Maurice Cheeks was asked before a game this season if he knew the contract status of certain players, and he coyly denied any knowledge of who had more to play for than others.

Technically, as coach, it shouldn’t matter to him who will be dealing with what come July -- but only what they can do for him in the team framework from October to May, assuming the Pistons clinch an expected playoff berth.

But he’s no fool, nor is he some naïve observer, as he seemingly likes to be perceived. He knows that through the excitement Andre Drummond provides, to the fresh start and all-around play of Josh Smith, to the creativity and willingness of Brandon Jennings to show the NBA he’s not a forgotten man in the land of great point guards, that perhaps Cheeks’ best players have something to play for individually this season.

Greg Monroe undoubtedly has plenty to play for. However, as unexciting as he might be for Pistons fans looking to rid the taste of the last few seasons from their mouths, he’s just as critical — if not more so than the aforementioned newcomers — to the success this franchise could achieve this season.

Monroe is approaching restricted free agency, and for the first time in his young career, he’s facing questions about his standing in the Pistons franchise. He ably and quietly shouldered the load through the drama of the John Kuester and Lawrence Frank tenures that didn’t end in playoff appearances.

With the acquisition of Smith and emergence of Drummond, some have openly wondered if Monroe fits with two dynamic and athletic players, because his game is more ground than air. The shiny new toys have arrived and the old standby doesn’t look as appealing to some observers and even a segment of fans.

And with any player about to hit restricted free agency, the talk will start about a player becoming too expensive, too costly for future plans, i.e. “trade him for something while you can.”

Those conversations didn’t happen with draftmates Paul George (Indiana, max contract), John Wall (Washington, max contract), DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento, max contract) and even Utah’s Derrick Favors, who got a sizeable deal without having nearly the production Monroe has had in three seasons.