UPDATE: As many of you have pointed out, if Green opts in, the Grizzlies would only have room for a signing at the mid-level exception because they're in between the salary cap and the luxury tax. That's really not the point. This is a Wishlist. Emphasis on WISH. If recent NBA history has shown us anything, it's that a motivated front office can open up space for a player that doesn't necessarily fit neatly into their budget. The Rockets do this literally every offseason. There are a lot of smart guys in the Grizzlies' front office. Final Assumption: They can figure out how to make it work.
The free agency period doesn't start for a while, but in order to prevent myself from tearing my eyes out at the thought of Marc Gasol leaving for (gulp) San Antonio (vomit), I thought I'd take a look around the league and speculate wildly about what the Grizzlies front office might do to address that pesky shooting problem that you're probably sick of reading about. First off, a little math (yay!).
For the purposes of this exercise, we're looking only at free agents that the Grizzlies could conceivably sign (i.e. not LeBron) and that wouldn't compete against Zach Randolph, Mike Conley, or Marc Gasol for a starting spot (i.e. LaMarcus Aldridge). We'll assume that the Grizzlies are able to re-sign Marc at the veterans' max for the next five seasons. Using Peter Edmiston's projected salary cap/luxury tax numbers from his excellent piece ($) in Monday's Commercial Appeal*, that implies that Marc will make approximately $18.4 million next season (30% of the projected $61.5 million adjusted salary cap for 2015-2016, which is how max contracts are calculated). We'll also assume that Jeff Green opts into his player option for next season for $9.4 million, even if we secretly hope that Marc Stein's report about Green's aggressive agent pushing him in a different direction. Finally, we'll assume that Kosta Koufos and Nick Calathes are not re-signed. Obviously, none of these scenarios are guaranteed, but they're probably the most likely.
*A quick note on this article: I disagree with Edmiston's assertion that a short-term "LeBron"-style deal is Marc's best option - while it could dramatically increase his potential earnings as the salary cap explodes in 2016-2017 with the infusion of the money created by the NBA's new television deal, the risk of injuring oneself in the NBA is huge (think of the number of prominent players who dealt with major injuries this year, it's too long to publish here). Plus, it's $107 million guaranteed. Say he signs a short term deal this year that pays him $18.6 million (Peter's number) next season so he can get a max contract in 2016-2017: He's risking $88.5 million for the chance to make an extra $50 million. If I was advising a 30-year-old 7-footer who makes his living by banging bodies with the biggest, strongest, and fastest people on Earth, I would tell him that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
With all of those assumptions, the Grizzlies payroll stands at $68.9 million next season, leaving the team with about $12.7 million left to work with under the luxury tax line. One final detour before we dive into the free agency market about the luxury tax: there will never be a better time in this league's history for paying the luxury tax than in 2015-2016. As aforementioned, the salary cap is going to skyrocket the following year, so if you go into it this year, you'll more than likely be out the next and avoid the dreaded repeat offender tax that is slowly but surely transferring Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov's ill-gotten wealth into Adam Silver's coffers for safe keeping (Suck it, Putin! Same for your gangster oligarch buddies!). Here are the basics on the luxury tax: for every dollar over the tax line on your payroll, you have to pay the league $1.50. So, for example, if the Grizzlies signed a player for $15 million, they would be over the tax line by $2.3 and owe the league a bill for $3.45 million. It's one of the more punitive arrangements in professional sports, and owners bristle at the thought of essentially gifting that money to the league offices. The tax increases if you exceed the tax line by more than $5 million or do it in consecutive years, but that's definitely not going to happen with the Grizzlies. Nevertheless, my guess is that ownership will allow the front office some flexibility for the next season when it comes to the luxury tax to let the #GNG Grizzlies take one more shot at a title. So who rides wit us? We won't know for a while, but here are some intriguing possibilities, ranked, in order of awesomeness created by the thought of them in Beale Street Blue:
1. Monta Ellis
Player Option (likely to opt out), Shooting guard, 6'3", 18.9 ppg, 4.1 apg
Salary in 2014/2015: $8,720,000
If you're asking why Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, or Draymond Green isn't in this spot, first of all TOO SOON! for Draymond, and second, the Grizzlies don't have a chance to sign any of those guys. Pay attention to the preamble, people, come on...
Monta's marriage with Dallas seems likely to end in a bitter divorce, and the Grizzlies may be the beneficiaries. Plus, they'll get the opportunity to correct the biggest mistake made during the Jason Levien era.
As I reported back in April, Monta Ellis planned to bolt Bucks. He has told friends he'd like to join Grizzlies, although that may be d ...— Gery Woelfel (@GeryWoelfel) June 17, 2013
The response from the Grizzlies to these overtures from Ellis' camp was radio silence because they were too busy pursuing Mo Williams. You remember Mo Williams, right? The guy we tried to sign every year we didn't have a backup point guard who'd drag us along and then decide to go play elsewhere? Yea, that guy. The same guy who's not nearly as good as Monta Ellis, whose career resurgence in Dallas is starting to get overlooked because there is a person named Rajon Rondo who is a complete clown and a fraud. As you may have heard, Monta is from Jackson, Mississippi, and has never been shy about his desire to eventually play close to home. We can only hope that Ellis isn't still justifiably bitter after being dissed so bafflingly by Jason Levien, who, incidentally, is also a clown and a fraud. Ellis certainly has flaws, and he's never been a super-accurate three-point shooter, but he's a scorer in the purest sense of the word who has the ability to go off for 40 on any given night. Before Rondo torpedoed the Mavs' season, he was having another monster year and was arguably the key cog in Dallas' other-worldly scoring machine. Whether he'd work in the Grizzlies' more plodding scheme is a big question, but Ellis provides a lot of the things that the Grizzlies lack, and he's one of the only starting-caliber players in this year's free agent class that fills a need for this team.
