The Summer of 2016 has a rare reputation as an off-season. Often, there is a palpable hype that precedes the off-season, only for free agent signings and trades to be lackluster. 2016 was different. Everyone knew that off-season would be weird with the financial revenue spike that lead to the whooping $94 million salary cap, compared to a $70 million cap the prior year.
And weird it was.
An MVP joined a 73-win team without taking a pay cut. Timofey Mozgov and Ian Mahinmi signed for $64 million. Evan Turner for $70 million. Joakim Noah for $72 million. Allen Crabbe for $75 million. The league went absolutely crazy. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for so many teams to have so much cap space, teams didn’t know what to do with it. Some teams were smart, some teams spent heavy.
The Memphis Grizzlies were both.
Memphis solidified their team’s future that offseason. They hired a new coach, re-signed a star, and recruited a max-contract , and just as I did for the 2016 trade deadline, I’ll review the 2016 offseason with the added benefit of hindsight. These moves were all graded and analyzed at the time, but the NBA’s landscaped has shifted mightily since then. Let’s see how the Grizzlies’ 2016 transactions appear with the information we have now.
Mike Conley signs 5 year/$153 Million Deal:
You think we would have learned our lessons by now. After Mike Conley’s 5 year/$40 million contract signed in 2010 was panned as too expensive for Conley, he outperformed it by being a borderline All-Star and contributing huge for a playoff team.
Mike Conley then signed at the time the largest contract in NBA history in 2016. The criticism was a lot more muted this go round; Conley has solidified himself as a great point guard in this league. But still for some, the highest paid player in the NBA should be an All-Star at least. This was just a product of circumstances. Mike Conley became a free agent during the most cash-heavy summer in NBA. He was also the only free agent to sign for the highest maximum possible, a 5 year deal with their prior team while having 10+ years experience. Very specific circumstances.
As Mike did with his previous contract, he proved his worth this year. It was the best year of his career by just about any measure. In the past, Zach Randolph was the face of the team.Tony Allen the heart of the team. And Marc Gasol its best player. 2016 was the year that Mike Conley took control of this team. He is their best player and with Z-Bo and Allen gone, the face as well. The season peaked with a still jaw-dropping performance in Game 4 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the San Antonio Spurs. He went shot-for-shot with Kawhi Leonard and hit a clutch floater that sent it into overtime where the Grizzlies pulled out the victory.
I know Mike Conley is going to be on the wrong end of 30 for the remainder of his contract. And he might never make an All-Star team. But the contract was the right thing to do at the time and absolutely nothing in the past year has proven otherwise.
Chandler Parsons signs 4 year/$94 Million Deal:
Oof. This contract hurts. It hurts the flexibility of the team in terms of salary cap, but also hurts future free agent prospects. Memphis isn’t a team that has had success in free agency before, such is life in a small market. Yet, the one summer where the Memphis Grizzlies were able to land a max-contract player (I told you this summer was weird) he can’t even stay on the floor. An experience like that is not going to embolden ownership and the front office to continue aggressively in free agency.
That was shown to be in the case during the 2017 offseason. Memphis stayed away from major deals, signing Tyreke Evans and Ben McLemore to room exception contracts, and resisted the urge to trade Marc Gasol as whispers of that speculation came out after the draft. A lot of that desire to stay put is because Chandler Parsons’ contract is an anchor holding this team back.
Parsons’ future still has a chance to be productive. You have to bank on his knees staying healthy, which is a big bet, but the 2017-18 campaign will be a lot more successful than 16-17 if he can play even 50 games. A modest improvement would be a giant gain for the Grizzlies. Parsons still has a skill set that the Grizzlies need and he will have a chance to prove it with 3 more years left on his deal.
A summer ago, Chandler Parsons coming to Memphis was a big deal. The Grizzlies got to sign a max contract player, unthinkable in any other year for the Grizzlies. He was going to be the perfect complement for Mike Conley and Marc Gasol. The deal made plenty of sense at the time even though the injury risk was known. It has been a disastrous first year though and the prospects of a bounce back are based on hope, not performance.
Hiring David Fizdale as Head Coach:
Dave Joerger gave an impassioned speech after a rocky 2015 season praising the heart and soul of his team. The pride and love for his team in this presser was evident. That, and an absurdly injury prone roster didn't lead to the thinking that Joerger wouldn't return as head coach.
Off-court circumstances instead made that decision. After a salary dispute where Memphis and Joerger decided to part ways, Joerger took the Sacramento Kings job. In response, the Grizzlies hired long time Miami Heat assistant coach David Fizdale.
Basketball critics praised the move at the time, Fizdale’s reputation particularly strong with players around the league who have played for him. The move was set to finally modernize the Grizzlies’ offense, which has long been plodding and lacked 3-pointers. Although the roster at the start of the last season was not filled with sharpshooters, the sheer volume of 3-point shots skyrocketed. Their amount of 3-pointers made increased by 52.2% from 2015-16. In 2016-17, Marc Gasol was 104/268 on 3-point field goals. Before last season, Marc Gasol was 7-46 on 3-point field goals in his entire career. The Grizzlies have finally entered the modern age, thanks to David Fizdale.
As Memphis gets more playmakers and spot up shooters, the 3-point numbers should increase even more. With Zach Randolph gone and Tony Allen likely out the door as well, the Grizzlies will truly be able to play a more wide open pace-and-space style.
Fizdale became a household name with the famous “Take that for data!” rant after he felt the Grizzlies got hosed by bad refereeing in Game 2 against the Spurs (say what you will about Dave Joerger, he did the “Memphis coach gives emotional speech in press conference in support of his team after a playoff loss” move first. Also, ‘they not gon rook us’ is a 10x better line than ‘take that for data.’ This is common knowledge).
Fizz is deserving of the spotlight. He had a great year implementing his system and it worked wonders. Mike Conley had a career year with the ball in his hands more often, Marc Gasol became a true 3-point threat, and as a result the Grizzlies were able to keep competing in an evolving NBA. The league is going more towards ball movement and more outside the arc as long as the Warriors are dominating the efficiency game the way they are. For the Grizzlies’ transition from Grit and Grind to a versatile, wide open offense, David Fizdale has shown he can be a really good, forward-thinking coach.