The Grizzlies accomplished their number one priority at point guard, bringing Mike Conley back on a five-year max deal worth over $150 million. But other than that, the club has failed to add any sort of veteran depth or leadership to the position in the offseason. With those sorts of major questions still lingering, it’s worth wondering whether the Grizzlies intend to stand pat or if they’re still working to make one more roster move.
The organization’s move towards youth has been one of the more applauded aspects of the summer, but the mix of young players and veterans still isn’t completely ideal. I wrote about the lack of veteran depth at the wing earlier this offseason, and the situation at the point is somehow worse. Behind their “Conductor”, the Grizzlies are relying on a pair of unproven products in Andrew Harrison, who spent all of last season playing for the Iowa Energy in the D-League, and 17th overall draft pick Wade Baldwin IV out of Vanderbilt.
In other words, Memphis has exactly zero minutes of NBA experience behind Mike Conley, which, to put it bluntly, ain’t great.
Fizdale’s plans for the rotation are, obviously, unknown as of yet. It’s possible that he uses Parsons with bench units to give the reserves an option as the primary ball-handler, and staggering his minutes with Conley helps to spread those responsibilities over the course of games rather than just throwing the young guys to the wolves. But what happens if Parsons goes down? Or worse, what if Conley is forced to miss major playing time? Chances are, neither Harrison nor Baldwin is ready for that sort of load, and shouldering them with that could lead to doing more harm than good in terms of their development.
Even without injury, relying on Harrison and Baldwin as your primary backup point guards could make you susceptible to growing pains. In a Western Conference that’s already so closely packed, that’s inviting trouble that could throw major kinks into the Grizzlies’ fight for playoff seeding and whether or not they move onto the second round.
Fizdale may possess extraordinary player development abilities, but can he work miracles? How quickly can he curtail Harrison’s proclivity for making bad decisions once he reaches the lane? Can he turn Baldwin into a meaningful rotation player as a ball handler rather than just a complementary piece to play beside Conley? There are some tough questions in there, and Fizdale & Co. will have their hands full with coaching their young players up while simultaneously implementing their system. That’s a lot to ask of any coach, much less one entering his first season as a head coach.
But what about other outside options? Free agency has, for the most part, come to a close. Memphis has made its moves, and as of right now they have 18 players on their roster including the additions for training camp. They’re limited to minimum contracts to add anyone. In short, there’s little wiggle room to make any kind of roster move even if they wanted to.
And if they did want to, what’s out there? The free agency crop has been picked over, and with such a thin yield at point guard to start, there’s little left in terms of talent to select from.
Likely the biggest name still available, and one that frequently comes up on Twitter for Memphis, is Mario Chalmers. After being acquired from Miami, Chalmers was a key contributor (and a fan favorite) for the Grizzlies before an Achilles injury forced the team to waive him. Currently, Chalmers seems like the most obvious choice if the Grizzlies wanted to add a veteran point guard.
Unfortunately, Chalmers is two things in particular: 30 years old, and coming off an Achilles injury. Alone, neither of those facts is condemning, but pairing them together makes them much harder to stomach. It’s conceivable that Chalmers will never be able to play even at the level he played at last season after this injury given his age. And while I haven’t seen a precise timetable for his recovery (he’s supposedly “two weeks ahead of schedule,” whatever that means), it’s possible Chalmers won’t be available until we’re well into the season. This doesn’t necessarily bode poorly for his chances of rejoining Memphis, but it’s worth mentioning when discussing him as an option.
It’s also worth noting that Chalmers’ name has been connected to both Golden State and Cleveland, both teams with NBA Finals aspirations. Chalmers would have to turn down both a chance to reunite with LeBron as well as a chance to join the NBA SuperTeam (TM) to join the Grizzlies, who wouldn’t be able to offer any more money than either team to sweeten the deal. Maybe Chalmers likes Memphis enough to make that choice, but there’s reason to see why he might opt to play elsewhere.
Outside of Chalmers, there’s also Ty Lawson, who finished off the season in Indiana after flaming out with the Rockets. Lawson is currently looking to revive his career, and could be worth a gamble if the Grizzlies get desperate. It seems unlikely that he’ll reach the heights he once did in his career, but if he’s able to just be serviceable, he could offer at least enough to stabilize Memphis’ situation. It’s certainly not ideal, but at this point, if Memphis can’t rely on the duo of Harrison and Baldwin, it’s “any port in a storm,” and Lawson is at least “a port.”
While the Grizzlies managed a great offseason, including the re-signing of Mike Conley, there are still questions lingering, particularly around the point guard position. If Andrew Harrison and Wade Baldwin can’t shoulder the burden that’s placed on them, Memphis could find itself in a tough situation, with a constricted roster and a list of emergency veteran options that are less than ideal. But although the situation seems rather perilous, there’s still reason to hope that things work out for the best.