when Monroe does become available in free agency, the Celtics should make a play. Proven scorers like Monroe barely become available midseason at bargain prices. If the price tag is simply money, Ainge should pursue him to provide a boost to a middle-of-the-road Celtics offense.