The Memphis Grizzlies could go in a lot of different directions this offseason. This is impressive, considering the fact that Memphis currently has no draft picks and also is pretty limited in terms of what they can do in free agency. But the Grizzlies, as has been outlined here, there, and everywhere, have several free agent decisions to make and perhaps the resources to try to make some minor moves to improve the team overall, even in a minimal way.
In that process, though, there would be some things that, if the Grizzlies do them, well, it wouldn’t be the best thing for the franchise. In that spirit, here are three key points that the Grizzlies should prioritize not doing over the next month as the 2017 NBA Draft and free agency kick in to high gear.
DON’T: Sign any Grizzlies free agent not named JaMychal to a multiyear guaranteed deal.
We can prognosticate all day long about what Vince Carter, Tony Allen, Zach Randolph, and JaMychal Green will fetch on the open market. JaMychal’s impending free agency is obviously a bit different than the others since he is a Restricted Free Agent, meaning that Memphis will most likely have an opportunity to match any offer made to Green. But the veteran unrestricted free agents, especially Allen and Randolph, will hear out the Grizzlies and their offers.
Here’s the thing though - Allen, Randolph, and Carter all have their best days behind them. The eye test and statistical analysis all show that while each player still holds value and all three will surely be signed by someone if not the Grizzlies, they probably will continue to decline in terms of on-court contribution. And signing players to long-term guaranteed deals that are over the age of 35 is not worth the squeeze.
Does that mean you don’t offer TA a three-year contract? No. The key word is guaranteed. As an example, a three-year, $18 million contract may be attractive to Allen, but Memphis would be wise to ensure that the second season is only partially guaranteed ($3 million) and the third season is a team option. A two-year, $16 million contract offer to Zach Randolph with a full team option for 2018-2019 would be a potential offer for the Grizzlies as well. Assuming Vince Carter is leaving (which he may not be - keep reading), those two returning would make sense since Memphis has their Bird rights and can sign them to a number over the cap.
But long-term? The Grizzlies need all the flexibility they can get. That shouldn’t be restrained by older role players, regardless of past success. Especially considering that Memphis may need to decide on a three-year, $45 million match to JaMychal from Brooklyn or Minnesota (shiver).
DON’T: Sit out the 2017 NBA Draft
As of this posting, the Memphis Grizzlies do not hold a draft pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. That kind of sucks. It isn’t the deepest draft ever, but it is an opportunity to acquire talent that can be a part of your team long-term for a relatively low amount of money. Memphis needs to be kicking any and all tires on possibilities to get in to the mix this coming Thursday night.
What can they do? They have numerous second round picks in the next two drafts - in 2018 they currently have their own second rounder, plus the second round selections of the Miami Heat and the Charlotte Hornets. The 2019 selections are their own, plus those of the Boston Celtics (if it transfers) and the Brooklyn Nets. They also have a crowded front court - if JaMychal Green and Zach Randolph both return to Memphis (a likely scenario), their roles with the Grizzlies rotation are pretty clearly defined. That, plus franchise cornerstone Marc Gasol, plus the promising Deyonta Davis, plus the possibility of more stretch four minutes for Chandler Parsons, means that players like Brandan Wright and Jarell Martin should be on the market.
Does a combination of Wright, the 2018 second rounder from Miami, and the 2019 Nets second rounder get you in to the first round? Could Martin and that potential Boston pick get you a second rounder this year, or two overall second round picks get you a pick from, say, Philadelphia at #36 or #39 overall? Or would a bigger move (Marc Gasol and two future second round picks for #5 and #10 from Sacramento) be possible?
Gasol is most likely going nowhere, but the other options should be on the table. Rade Zagorac is likely joining the Grizzlies this coming season, but more young talent for David Fizdale to develop is not a bad thing.
DON’T: Not use the Mid-Level Exception
This takes serious cap space management, and probably saying goodbye to at least Wright, if not Martin as well. The salary cap is projected to be at $101 million for the 2017-2018 season and the luxury tax at $121 million, as Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical reported this past April. Woj went on to report that the 2018-2019 projection is about $102 million salary cap and $124 million luxury tax.
