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What the Grizzlies Future Means For Today

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This year has been frustrating, and the Grizzlies face some decisions in the next few months that will shape their offseason plans.

Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

In a recent week long conversation with Joe Mullinax, I dove into the weeds of what the Grizzlies offseason might look like. It's always difficult impossible to project that far into the future, yet I think mapping the Grizzlies' future options in a somewhat concrete manner also informs the present.

Cap Space, Finally

We've all heard about the exploding salary cap, but what does that mean to the Grizzlies?

As of today, Memphis has nine players under contract for next year. It is important to know that three of those players - JaMychal Green, James Ennis and Vince Carter - have non-guaranteed deals that can be waived to create additional cap room. Green and Ennis almost certainly will NOT be waived to create salary cap room (though Ennis might be waived to clear a roster spot).

Vince Carter is another story. Only $2mm of his $4.2mm salary is guaranteed, and the Grizzlies can use the Stretch Provision on that $2mm, and "stretch" the cap hit over the next three years. Effectively, Carter's $4.2mm is really just $666k next year, a number so small there is no compelling reason to trade him just to create space.

Adding in cap holds for the estimated 17th pick in this year's draft, Mike Conley, and minimum salaries, here's what the Grizzlies cap space looks like if they renounce all their other free agents:

Grizz cap

If the Grizzlies only want to retain the rights to keep Mike Conley, they will have about $22mm in cap space. I want to make two very important points here:

1). This cap hold is not Mike Conley's salary. It is a placeholder required by the CBA that allows you to re-sign your own player. Mike Conley is making his max, or close to it. That number is about $10mm higher than his $15mm cap hold.

2). Cap holds only influence how much cap space you have. If you are over the cap, then cap holds really don't matter, and don't change your ability to re-sign a player.

3). If the Grizzlies want to retain the rights to any one of their wings - Courtney Lee, Matt Barnes, Jeff Green, Mario Chalmers, or Vince Carter, they will not have max cap space unless they get rid of another player under contract. This would be something like trading Tony Allen for nothing, or cutting him and stretching his salary. This is not a move I advocate.

Even keeping Bird Rights on Matt Barnes drops Memphis's usable cap space from $22mm all the way down to $15.2mm. And you guys are gonna freak the eff out when you see the type of player $15mm gets you next summer.

Jeff Green will make at least $15mm. Courtney Lee will probably make more than $10mm. Heck, even thirty-five year old Matt Barnes might get near $10mm if it's a short deal. The thing about money is that when everybody has it, the price of everything goes up.

The worst case scenario for Memphis would be to simply bring back this group of wings at higher, longer term deals. I suspect that this is not an option high up the Grizzlies board.

If the Grizzlies were to go this route, I'd have them as significant underdogs to make the playoffs in 2017. Not a position a team that still owes two future picks wants to find itself.

In my view, the middling scenario would entail replacing your older group of role players by devoting long term money to a collection of role players who are, on aggregate, slightly younger. This would be a scenario where you split that $22.5mm on players like Kent Bazemore and Jared Dudley. Maybe you can afford to do that with just $15mm, and manage to retain the rights to Matt Barnes, but I think even a middling, flawed player like Kent Bazemore will get $8mm-10mm/year.

I want to be clear: this is not a bad option, particularly if you can get an older player to take a one year deal at higher money with a second year non-guaranteed (similar to what the Celtics did with Amir Johnson last summer). This treats the player like what they are: a one year stopgap that effectively rolls the team's cap space over into the next year.

But adding depth pieces should be a fall back position. This strategy simply recycles the trajectory of the team. They might make the playoffs next year, but they'd be counting on one of their draft picks to pop to really elevate the team to the playoffs beyond that.

The strategy I'd like the Grizzlies to pursue would be to spend all of their cap space on one player who compliments Conley and Gasol, covers most of the Grizzlies' weaknesses, and then rely on young players to fill out the depth of the roster. This strategy only works if the following are true:

1). They retain near max cap space - they might not need to spend all of $21mm, but they definitely need the option of spending it all.

2). They find a player who can shoot, handle the ball, play decent defense, and who will be a good bet to maintain that production over the life of a three or four year contract.

3). That player has to want to come to Memphis, and his current team has to be leveraged enough to not be able to retain him - particularly if this player is a restricted free agent.

Eliminate all the superstars (sorry, Kevin Durant is not coming to Memphis), and all the max level rookies (Andre Drummond, Bradley Beal). Also eliminate Pau Gasol, Luol Deng and players of that ilk. They are fallback plans if you can't get anybody else.

Golden State is matching any offer sheet that Harrison Barnes gets. Championship favorites do not allow players entering their primes to walk for free. In fact, matching a Barnes offer sheet from another team might actually save the Warriors some money, as he is probably seeking the full 7.5% raises from them, vs the smaller 4.5% raises from another team.

Nicolas Batum and Chandler Parsons are probably not coming to Memphis. Every team in the league will be throwing money at them, and Memphis is a small market with a declining roster. Even if you think that Memphis is as desirable a situation as all others, that means if ten teams were to offer Batum the max, the Grizzlies would have a 10% chance to get him. Not good, Bob.

