The free agent market is heating back up. And Greg Monroe is the name to watch.
The 6-foot-11 former Helen Cox standout is a prime target for the New Orleans Pelicans in their search to fill the gap left by injured All-Star DeMarcus Cousins.
Monroe will hit the open market after clearing waivers on Saturday, thanks to agreeing on a buyout Wednesday night with the Phoenix Suns. And in an instant, the New Orleans native became one of the NBA’s most discussed topics.
He’ll have his pick of many suitors, thanks to a minimal commitment required to obtain his inside scoring and rebounding abilities. The most likely destinations are the Pelicans and Boston Celtics, league sources told The Advocate.
ESPN also reported on Thursday the Pelicans have gained “significant momentum” in pursuit of Monroe.
While Boston is likely able to offer more money and a potential pathway to the NBA Finals, there are a number of advantages Pelicans’ general manager Dell Demps has at his disposal to lure the imposing big man.
Primarily, Monroe has openly spoken about a fondness for his hometown and the opportunity to play in front of family and friends at the Smoothie King Center. He’s hosted local camps nearly every summer since arriving in the league in 2010 and even previously expressed a desire to play for the Pelicans.
“I’d love to play in and represent this city,” Monroe told The Advocate in the summer of 2015. “Obviously, they have a guy like Anthony Davis who is a superstar already, and he’s only going to get better.
“I think I could really play well with him. Our games complement each other. I’m a low-post scorer. Obviously he’s a great mid-range player.”
More importantly, though, Demps can also pitch Monroe on an increased role compared to most playoff contenders, considering he’d be grabbing starter’s minutes left behind by Cousins. If signed, Monroe would likely pair next to Davis for the majority of the game, allowing the Pelicans to maintain their sizable height advantage and prevent teams from double-teaming in the post.
After starting 401 of his first 457 NBA games, Monroe’s playing time was greatly diminished recently, averaging just 22.3 minutes over the past two seasons. Now, as another free agency period approaches, the 27-year old needs playing time in meaningful games to audition his skills to the league.
The Pelicans can provide it.
As a starter, Monroe averaged 14.5 points and 9.1 rebounds per game over six seasons. Considering New Orleans was outscored 26-0 in second chance points by Sacramento on Tuesday night, rebounding and inside scoring is are glaring needs to be addressed if the Pelicans are going to be serious playoff contenders without Cousins.
Thursday’s trade to acquire Nikola Mirotic proved it. It also aided their pursuit of Monroe.
New Orleans cleared enough space, in terms of roster spots and cap room, to add Monroe on a minimum deal for the remainder of the season. By shipping out the expiring contracts of Jameer Nelson and Tony Allen alongside Omer Asik, the Pelicans aren’t required to make another roster move before adding Monroe.
But, first, Monroe has to choose New Orleans.
And the Celtics have significantly more money to offer for the remainder of the season, thanks to receiving a hefty injury exception in the wake of Gordon Hayward’s fractured tibia. Boston also sits in first place, and is the odds-on favorite to reach the NBA Finals from the Eastern Conference.
Still, the Pelicans are hoping meaningul minutes and hometown memories can push Monroe their way.
“We are always looking for ways to get better,” coach Alvin Gentry said. “So, we are talking to everybody we can, and will do whatever we need in order to make this team better.”