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The cloudy future for the Memphis Grizzlies

With few options for change and the hope of Tyreke Evans’ return, what will the Grizzlies look like next season?

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Phoenix Suns Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

The Memphis Grizzlies are tanking.

There could be some speculation as to whether the front office is doing it intentionally or if this roster is just so much worse than the rest of the NBA. The latter is definitely true, and if the former is not completely true yet, then the front office is more incompetent than we think.

As I wrote a few weeks ago, tanking takes time. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is working hard (at least talking about it) to change the culture of tanking. What we all have to understand is that if the playoffs are out of reach, you have to find some sort of return on your season. In the way the NBA is constructed right now, the best way to get a return is to tank and try for a higher draft pick.

Whoever the draft pick ends up being for Memphis, it is safe to say that the pick won’t immediately change the trajectory of this team. Best case scenario, the pick is a legend-in-the-making like say…LeBron James. Well, there is only one of him, and this year’s draft won’t have any semblances of LeBron. So to be more realistic, as Grizz fans we can hope that the pick will be at least as much of a contributor as Dillon Brooks is this season.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Brooks has been a pleasant surprise, a second rounder that no one expected to become a regular starter. He has shown flashes of solid contribution, especially on the defensive end. But he is still a rookie, and often plays like it. That is to be expected from these young guys. The point is, it would be silly to assume that the draft pick this summer will automatically make this team viable again.

(Also, just look at the most recent draft selections for the Grizzlies: Wade Baldwin, Jordan Adams, Jarell Martin, and for fun, Wang Zhelin. History shows that the draft has not been kind for Memphis.)

So the more pressing concern is what the Memphis Grizzlies roster will look like next season.

Per the current NBA collective bargaining agreement, each team is given 15 roster spots with two players that can sign two-way contracts. Those two-way deals allow the player 45 days with the NBA franchise, and the rest with a G-League affiliate.

The beauty of next season is that there will be some dead weight trimmed off the roster, and therefore clearing up some cap space. The bad news is that the dead weight isn’t paid very high and the Grizzlies have very little room to sign anyone next season anyway. Next year’s roster currently under contract is below.

2018 Contracted Roster

PLAYER 2018/19
PLAYER 2018/19
Mike Conley $30,521,115
Chandler Parsons $24,107,258
Marc Gasol $24,119,025
JaMychal Green $7,866,667
Ben McLemore $5,460,000
Jarell Martin $2,416,221
Deyonta Davis $1,544,951
Andrew Harrison $1,544,951
Wayne Selden $1,544,951
Ivan Rabb $1,378,242
Rade Zagorac $1,378,242
Dillon Brooks $1,378,242
Kobi Simmons two-way
Myke Henry two-way
Total: $103,259,865

We all know about the brutal saga we lived through at the end of the trade deadline, that is that time with Tyreke Evans should have been traded. (And now he is hurt so we literally got zero return on him, but I’m not bitter obviously.) So the idea of Chris Wallace (and a slim few others) is that Evans will resign with Memphis for just under $9 million next season, via the mid-level exception. That is the only option the Grizzlies will have. Assuming Evans comes back, that is only 12 roster spots filled.

Then there is the question of signing one (or both) of the current two-way players to full-time deals. Kobi Simmons has played well in limited minutes, and the back-up point guard position still is a question for this team. Myke Henry is a decent shooter with good size. He can’t do much else, but that just means he fits right in with the rest of the roster that’s filled with fringe-NBAers. It is safe to say at least one of these two will get a shot at a roster spot, but will have to take close to league minimum to work within salary cap restrictions.

Another important note is that Wayne Selden Jr. and Andrew Harrison are on non-guaranteed contracts next season, which means the team could cut them without penalty, and also means confidence is not super high on either of them.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Detroit Pistons Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The top draft pick will also make the roster, bringing the roster to 14 based on my logic. A lineup that will include a healthy Mike Conley, Chandler Parsons, and Marc Gasol is at least something to fear for opponents. JaMychal Green is a legit NBA player and Wayne Selden could be a consistent scorer. The return of Tyreke Evans is exciting, but until he has shown multiple years of consistent contribution, I can’t trust that he is worth the hype.

The young guys brought in this season will also be one more year matured: Dillon Brooks, Ivan Rabb, and Kobi Simmons. Those three could be a pleasant surprise given the right role and system. Who knows whether coach J.B. Bickerstaff will be around to shape this team for a full season, but regardless, any coach will have to be creative with this roster.

There is still plenty of time before the draft. Not only will there be a top pick coming to Memphis, but don’t discredit the idea of some of the young guys getting traded for different pieces. The way the roster is constructed now there are a handful of spots to be filled, but with little cap space to fill them. If Tyreke Evans decides to take more money elsewhere, then the $9-ish million left for a mid-level exception isn’t exactly a golden ticket to fill the role that he is leaving behind.

With all that said and shot of optimism, I am confident that with a healthy roster and the addition of a top draft talent, the Grizzlies can be a capable playoff team next season.

I mean, in Memphis that is the goal right?

Roster, contract, and draft information provided by HoopsHype, Basketball Insiders, and Basketball-Reference.

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