Last summer, the Milwaukee Bucks signed then free agent forward-center Greg Monroe to a 3-year, $51.4 million deal; a major win for the small market team at the time. The Portland Trail Blazers had also been pursuing Monroe, with the reported intention of pairing him with bygone star LaMarcus Aldridge. Monroe was a highly coveted, if limited, big man in the league, and he remained productive in Milwaukee throughout the 2015-16 NBA season. However, "productive" and "effective" gradually diverged as his defensive shortcomings materialized in the foreground. Writes Matt Moore of CBS Sports:
When Monroe was on the floor last year, the Bucks gave up 107.5 points per 100 possessions, which is significantly more than they scored. He has poor help instincts, and that's such a huge part of being a defensive center in today's game. Even with Giannis Antetokounmpo at power forward, Monroe just can't contain enough on the perimeter or help enough at the rim to prevent major problems.
Monroe is awful in isolation (30th percentile), which forces the Bucks to send help nearly every time he finds himself on the wrong end of a switch, and the trickle-down effect starts from there. This really sticks out when you go back and watch their tape. Nobody trusts Monroe on his own, so weak side overreacts in his direction, and the Bucks end up surrendering a ton of open threes on the reversal.
Additionally, the biggest problem-area with the Bucks' defense last year was in transition (ranked 30th by Synergy Sports), and while Monroe's never going to get the statistical hit for this (because, frankly, he's never going to get down the floor fast enough to be in position to defend a transition play in the first place) this is the type of eye-test stuff that makes Monroe's numbers appear somewhat deceiving.
Despite all this, there are things that he does well on the offensive end (like score efficiently, move the ball well, and pull down offensive rebounds) to make up for his weaknesses, but only to the point of being an acceptable plug-in, rather than the star he was signed to be on Milwaukee’s burgeoning roster. It makes sense, then, that the Bucks would seek a mutually beneficial trade; one where Monroe finds a home that can highlight his specialties more than his deficiencies, and where the Bucks receive a center more suited to their style and the modern NBA.
Although ESPN’s Marc Stein suggested that the Bucks and New Orleans Pelicans have conversed about a potential deal, Moore takes the rumor one step further and examines other potential destinations for Monroe, giving a tepid nod to the Trail Blazers among his six teams listed (Pelicans, Knicks, Nuggets, Wizards, Blazers, Celtics):
Hey, if Neil Olshey has shown anything, it's that he's willing to invest resources in players that seem incredibly limited in other settings, and then watch as Terry Stotts makes it work. Stotts' post offense makes a lot of sense for Monroe and could bring out the passing ability he's shown flashes of having but never developed, and the Blazers could send the Bucks the other Plumlee so they have the complete set.
(They also could make this move later this season if Festus Ezeli doesn't thrive right off the bat).
A cursory glance at the Trail Blazers’ frontcourt says that they’re firmly entrenched in a low ceiling, high floor sort of depth, but they do not have to be. The logjam could clear with one deft trade, but only if the price and pieces are right. Could Monroe—whose name has popped up on and off near ad nauseam with Portland for the last year—be the player that the Trail Blazers need? Or, at the very least, could Portland provide an environment in which Monroe could thrive?
The answer is likely a mixed bag. Monroe is a definite upgrade in some respects, but not a guaranteed slam dunk. He functions best when paired with a rim protecting big (like Ezeli) but does little to help spacing or defense. At the same time, he is a strong post scorer that the Blazers do not have, and sneakily the same age as star point guard Damian Lillard (26) despite playing six NBA seasons (without any major injury concerns, mind you). Whether or not Monroe would work in Portland would largely depend on who would be left to complement him if a trade were to go through.
That said, it is important to note that Monroe’s contract includes a player option for the 2017-18 season. Given the impending second cap spike and the current salary landscape, he would be a bargain for a year, but likely gone for more money after that, making him somewhat of an awkward rental on a team that is too far from contention. Still, it is interesting to think about how he could fit into Olshey’s plans in this hypothetical future, and what further moves a Monroe acquisition might set in motion.