The first order of business to handle this offseason is out of the way for the Memphis Grizzlies, and now they can move on. Chronologically speaking, that'd be Thursday's NBA Draft. In terms of what mattered most, though? It was the matter of Zach Randolph's future with the Grizzlies, which they wrapped up the morning after the draft when news broke that the team had signed Randolph to a two-year, $20 million extension that kicks in after next season (which he'll opt in for with his current contract).
That's great! The Grizzlies have Randolph under contract for the next three years, which means he gets to retire in Memphis like he wanted. Z-Bo might be the most important figure in Grizzlies history – he's the face of "grit and grind" culture and a generally great guy who found his smile in Memphis. There are few guys, if any at all, that has attracted more adoration as a member of the Grizzlies than Randolph. All on-court ramifications aside, Randolph has earned the right to retire here.
Z-Bo signs extension with Memphis Grizzlies
After opting in for the 2014-15 season for $16.5 million, Zach Randolph has signed a 2 year/$20 million extension with the Grizzlies.
I'm sure it was difficult to hammer out just what the fine print was going to read in bringing him back, though. The reality is Randolph will be 33 in half a month, he's a defensive liability, and not a particularly efficient scorer even as dominant as he can be down low. Randolph wanted years, he wanted money, and he had plenty of ammo to bring to the negotiating table in his consistent double-double play over the years. With improvements to make this summer and extensions looming for Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, the Grizzlies had to be careful with handling the Randolph extension.
Apparently, they nearly lost Randolph for good. A Woj report from just last Wednesday, the day before the draft, had described the two parties as at impasse. Forgetting logic here (it may have been the right decision not to overpay, depending on what Randolph's demands were), losing Randolph would've been sentimentally painful. That's worth something.
At any rate, that's all over now. Getting Randolph at (roughly) $10 million in each of the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons should be solid value even as age sets in, and it's likely as good a deal as they were going to get out of these negotiations. Everything the Grizzlies would've done this offseason hinged upon the Randolph situation, and now that the first Zach Randolph-sized domino has fallen, the Grizzlies can shift their attention on to everything else.
Zach Randolph's in, so where are we going?
Well, the Randolph extension has ripple effects that extend to the rest of the offseason as well. The main one: he's opting into his original contract for next season, and then the extension takes hold after. That means before he's paid $10 million per season in '15-16 and '16-17, he'll be owed a hefty $16,938,333 this season.
Sheesh. That's a lot of money, and more than Randolph can realistically live up to. It's the main bullet the Grizzlies swallow in getting Randolph to accept the extension for the two seasons after this next one. Given that Gasol and Conley are due for extensions of their own over the next two offseasons, the Grizzlies were probably willing to overpay Randolph a bit this year to see his cap hit scale back just as the other core members get their new deals. We can credit them for that foresight.
Loading up on Randolph's payout this season will pressure them a bit this offseason though, and there are things that the Grizzlies would've liked to do with cap flexibility. Right now, they don't have much of it. Presuming draftees Jordan Adams and Jarnell Stokes get the first round rookie-scale and rookie minimum contracts respectively, the Grizzlies are already on the hook for $70,862,611 for next season.
That's well above the projected salary cap of $63.2 million for next season, but there's still breathing room under the luxury tax threshold of $77.0 million. They'll have the $5.3 million Mid-Level Exception to use, and then just minimum contracts in free agency after that.
Expiring this offseason are Ed Davis, Mike Miller, James Johnson and Beno Udrih. Davis will be a restricted free agent, but the Randolph extension and the Stokes pick likely push him and the pricier-than-ideal contract he would've demanded out of the picture. Jon Leuer and Kosta Koufos are still around, and with limited cap flexibility already, there's no reason for the Grizzlies to play the restricted free agency game with Davis when he spent most of last season on the rotation bubble anyway.
