If you’ve been reading Grizzly Bear Blues either on social media or via our blog, you know how we’ve been talking about how the Grizzlies may need to start rebuilding. Especially in the piece by our own Jack Noonan posted here.
Now comes perhaps the most uncomfortable part of the rebuilding discussion.
What to do with our two highest paid players, the two (arguably) best players, the final two of the Core Four, Mike Conley and Marc Gasol. The question of course is, what are teams going to be willing to give up for either of these players? The more complicated situation is, what would the Grizzlies have to do roster-wise to accommodate a trade involving Mike and Marc, when their roster is essentially maxed out.
A lot of your players on the fringes like Myke Henry, Deyonta Davis, MarShon Brooks, Ben McLemore, and Ivan Rabb could have to be released/traded as part of these deals depending on what teams would be sending back. So, for the sake of this discussion, and because of how complex this could turn out, for now let’s just speculate where would be good fits, and some potential players that could come back in a deal.
Mike still has 3 years left on his current deal which could be the biggest hurdle in moving him elsewhere. There’s a huge amount of money still to be paid to him, including $30.5 million this season, $32.5 million in 2019-20, and $34.5 million in 2020-21. The one plus to this is the reported soft salary cap increases to around $108 million in 2019-20 and allegedly to $116 million in 2020-21, making it less impactful to take on his salary.
The Los Angeles Clippers are a very curious prospect as a trade partner. Right now the Clippers have Patrick Beverley and Milos Teodosic as the only veteran point guards on their roster. You have a potential scorer at the guard position in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Jawun Evans who filled in well for the injured Teodosic and Beverley this past season. The Clippers are also at a crossroads of sorts, much like the Grizzlies. Do you go all in and keep pushing forward, or go for a rebuild? Trading for Mike, to go along with their re-signing of Avery Bradley, would point towards a little of both. A rebuild, but rebuilding with talented basketball players, and not tearing down to nothing, a-la the 76ers. The Clips would probably have the chance to get off of Danilo Gallinari’s deal and move another aging vet or two, like Lou Williams to make the deal happen.
Down on South Beach, the Miami Heat are another team somewhat stuck in the middle, probably a bit lower down the ladder than the Clippers. The only traditional point guard on their roster is Goran Dragic. Most likely, Dragic would be coming to Memphis as part of the deal, due to salary. As of today, Miami is just under the luxury tax threshold, which for a team that is currently constituted to maybe win 40 games, is pretty rough. Mike would give them another primary scoring option alongside the up and down Dion Waiters.
If you’re Minnesota, how confident are you in Tyus Jones, Jeff Teague, and Derrick Rose at the point? Jimmy Butler has been the guy for them, but rumors are swirling about him possibly going an number of places as a free agent. Also, Minnesota is another team just under the cap, with mediocre results. Mike would give them a great scoring option, while also helping them unload some of their dead weight and dead cap space at the guard position. Minnesota would also be a good destination for some of our bigs (Martin, Davis, Green).
Finally, the other Florida team, the Orlando Magic. D.J. Augustin is currently the only veteran point on the team. Yes, the Magic signed Kentucky Wildcat Isaiah Briscoe after the draft, but neither he or Augustine can be anywhere as good of an option as Conley. Granted, Orlando isn’t really in a spot to contend, so making a move for Mike may not make a lot of sense. But they definitely would benefit from a having a skilled point guard on the team to get the Magic through this rebuilding phase.
Marc has 2 seasons left on his 5-year, $113 million deal. He’s due to make just over $24 million this season and has a $25.6 million player option next season, which let’s be honest, he’s going to pick up. That player option is definitely going to be the hardest part of any potential deal. Just like Mike, the increasing cap does make his deal a little more tolerable.
Perhaps the best, and most heartbreaking option, would be the San Antonio Spurs. Currently, the Spurs don’t have a traditional center on the roster. Of course, the Spurs have way more pressing issues involving some guy named Kawhi Leonard than to worry about center, when you’ve got Marc’s brother Pau Gasol or Lamarcus Aldridge that can play the 5. Once San Antonio figures the Leonard stuff out, they may look to add a big man, and unfortunately, Texas may be the destination.
LeBron James is probably the best back-to-the-basket option for the Lakers right now. Who better to give the Lakers a presence down low, and help them be competitive this season than Marc. A lot of it depends on what type of team the Lakers/LeBron want to have. If you’re aiming for a Warriors-esque team with a smaller lineup, they’ve got that. If you want the counter to small ball, Marc would be a good option. The exit of Julius Randle creates a good opportunity for Marc to be successful working alongside The King.
Jusuf Nurkic could have a lot to say in Marc’s future. If Nurkic doesn’t re-sign with the Portland Trail Blazers, the Blazers will have a need for a big. Portland does have a couple big men on the roster in Zach Collins and Georgios Papagiannis, but those aren’t exactly names that will strike fear in anyone in the West. Gasol would fit in well with the style of play the Blazers have utilized with Nurkic. Whether that style of play is enough to make the Blazers relevant is a whole other topic of discussion.
The last potential partner here, is one that a lot of Grizzlies fans (including myself), wanted to see the Grizz do business with, the Cleveland Cavaliers. Marc would give the Cavs a better option offensively than Tristan Thompson, and would spread the floor with his shooting ability. A lot of this depends on what direction the Cavs decide to take. The Eastern Conference is slightly more open with LeBron James heading West. But getting Gasol wouldn’t be enough. Especially with the Cavs still teetering on salary cap hell even without LeBron there.
As stated at the top, go check out the piece Jack Noonan wrote about why it’s the Grizzlies’ time to rebuild. As uncomfortable of an idea it may be, it may be the key to the franchise moving forward and competing long-term with the rest of the West.