AUBURN HILLS, Michigan — Greg Monroe had a clear message for Detroit Pistons fans Monday.
"This doesn't mean I'm leaving," Monroe said at the team's media day.
What he didn't say, though, was that he was staying.
This summer, Monroe did something almost unheard of for a frontline NBA player — he signed a one-year qualifying deal that costs him almost $10 million for this season but makes him an unrestricted free agent next summer.
The obvious implication is that he wants a chance to find a better home after spending his first four seasons with one of the league's more dysfunctional franchises.
"The Pistons offered me a long-term deal, but after talking it over with the people that are most important — my agent, some friends and my family, I decided to turn it down," he said.
"It isn't that I want to get out of the city of Detroit or this area — I have loved it here since I arrived — it is strictly a business decision based on my future as a basketball player."
The news wasn't a welcome start to Stan Van Gundy's career as Detroit's president and coach, because he had talked about building the franchise around his two young post players — Monroe (24) and Andre Drummond (21).
At worst, if Monroe seemed determined to leave, he said he hoped to get significant talent back in a sign-and-trade deal.
Now, though, Van Gundy goes into the offseason knowing that there's a very good chance that he'll get no return for a player who has averaged a double-double in each of the past three seasons.
"I know that I have to separate my two roles, and keep the business side of the game off the court," he said.
"Right now, I know that Greg is 100 percent committed to helping this team win this season, and I have no concerns that he's going to let the business side of things affect his game. We'll deal with next summer when we get there."
Drummond acknowledged that he tried to talk Monroe into a long-term deal, but that he's not going to be working as a recruiter during the season.
"Greg did what he felt was best for himself, and as his friend, I'm going to support him 100 percent," Drummond said. "From today forward, we're both going to focus on winning basketball games. That's it."
The biggest question mark over Monroe in the short term is his role on the team.
Last year's experiment of playing he, Drummond and Josh Smith together didn't work, and Van Gundy doesn't plan to repeat it.
"Greg, Andre and Josh are three of our best players, but it is equally true that when they weren't able to effective play together last year," he said.
"We intend to use Josh mainly at the 4 and Andre is, of course, going to be at the 5, while Greg can play both. I'm not worried about which two will start, because I know the important thing is that you develop a rotation that works for 48 minutes, but I also know that starting is important to players."
On top of that, there were reports in the offseason that Monroe had demanded that Smith be traded if the Pistons wanted him to sign a long-term contract. Monroe, though, didn't even allow the question to be fully asked before responding.
"Lies, lies, lies," he said. "I don't know where that came from, but don't say there were 'rumors', because they were strictly lies. I've told Coach Van Gundy that, and I reached out to Josh to make sure he realized that there was no truth to those stories. I never said anything like that."
Monroe's versatility will be more important now that the Pistons have lost backup center Aaron Gray for the awhile. Gray will miss training camp and be out indefinitely after suffering a cardiac episode last month.
Gray had the problem, which he didn't discuss in detail, after a voluntary practice session at the Palace, and is still undergoing testing to find out exactly what needs to be done.
"When you are a pro athlete, your body is how you make your living, so you know when something is wrong," he said Monday. "So I knew that this was something that needed to be dealt with, and the Pistons did a great job putting me in touch with the right people to do that."
Gray is getting multiple opinions, so there is no timeline on his return.
"We hope that by the end of October, we're going to have a better idea where Aaron is and when he might be back on the floor," Van Gundy said. "At this point, we're just focused on making sure he's getting the best possible care."
Gray was signed during the summer to back up Drummond and Monroe at center, so Van Gundy has signed Hasheem Thabeet to a non-guaranteed contract to provide depth at the position.
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