So, Boss appears all but gone at this stage. For all the upside he flashed, he never really got going with the Grizz in their loaded frontcourt. He's 25 now and still doesn't look fully polished, but some team out there would probably be willing to pay him MLE money. Matching that offer sheet would cost the Grizzlies the room to use theirs, and it only makes sense to let him go. Here's hoping he can put it together elsewhere!
I expect Miller, Johnson and Udrih all want to be back, but for now, they're way down on the list of the team's priorities. We'll circle back to them later on.
First things first: three-point shooting
The main priority now is adding three-point shooting. Even after trading for Courtney Lee midway through last season, the Grizzlies still finished last in three-pointers made and attempted. Their slow pace is a factor there, but every team they face recognizes that the Grizz don't have enough three-point shooters.
After Lee (who faded big-time down the stretch of last season), the team depended primarily on Miller and Conley. One's a defensive liability and the other is a league average three-point shooter with responsibilities above spacing the floor. Throw in non-shooters like Tayshaun Prince, Tony Allen and Johnson into the mix, and once again, the Grizzlies found themselves spacing-challenged.
J-Bo's Arrival: How will he impact the Grizzlies?
One of Memphis' sons has returned home to play for the hometown Grizzlies. A dream come true, to be sure, but from a basketball standpoint does the selection make sense? In a word: yes.
Leuer's probably going to step into a bigger role next season and Lee is unlikely to be so hot-and-cold, but the Grizz still need shooters. And in a perfect world, they'll get a two-way shooter, or at least a guy who can hold his own defensively, that can also play small forward. The reason for this: the Grizzlies were loaded with one-dimensional wings (or zero-dimensional in the case of Prince) last season, and they're also loaded with wings that are shorter than ideal to defend most small forwards: Lee, Allen, Quincy Pondexter, Jamaal Franklin and the rookie Adams. You could trust a few of them with minutes as the nominal 3, but I'm not sure it's ideal to run with any of them there long-term.
In fact, with so many players of that shooting guard/too-short-to-play-small-forward mold, the Grizzlies could definitely explore their trade options. They won't be afraid to get creative and offer a package of assets to get the one "pretty good guy" they need to anchor what was a supporting cast loaded with options but missing a headliner. The trade market might not be great for the type of player they want though, especially after the Denver Nuggets plucked Arron Afflalo off the Orlando Magic for biscuits. Good 3-and-D players are rarely available around the league, and the Grizzlies would really like a bigger one which will narrow down the options even further.
Maybe the Grizzlies buy low on the Clippers' Jared Dudley or settle for the Hornets' Gerald Henderson, who's good but a tad bit smaller than ideal. The Bulls' Mike Dunleavy probably isn't as talented a guy as the Grizzlies would want, but he's not bad. Khris Middleton is an exciting option after a breakout season with the Bucks, but there's no guarantee he's good enough for a wanna-be contender.
Free agency still probably offers the best options, but that's not saying a whole lot. Luol Deng, Trevor Ariza or even restricted free agent Gordon Hayward would be perfect, but it'd take major roster machinations for the Grizzlies to get enough room under the cap with Randolph opting in just to make a competitive offer for them (more on that in a bit).
The Grizzlies only have the MLE available to them, and might end up having to throw money at the second tier which includes P.J. Tucker, C.J. Miles, Marvin Williams, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Brandon Rush. Those guys don't command the full MLE, leaving the Grizzlies room to sign a point guard if Nick Calathes leaves for the Euroleague or even double down on these second-tier 3-and-D guys. However, that'd still leave them without a Pretty Good Guy and end up with a bench not too drastically improved in talent level over this year's. The only gain is fit.
In the end, getting a guy who simply fits should be fine. The Grizzlies are good enough that not getting the perfect 3-and-D wing won't actually swing the needle too much. It'd be nice, but it's other things that drive this team forward. When the Grizz get into the playoffs and meet a contender, maybe the slightly worse guy that they'll get instead of Deng/Ariza/Hayward can still be good enough to get them by. If the cost of the Randolph extension is getting a "good enough" role player instead of "perfect", then that's perfectly fine even if you go into the offseason with some dream acquisition in mind.
