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Memphis Grizzlies Free Agency Primer: What Happens Now?

Draft, Roster, Needs -- Memphis Maestro -- Wings on Wings on Wings -- Alternate Plans

Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

The time is nigh. If you missed my Free Agency Primer covering larger league wide trends, you can read that here. It provides some context to the words that follow.

Before we talk about who the Grizzlies should look at, let's circle back to the roster.

Draft, Roster, Needs

The front court is set. The Grizzlies had every front court minute already under contract before the draft, but the trade of the Clippers future 1st round pick for Deyonta Davis and Rade Zagorac was a pretty big gamble.

In a weird way, I kinda think this deal was about Zagorac more than Davis. Davis is a luxury, just another bite at the apple for the player who is part of the next great Grizzlies team. Zagorac, on the other hand, fills a direct need, and will do so cheaply. I think it would have been tough for the Grizzlies to gamble on Davis unless they thought they were getting a real shot at an NBA caliber wing in Zagorac.

If Zagorac comes over next year, and is able to give them anything, then the rest of this calculus becomes a heck of a lot easier. Essentially, the Grizzlies shifted their risk. If they had struck out in FA, they could have potentially used that pick to trade for a player. That player wouldn't have been great, probably on the wrong side of the age curve, but he would have given them something this year.

Now the Grizzlies absolutely cannot strike out in free agency, and that's a scary proposition.

The centerpiece of the draft was Wade Baldwin. He gives the Grizzlies two things: he keeps the Grizzlies out of the backup point guard spending derby (and spending $15mm/year on Jeremy Lin), and he also soaks up some minutes at shooting guard, which I think might be Baldwin's best position next year. Playing next to Conley will allow Baldwin to focus on playing defense and shooting, as opposed to trying to both run the team and do everything else you need to do on the basketball court.

Memphis Maestro

Speaking of Conley, yeah, I don't think he can walk away from a 5th year. One interesting thing about him is I would actually prefer fully guaranteeing a 5th year if Conley would negotiate down in year 3 of his deal.

One of the market inefficiencies I would exploit is to outbid teams offering just one year deals by offering two years deals. Teams like the Lakers, Mavs, and Rockets will value their space next summer when Westbrook, Ibaka, Durant (probably), Gordon Hayward and a whole mess of other guys become available. The cap will have ballooned for the second year in a row, by another $15mm, and everyone will have cap space again.

The future is very uncertain, and I hate projecting two years out, but I would not be worried punting on cap space in 2017 if it was the difference between getting a guy or two this year.

This might seem like splitting hairs, but I only want to pay three or four year deals to guys who I know will start or project to improve. And even that rule will go out the window for any wing not named Eric Gordon or Dion Waiters.

So with that said, my official Conley contract guess is that Conley's deal starts at the max, has the full 7.5% raise in year 2, but in  year 3 it decreases back down 7.5%, before increasing again in years 4 and 5.

That structure saves Memphis about $4mm in year 3 from a full max, and about $12mm over the life of the deal. This structure also guarantees Conley $27mm more than any other team can pay him over 4 years. If things go sour in year 5, you can stretch that $30.5mm down to just over $10mm and get yourself an additional $20mm in space.

I think that is a decent compromise, particularly when you show Conley the long game of how many teams will be capped out in 2018.

Now that that business is done, and with our front court set, we've gotta go find some wings.

Wings on Wings on Wings

I talked about this with both Joe Mullinax and Chris Herrington's podcasts (you can listen to those here and here respectively, if you care to forever hear my nasally voice when you read my pieces), but  the Grizzlies have to move quickly.

I wouldn't fault the Grizzlies for calling Nicolas Batum and Chandler Parsons; wouldn't fault them if they call top end restricted guys like Harrison Barnes and Evan Fournier.

Parsons, Fournier, and Batum in particular are extremely good fits. But the Grizzlies should move on pretty quickly unless they get a definite yes, and that yes would need to be more definite than a Deandre Jordan Yes.

Parsons has seemed increasingly likely to move on from Dallas, but I think this is mostly posturing. What are Dallas' options if they let Parsons walk? They have visions of bringing in two max free agents (one of whom seems to be Conley), and Parsons would need to accept less than his max to fit with two max guys. If Conley doesn't leave Memphis, I doubt Parsons leaves Dallas. Would he really prefer moving to Orlando?

