The Memphis Grizzlies' offseason to-do list isn't lengthy, but they'll have to be calculating to check every box off with their limited cap flexibility.
Priority one this summer will be retaining Marc Gasol, who has every reason to come back to the Grizzlies BUT ALSO THE SPURS EXIST. The team also has to deal with the likely departure of back-up center Kosta Koufos, who did his job too well and will chase more money and a starting position elsewhere. Finally, as always, the team will want more three-point shooting after finishing second-last in both makes and attempts on the season.
With the assumption that Jeff Green opts in, Gasol's cap hold and eventual max contract (WHICH HE WILL SIGN WITH THE GRIZZLIES) will take the team just over the projected salary cap of $67.1 million. They have some room to prune that number along the margins by waiving some non-guaranteed contracts – Beno Udrih, Jon Leuer, Russ Smith and JaMychal Green aren't locked in for next season – and renouncing Koufos and Nick Calathes into unrestricted free agency, but the Grizzlies will essentially be working from above the cap this offseason.
So that means the Grizzlies have to wring as much value as possible out of their $5.464 million Mid-Level Exception. Not easy, in a market that's already scaling up in anticipation of the much-bandied cap explosion in 2017. Guys that may have been available for $3 million per year in summers past may cash in for the full MLE this summer. Not ideal when the Grizzlies would like to sign more than just one guy with their MLE. On that note...
*puts on GM hat*
These are the players that I, Blogform Chris Wallace, want on my team.
On Monday, the Charlotte Hornets sent Stephenson to the Los Angeles Clippers for Matt Barnes and Spencer Hawes. Various outlets have reported that the Hornets will likely buy out Barnes' contract, which
somehow leaves the Hornets in an even worse spot than where they started puts a very solid wing on the free agent market.
Followers of the league will be loathe to admit that Barnes, he of inherent dislikability and yelling things at James Harden's mom that should never be yelled in an 18,000-occupying arena notoriety, is a player worth pursuing. His stats from last season don't exactly jump off the page: 10.1 points per game on a .444 field goal percentage and a .362 three-point percentage.
But Barnes was quietly steady in his contributions for the Clippers. He shot well enough on threes to keep defenders honest, albeit as a secondary shooter following J.J. Redick in the pecking order, and defended with an all-too-apparent mean streak while often taking on the top wing assignment. After watching Tony Allen played off the court by the Golden State Warriors and experiencing Courtney Lee's fluctuations from three-point range for two seasons in a row, a reliable if unglamorous two-way wing is a terrific fit to round out the Grizzlies wing corps.
There are some sticking points here. With small forward being as shallow a position as it is, Barnes may have enough of a market to command something close to the full Mid-Level Exception. He's 35 years old, and leaving a team where he got to catch passes from a dude named Chris Paul may hurt his offense. But he's also one of a few good fits that the Grizzlies can hope of signing around $3.5 million per year (the value of his current deal that's likely to be bought out), and that means there's reason to be interested here.
Photo credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
The nice thing about replacing Kosta Koufos is that the Grizzlies definitely don't need another Kosta Koufos. You'd like to scale down playing time for Marc Gasol (who will return) and Zach Randolph where possible, but Koufos was sorely over-equipped for a 16.6 minute per game role. You can maybe juice a few more minutes out of a guy who fits better next to both bigs, but the key is getting a usable player with what's left of the MLE after signing a wing.
Enter O'Quinn, a forward-center with a fun bag of tools and declining stock after being overtaken in the Orlando Magic's rotation by Dewayne Dedmon near season's end. It's absolutely a buy-low, but there are a multitude of reasons to like him as a one-size-fits-all back-up big man.
He doesn't quite approach Koufos' stature as a rim protector, but he's a beefy ball of uncompromising murder down low. Though only 6'9", O'Quinn boasts per-36 averages of 10.5 rebounds and 2.1 blocks across his three-season career. On the other end, he brings a few budding skills that should suffice for a role player, especially one that will log time with both Gasol and Randolph. The Magic let O'Quinn start shooting threes this season – he had 12 makes on 43 attempts, which isn't great but leaves room for growth – and he has just enough skills from the high post, shooting and passing both, to play next to a post-up bruiser.
O'Quinn isn't a proven commodity, and if he craps out, the Grizzlies might be left looking perilously thin up front. But there's also upside here, and at what should be a relatively low price. Savvy teams with more money to offer may also jump in on the bidding, but if the Grizzlies can get him with what's left over after signing a wing (so in this fantasy, Matt Barnes), O'Quinn is one of the best fits in this price range.
It's no fun to say that a package of Matt Barnes and Kyle O'Quinn might be out of anybody's price range, but if we operate with some pessimism here, they could approach a combined total of $7 million per year or so on their next contracts – more than the Grizzlies can offer with the MLE. If that's the case, it may take some more creativity to sign them. I want these guys, though, and this is my fantasy, so we'll find a way.
O'Quinn will be a restricted free agent with a paltry $1.2 million qualifying offer that the Magic would be silly to renounce even if he's on the outs with them, and the Grizzlies have a $3.1 million trade exception from the Quincy Pondexter trade that they can absorb a player with. Two plus two equals four, though it may take some extra currency, like a second-rounder to the Magic in a sign-and-trade, to get there. It would also allow the Grizzlies to bid up to the MLE in any Matt Barnes sweepstakes that may or may not occur.