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Grizzlies Offseason Wrap-Up: Part 1

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Stench Guys -- Upheaval -- Closer to the End Than the Beginning -- The Small Moves -- What Comes After Grit and Grind -- Parsons -- Cap Monkery -- An Eye to the Future

Parsons suit
Parsons suit
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

I had been waiting nearly two years for this offseason. I'd spent more hours than I care to admit thinking about what an unprecedented cap spike would mean. I was right on some stuff. Stench Guys like Allen Crabbe, Timofey Mozgov,and Evan Turner got paid. I was wrong on others. The Hawks and Mavericks were unwilling to commit big money to their own free agents, preferring to gamble on devils like Dwight and Harry B that they did not know. While some basketball-like-substances are still available {Hrdlicka note: Lance Stephenson, for instance}, free agency is pretty much done.

For all of the big names that switched teams, I think it's important to note that the NBA is still in the midst of a massive talent redistribution. We will look back in a few years and recognize that the summer of 2016 was a part of a much larger era of players switching teams. My feeling is that we are still closer to the beginning of that upheaval than the end.

I'll write more about this in part 2, but for now I think a crucial component of this offseason is that the Grizzlies elevated the ceiling for a core that will largely remain intact while the rest of the league shuffles players around. There are risks with this core, for sure, but I think it is vital to understand why what the Grizzlies did matters.

Before getting into the big moves, let's start with the smaller ones.

{Hrdlicka Note: Yes, this is a blatant attempt to make you read until the end.}

Troy Daniels -€” the 25 year old has yet to play 1,000 career minutes, or attempt 300 career three pointers. Career three pointers. The Grizzlies did well to place a small bet (3 years, starting at 3.5% of the cap, declining to 3% in year 3), on an unproven player with seemingly one skill.

The upshot of this deal is that Daniels doesn't need to do anything other than stand in the corner on offense, and hopefully hide defensively in a second unit that features more like-sized players.

If he pans out, they have a fringe-ish rotation player on the cheap, who will have a small cap hold and full Bird rights after his age 28 season. If not, they can stretch the final year of his deal and clear about $2mm of space if they need it.

James Ennis -€” Another small bet (2 years, 3% of the salary cap both years) on another older-than-you-think player with few minutes under his belt. In his time in Memphis, Ennis literally sprinted up and down the court, and always played hard, but production was a little wanting.

That's okay. The hope is, again, that one of these two guys proves they can play some rotation level minutes in a limited role. My bet is on Ennis, who has a clearer path to minutes {Hrdlicka note: this team has four players capable of playing small forward. Besides Parsons, one is the starting shooting guard; one is 40 years old; the other is James Ennis}. Ennis fits more of a low-usage, switch-and-guard-multiple-positions-without-doing-anything-dumb role. Sort of a guard version of JaMychal Green.

Andrew Harrison, Wade Baldwin IV, and Deyonta Davis -€” I'm lumping all three of these "rookies" into one category. The Grizzlies wisely used slivers of their cap space this year to pay both 2nd round picks, Davis and Harrison, to above minimum deals to lock both in for three years. Getting Davis in particular for that third year is a critical attempt to maintain a cost controlled asset as long as possible.

Andrew Harrison is a two year gamble for about 1% of the cap. His third year is not guaranteed, and he would be a restricted free agent with a tiny cap hold afterwards. In essence, the Grizzlies have restricted their liability to two years, and the payoff is up to seven years of control on the player due to their match rights.

All three players offer things that the Grizzlies have lacked in the past: plus size for their positions, athleticism (perhaps slightly generous to call Harrison "athletic"), and the potential to guard multiple positions. Add Rade Zagorac into this mix, and the Grizzlies could field a full bench unit of Baldwin-Harrison-Zags-Martin-Davis that costs less than 8% of the salary cap for two years. This is critical because...

Mike Conley & Chandler Parsons -€” ...they cost a ton. Throw in Marc Gasol to make a troika, and these three will combine to take up 72% and 76% of the cap in years 3 and 4 of the Conley deal. These three players will form the core of whatever Grizzlies team comes next. Whatever is after Grit and Grind, whatever shape the team takes after Zach Randolph and Tony Allen, those three players will be a part of it.

