- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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There are 23 shopping days to go before the NBA's annual trade deadline.
So you hesitate to paint the stances teams take on the availability of their players as absolute.
Those increasingly frequent suggestions that Greg Monroe will be moved before the Feb. 20 trade buzzer are premature.
For now, anyway.
Sources briefed on the situation told ESPN.com this week that the Pistons have been telling teams with Monroe interest that the restricted free agent-to-be -- no matter what you've heard -- is not available.
Not even with Detroit mired at 18-27, looking disjointed (to put it charitably) and clearly in need of a major boost on the perimeter to loosen things up inside for young franchise cornerstone Andre Drummond.
What remains to be seen, of course, is how firm that position stays with slightly more than three weeks to go before the deadline.
Detroit began the season with that oversized frontline and an even bigger mandate to make the playoffs from owner Tom Gores. The half-season evidence strongly suggests that Drummond, Josh Smith and Monroe can't function defensively as a trio -- and that Smith would benefit greatly from a full-time move to power forward -- but the Pistons themselves don't appear ready to break it all up just yet.
Sources say teams calling to inquire about Monroe's availability are being advised that he's not on the market.
Yet Monroe acknowledged recently that the trade talk "does" weigh on him, presumably because he's been around long enough by now to understand that the speculation -- once it starts bubbling -- will persist until the deadline passes. Which is presumably twice as true in this case given the fact Detroit has shown few signs of capitalizing on the most inviting Eastern Conference in memory.
Drummond ranks as the Pistons' lone untouchable. But the up-and-down Smith, in Year 1 of a new four-year deal worth $54 million, isn't especially movable. So that's how the whole notion of Monroe being moved to land the elite perimeter scorer Detroit sorely needs was hatched.
Yet the message from the Pistons, for now, is that it's not a measure they're prepared to consider. They clearly don't like the sound of parting with a 23-year-old big man blessed with offensive skills and upside without giving Monroe every chance to carve out a new niche alongside Drummond and now Smith on the same roster.
What that means, though, is that Detroit has some challenging choices to make this summer if Monroe is still in Motown when the deadline passes. Knowing full well that Monroe's agent, David Falk, is sure to chase a robust deal for his client in restricted free agency, Detroit would be forced in July in that scenario to either match whatever offer sheet Falk musters or try to assemble a sign-and-trade if the offer is too rich to match.
It's the sort of conundrum that will keep rival teams killing even when they're told no. Because they're just as curious about which path the Pistons will chose as all of us on the outside.
42dMarc Stein and Mike Mazzeo