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Grizzlies Offseason Wrap-Up: Part 2

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Capped Out in 2017 -- Dollars Go Further -- Balloon Payment -- JaMychal -- NBA Upheaval -- Deals

Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

In Part 1, I looked at what has happened so far this summer. Now we'll talk about what comes next.

The Grizzlies are effectively capped out next year. If they choose not to bring back either ZBo or TA, they will have just under $6mm in space. They can get to around $13.5mm by trading Brandan Wright, and stretching Jordan Adams.

That space is not insignificant, and may be worth going after, but it requires sacrificing three real players and one hypothetical one (Adams). Even then, that space could be eaten up by JaMychal Green, who is a restricted free agent and due a pay raise. More on that in a bit.

To me, that might be too much of a sacrifice for what will still be a very hotly contested free agency period. However, the math becomes easier the following summer. In 2018, the Grizzlies stand to have $15mm, and could approach nearly $20mm by not offering contracts to Jordan Adams or Brandan Wright (if they're still around), and stretching Troy Daniels.

For my money, 2018 is the better bet even though 2017 is a heck of a free agent class. For the first time, probably ever, the presumptive best three players in the world (Curry, Lebron, KD), and half of the top ten (CP3, Westbrook, whatever you think of Blake Griffin), could all be free agents. But teams will again be killing themselves for cap space, and we don't know today how far $13mm will go in 2017.

That's why the Grizzlies should keep their powder dry for 2018. After two consecutive summers of league-wide over-spending, plus a new CBA, the summer of 2018 will be the first summer in a very long time that not everybody will have cap space.

Cap space will actually be valuable again; dollars will go further. So while $16mm this summer gets you somebody like Allen Crabbe, or Eric Gordon, or 75% of Ryan Anderson, $16mm in 2018 might actually land a good player {Hrdlicka Note: yes, that was shade}.

The Elder Statesman of Grit - Tony Allen

He is the second most qualified small forward on the roster, and as such, essential for this year. He will miss 20 games, and we are all too familiar with his shortcomings. Still, he provides valuable cover at two positions of need, so unless they can bring in a better wing (unlikely) in a trade, I see Tony finishing the year with the Grizzlies. I don't know how negotiations will go next summer, but I would try to sign him to a one-year deal. If that isn't in the cards for Tony, I would probably let him test the market, one that could prove tepid.

The Elder Statesman of Grind - ZBo

You might be sensing a trend. Signing ZBo to a one-year deal this offseason is attractive. I would not be opposed to giving ZBo a goodwill balloon payment of a one-year deal approaching $20mm, if he would play in 2018 for the room exception of $2.9mm. {Hrdlicka note: the Room Exception does not affect cap space, so the Grizzlies could retain ZBo in 2018 while preserving all of their 2018 space}.

{Hrdlicka Note 2: it is not legal to negotiate deals like this, so "if the NBA listenin': What Room Exception?"}

A nice bonus of re-signing ZBo would be that the Grizzlies would operate over the cap in 2017, and retain the Mid-Level Exception. In one of those weird CBA twists, the Grizzlies would be able to sign a player for roughly the same dollar amount whether they sign ZBo and TA or not.

What About Vince?

Back to the present day, the Grizzlies can leverage the fact that other teams will want to clear space for 2017, and try to use Vince Carter's non-guaranteed deal to take a bad contract off their books in exchange for an asset. The Lakers (Nick Young), the Hornets (Spencer Hawes), the Pistons (Aron Baynes), and the Pelicans (Alexis Ajinca, Dante Cunningham, et al) all spring to mind as having dead money they would probably like to clear for a couple minor assets.

Or any of those deals could be expanded for a better return with the inclusion of JaMychal Green, who despite heading into free agency, has a small cap hold not likely to be activated until after cap space has been used.

JaMychal Green

JaMychal is a nice player, who is still in the heart of his prime, but his next contract could get ugly. All it takes is one team to fall in love. Jon Leuer, Meyers Leonard, and Mirza Teletovic all got $10mm a year under a $94mm cap. What could JaM, roughly the same level player, get under a $102mm cap?

Every dollar the Grizzlies pay JaM eats into that 2018 space, and they face a roster crunch at power forward. ZBo, Jarell Martin, Chandler Parsons, and Deyonta Davis all figure to need minutes there, and at a certain point, you have to allocate your resources wisely.