It is hard to ever see Robert Pera and the Grizzlies ownership group actually going in to the luxury tax that deeply. So $121 million for this coming season and $124 million for the following one are where we are working toward. Memphis currently has roughly $94.4 million in guaranteed contracts already on their books for next season. For argument’s sake, let’s say the following (completely speculative and probably unlikely) scenario occurs:
- Wayne Selden’s team option is picked up (roughly $1.3 million)
- The Grizzlies trade Jarell Martin (roughly $1.4 million salary in 2017-2018) and the 2018 Charlotte 2nd round pick to Philadelphia for #36 overall in this draft, select Josh Hart from Villanova, and pay him $850,000 this coming season.
- The Grizzlies trade Brandan Wright ($5.95 million salary in 2017-2018) and the 2019 Nets second rounder for their 2019 first rounder back from Boston.
- Rade Zagorac comes over and is signed to a three-year deal with a first-year salary of $850,000
- Memphis matches a three-year, $36 million contract offer for JaMychal Green that escalates each year - $11 million this year, $12 million the next, and $13 million the next.
- Memphis signs Zach Randolph to a two-year, $12.5 million contract, $6.25 million guaranteed both years, and Vince Carter to a one-year deal of $3 million with a full team option for 2018-2019. Yes, I broke my own rule with Z-Bo, but that’s potentially a serious hometown discount for a sixth man type of player. Meanwhile, someone like Carter, who can still play and simply wants a key role on a (hopefully) contending team, for a little more than the veteran minimum is also a good deal for Memphis.
- Memphis lets Tony Allen leave in free agency. Allen signs with the Cavaliers as a Warriors stopper for extended years that Memphis wasn’t willing to give.
In this situation, if Allen’s cap hold is renounced and he signs with his new team right at the start of free agency (not entirely likely, but play along) that would give the Grizzlies the full projected mid-level exception of $8.4 million to use and be right at the luxury tax with about $900,000 to spare and still have a roster spot open.
Who could be had for that amount on a multi-year deal? C.J. Miles, a forward who can shoot the three and defend well enough to be a net positive on the floor, could be an option. Tyreke Evans may also be a target - there’s the obvious Memphis connection, plus his ability to create for himself offensively and play multiple wing positions (and his awful injury history) make him perhaps obtainable for that $8.4 million number. The Grizzlies are the “if healthy” all-stars anyway - why not take a risk on a great talent since you’re already invested in Chandler Parsons’ knees, Mike Conley’s overall size/own injury history, and Marc Gasol’s repaired foot?
There are other options - P.J. Tucker, Shaun Livingston - that should be on the Grizzlies’ meeting list. But these are simply examples of players who may be available, depending on the market.
But if you do sign, say, Tyreke Evans, that would give you Conley, Evans, Parsons, Green, and Gasol as a starting unit, plus Andrew Harrison, Vince Carter, James Ennis, Troy Daniels, Zach Randolph, Deyonta Davis, Rade Zagorac, Wade Baldwin IV, and Josh Hart. That’s a healthy mix of young talent and veteran presence, plus in this (again, probably unlikely) scenario, a first round pick back in 2019.
You can see this as viable or call it all crazy. The main point remains - see how much Memphis had to do to get that full MLE? That series of moves, or any sequence, is going to be difficult to pull off. Of course they could use parts of it and not the whole thing, but that will limit the pool of players you can obtain. They could also let Zach walk, or Vince, or keep Tony. The fact is, the Grizzlies are limited in what they can do and will have to say goodbye to some folks in order to really bring in a talent that can make Memphis better than they were last year.
Which is why the Grizzlies say Chandler’s health is so key. Hopefully the front office is working the phones and all possible angles for these types of deals. Not drafting this year, or not bringing in a good player with the MLE, would be a mistake. Regardless, a healthy Parsons may wind up being the best Memphis can do in terms of an offseason acquisition.