Before the 2014-2015 NBA season began, Memphis Grizzlies majority owner Robert Pera majorly shook up the front office. Just two seasons into the new ownership regime, it was too early to judge the front office based on its body of work. The changes made before this season make it even more difficult to judge the front office, but hopefully the situation has stabilized and the next couple seasons will paint a much clearer picture of what the Grizzlies are working with from an executive standpoint.
It's nearly impossible to tell for sure who is in charge and making decisions on any front. Nevertheless, the new front office had to start somewhere. Here are the five biggest moves that defined the front office's 2014-2015 season.
1) Drafted Jordan Adams and Jarnell Stokes
When the Grizzlies drafted Jordan Adams and Jarnell Stokes, a shift in draft strategy was evident. Fans had become accustomed to seeing raw, athletic guys with freakish physical measurements dubbed as the future of the franchise only to flame out a year or so later. The draft models loved Adams and Stokes, and that demonstrated (at least in people's minds) that the Grizzlies leaned on analytics to make personnel decisions more than they ever had before.
Of course, making draft selections based on analytics — or any other criteria — doesn't matter if the drafted players don't play. Much to the chagrin of fans, such was the case for Adams and Stokes last season. During head coach Dave Joerger's first two seasons patrolling the sideline for the Grizzlies, he has proven that he's not comfortable playing rookies major minutes.
It's tough to fault Joerger for favoring veterans over rookies given the Grizzlies position among the NBA's elite teams. It's easy to spew opinions and wonder aloud if Jordan Adams couldn't have played at least as well as Vince Carter, but rookies are unpredictable and the learning curve is steep. There is no universal role about how to handle rookies because every player's development is on a different track, but most coaches of good teams don't play rookies very often for a reason.
With that said, it's tough for guys to develop in the NBA without playing time. You have to wonder if the front office will start pushing Joerger to play "their" guys, or if they will continue to watch from afar and let Joerger run the team how he sees fit from a day-to-day standpoint.
It's still too early to tell if Adams or Stokes will ever add value on the court for any team, but next season will be telling for both players' futures with the Grizzlies.
2) Re-signed Beno Udrih
To take a page from Memphis Tigers head coach Josh Pastner's book, Beno Udrih has been nothing but a positive patsy in Memphis. The fans love him, and he provides excellent value as the Grizzlies backup point guard. The front office recognized Udrih's value as a guy who could provide energy and lead the bench unit, not to mention back up an oft banged up Mike Conley.
Udrih added tremendous value on the offensive end mostly in the form of patented pull-up midrange jumpers and slashes to the rim on the pick and roll. Without him, things would have been much more uncertain when Conley suffered facial fractures in the first round of the playoffs against the Portland Trail Blazers.
Make no mistake, Udrih is far from a perfect player. He's a defensive liability, and that made him borderline unplayable against the Golden State Warriors in the second round of the playoffs against the Golden State Warriors. However, the Grizzlies front office signed Udrih to a great team-friendly deal. $2.1 million a year for what Beno brings is incredible value, and the front office deserves a lot of credit for the savvy move of bringing him back.
3) Re-signed Zach Randolph
This turned out to be the best move by the front office leading up to the season, and it's not close. Without the beloved Z-Bo, Memphis probably would not have been a serious competitor in the Western Conference. Paying Randolph $16.5 million last season was not necessarily desirable, but it's not so bad with there having been no better options out there.
Where the front office really succeeded is in structuring Randolph's new contract by getting him to sign for just $10 million a year for the next two seasons. Not only is that a fair price for what Randolph still brings to the court on a nightly basis, but it will give the Grizzlies more flexibility to re-sign Marc Gasol, which is at the top of the offseason to do list.
The core four showed that they might have one run left in them if they can be surrounded by the right complementary pieces, and I'd venture to say that having Randolph still on the roster will make Gasol want to stay more, not less. If Gasol stays and signs long term, Randolph's contract is then a distant worry.
4) Signed Vince Carter
Signing one of the most electric players in NBA history to a multi-year contract last offseason did not at all turn out like the Grizzlies had hoped. Injuries kept Vince Carter sidelined for a large portion of the season, and he never quite settled into his role when he was on the court. He was clearly encouraged to be a chucker of sorts in an effort to help floor spacing, but his low shooting percentage from beyond the arc had the opposite effect.
Carter shot just 29.7% from deep, his lowest percentage since his rookie season. It was tough for him to do much more than stand around on the perimeter given his new, awkward gait after going through surgery last offseason. Maybe the Grizzlies could have done more due diligence and figured out how much Carter's ankle would really hinder him, but I don't even think he knew until he stepped on the court.
The one thing softening the blow of Carter's signing is his team-friendly contract. The third year is only partially guaranteed, which provides a tiny bit more flexibility.
Even though Carter struggled in his first season on Beale Street, it's hard to fault the front office for the signing. They took what many deemed a smart gamble, and it didn't pay off. That's basketball sometimes.
5) Traded for Jeff Green
Can't breathe. Send help.
In all seriousness, we know the Jeff Green trade turned out to be incredibly disappointing. The spin was that he was going to be the wing the Grizzlies needed to put them over the top. Without rehashing or reviewing Green's season, let's just say he was not the answer to any of the Grizzlies lingering questions.
Hindsight is 20/20. Once again, it's easy to judge the front office based solely on results. But just because Green didn't pan out doesn't mean the trade shouldn't have been made. There are a couple other factors at play here aside from Green himself.
First, could the Grizzlies have acquired anybody better via midseason trade with relatively the same package? It's tough to say one way or the other, but I highly doubt it.
This brings me to the second and third factors, which are Tayshaun Prince and Quincy Pondexter. Prince had next to nothing left in the tank, and the Grizzlies had been looking to offload him for some time. Pondexter and Dave Joerger never saw eye-to-eye, and you get the sense that he wasn't exactly a well-liked figure within the Grizzlies locker room. Maybe Pondexter could have benefitted the Grizzlies more than Green did, but it's doubtful given the tenuous situation off the court.
Of course, the worst part of the Green acquisition might not have happened yet. His contract has a $9.5 million player option, and he could hamstring the Grizzlies on multiple levels if he picks up the option.
The bottom line is that the Grizzlies were trying to win now, and they thought that acquiring Green would give them the best chance. I can't be mad at them for that.
Who am I kidding? I hated the deal when it happened, and I hate it even more in retrospect.
It would be convenient to judge the front office on a midseason move that didn't pan out, but in the broad scope of things, the decision makers (whoever they may be) did alright this season. ‘Alright' won't be tolerated forever though. The next couple of seasons will be telling.