The key is timing. Free Agency begins July 1st at midnight, but a restricted free agent cannot sign an offer until July 8th, and then his current team would have 72 hours to match.  So many teams have cap space, deals will be struck quickly. If the Grizzlies choose to wait on Harrison Barnes, then they better pray the Warriors don't match, because at that point it will be July 11th and there will be no good options anymore.

So let's assume the Grizzlies don't get a yes from these guys, and can't wait 8 days to sign an offer sheet for an RFA. Who is left?

This is how we end up at Kent Bazemore. I think Atlanta will be loathe to pay him what others will, and frankly, I have some concerns that his game will look as good outside of Coach Bud's system.

Bazemore is, at best, a slasher who freelances only occasionally. He has a loose handle that will probably look even looser with less space in Memphis. He is not the best passer, though he is not a ball-stopper. If he has a shot he takes it, if not, he's moving the ball to the next guy. He does not take three pointers off the dribble, which is a weapon other players like Evan Fournier have in their tool belt.

But there is a lot to like in Bazemore. He can credibly guard both guard positions, so while he can't take play-makingduties from Conley, we can throw him on Russell Westbrook or James Harden, finally giving the Grizzlies an elite perimeter defender alternative to TA if defenses ignore him.

Bazemore is an average three point shooter, and has been his entire career, but he is actually a plus finisher at the rim. 60% for his career is great for a guard (it only dipped less than 1% on a much heavier load last year).

Bazemore is great in transition and gets Memphis back closer to the turnover generating, transition points feasting team they need to be to win.

The problem is the price tag. Bazemore is 27, and probably looking for a 4 year deal. I think he will command upwards of $65mm. My official guess is 4 years, $72.5mm ($17mm starting salary, full raises from there makes the final year $19.3mm).

If I can get Bazemore to agree to that number, I'd have 7.3mm left to find the best player I can with Barnes' cap hold, or $14.1mm without. I'd also have somewhere around $6.1mm if we made Bazemore's salary flat, which I would strongly consider if we could get a guy like E'Twaun Moore, Joe Johnson or Lance Thomas for $6.1mm.  I'd probably lean towards Thomas or Moore here, but all of these players give cover at multiple positions.

I'd then bring Barnes back on a 2 year $18mm deal, with year 2 guaranteed for just $2mm (guaranteeing Barnes $10mm for 1 year essentially to get a fallback position next year, and also squeezing a little more room under a payroll that is approaching the projected $113,000,000 luxury tax line).

For reference, under the above scenario, if the Grizzlies also used their Room Exception and signed Deyonta Davis to $1.1mm deal, they'd have almost exactly $1mm below the luxury tax. That is not enough wiggle room to feel comfortable adding minimum players at the end of the bench, so look for Memphis either to not use their Room Exception, or for a trade.

Alternate Plans

Plan B for me would be to add one slightly less expensive vet and a younger player. Luol Deng and Solomon Hill. Jared Dudley and E'Twaun Moore (who is 27 so not exactly young). A vet and an RFA like Allen Crabbe or Mo Harkless.

Deng, Dudley and even Joe Johnson are becoming stretch 4's in today's game, but at this point you are simply getting the best talent grab you can.  Another name I'd like to include in this list is Terrance Jones, but the newly unrestricted free agent has too many questions and would probably prefer to go someplace he would play.

Plan C is where I start to consider bringing in Eric Gordon on a 3 year deal with the 3rd year non-guaranteed, bringing back Matt Barnes back on a 2 year deal, and possibly leaving yourself about $6mm in space to absorb salary via trade.

Ben McLemore, PJ Tucker, Iman Shumpert, or some other player might be had for a 2nd round pick.

Plan C is depressing. I don't want to think about Plan C.

My official guess: Bringing in Bazemore for 4 years north of $70mm (with a flat or descending salary), Lance Thomas for 4 years, $25.5mm (player option on last year, Matt Barnes for one year $10mm, Mario Chalmers for the Room Exception.

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