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What Are the Grizzlies Doing This Free Agency Period?

With Xavier Henry and Greivis Vasquez in the fold since Draft Day, the Grizzlies's roster looks stuffed compared to last year, when the Grizzlies had by far the worst bench in the NBA. Sam Young, DeMarre Carroll, and Hasheem Thabeet are all entering their second season, which is hopefully grounds to expect improvement  

If the Grizz want to fulfill GM Chris Wallace's "Three Year Plan" and get into the playoffs next season, though they'll need to improve the second unit more significantly then we can probably expect out of last year's bum draft class. Realistically, DeMarre Carroll will probably never play meaningful minutes, Sam Young will need more than one year to learn to shoot, and Thabeet's still a project until proven otherwise.

Looking at the depth chart, with a PER's attached, it's pretty clear that the Grizzlies need to make at least another acquisition to markedly improve the bench, since nobody even has an average or above average PER:

PG) Mike Conley - PER: 13.9, Greivis Vasquez - PER: 12.97*

SG) O.J. Mayo - PER: 14.6, Xavier Henry - PER: 13.52*

SF) Rudy Gay - PER: 16.2, Sam Young - PER: 13.0, DeMarre Carroll - 8.5

PF) Zach Randolph - PER: 21.2, Darrell Arthur - PER: 10.5 (11.3 rookie year)

C) Marc Gasol - PER: 19.3, Hasheem Thabeet - PER: 12.9, Hamed Haddadi: 7.2

* These estimates are based on John Hollinger's 'Draft Rater' tool, which mathematically estimates a player's NBA PER based on multiple factors. It should be noted Henry's estimated PER is 6th out of rookies, and Vasquez is actually ranked 10th overall, mostly because of his assist to turnover ratio.

So where are the big holes? Well, two positions, really. Backup point guard is a question mark, because even with Vasquez's excellent estimated PER, he was still a 28th draft pick. Next, the Grizzlies need an energy combo forward, mostly to backup Zach Randolph, but also to slot in at small forward since Sam Young is so undersized. But since it's almost impossible to predict what veteran's minimum player the Grizz might bring in as a third point, we'll focus on the combo forwards.

With the Grizzlies at approximately $55 million, or a full $15 million under the luxury tax, and a full $5.76 million mid-level exception to work with, who should Memphis be targeting to shore up the bench?

Sadly, the answer is that the prospects don't look great. $5.76 million isn't going very far this year, with players like Tyrus Thomas, Travis Outlaw, Amir Johnson, Drew Gooden, and John Salmons all signing for something just at or even well above that price. Drew Gooden's 5 years, $32 million appears to be the only contract that would fit under the MLE.

The worst news is that two of those players, Tyrus Thomas and Travis Outlaw, would probably be considered the best-player-available for the Grizzlies needs.

Who's left then? Udonis Haslem, but he's more likely to re-sign with the Heat. Al Harrington, who seems a fair fit and is no stranger to playing on less than stellar teams. Matt Barnes is the ultimate journeyman, but is really more small forward than power forward. Don't forget about former Clipper Craig Smith, either. Then lesser options like Joe Alexander or Ian Mahinmi are in the mix as well.

With the way these free agents are getting overpaid, maybe signings aren't the way to go, though. With as many teams as there are scrambling to pay average players big money, there's just about as many teams scrambling to drop even reasonable contracts that last over two years.

Some trade targets could include: Jason Maxiell, 3 years, $15 million; Brandan Wright, 1 year, $3.4 million; Andres Nocioni, 2 years, $12 million; Donte Greene, 2 years, $4 million; Yi Jianlian, $4 million. Now remember none of these guys are necessarily getting moved or even on the block, they're just players who are unlikely to be in their teams' long-term interests.

So our best fits, ranked by best available, look something like this:

  1. Al Harrington - PER: 16.8, and a big-time scorer who stretches the defense.
  2. Jason Maxiell - PER: 14.0, career-best 16.7. Detroit has options at this position, like big-money CV31.
  3. Craig Smith - PER: 16.9, unfortunately he can't pass or shoot. Fortunately his game is mini-Z-Bo.
  4. Brandan Wright - PER: 18.7, beast of a finisher, but can't stay healthy and stats could be Nelly-induced.
  5. Yi Jianlian - PER: 12.3, but young and showing signs. Unlikely to be dealt for free, though.
  6. Andres Nocioni - PER: 11.1, career-best 16.1. Did I mention he doesn't play defense?

Here's the rub, though, I suspect multiple other, more competitive teams will be throwing cash at Harrington. Or, even worse, less competitive teams will be throwing big roles at Al, although maybe that doesn't matter so much at this point in his career.

Jason Maxiell and Craig Smith are pretty similar players, as undersized power forwards who rebound hard and defend as well as their short stature will allow. The major difference is that Maxiell is a decent scorer and elite rebounder, while Smith is an elite bench scorer and decent rebounder. While Maxiell is probably the better fit, it's difficult to project a trade since the Grizzlies have no useless expiring's or non-guaranteed deals.

It's also possible that the Grizzlies have faith Darrell Arthur will become a useful player this season, and will instead attempt to bring in even more talent on the wings, since Sam Young was decent but extremely frustrating and inefficient.

Most reporters following free agency seem to agree the Grizz are trying to bring back Ronnie Brewer even after not tendering the qualifying offer. In this case last year's trade targets like Dorrell Wright or Roger Mason Jr., and even super-cheap but high-upside options like Shaun Livingston or Shannon Brown. After gambling on Iverson and Tinsley last year, don't count out Josh Howard or Tracy McGrady, either.