Can we actually get him?
It's a bit of a stretch. Monta's going to get a raise in his next contract, and that would almost certainly eat up what remaining cap room the team has left. He is, however, the rare free agent with Memphis connections and a stated desire to play for the Grizzlies, so if the front office is highly motivated, it could definitely happen.
2. Danny Green
Unrestricted, Shooting guard, 6'6", 11.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg
Salary in 2014/2015: $4,025,000
Outside of Wes Matthews (who we'll get to in a minute), Green is probably the best "3 and D" guy available, and easily one of the top 5 in the league. His performance in the first Heat-Spurs finals (when San Antonio lost) was nothing short of revelatory. But then, this is a Grizzlies fan site, and we're talking about Danny Green here, so you're likely familiar with his work. Like many who have donned the Silver and Black, Green has made a living carving the Grizzlies up into ground bear meat (it tastes like giardia!), but he also might be the textbook Popovich product, a system player who, when extricated from the Spurs Volvo, will revert back to being the guy who couldn't get off the bench on a Cavaliers team that gave meaningful minutes to Jamario Moon, Jawad Williams, and the bloated vestige of Shaquille O'Neal. I believe Green's official title at that time was "LeBron's pregame chalk guy." Still, I watched him do the 3 and D thing back at UNC before it had a fancy nickname, and the guy's shot 44% from distance for his career (!!!!). So yea, system player or not, he'd be a perfect fit for this team.
Can we actually get him?
Probably not. But the Spurs are being pulled in a lot of directions right now and owe their other young stud, the aforementioned Kawhi Leonard, a boatload of money. Like Marc Gasol money (for which he's ineligible based on the number of years he's played in the league, but still...). The market for the services of a guy like Green, though, could price out Peter Holt's frugal and pragmatic success engine, but it's hard to see Green leaving the nest. Let's ask Mr. Holt what he thinks: Mr. Holt, can we please have Danny Green on our team?
Jeeeeeeezzzz.... Sorry for even asking...
3. Wes Matthews
Unrestricted, Shooting guard, 6'5", 15.9 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.3 apg
Salary in 2014/2015: $7,245,640
Before Matthews' suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon earlier in the regular season, we wouldn't have even dared to dream of Matthews in a Grizzlies uniform. The reigning "Why Isn't That Guy A Grizzly?" world champion (runner up: Andre Iguodala), he checks off literally every box the team would have in evaluating a potential free agent acquisition:
Big wing player? Check
Committed defender? Check
Plays well off the ball? Check
Straight fire from three? Check times a billion flame emojis
The problem is that a ruptured Achilles is one of the more destructive injuries that NBA players can suffer. Given the choice, Matthews would probably choose a gruesome compound fracture a la Paul George last summer. According to CBSSports.com, the attrition rate is uniquely high, and "players returning from a ruptured Achilles saw their minutes per game average drop 27 percent from their last full season to their first following recovery." Is this a risk that the team wants to take with an aging roster? The market for Matthews won't be as robust as it is for Green or Ellis, but he will want a multi-year deal for more than he's currently making, and someone is probably going to pay it.
Can we actually get him?
That all depends on Portland. If LaMarcus Aldridge decides to return, then expect them to lock up Matthews in short order with a contract that would make other teams balk. Much like Memphis, Portland had the air of a title contender when Matthews and Aldridge were healthy earlier in the season, and their path of least resistance back to that point is with those two staying in Rip City. If Aldridge leaves, all bets are off, and Matthew could most definitely be up-for-grabs.
4. Khris Middleton
Restricted, Small Forward, 6'8", 13.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg
Salary in 2014/2015: $914,243
The reason for that big detour earlier about the luxury tax was because if the Grizzlies desire the services of Khris Middleton, they're going to have to pony up and offer a max deal that will put them in the tax. They'd probably be close with any of the previous guys, but lock it in now, Middleton is going to get paid around $15 million to play basketball next year. It's not totally crazy because of the cap jump the following year, but it's still pretty crazy. He's a really solid player, though, that would fit in nicely with the Grizzlies. His shooting numbers are very impressive and he can play and guard three positions, but it's difficult to envision the team making such a bold move for the former second-rounder unless Jeff Green decides to opt out.
Can we actually get him?
Probably not. He's restricted so that means that the Bucks could match any offer sheet that he receives, and they most likely will. But it's still $15 million a year for Khris Middleton. And the Bucks traded Brandon Knight for Michael Carter-Williams, so you never know with this team. Some team is going to force the Bucks' hands here, maybe it's the Grizz.
5. Lou Williams
Unrestricted, Shooting Guard, 6'1", 15.5 ppg, 2.1 apg
Salary in 2014/2015: $5,450,000
The reigning Sixth Man of the Year is due for a significant raise this offseason, and the Raptors are in the midst of a personality crisis. The crafty guard will likely command 8 figures on the open market, and there is a strong possibility that Masai Ujiri is seriously considering blowing up this Toronto squad that was so thoroughly humiliated by Paul Pierce in the first round of the playoffs. Williams isn't as explosive as he used to be, but he's every bit the super-sub he's billed as. Unlike the other targets on this list, Williams would almost certainly come off the bench, but his scoring punch makes him an ideal acquisition for that role.
Can we actually get him?
Well, he was born in Memphis, so that helps. Aside from Monta, I think Lou Williams might be the team's best chance for a top tier free agent, and in the drunken sailor spendstorm of the summer of 2015, he is one of the safer bets to throw ungodly amounts of money at. He's been remarkably consistent over his career, and pairing a legit super-sub (with apologies to Jeff Green) with the core of the Grizzlies could make them even more dangerous next year.