It’s early August, more than two months from opening day for the NBA, and a month-plus removed from the association’s “third season,” a.k.a. free agency. The Memphis Grizzlies have been active this off-season, letting one of their franchise cornerstones go in free agency while another will presumably leave before the season begins.
The team also signed Ben McLemore, Tyreke Evans, and Mario Chalmers. It re-signed Wayne Selden and drafted Dillon Brooks and Ivan Rabb by trading into the second round. It gave a two-way contract to Kobi Simmons and brought over 2016 second rounder Rade Zagorac for a multi-year deal. And, they will likely continue to attempt to bring back restricted free agent JaMychal Green.
All that activity, as low-key as it may seem, puts Memphis in a situation where it must trim its roster. Teams are allowed up to 15 guaranteed players and two two-way contracts on their roster at any time once the season begins. The Grizzlies, without Green or Rabb (who has yet to sign), have 16 players signed and one two-way contract.
(A two way contract allows a player to make rookie-minimum-level NBA money if he’s playing with the big league team while if playing in the G-League, he would still make a considerable amount more than his non-two-way counterparts, but also much less than the NBA rookie minimum.)
Considering what General Manager Chris Wallace said at the outset that neither Rabb nor Brooks would receive a two-way contract (he followed through on this promise with Brooks), it would appear then that another young player out there may be entitled to the franchise’s second two-way contract. Including that currently non-existent player, Rabb, and Green, the roster hits a total of 20.
Right now, that’s fine. There’s time for the team to make cuts and/or trades—it has all of training camp to decide who’ll make it and who won’t. And most likely, I would think, Rabb, Brooks, and Zagorac will start the season in the G-League, but you can only have the 15 main roster players and the two two-way contracts.
This stockpiling of at-best decent assets this summer is perplexing. What was the front office’s plan for the off-season, and how does the organization view this upcoming season?
One way to view the Grizzlies’ 2017 off-season is that it finally signals a shift toward youth development. By allowing Zach Randolph, Tony Allen and Vince Carter to leave, the Grizzlies for the first time since 2008-ish opened up the door to younger, less experienced players in need of more court time. Jarell Martin, Deyonta Davis, Rabb, Selden, Brooks, and McLemore all stand to benefit directly from the minutes those three aging rotation players will leave on the table. Martin and Davis especially could find themselves in major roles if the team decides to trade Brandan Wright.
Yet, while those young guys might advance due to off-season moves, other young players, namely Andrew Harrison, Wade Baldwin IV, and Simmons, don’t have such a luxury. With the additions of Chalmers and Evans, the primary ball-handling duties look to be stripped from the younger group. It’s no secret that Harrison and Baldwin were borderline unplayable without Mike Conley sharing the floor last season. The signings of Chalmers and Evans in this regard makes sense; they’re proven veterans who can ably fill in while Conley rests.
But on the flip side, Harrison, Baldwin, and Simmons now reside deeper on the depth chart where it’ll be hard for them to get game time and improve. There’s no objectively right way to handle the Grizzlies’ point guard situation, and maybe the team will go a different route by waiving or trading a backcourt piece(s). But, to assume that the front office’s moves this summer stemmed from a motivation to get young players playing time would be only a partly true statement.
However, another way to look at this off-season would be to envision the coming season as a mini-tank. The talent level on this team at best stayed the same and perhaps declined from last year to this year while the talent level on a number of its competitors rose. The lack of proven ability results from the possibility that Memphis may have to play its young guys more. In that way, this theory could be viewed as an offshoot of the youth development argument.
But, maybe the team will not be good enough (note that this is very different, at least in this year’s Western Conference, from being too bad) to make the playoffs and will instead fall into the lottery. They draft another young talent in the first round; use their two second rounders to draft and stash, draft for the G-League, or use as trade assets; then retool through free agency next summer for a 2019 playoff run.
Of course, retooling next year would be much easier if the team saw any marked improvement from its youth or from Chandler Parsons, and this is where theory number three comes into play.
Maybe the front office believes that the team will improve dramatically from within and will surprise other Western Conference powers by making the playoffs. Yes, that would have a great deal to do with the improvement of the youth under the tutelage of David Fizdale. But, that assumption would have to be based most earnestly on the faith that Parsons will be the kind of player Memphis is paying him to be.
That mindset would likely have justified the decision not to re-sign Randolph or Allen as neither represents the kind of player that a team centered around a Conley-Parsons-Marc Gasol core should play like (especially in today’s NBA). Fizdale, as well as his predecessor Dave Joerger, wants to play faster. Parsons, if he’s able to return to anything like his 2013-14 self, would help them do that and would help them improve in a number of other ways.
Add him into the fold with a competent backup backcourt as well as a rejuvenated Wright and a prime Green, and this team could well be something at which to marvel.
Surely there’s other conjectures as to what Wallace & co. have in mind for 2017-18, and if you have any ideas, please feel free to comment below. But whatever you may think the plan is, let’s hope the front office knows what it’s doing, because it doesn’t seem clear to us.