Welcome to another installment of the Grizzly Bear Blues mailbag! In our weekly feature, we take your questions on all things Memphis Grizzlies and several of our writers answer a few of them. This week, our participating writers are Game Coverage Writers Austin Reynolds and Corban Ford-Watson and Features Writer Alex Kirschenbaum.
QUESTION 1: How concerned are you about the long-term contracts for both Chandler Parsons AND Mike Conley, considering cap limitations and health concerns? (From Eric Tines on Facebook)
AUSTIN REYNOLDS (@ReynoldsRant) - On a scale from 1-10 with 10 being most concerned? About a 7. You had to pay Conley, considering the team's lack of draft picks making a current rebuild near impossible, but I expressed concerns at the time due to his frequent injuries and heavy wear on his legs. Parsons on the other hand has barely played this season, and he’s been nowhere near the player that he's paid to be when he was on the court.
CORBAN FORD-WATSON (@corbantheman) - I am very concerned about both Parsons and Conley's contracts, but more so for Parsons. We absolutely needed to offer Mike Conley whatever he wanted, not only for where he stands as a premier point guard but also because of what he means to Memphis. That he is a small, injury prone player is nothing compared to what he brings to the Grizzlies, and I'm sure when he returns Coach Fizdale will work on managing his minutes more to better conserve his body for the playoffs.
Chandler Parsons is definitely a larger concern, only because it’s now going on four seasons where his body has gotten the best of him, and unfortunately the Grizzlies have him for the long haul. It’s possible that he shakes this and has a productive Grizzlies career. However it’s also possible that these injuries hamper Parsons throughout his Memphis tenure.
ALEX KIRSCHENBAUM (@kirschhoops) - Let’s unpack this on a scale of 0 to 10, with one being no concern at all and 10 being Greg Oden.
Conley: 3. The injuries are adding up, but Conley was having an All-Star season this year before his latest setback, and none of his ailments sport the chronic risks of Chandler Parsons’s continued knee problems. Conley is riding pine in a suit boasting the richest annual deal in the NBA, yes, but that deal will only be that way till next summer. The Grizzlies had to bring him back. It was worth the risk.
Parsons: 8. The only saving grace is, as the question alluded to, the salary cap. Because that situation is so fluid (as the cap continues to rise and new TV money flows into teams’ coffers), and because a new CBA is currently being negotiated between players and owners, it’s hard to know just how (ahem) grisly Chandler Parsons’s four-year, $94 million contract will look even by the middle of its run, in the summer of 2018. The cap is projected to hit $102 million this summer, and could reach $105-107 million by then. The Parsons deal, a maximum contract last summer, could be somewhat movable, equivalent to the mid-tier contracts signed by fellow over-the-hill, good-but-not-great small forwards Luol Deng (four years, $72 million) and Joe Johnson (two years, $22 million, because he's 35 years old).
Parsons will be on the cusp of 30 then, and his knees will of course be bionic mechanized robo-implants, so it's a moot point, really. But, on the off chance that that technology doesn't exist yet, maybe some desperate team (Brooklyn, Sacramento) takes a flier on a guy who can shoot and handle the way Chandler Parsons can. Assuming he can play 55-65 games in both of the ensuing two seasons and log around 28-30 minutes a night, a team could be duped to deal! But yeah, that signing is looking more and more like a mistake.
Dallas Mavericks small forward Harrison Barnes (who signed an identical $94 million maximum contract to replace Parsons), despite his awful Finals showing this summer, would have looked much better than Parsons in a Grizz uni. Barnes is 24 to Parsons’ 28, with little injury history to speak of, and in Dallas is averaging 20.5 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.2 assists. Would he be scoring that much on a good team like Memphis? No, but he has proven to be an efficient role player on a great team in his very recent past, and is a better defender than Parsons ever was. Barnes lacks Parsons’s ball-handling acumen, but on a team with great facilitators like Marc Gasol and Conley, that wouldn't have been a big deal.
2. How do you think the bench rotation will work as the team gets healthy? Will any of the younger players still get minutes? (From James Fleming on Facebook)
REYNOLDS - Andrew Harrison will continue to get minutes at backup point guard, but other than that, minutes seem hard to come by for the young players. Troy Daniels isn't all that young, but I can still see him getting some spot minutes when needed. Perhaps Troy Williams too, but for the most part I see this as a nine-man rotation with Vince Carter, James Ennis, Zach Randolph, and Andrew Harrison coming off the bench.
FORD-WATSON - Coach Fizdale has done a great job working his roster in light of the injury hit the Grizzlies have had, and I feel that bodes well for when the team gets healthy. Harrison and Baldwin will probably continue to platoon the back-up position with some spot starts to rest Conley. Deyonta Davis and Jarell Martin are both big active bodies to come in in place of and alongside Gasol and Randolph, and I like the way Fizdale has mixed and matched the lineup based off of matchups, the hot hand, etc. The bench rotation will definitely be strung a little tighter, but I fully believe that Fizdale will master the balance of developing the youngsters’ minutes while continuing to contend in the west with his core 4 and Parsons.
KIRSCHENBAUM - With Conley’s injury issues, it wouldn't surprise me to see Andrew Harrison get decent minutes to keep those of Memphis’s starting point guard right around 32, a nice conservative mark for someone who gets as banged-up as Conley has. Wade Baldwin is the third-best point guard on the roster (assuming Toney Douglas may be gone), which is good news because he's been rough thus far. Troy Williams isn't much of a shooter yet, but his defense has been a boon for the Grizz, and he deserves some of the gimpy Parsons’s minutes.
Were I David Fizdale, I would try to stagger the healthy Conley, Parsons, and Gasol a decent amount, because each of those guys has enough of a handle to operate as the fulcrum of their offense. By doing this, you could slot non-passers in at the absentee ball-handlers' positions (e.g. when Gasol plays, you could employ Harrison for his defense at the point and catch-and-shoot specialist Troy Daniels at small forward for his shooting, a lineup that Fizdale has employed liberally in Conley and Parsons' absence).
3. What would you do with Brandan Wright once he is healthy?
REYNOLDS - As much as I hate to say it, let him play for a few weeks to show the league that he's healthy, and then try to trade him. The return doesn't even really matter all that much. A draft pick would work. Maybe it's been too long since I've watched Brandan Wright, but I feel like Deyonta Davis can do at least 80% of what Wright can, and considering the injury history it doesn't seem like a bad idea to just try and see what you can get for him.
FORD-WATSON - I would start Wright, build up his value, and then move him. His Memphis career has been injury ridden and largely disappointing, and with the emergence of JaMychal Green, Deyonta Davis, and others, he has become expendable. Maybe you could dump him to a team in need of some front court help (the Warriors, Cavs, or Mavericks?) for a 2nd round pick and/or an expiring contract. I really think the Grizzlies should just cut their losses with Brandan Wright and move on. The young bigs that are manning the front court have been more than enough for us, and maybe a change of scenery could help both Brandan Wright and the Memphis Grizzlies.
KIRSCHENBAUM - Play him for 20 games and then trade him.
Thanks to all who contributed to our mailbag!