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Breaking Down The PJ Hairston Situation

Breaking down the game and contract situation of the newest Grizzly.

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

By now you're well aware of the fact that the Memphis Grizzlies completed a three-team deal on Tuesday that sent Courtney Lee to Charlotte, Brian Roberts to Miami and P.J. Hairston, Chris "Birdman" Andersen and four second round picks to Memphis.

Hairston, the 26th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, is the best asset that the Grizz got in return, but he is in a unique situation contractually.

When a rookie signs his first contract, it is for two years with a team options for the next two years - so essentially it can be a four-year deal, and it usually is. Teams very rarely reject rookie options because they have invested a draft pick in that player, and the rookie deals are so cheap - especially in today's NBA of the rapidly rising salary cap. Plus, once that player enters free agency after year four, he's a restricted free agent (assuming his current team extends a qualifying offer), giving his team the right to match any offer he receives.

But in early November, the Hornets elected not to pick up Hairston's team option after only seeing him play for essentially his rookie season and this past summer, making him an unrestricted free agent come July 1, 2016.

So, what's that mean for the Grizz?

It means that Hairston is essentially an expiring contract. The Grizz do not retain Hairston's Bird Rights (which allow a team to go over the salary cap to sign their own player), and he can walk in free agency without Memphis being able to match his contract.

Had Charlotte exercised their team option, the Grizz would control Hairston's future for the next two seasons. Since they do not have that option now, there's at least some incentive for the Grizz, who are not known for giving young players much run, to see what they have in Hairston before he enters free agency.

That begs the question: Who is P.J. Hairston as a basketball player?

Hairston was a consensus top-15, five-star recruit coming out of high school, who elected to play his college ball at North Carolina.

After playing a smaller bench role as a freshman, Hairston averaged nearly 14.6 points and shot nearly 40 percent from three as a sophomore.

Hairston was suspended before his junior season at UNC, and he was kicked off the team in December 2013, forcing him to jump to playing professionally in the D-League.

In 26 games playing for the Texas Legends, Hairston averaged just under 22 points per game and shot just under 36 percent from three.

In his two seasons in Charlotte, Hairston has been pretty disappointing, leading the Hornets to, as previously mentioned, not pick up his option.

In 93 NBA games, Hairston is shooting just 30.7 percent from three, and he's got a -3.68 Real Plus-Minus (which ranks 393 out of 441) and a career PER of just 8.1.

I'll put it bluntly: It was never going to work for P.J. Hairston in Charlotte. He needed to get out, and he did. But now he's in a spot where he needs to play well heading into free agency, and he just simply hasn't done that so far.

Despite his NBA results. his talent has never been a question.

P.J. Hairston (6-6, 230 lbs.) SG/SF - Scouting report

When you pop in the tape to watch P.J. Hairston play, the first thing that jumps out at you is his size. He's not overly long (6-6 with a 6-10 wingspan), but he is built like a tank. He weighs 230 pounds, and he can use his size against smaller, leaner defenders, though he's not particularly known as a bruiser. Here are a couple of examples of Hairston using his size to get in the paint and score.



The one aspect of Hairston's game that had NBA scouts most excited during the draft process was Hairston's quick release and his potential as a spot-up shooter. With his quick release, Hairston can get his shot off virtually anytime he wants, and he shoots almost exclusively in catch-and-shoot situations - 96.1 percent of his made threes in the NBA were assisted.



One thing that head coach Dave Joerger should like about Hairston is his ability to run off of multiple screens to get open looks from three. Joerger has become famous for his out-of-timeout play calling, and Hairston should add another option to the playbook.


The bottom line with Hairston is that he is a shooter and a scorer. He has no problem shooting the ball. In fact, through his first two seasons, Hairston is taking one three for every 4.8 minutes he's on the floor. Courtney Lee, for comparison, was shooting one three for every 10.2 minutes he was on the floor.

Hairston can defend multiple wing positions competently and actually has potential to be a pretty decent defender. If he can bring his three-point percentage up into the high-30s, he's going to have a long NBA career. But if not, then he's a shooter who's not very good at shooting.

He just recently turned 23, so his book as an NBA player is far from written. He needed a change of scenery. It just simply wasn't going to work in Charlotte, and well, Memphis has done a pretty good job of taking on reclamation projects and turning them into success stories - it's just what the city does.

There's no guaranteeing that Hairston is no more than a two and a half month rental who will bolt in free agency - that's the risk of taking on a player that's in the situation Hairston is in. There's also no guaranteeing that Hairston is ever going to turn into a rotation-level player like so many thought he would. But the talent is there. He's shown flashes at all levels of being what people thought he can one day become.

The Grizzlies now have 29 games to evaluate Hairston and decide if he's worth cutting into their 2016 cap space to keep.

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