Do you feel that?
The rumblings of the ground under the computers and cell phones of NBA Twitter? The excitement of media from newspaper beat writer to local blogger for the page views and hot takes to come? The shiver down the spine of Utah Jazz fans that Gordon Hayward is probably leaving for Boston or Miami?
IT’S FREE AGENCY EVE!
We at GBB have been breaking down potential targets and what may happen with the free agents possibly leaving the Memphis Grizzlies for a week or so now. There have been plenty of posts about it all, which you can read throughout our site. But as free agency hits this weekend, here are things to watch for when it comes to the Grizzlies and some predictions that will almost certainly be wrong.
The JaMychal Green Domino Effect
JaMychal is a restricted free agent, and the Grizzlies have already given Green a qualifying offer, meaning they have the ability to match any offer JaMychal receives on the open market. As discussed on our GBBLive podcast this week (which you can listen to here), all it takes is one team to throw a $15 million per year offer at JaMychal to impact what the Grizzlies plan on doing this summer to build the roster. On one hand, spending that much on a player that is surely a valuable big in the modern NBA would help keep schemes and core rotations stable in Memphis. On the other, it would handicap what the Grizzlies can do with their unrestricted free agents and with the mid-level exception while staying under the salary cap.
Then there is the question of if you do let him walk, who starts at the 4? Brandan Wright? Chandler Parsons (unlikely according to recent podcast appearance for John Hollinger, Grizzlies Front Office big wig), Zach Randolph? Are any of those options good ones? Or would you have to use the mid-level exception to address the issue?
It is also possible, as our own Matt Hrdlicka argues here, that the market for JaM is over-exaggerated. If he only gets a 3-year, $30 million contract? The structure of it for Memphis would make life better for the Grizzlies, as they would be able to retain Green’s services and, depending on plans with the other Grizzlies free agents, still be able to use the full mid-level exception.
The team’s plan for JaMychal directly impacts what they will do elsewhere.
Prediction: They plan on bringing him back for roughly $10 million per season, but he will be offered a larger contract from a team like Minnesota, Brooklyn, or Orlando, that the Grizzlies will not match. JaMychal Green will be leaving Memphis. This is a change in previous opinions, but the roster just doesn’t make sense with both Green and Zach Randolph on the roster.
Which leads us to...
Who (if anyone) is staying put?
The Grizzlies unrestricted free agents are Randolph, Tony Allen, and Vince Carter. We can go ahead and remove Vince Carter from Memphis - it is possible he returns, but he is easily the least likely to be back in Memphis since there will be a market for his services with teams like San Antonio, Cleveland, and Golden State and he doesn’t have the connection to the city that TA and Z-Bo do. That is OK. Vince was great this past year, and he leaves Memphis on good terms if that does indeed occur.
If JaMychal Green is indeed gone, and Vince is as well, that leaves $25 million roughly for the Grizzlies to offer in their mid-level exception and to Tony and Zach. With regard to Tony, Ron Tillery of the Commercial Appeal reported roughly a week ago that the Grizzlies plan on offering Tony Allen the veteran’s minimum, roughly $2.8 million. Then, David Aldridge of TNT tweeted out this recently -
Will be a strong market for Grizzlies' UFA/perennial DPOY candidate Tony Allen, still an elite wing defender. Likely to sign quickly.— David Aldridge (@daldridgetnt) June 29, 2017
If that is indeed true (may just be a ploy by Tony’s representation to get Memphis to not low-ball with a vet minimum offer), and Allen gets a multi-year guaranteed offer, the Grizzlies need to allow for Tony to walk. As Hrdlicka stated earlier this week, and I said as well in this piece a couple weeks ago, it would be a massive mistake to sign TA, Vince, or Z-Bo to guaranteed multi-year deals. Partial guarantees, or team options? That would be fine. But long-term commitments do not make sense for these players now.
Zach may be OK with that setup, especially if JaMychal is gone and he has a chance to be a starter again (not ideal for Memphis, but possible). Tony may not be. I think the Grizzlies see more value in Randolph than Allen at this stage...but it is possible both of them return as well.
Prediction: Two of them will return. Zach Randolph and Tony Allen will both come back, each signing two-year deals ($9-$10 million per for Zach, $4-$5 million for Tony) with either partial guarantees or team options attached to year two.
That outcome would allow for Memphis to still use the full mid-level exception. Which leads to the next step...
How will Memphis use the Mid-Level Exception?
There are two avenues that make sense. One would be using the full MLE on, as Matt Hrdlicka calls them, one “stench” player - a guy who is a tweener starter-sixth man type. The other would be splitting the MLE in to two parts, spending about $4 million on two separate players.
Our Video Editor Mark King looked at multiple free agent options this week in Facebook videos. You can check them out below-
Lots of options listed there. There are possibilities with the split MLE that make sense - if Tony does indeed leave (more likely than Zach in my opinion), Justin Holiday and Jonas Jerebko could be two players that could be had for $4 million each per year, and Jerebko as a 4 would replace JaMychal Green’s minutes in the rotation. But in keeping with my prediction that both TA and Zach will return, considering the players on the roster it would then make sense to use the full MLE on one guy.
Who should be targeted? In the past, shooting has been prioritized in Memphis, but the Grizzlies - brace yourself - have a good bit of shooting on the roster. Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, Chandler Parsons (if healthy), Troy Daniels, James Ennis III...Memphis could always use a perimeter scorer from beyond the arc, but a player who can create for himself and others should be prioritized more than that. Besides, Rade Zagorac likely joining the Grizzlies this season fills that need some. Rudy Gay (as our Brandon Connor discusses here), C.J. Miles and Tim Hardaway Jr. would be cool, but allowing for Mike Conley to score even more off the ball would be cooler.
In that light, players from the videos above that jump out are Shaun Livingston, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway, and Darren Collison. The best thing about all these names is, as long as the MLE is available, they are realistic and because of the Grizzlies cap limitations it isn’t like it’d be a massive mistake to sign any of them. One (or two depending on Memphis free agents, remember if JaM returns Z-Bo likely won’t, and vice versa) will be there. These are all players who would have set roles and would not be counted of to lead the franchise for years to come. It frees you up a bit to look for fit more than a cornerstone piece, like last summer.
Whether GM Chris Wallace and the Grizzlies front office prioritizes another forward who can play both forward positions and shoot or a combo guard, they can make a real step toward re-enforcing the new core of Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, and (gulp) Chandler Parsons.
Prediction: The Grizzlies will sign either Tyreke Evans or Darren Collison to a three-year full MLE contract starting at $8.4 million. Collison certainly brings baggage with him, but his ability to both facilitate and shoot from range (career 38% three point shooter) will attract Memphis. He can play alongside Mike Conley in smaller lineups, but with the NBA trending smaller anyway this should not hurt the Grizzlies as much as it would have five seasons ago. Evans is not the shooter that Collison is and is a big injury liability, but he has better size and ability to play multiple positions while still facilitating on the perimeter and creating off the dribble.
Memphis will then have to decide what they will do at the 4. Zach Randolph being the starter again would be easiest, but perhaps Brandan Wright could start next to Marc. That spot becomes a concern, but Memphis would be able to retain its core, maintain long-term MLE flexibility, and get minutes for players like Deyonta Davis in the front court.
It starts with JaMychal. How the Grizzlies view him will dictate where they go in free agency. But the high-wire walking that is being over the cap but under the luxury tax will impact how this roster shapes up this season, and that just got a whole lot more important with recent events in the Western Conference. Now, more than ever, teams will be looking to take the Grizzlies spot in the playoffs.
Can they hold on through the primes of Gasol and Conley? This summer will have a huge say in that.