The Grizzlies were involved in a few trade rumors on draft night, the most notable being a Prince salary dump involving the Toronto Raptors. I was really into that one since the Grizzlies only moved back 15 spots for it, but now that the Randolph extension is done and it's settled that he's opting in, there's no real need to continue to pursue a Prince trade.
Moving Prince would require packaging an asset to offload his contract, and additional salary would also have to be moved to create any real cap flexibility over what the Mid-Level Exception offers because even clearing Prince's contract right off the books without a return would only get them to around the salary cap. If you're interested, here's the math and explanation for that. The only real reason a Prince trade would happen is to move the player, which would be nice if the Grizzlies could do so without paying the other too much to take him on (I'll keep dreaming).
Robert Pera's incredibly interesting interview
Grizzlies owner Robert Pera went on The Chris Vernon Show on Friday afternoon for what was the longest interview of his entire life. Really interesting stuff in here, folks.
Instead of a Prince trade, the Grizzlies are much more likely to pursue a trade that relieves the shooting guard logjam. Those players actually have positive value in trades unlike Prince, so there's a chance the Grizzlies could satisfy their SF shooter need by trading out of their logjam and kill two birds with one stone.
Lee might be the most valuable of those players, but he's also the most helpful to the Grizzlies right now and they're probably not getting a better return than what he already offers. Allen is a great defender, but he's aging, can't shoot, on a lengthy contract, and the Grizzlies value him more than other teams for similar reasons as Randolph. Neither Adams and Franklin have proved anything in the NBA yet, and they aren't transcendent prospects either. Pondexter might be the easiest to trade: he's on a team-friendly contract and has an appealing skillset, but is coming off an injury that quickly ended a season that started bad for him and never had the chance to turn around.
Again, the Grizzlies will explore their options by pooling their trade assets and seeing what they could get to keeping trying to break through to the top of the West. Maybe they fill the shooter need, but the other thing that could happen is...
The end of the bench
...the Grizzlies shuffle the deck at the end of their bench and balance out the options they have there. A trade out of the shooting guard surplus could merely mean they replace a guy of Pondexter's value (think a 10-15 minute role) with someone similar at a different position where they don't have as many guys.
Look at some of the names that are leaving again: Mike Miller, James Johnson, Beno Udrih. Miller actually played a pretty big role last season, but that was mostly out of necessity as the Grizzlies were shooting-starved. At this stage in his career, it'd be for the best if Miller was a bit role and hopefully the Grizzlies will be in a better position to make that happen. With that in mind, those guys would project as end of the bench guys next season.
Anyway, Miller's confirmed for wanting back in, Johnson's been spotted working out with the team despite his recent domestic dispute, and Udrih has fully taken on grit-and-grind on his wonderful Twitter account. There's no guarantee any of them are brought back, but there's no real reason to think they don't want to come back and they might as well be re-signed for familiarity at the end of the bench (the off-court stuff is probably going to and should affect what happens with Johnson, though). I think we all still love Miller and Udrih?
These kind of transactions are (ideally) the least consequential ones that the Grizzlies will deal with the offseason, and they're still pretty deep without them. If Miller, Johnson and/or Udrih don't return, the Grizzlies could just snag a random out of free agency with what's left of their MLE or on a minimum contract. Or they could be fine just after a trade.
Backup point guard could actually turn into a legitimate need, though I'm still not convinced Calathes departs for the Euroleague. If he stays, he'll only miss the first 13 games because of his Tamoxifen suspension and a third-string point guard can fill in fine as a backup for that long. (I'm looking at Udrih and thinking that'd be mostly fun.) Otherwise, the Grizzlies will have to hope they can find another Nick Calathes out of nowhere with such limited cap flexibility. Which, you know, they did last season!