The Memphis Grizzlies enter a pivotal, but somewhat straightforward off-season. Unfortunately for us fans, the most interesting scenarios are also the ones where the Grizzlies make a mistake.
The Grizzlies are stuck in a middle ground, yes, but contrary to the conventional wisdom du jour, the middle is not the worst place to be in the NBA. The worst place to be is the middle with no path to get better. That label applies to very few teams. It does not, right now, apply to the Grizzlies.
But it could.
If you were to boil this summer down to one theme, it would be avoiding that scenario. There are only a few ways to do that, so let’s look at each of the mistakes they could make, ranked from worst mistake to least worst mistake.
Sign Jeff Green again
Unless you could trade him again to Doc Rivers.
Trade another future 1st round pick
The Grizzlies currently owe a 2019 1st round pick that has a dusting of a protection (top 8, top 6, unprotected). Trading a pick beyond that is not tenable, and completely obliterates any road to rebuilding through the draft in a post-Conley/Gasol future.
Because I am me, because we’re talking picks anyway, and because I can’t write a piece without talking trades, I think the Grizzlies should be shopping their 2018 1st to teams like Boston, Cleveland, Golden State as a pick swap, to upgrade the other team’s pick as a trade sweetener. Boston in particular, is trying to make moves. Would Boston part ways with Marcus Smart to acquire a better 1st round pick? This deal saves Boston money and gives them a better asset to pair with one of their elite 1st round picks to throw at one of the big fish they’re chasing. Not for nothing, but it probably also keeps Paul George in the East.
Okay, one more quick aside. The deal I like more than Smart is swapping minor assets and maybe taking back Josh McRoberts from Miami as the price for acquiring Tyler Johnson.
Tyler Johnson has a weird contract, due just $6mm next year, then $19mm the year after, and a player option for about the same in year 3. That is a tough pill to swallow, but I think he is still a positive asset on that contract.
Johnson is a bit undersized to play the two full time, but he stabilizes your backcourt in a way that few relatively available players will. He has never shot below 37% from three, and I’ve always been impressed with his athleticism. Of course, he does get injured a bit, so let’s not dwell on that part.
Of course, making either of these deals would require cap space, and cap space means renouncing all of your incumbent free agents with the exception of JaMychal Green.
The Twin Pillars of Grit and Grind*
* I am not ignoring Vince Carter. I am shrifting him short here. A lot of what I say applies to him, but he can sign for the minimum with any team he likes. It would be nice if that team was the Grizzlies.
There is no other way to put this. I am not interested in bringing back either of these players on a multi-year deal. It caps out a roster with somewhere around ten guys who are either in their first or second year, or the wrong side of thirty-four.
Back to the tough talk.
This is the summer where Zach Randolph and Tony Allen are probably not going to be valued contracts. I won’t speak a false word on TA. When he leaves the Grizzlies I’ll sing an internet dirge so loudly it’ll make your cat5e vibrate; his footsteps move box outs, mountains, and haters at will.
Nobody is carving out space to sign TA this year. He might get part of an exception from a contender. A team with unused cap space might give the rest of it to him, similar to the deal Matt Barnes got last year. He could be an afterthought and still make more money than he’s ever made in a single year of his career. I don’t think anybody will give him two years at more than $6mm/year.
Perhaps ZBo can find a two-year, $25mm deal. Good for him! Go make that money. I’m skeptical he will find high dollar years as well. Both of these players are tough, unsexy fits in the “Modern NBA”, and there are already too many bigs. Maybe a team like the Kings, that has more cap space then they know what to do with (and won’t be signing the true max players anyway) might offer ZBo two years just to come in and stabilize their bench. Maybe the Wizards would give him a portion of their MLE. I thought Indiana would be a suitor, but it seems they’ll be tanking. Find the big deal for Z-Bo. I can’t really do it.
I think both of these guys are getting exception level money to one degree or another, but we’ll see. All it takes is for one team to fall in love.
Overpay JaMychal Green
Overpaying role players is generally a bad idea, but even more so for an aging team that would be capped out.
Green is 27 years old, so any improvement he makes will be in craft, or in on-court comfort. He’s a relatively undersized big, and very soon, he will need to make improvements to his craft just to maintain the production that dwindles because of lost athleticism.
Here’s a fun game:
Player 1: Per 36 11.8 points, 2.5 3p attempts, 9.3 rebounds, 1.4 Stocks (steals + blocks) 54.9 FG%, 37.9 3%, 13.5 PER, .131 WS/48. 14.4% Usage
Player 2: (Per 36 13.1 points, 3.6 3p attempts, 8.5 rebounds, 1.3 stocks, 50% FG%, 41.9 3%, 13.4 PER, .092 WS/48, 16.0% Usage
The first player is JaMychal Green last year, his age 26 year, 3rd season. The second player is Jonas Jerebko’s age 26 year, his 4th season.
Jerebko is a decent comparison for JaMychal Green. Both came into the league a bit older as undersized, switchable forwards whose games were predicated on energy. Both are low usage players who extended their range to the three point line. Jerebko’s best season was arguably his age 27 season when he was traded midway through to Boston, but the following two years showed a steady, though not precipitous decline in production.
Jerebko’s decline is not JaMychal’s fate, but it serves as a template with more evidence than what seems to be the conventional wisdom of JaMychal as a young player who still has room to improve.
JaMychal’s best attributes, his energy and switchability, are both likely to take a hit two and three years from now. His ability to generate blocks and steals leads to some fouls, so there’s some logic to the idea that more reps will mean smarter, better gambles. It could also mean that JaM continues to foul at a high rate and generate steals and blocks at a decent rate.
Right now JaMychal is extremely selective on his three point attempts. Whether it be deference to players higher up the pecking order, or a lack of confidence in his shot, he attacks close outs more than he should. If he can trade one of those drives on the margin for a semi-open three-point attempt, without his percentage declining too much, he will be a much more valuable player. In fact, that will be the player he should age into.
Still, if a 4-year, $50mm offer comes in, there will be considerable downside risk. That offer pays JaMychal as if he improves upon his production over 4 years. My bet is he gives you one year of good value, one of neutral value, and the back half of that deal looks pretty rough.
The absolute most I would match for JaMychal is somewhere around 3 years, $35mm, and if I’m going that high, I’m probably letting Z-Bo walk. I would not match a fully guaranteed 4-year, $40mm deal.
My personal bet is that JaMychal gets roughly MLE or less. Something like 4 years, $30mm, maybe less.
I think his market will be a little tight. He has a skill set in demand, but power forward is the most replaceable position, and there are players like Taj Gibson (who might do a shorter, bigger dollar deal) and Nikola Mirotic (who has more upside) that might fit a team’s needs better.
If JaM were to leave, I’d probably try to sign Jonas Jerebko for one year and half the price.
Stay tuned for Part II!