"The Memphis Grizzlies should bring back Rudy Gay."
"Memphis needs to go after guys like Khris Middleton and Danilo Gallinari..."
May be a bit outside of the price range.
"The Grizzlies need to do SOMETHING, though..."
Now you're talking.
Trade season is again upon us, and while the Memphis Grizzlies should absolutely be sellers, as articulated in a previous Friday Three article here, they find themselves in a unique position. On one hand, they have a ton of expiring, mostly unattractive long-term pieces that, outside of perhaps Courtney Lee (and maybe Mario Chalmers?), are unlikely to be back in Memphis with the Grizzlies next season. On the other hand, Memphis is in the thick of the hunt for the five seed out West. This is a worthy pursuit, considering that at the moment it would mean a match-up with the Los Angeles Clippers and not the Oklahoma City Thunder.
So, a need to acquire assets, to get younger, to...gulp...rebuild, but also to remain competitive with a core that is on its last legs. How will the Grizzlies be able to do that?
Something, along the way, is going to have to give. The sins of deals past haunt Memphis; no picks to ship, outside of a second rounder here and there, and an aging group of key players who are nowhere near as valuable anywhere else. If the Grizzlies are going to both rebuild and be competitive out West, they will have to take a loss in terms of taking on salary.
Matt Hrdlicka and I talked about this thought process on GBBLive this week (which you can listen to here) with his example of Jeff Green for Omer Asik and a top-six protected first round pick. Asik's deal is really one of the few contracts left that, even as the cap increases, a team like the Pelicans may want to dump, and Memphis would perhaps be wise to take it on to get a first rounder. It makes sense in terms of a long-term rebuild; the Grizzlies have never been an attractive free agent destination, so it is feasible that Memphis, even with near-max money, may strike out on not-quite-big targets this summer. The Grizzlies can fill their roster with OK pieces, gain assets like younger players or draft picks, and as the cap grows from season to season acquiring these contracts will sting a little less.
The Grizzlies may be better off playing the long game, kicking the salary cap space can down the road a year or two, and taking on money to field a somewhat competitive roster while gaining assets at the same time. Here are some other potential examples of possible (PURELY HYPOTHETICAL) deals that would achieve this for Memphis.
Trade 1: Memphis Grizzlies Send Courtney Lee and Jeff Green to the Atlanta Hawks in Exchange for Kyle Korver, Tiago Splitter, and Atlanta's 2018 First Round Pick (Lottery Protected)
WHY MEMPHIS DOES THE DEAL - Hello, 2018 first round pick? Yes please. As the protections on Memphis' first rounders that they owe change, chances are they will lose a pick around 2018 or so, if not sooner. Jeff Green, as most remember, cost the Grizzlies a first round pick when he was acquired. You get a pick back, but losing two expiring contracts costs you some cap flexibility.
Memphis also does the deal because it checks two boxes (in theory) that could help the Grizzlies during this transition - three-point shooting and interior size. Korver is having the worst shooting season from beyond the arc of his career at 36.3%, and will turn 35 years old in March, but even if he doesn't get better than what he is currently, he would still be the biggest shooting threat from range Memphis has had in years. Splitter, meanwhile, is only playing 16 minutes a game in Atlanta on a team that has young bigs like Walter Tavares, Mike Scott, and Mike Muscala, who they surely want to invest time in. Splitter can defend and play in the paint well enough offensively to be a good 3rd or 4th big.
Korver could start alongside Tony Allen, with Matt Barnes giving him a quick hook and splitting time on the wing, while Splitter can be a better eater of Marc Gasol minutes than Ryan Hollins could ever imagine being. When (if?) Brandan Wright is healthy, you have a deep front court of bigs for the stretch run, and Splitter can be shipped out on draft night for a 2nd round draft pick. Worst case, you keep them both and kick the can of free agency space down the road a season, when those two deals plus those of Zach Randolph and Tony Allen expire.
WHY ATLANTA DOES THE DEAL - Cap space with two expiring deals. Flexibility with wings like Lee who can shoot and defend at a good clip and Green who can play both forward spots. They are sending out two under-performing players who are both older than the pieces they are bringing back, and in 2018 they have the rights to two first round picks, so parting with one doesn't kill their future. A slight upgrade this season in a year when, outside of Cleveland, there is no clear top contender in the Eastern Conference. This could get Atlanta to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Trade 2: The Orlando Magic Sends Channing Frye, C.J. Watson, and a 2017 First Round Pick (Top-5 Protected) to the Memphis Grizzlies in Exchange for Jeff Green and Mario Chalmers
WHY MEMPHIS DOES THE DEAL - Again, a first round pick, and there is a shot that this one could be in the lottery. The top-5 protection means that if Orlando misses out on the playoffs in 2017, but isn't a miserably bad team (unlikely given their young core of talent), the Grizzlies could have a pick in the 6-14 range, putting them in a spot to grab a better quality player than they've been able to get in years. They will likely have Zach Randolph and Tony Allen to replace, and a lottery pick can do just that.
Frye and Watson are rotation pieces, bench guys. Frye is a stretch four who would be Memphis' 4th best big moving forward behind Wright, and Watson (when healthy - he has been injured since mid-November) fills a void as a long-term back-up to Mike Conley. While those contracts look rough now, as the cap expands over the next two seasons they will look a lot better and will not hinder Memphis when it comes to making moves in the future. They are downgrades, but not so much that it hurts the Grizzlies' chances this season...and again, they get a first rounder out of it.
If Watson remains out for a while? Ryan Hollins' deal can expire, and a point guard can be brought in (Tony Wroten, perhaps? It'd be nice to get a past first round pick back in a unique way...).
WHY ORLANDO DOES THE DEAL - The Magic have not made the playoffs in a long, long time, and they have an opportunity this season to do just that. Heading into Thursday's slate of games, Orlando was only one game away from the eight seed in the Eastern Conference Playoff picture and only four games away from the four seed! The East, outside of Cleveland, is a tight race, and the Magic have a young, hungry team who could use a couple of solid veterans to take them over the top.
Enter Green and Mario Chalmers. Those two guys coming off the bench are instant upgrades for Orlando, and Green can start at the four in a small look for the Magic, or they could start the young Aaron Gordon in that spot. Mario lightens the load on the young Elfrid Payton, who is skilled and the future for Orlando, but is being asked to play too many minutes and do too much as of late. The Magic, who are in the midst of a four-game skid, get a shot of life and a bit more depth for a push at valuable postseason experience for their young core without costing them the opportunity to re-sign Evan Fournier. Memphis likely misses out on Fournier, but they would have to overpay to get him in free agency anyway.
Think first rounders are asking too much? Sub a Courtney Lee or Mario Chalmers out of the above deals for Vince Carter and replace the firsts with seconds. Taking on "bad" contracts may sting in the short-term, but for a team in the situation that the Memphis Grizzlies are in, it may be the only way to get young, impactful talent back in the Bluff City in the coming years. Tough choices will have to be made, and how the Grizzlies handle the trade deadline will show how they see their future being built, and how they plan to pay for it.