The Pistons teased Bob Lanier when he played in Detroit.
Lanier, the greatest big man in franchise history, got teased from the moment the Pistons chose him first overall in the 1970 NBA draft, out of St. Bonaventure.
Lanier was flat on his back in a hospital bed, his leg immobilized in a cast, when the draft took place. A serious knee injury suffered in his last college game made him a temporary gimp.
Yet the Pistons, for too many years a team that was a doughnut (a hole in the middle), had faith in the 6’11” Lanier and, despite his knee injury, snatched him off the board.
Lanier combined with young point guard David Bing to create an inside-out presence that the Pistons had never known. And the Pistons got off to a 9-0 start in Lanier’s rookie season.
One can only imagine the sugar plums going through Lanier’s head. Rookie year, undefeated after nine games. How many championships will I win in the NBA?
Lanier and Bing were great, but the supporting cast was always a work in progress. Some pieces were contributory, but others weren’t a great fit. The result was that the Pistons were frequent playoff participants in the 1970s but only once did they get past the first round (1976).
More teasing for Lanier.
Lanier played for eight coaches in his nine-plus years as a Piston. The revolving door was letting in the stench of organizational dysfunction.
There was no free agency in the NBA when Lanier played. Even now, only speculation can be used as to whether he would have bolted Detroit if given the option.
There wasn’t free agency in Lanier’s day, but there were trades. And finally, late in 1979, Bob Lanier, the face of the Pistons franchise once Bing was traded in 1975, demanded to be relocated.
The Pistons were going through turmoil, yet again, when Lanier approached new GM Jack McCloskey and all but begged to get him out of Detroit.
Lanier was 31 years old and he wasn’t in denial about that. The calendar wasn’t his friend and he wanted so badly to compete for an NBA championship.
The Pistons in 1979 were a mess. As usual.
The team had changed coaches. As usual.
Bob McAdoo, another great big man, had been added to the roster but McAdoo was unhappy, uninspired and unwilling to play nice.
The Pistons were stripped of draft choices thanks to the brief but ruinous era of Dick Vitale and the future looked bleak. The team was winning once every six games or so.
Lanier had had enough of the Pistons, though it pained him to ask for the trade. Any success he was going to have in the NBA, he wanted to have it in Detroit.
But that clearly wasn’t going to happen in the near future with the Pistons, who weren’t even bothering to tease Lanier anymore. They had now moved on to being just plain bad.
McCloskey pulled the trigger on the deal in early-February, 1980. Lanier was shipped to the Milwaukee Bucks, who knew how to win, and the Pistons got Kent Benson, who was no Lanier, but also a coveted first-round draft choice.
The Bucks teased Lanier, too.
More playoffs. More post-season heartbreak, though Milwaukee once made it as far as the conference finals with Lanier at center.
Greg Monroe is no Bob Lanier but neither is he a stiff, by a long shot.
Monroe is a left-handed shooting big man, just like Lanier. He has played for a lot of coaches in Detroit, just like Lanier. Monroe has seen organizational dysfunction, just like Lanier.
But where Monroe differs from Lanier is in two respects.
One, Monroe has never played in a playoff game in the NBA. He was never teased by the Pistons.
Two, Monroe can be a free agent and shop his talents around the league.
Monroe doesn’t have to sidle up to Pistons czar Stan Van Gundy and beg to be relocated. Monroe’s expiring contract will do that work for him this summer.
There was a brief moment this season where the Pistons flirted with playoff contention. They moved on from Josh Smith and a 5-23 start and clawed their way into the picture for spring basketball.
Then Brandon Jennings got hurt and Van Gundy made some trades at the deadline and whatever fragile chemistry the Pistons had was ruined.
Through it all, Monroe has been healthy and doing his thing on the court. One can only imagine what’s going through his head off it.
When the Pistons were in the hunt for the playoffs in February, Monroe’s comments to the press didn’t even attempt to hide his giddiness at such a scenario. Even the notion of being in the mix tantalized Monroe.
But now that’s all gone by the wayside and the Pistons can’t use a playoff berth as a means to entice Monroe to sign with them long term before or after July 1.
Van Gundy will have to use a full court press to convince Monroe that the SVG Way is the path that will lead to competitive basketball in Detroit.
Monroe will have to feel good about the direction in which the Pistons are heading, or else he is sure to get big bucks elsewhere. Unlike Bob Lanier, Monroe isn’t tethered to the Pistons and he doesn’t have to beg for a trade.
Monroe can simply peel off his Pistons jersey after Game 82 this season and move on from them.
Unless he wants to stay.
Greg Monroe has leverage in today’s NBA that Bob Lanier could only fantasize about, 35 years ago.
Today’s Pistons are much closer to contention than the 1979-80 team (16-66) that Lanier begged to be removed from. But Monroe still has played five years in the NBA and all he’s known is losing, coaching changes and chaos.
The Pistons will be asking Monroe to take a leap of faith that, heretofore, has little basis on which to positively refer.
At least the Pistons haven’t teased Greg Monroe.
We’ll see if that’s good or bad.