That leaves you with players like Demar Derozan, Ryan Anderson, Terrance Jones, Donatas Montejunas, Jordan Clarkson, or Evan Fournier.

Anderson would be nice, but is a decent bet to regress on his next deal and is a massive injury concern. Demar Derozan offers a bit of ballhandling, but doesn't fix many of Memphis' problems. Jordan Clarkson is subject to byzantine contract rules, and there may not be a number Memphis could offer him that the Lakers would not match.

Montejunas and Jones are nice players, but neither is a wing and neither really addresses any of Memphis' issues. I like both of these players (emphasis on "like", not "love"), but Memphis would probably be better off sticking with the bigs on the roster than adding another one to the mix.

This leaves Evan Fournier. Fournier isn't worth the max, and I'm not necessarily advocating offering him it. But I am advocating offering Fournier more money than anybody else thinks he is worth. In other words: overpaying.

Consider these facts:

1). Fournier is young, just twenty-four next year. A four year deal will lock up most of his prime, and he is a decent bet to improve through those four years.

2). Fournier can shoot. Through four years, Fournier has yet to shoot above 41% or below 37% from 3 pt range. I'd argue that, factoring in injuries, Fournier is second only to Bradley Beal as the most reliable shooter available this offseason.

3). Fournier is more than a shooter. His turnover rate has declined steadily while his Usage and Assists have remained flat. He is under-qualified as a primary ballhandler, but probably overqualified as a secondary ballhandler. He can play either wing spot. He's not great on defense, but not bad either. Furthermore, playing in Orlando the last two years, he's familiar with negotiating a crowded lane with a high post threat. But perhaps most importantly...

4). The Magic probably can't afford to keep him. Having already extended Vucevic and Tobias Harris to big money, the Magic can afford to match a big offer sheet for Evan Fournier, but doing so has ripple effects for their future. If Victor Olapdipo's agent sees Fournier get $18mm/year, he's asking for more, and should be confident he'll get it. Ditto for Elfrid Payton.

Fournier would become the Magic's highest paid player (another issue that can cause problems for a young team's pecking order), and blocks two other top five picks - Aaron Gordon and Mario Hezonja - who are on cheap rookie deals now, but will need both minutes and more dollars in the future.

I don't know what the number is, but there is a number north of $17mm/year that the Magic cannot match. Let's say Memphis offers Fournier a 4 year, $76mm deal. Orlando cannot match that. You might be able to get him for less, however this is a number I'm pretty sure they will not match.

Orlando's problems are mostly in the future, but I'd still try to make Fournier's payout flat, and include a 15% trade kicker. This makes it harder for the Magic to trade him, and effectively makes the Magic choose Fournier over Tobias Harris, Aaron Gordon or Victor Oladipo.

Here's what Memphis' salary position would be with Fournier on that deal.

Cap

Even pencilling in Conley at his $25mm max doesn't preclude other future business because ZBo and Tony come off the books next year just as the cap increases by another $20mm. Most notable is who you don't see: if Memphis wants the ability to offer $15mm plus to anybody this offseason, they cannot keep any of their wing free agents. An old wing rotation of middling players is now consolidated a starter quality player in Evan Fournier, with Jordan Adams and Tony Allen filling in. The 17th pick also looms large, a cost effective piece that Memphis really needs to nail.

Look at what's happened. Memphis did not pay the max for Fournier, and still have just $3.6mm in remaining cap space (they also have the Room Exception for $2.8mm). Those numbers won't get you anything next summer, which brings us back to today.

If Memphis wants the option of spending over $15mm on one player, they cannot keep any of their current wings. But if they consolidate their cap space on one player, they will have very little depth. As such, the main thrust the rest of the year should be trading one or two of their impending free agents for a 2016 draft pick or a young, cheap backup point guard or wing who makes less than $3mm.

Maybe OKC would consider Courtney Lee and Mario Chalmers for D.J.Augustin, Steve Novak, and Cam Payne. Chalmers and Lee offer immediate and massive upgrades to OKC's depth, while also slashing somewhere around $3mm from their luxury tax bill.

Even a trade like the recently reported swap of Courtney Lee for Kevin Martin could make sense if the Wolves were interested in giving up Tyus Jones, a player Memphis liked on draft night, and who fills a position of need. Even if Martin were to exercise his $7.3mm player option for next season, Memphis could cut him, and stretch that cap hit over three seasons if they need that cap space. The math is close at that point, but Memphis would have a young backup point guard in the fold while staying close to that magic $20mm mark.

Even a deal like Mario Chalmers and Matt Barnes for Kirk Hinrich, Aaron Brooks and Bobby Portis could interest Chicago if Memphis offers to swap their 1st round pick this year with Chicago's. This would give Chicago immediate upgrades at two positions, and give them the chance at two draft picks in the teens (they also own Sacramento's pick if it is not in the top ten).

Any way you look at it, Memphis will have a tough time adding significant talent next summer unless they renounce all of their wings. Turning a few of those expiring assets into a low cost contributor for next year is a signal that Memphis wants to try to go big in Free Agency.