I'll be honest: I'm worried about Parsons' knees. I'm worried that Dallas let him walk. I'm 15% worried that Harrison Barnes might be better value on the same contract over four years.

But talent trumps all. If you can get talent, particularly talent in the form of a rare skill set you desperately need, you do it and take your chances with the consequences.  We can't forget that Portland was willing to make the same gamble, and Parsons chose Memphis.

Parsons is a 6'10" player who can dribble, shoot, and pass. With the ball in his hands, he eases the creative burden on Gasol and Conley. Without the ball, the threat of his shooting spaces the floor to open driving lanes.

Offensively, Parsons is what Rudy Gay and Jeff Green were billed as, with the added bonus that he actually is what Rudy Gay and Jeff Green were billed as.

Parsons can slide between the three and four, although I think he will largely be a four in the latter half of that contract, particularly if injuries limit his mobility. If there is a reason for injury optimism, it's that Parsons' shooting and passing will help fill in some of the holes that an injury causes.

Parsons may struggle if a team puts their best rangy defender on him (Houston with Trevor Ariza, OKC with Andre Roberson), but that means less time for super-long defenders on Conley.

The fit becomes a bit awkward on defense. My feeling is that the Grizzlies should minimize the time Parsons and Randolph play together. That pairing makes it too easy to find a weak pick and roll defender, and puts too much pressure on the Grizzlies' relatively sparse rim protection.

These are tweaks that are already under way. Randolph and Gasol had played much less together in the last two years, and one can envision Conley-Baldwin-Tony Allen-Parsons-Gasol lineups that could be downright lethal. Or Baldwin-Daniels-Parsons-Martin-Wright lineups that could switch most actions, but have a stabilizing offensive creator.

This is why a (reportedly failed) attempt to add Eric Gordon to the roster would have been so terrible. The Grizzlies are playing a high variance strategy "stars and scrubs" approach, and rightly so. But those "stars" all have injury history, and Gasol may never return to the levels he once played at.

They don't need volume shooters who will take shots away from Parsons/Conley/Gasol/Randolph. They need good perimeter defenders who won't make mistakes, and will hit enough open shots to keep the defense honest. Though none of them are that player today, Ennis, Daniels, (and to an extent) Harrison, and Baldwin are all low cost chances at finding this player.

None of them has proven they are rotation level in the NBA. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies face the prospect of two aging starters -€” Tony Allen and Zach Randolph -  in the final years of their deals.

If the Grizzlies had signed Eric Gordon to a deal even approaching what Houston paid him, the Grizzlies would have effectively been capped out for the rest of the decade.

A team with their draft picks intact might be able to weather not being able to add talent via free agency for four years, but one that will likely send two 1st round draft picks out the door during that period can't.

By making small bets on Daniels, Ennis, and a panoply of young draft picks, the Grizzlies not only gave themselves several (long) shots at developing the next great Grizzly, but they also used cap space this year to frontload each deal, effectively using space this year to create space in future years. These differences are small, but they add up.

1) The Grizzlies got a 3rd guaranteed year from Deyonta Davis, delaying his restricted free agency for another year, and avoiding the problematic Arenas Rule. Davis's salary declines by about $100k from year 1 to year 3, and team control could be as long as seven years, depending upon his next contract.

2) The Grizzlies gave Andrew Harrison a little more money in years 1 and 2 to make year 3 non-guaranteed. If things go south with Harrison, they're only on the hook for 2 years.  If he's good, the Grizzlies again have team control for up to seven years.

3). The Grizzlies frontloaded Troy Daniels's deal so they save about $200k on year 3. The Grizzlies will have Daniels's Bird Rights.

4). All three of these players have smaller free agent cap holds now. Free agent cap holds are based on the salary of the last year of a contract. The lower salaries of Daniels, Davis, and Harrison combined to save Memphis about $500k in cap holds when these players all hit free agency at the same time.

$500k under what will be a $109mm salary cap is next to nothing, but it is future cap space the Grizzlies created by giving these players more money now.  One thing we learned in 2016 Free Agency is that the smaller the cap hold, the more valuable it is. Every dollar you save in the final year of a deal really saves you between $1.50 and $1.90 in cap space if you want to retain that player.

And tracing all of these deals shows that the Grizzlies have an eye towards future cap space.

Stay tuned for Part 2, dropping later this week.

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