If it means gaining future assets, or a wing on a rookie scale deal, I think they have to trade JaM.

The good news is, there's no rush. As I talked about in Part 1, the NBA is in the middle of a massive restructuring. Durant, Dwight, Al Horford, Dwyane Wade, and yes, Chandler Parsons have already switched teams. Tim Duncan has retired. Someday soon, Dirk will, too. In the next 12 months, Westbrook and Boogie could/will be traded, and Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Paul Millsap, and Gordon Hayward all could leave in free agency.

I wouldn't be surprised if we start hearing Paul George is unhappy in a year. Houston just paid James Harden a combined $20mm more for the next two years, just to lock him down for an additional year. The most important commodity right now isn't valued contracts. It's an all-star or superstar under contract for more than a couple years, no matter what that contract dollar amount is.

As teams jockey for assets to trade or cap space to use, teams who are not threatened by losing a star or falling out of contention will have opportunities to pick up assets.

There are about a half dozen teams with cap space remaining who can offer a cap clearing deal similar to the Grizzlies, so the return might be deflated. But not all of those teams will want to sacrifice 2017 space, too, and the Grizzlies are one of the few that can offer a rotation player, JaMychal Green, who makes under $1mm.

Back to Paul George for a minute: the Pacers will try to re-negotiate and extend both Jeff Teague and Paul George, but they currently fall just short of having enough cap space to make an extension worthwhile to either player. Teague will be a free agent next summer, but they could wait until next offseason on George. The problem is, by then, it might not be in his best interest to extend any more. It took Houston ponying up Harden to the max in two more years just to get an extra year. If two years of the max is the going rate for a star to extend, then the Pacers can't wait until next year.

Swapping Vince Carter (then stretching him) and JaMychal Green for Rodney Stuckey ($7mm this year, plus a $7mm player option next year) would allow the Pacers to extend Paul George to his max or Jeff Teague to a number he's comfortable with. The Grizzlies can also throw in non-guaranteed deals like DJ Stephens and Troy Williams to take back slightly more salary. The Pacers have other options, but getting Green back might be worth a 1st round pick to them, particularly when they are clearly in win-now mode.

Then we come back to ZBo. I don't want to trade ZBo. I much prefer keeping him on the roster so that, hopefully, when it comes time for him to retire, he does so a Grizzly. With that said, if he wants a long term, big money deal, I would look to trade him and keep Green. The previously stated high one year deal is my preferred path, and one that should work for both parties, however that might not be in the cards for him.

The Grizzlies are at a point for the first time since ZBo joined the team, where losing him would not be a disaster. His production is nice, but less than vital. The Grizzlies can replace him in the aggregate. They should attempt to do right by the player, but if he doesn't want to play ball they should look to trade him for an asset. This sounds weird to say about a team that owes as many draft picks as the Grizzlies do, but the Grizzlies can deal from a rare position of strength. Hopefully, they can keep ZBo, preserve 2018 cap space, and use the Carter contract to gain a couple more minor assets in the process.

Synopsis

Despite the previous paragraph, this could all go poorly. The Grizzlies are playing a high-variance strategy. Every starter is a mild to extreme injury risk. The Grizzlies owe their 1st round pick in the upcoming draft, and owe another 1st and 2nd in the not-too-distant future when every member of the current core will be at or over thirty years old.

But compared to where they were at the end of the season, the Grizzlies not only extended their window of relevance, but also, if everything goes perfectly, elevated their ceiling. And they did so while almost every one of their direct competitors either 1) got worse (San Antonio, Los Angeles Clippers, OKC), or 2) signed bad deals that didn't move the needle but hampered their future (Portland, Houston, Dallas). A new class of young teams wait in the wings (Minnesota, Denver, New Orleans) but are still probably a year away. Or more (Lakers). The Kings are still the Kings.

Only Utah threaded the needle of improving in the short term without hampering their future, however their best player (Gordon Hayward) is about to be an unrestricted free agent for the first time. Utah has done everything right for three years and their future is still in jeopardy. The NBA is weird.

Golden State is in a class all their own, and Cleveland is probably the sole resident in their own tier below the Warriors. After that, it's all up for grabs, and the Grizzlies have as good a shot as anyone to capitalize if things go their way.

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