Back to it. Here are things Memphis should consider doing this offseason, from “meh” to “awesome idea”.
Keep this many young guys
No team aspiring to make the playoffs gives seven roster spots to first- or second-year guys and expects to get away with it. We saw last year what happens when young players play a lot of minutes. This isn’t an argument against giving young players minutes; it’s a statement of fact. Almost every young player stinks until they aren’t so young anymore.
I think the Grizzlies are just searching for a good young player the only way they can: finding cheap picks in the top half of the second round and hoping that quantity wins out. It’s not that Ivan Rabb is a particularly great prospect; it’s that when any of the seven 1st or 2nd year guys are ready to contribute in three years, they won’t have anybody blocking their path.
Still, drafting Ivan Rabb is odd. It probably spells the end of Jarell Martin, or Brandan Wright, if not both. I’m skeptical that Deyonta Davis and Ivan Rabb, even if they develop into the players their DraftExpress videos say they might one day be, can play together in the long run. I’m also skeptical that drafting bigs in back-to-back years, with a glut of bigs on the roster already, will yield a positive group of assets over time. Rabb will need to prove he’s worth playing early – a tall task for a young player – but if he does play early, he is probably a step down from what the Grizzlies had at power forward last year (which hurts your ability to make the playoffs).
Unless, of course, Ivan Rabb is awesome, in which case: good pick, sirs.
The roster will clean itself up. At least one (and possibly two) of Wayne Selden Jr., Rade Zagorac , Rabb or Dillon Brooks is on a two-way deal next year, with an understanding similar to Andrew Harrison that a year later they are signed to a pro contract. Though there have been public statements signaling that none of these players are signing a two way contract, that will be a point of negotiation, and we don’t have a precedent to look at with this type of negotiation. My bet is that at least one of these four is playing for the Hustle next year.
Overspending on a Mid-Level Player
The cap on how much you can spend - $8.4mm for the Mid-Level Exception and $3.3mm for the Bi-Annual exception - limits how big of a mistake you can make here, but I’ll just say that there are few players who I think will sign a four-year Mid-Level deal who will be good value over all four years.
Players I am interested in – Joe Ingles, Shaun Livingston – will make more if they leave their current teams, so the group of players who might sign for MLE money fall into three categories for me:
One year stop gaps – This group of players buys you another year to develop your young guys without stomping on their growth. Deron Williams would be the best backup point guard the Grizzlies have had since (insert a year Before Christ here), but could also play next to Conley or Andrew Harrison/Baldwin. Sergio Rodriguez would at least not turn it over. I wouldn’t be upset at paying most of the MLE for one year of Shelvin Mack or Derrick Rose (seriously).
The aforementioned Jonas Jerebko would be a nice one year stopgap if you let JaMychal Green walk (for 50% - 66% of the cost).
Even wings like Gerald Green, Rodney Stuckey, and Tyreke Evans might be gettable for one year $5mm and would help bring some stability without really engaging a downside.
2). Buy low, young fliers – I won’t go into detail here, but a list of players I like for between $3mm-$5mm include Justin Holliday, KJ McDaniels, and James Young. Players who will require more than that, but might be worth a two-three year gamble are Langston Galloway, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Tim Hardaway Jr. Both will be looking to get paid, but if they find a tepid market, could be persuaded by playing time on the wing for two years.
Another way to think of this category: who’s the next James Ennis? I humbly submit Justin Holiday for this.
3). Solid vets who provide value for half their contract – this is the dicey category. Players like Thabo Sefolosha, Darren Collison, Milos Teodosic, PJ Tucker, Omri Casspi (probably for less than full MLE), and CJ Miles. These players are all solidly starter-to-bench level right now (some might call them Stench Guys). How confident are you that in four years CJ Miles, at age 33, will be a positive asset at $9.5mm? I’m like 10% confident.
The dark horse here is Milos Teodosic, who is allegedly interested in coming to the NBA. The Grizzlies had pursued him in the past, and he would provide the playmaking that the Grizzlies sorely need, but he struggles to shoot and defend. I think there’s a chance his defense is so poor that he just can’t play, but he’s the best passer and playmaker on this list, and you aren’t getting a perfect player at $8.4mm this summer.
In general, these players represent about the same production. They’ll all be positive values on an MLE for roughly the first half of a four-year deal, but negative value for the last half. The best fit of these is probably Thabo Sefolosha (allows the team to largely keep doing what they were doing), but he’s also the oldest. The one that probably raises the Grizzlies’ ceiling the most is Darren Collison. Most of the players on the roster are finishers, not creators. Collison at least can get into the lane, and has a bit of range.
My preference of these players is whoever will take three years instead of four. When I judge players to be roughly the same value, the priority is to limit the downside risk that their contract turns bad.
Best Path Forward
I’m agnostic on specific players, but generally I think the Grizzlies should be operating on a blended approach. A one-year deal from Z-Bo means you can spend the full MLE on a solid vet, but probably also means you lose JaMychal Green. A multi-year deal for JaMychal might be best paired with a one-year deal for Deron Williams, but this probably means losing Z-Bo.
I’m perfectly fine with any of these outcomes, particularly if they mix in a buy low candidate like Justin Holiday or KJ McDaniels.
The other pretty big reason the Grizzlies should try to carry at least one new one year deal into the season is that the salary cap has flattened, and the prospect of carrying significant cap space into the summer of 2018 is much harder now. Even if they did not sign any of their vets to a multi-year deal, renounced James Ennis, and waived and stretched Troy Daniels, the most cap space they could carve out would be about $12mm, not nearly enough to justify the costs.
Instead, this team should be aiming to operate over the cap, preserving the ability to use the same $8.4mm MLE next season to bring in more talent. The flattening cap also means that expiring contracts have more value now. Maybe ATL wants to get off Kent Bazemore at the trade deadline. Having a $14mm expiring deal might actually mean the Grizzlies could snag a neutral asset or a slightly negative one that recoups an asset. The same goes for signing a player to a one year MLE deal and, to a lesser extent, Tony Allen. The Grizzlies can’t sign a player for $10mm in the summer of 2018, but they might be able to trade for him this year with an expiring MLE contract.
In this way, not locking into multiple years for Z-Bo or TA both allows you to either use your MLE next season OR flip that contract for a longer contract down the road.
I don’t know if this is the optimal outcome, but my favorite would be bringing Z-Bo back on a one-year, $13mm deal (I can’t quit cha, Z-Bo), signing CJ Miles, Collison, or Thabo to almost all of the 3 yr MLE (something like 3 years, $24mm), and using the rest of the MLE to secure a three-year deal for whichever rookie deserves it. This path lets you keep Brandan Wright, trade him for a little more space to bring back TA on a one-year deal, or use the BAE on a buy low guy or another player to fill out the roster.
So there you have it. The mantra for this offseason is “limit your downside risk!”